Browsing Category 'career success in the law’ RSS

Multi-tasking is a Myth

Date May 13, 2008 Comment Comments Off on Multi-tasking is a Myth

The human brain is not actually capable of doing two things at exactly the same time. Of course if you get proficient at something, you can get very good at switching quickly between two activities (to create the illusion that you are multi-tasking). A good piano player does this all the time (quickly switching his or her attention back and forth between the left and right hands.)

And a Blackberry does make it possible to be at your kid’s soccer game and wait for an important e-mail message. But don’t think for a minute that you can actually work on your Blackberry while watching the soccer game. Either you are not really watching the soccer game, not really getting anything done on your Blackberry or doing both poorly. If you play your cards right, maybe you’ll watch the game with focus until the message arrives; but then you’ll be in work mode.

Two recent articles highlight how there is no substitute for actually paying attention. One article focuses on the way computing can interrupt the healthy bonding that takes place between mothers and their babies. The other discusses how one doctor observed practitioners making a poor connection with their patients when they sat in front of a computer terminal while talking to them (scroll down to Electronic records no panacea.)

So stop checking your Blackberry when you are at a lunch meeting! You will only diminish the connection between you and your lunch date. If you are expecting an important message that will need a timely response, at least warn your companion and apologize in advance. Anything short of that is rude behavior (for those of us who still care about manners.)

Dress for Success

Date April 21, 2008 Comment Comments Off on Dress for Success

A partner at Womble Carlyle believes that lawyers should dress like lawyers. Personally, I rarely find myself wearing a tie or sport coat. It has been over 10 years since I worked in a job where I was expected to put on a suit every day and frankly, I don’t find them that comfortable; but I think this partner is on to something.

Maybe what matters is that you have a suit in your office so that you can dress “appropriately” when you are with clients. We all expect our doctors and dentists to wear lab coats or scrubs. Don’t clients who are paying several hundred dollars an hour expect to see their clients dressed in the appropriate uniform?

Which Way is Your Elevator Moving?

Date April 19, 2008 Comment Comments Off on Which Way is Your Elevator Moving?

Assuming you are reasonably intelligent, success in law school is largely determined by effort. If you do the work, the grades will follow. In the real world, effort matters too; but once you are in practice, there are many other variables that affect your overall success. In the real world, showing up and doing a good job are no guarantees that you will advance.

In a law firm, your ability to originate work can have a big impact on your standing. You may be doing great legal work and providing great customer service. You may be putting in a tremendous effort to be a great lawyer; but that may not be enough in order to advance to partnership.

Furthermore, even if you are putting in a lot of effort to generate work, in the short run, your business development activities may not yield fruit. Put another way, if you have 10 business prospects, in all likelihood, 9 of them will fizzle. How you recover from that failure will affect your longterm success at generating work.

It is easy to get discouraged when a hot business lead goes nowhere; or worse, when one of your competitors wins the business and you know you would do a better job. When this happens, it is easy to step onto the “down elevator”. Your confidence is challenged and you unconsciously communicate this to your remaining prospects. In sharp contrast, when you “win business”, you step triumphantly onto the “up elevator”. You feel confident about being retained to handle a piece of complex litigation or an interesting business transaction. You project this confidence and this in turn raises your rate of success.

So what is the career advice? Only be successful? Of course not. But network like crazy on the heels of a success. Stay on the “up elevator” as long as you can.

In the face of “failure”, find a way to get off the down elevator. Here are some suggestions on how to reverse your momentum:

1. Do a great job on a client matter that you have on your plate. While this won’t necessarily give you more work, if the client is happy and praises your work, this will help remind you that you are a good lawyer.
2. Look to your personal life for successes. Vigorously pursue accomplishment in sports, music, volunteer work or child rearing.
3. Circle back to the prospective client who awarded the work elsewhere and let him or her know that you would still be very interested in being a resource.
4. Do something fun for yourself (go to the gym, see a movie, get a massage, go out to dinner with a friend.)

I could go on; but you get the idea.

Measuring Success

Date April 7, 2008 Comment Comments Off on Measuring Success

Success is much more than the money in your bank account. While it’s nice to be well compensated for your work, there are many other important variables in measuring your success as a professional. Is the work you do challenging? Do you find it engaging and do you get good results? Do you like your clients? Are you respected by your colleagues and lawyers in the legal community at large? Are your personal and professional lives in balance?

As a recruiter, I actually score pretty high with respect to these intangibles. But because some of the other recruiters in my organization generate larger fees than me, I often have to remind myself that I am also a success.

The other night, for example, I was talking to a lawyer at a party. I described what I do and then added that I’ll never be the most “successful” legal recruiter. (I further explained that there are headhunters who generate three to four times as much as me in any given year.) To this he responded “Well I guess that depends on how you measure success.” And he was right! While I could make more money as a recruiter if I spent more time on the phone with “hot” prospects, I choose to spend a portion of my time writing articles, speaking on career issues, blogging and even counseling lawyers who I cannot place. Earlier this Winter, the ABA Journal named this blog to its Blawg100 (the top 100 blogs by lawyers, for lawyers.) To me, that was a huge measure of success (though it didn’t generate any fees.)

So how “successful are you”? Aside from the compensation you earn, how much respect do you earn from other associates? From partners? From clients? Are you a “good” lawyer?

A Bizarre Take on the Spitzer Story

Date March 27, 2008 Comment Comments Off on A Bizarre Take on the Spitzer Story

Several days ago, I suggested some career lessons we can learn from Eliot Spitzer so I couldn’t resist linking to this latest post by career “guru” Penelepe Trunk (I put the “guru” in quotations because she evokes both strong praise and equally strong criticism from her readers.) Penelope suggests that there are some good career lessons we can all learn from Spitzer’s call girl. Her choice of subject matter is truly bizarre; but I think she makes some good points that are relevant to lawyers (1. invest in yourself 2. know what you are selling and 3. if you do more than one thing–which is true for most lawyers–look for the synergies, e.g. practice bankruptcy and finance, M&A and general corporate, etc. )

Returning to Law Firm Practice–Another View

Date March 27, 2008 Comment Comments Off on Returning to Law Firm Practice–Another View


In my post yesterday, I linked to my colleague Gloria Cannon’s article about in-house careers. In the article, she made the case that it is difficult to go from a law department back to a firm (unless you can bring a significant amount of work from your corporate employer.)

I neglected to mention my own view which is that going back to private practice may not be quite as difficult as Gloria suggests (though it is certainly difficult–particularly if you want to return to a large firm.) Here is someone who supports this alternative view.

Going In-house: Potential Risks and Rewards

Date March 25, 2008 Comment Comments Off on Going In-house: Potential Risks and Rewards

My colleague Gloria Cannon has written a nice piece about the pro’s and con’s of going in-house. She suggests that a ticket out of a law firm is likely to be a one way ticket–so think long and hard before you attempt the move. Gloria, who works out of the Pasadena office of BCG Attorney Search, has good personal insights because she practiced at a large firm and worked in-house for an investment management company (i.e. she held coveted jobs in both worlds.)

For a slightly different view, here is a piece that I wrote a few years ago.

What Women (and Men) Can Learn From Hillary

Date March 25, 2008 Comment Comments Off on What Women (and Men) Can Learn From Hillary

We can learn a lot by watching politicians stumble (to wit, Eliot Spitzer.) But we can also learn positive lessons for our own careers from public figures. Hillary Clinton is a politician who offers us both (i.e. guidance on how women in particular can advance and examples of how men and women can damage their careers.) A female partner at Andrews Kurth in Dallas weighs in.

Personally, I admire Hillary’s tenacity, her debating skills and her focus on issues that matter a lot to me. But I squirm when I see her trying to embellish her resume with factually inaccurate material (e.g. the latest controversy over her trip to Bosnia.) She has plenty to be proud of in her career. I’m not sure why she feels the need to go beyond the facts.

Listening is More Powerful than Talking

Date March 19, 2008 Comment Comments Off on Listening is More Powerful than Talking

A reader weighs in on my latest article on telling the truth in an interview. He suggests that the problem for many lawyers is that they are too concerned with their own technical qualifications when they are in an interview situation. He suggests that the key to success in any business interaction (job interview, meeting prospective clients or referral sources, etc.) is to use your listening skills:

I read your article and agree with it. My experience is more like yours so what you posit seems very common sense to me. However a lot of client service professionals, such as lawyers, accountants, and consultants, seem to fall into some of these traps.

They are so concerned about technical qualifications and problem solving and putting them out there that they neglect to think how others will receive them, i.e., not putting themselves in the position of their audience. Another way of discussing this is their failure to listen.

I see this in how they write their resumes and come across in conversation. They should communicate about the value they bring and the objectives they’ve accomplished in terms of who they are speaking to or to whom they are mailing their resume. Instead they do an information dump of sorts and hope something sticks. When interviewing people should align their accomplishments and skill to the objectives of the interviewer’s organization. Amplify the strengths that fit, acknowledge your weaknesses and set them aside.

The quickest way to partnership is to bring in business, and to bring in business you need a network, and to have a network you have to get outside your protective bubble. Yet I observe deep seated resistance to this and I find it amazing–an overall lack of willingness to network or prospect and get “the big picture.” I’m sure there are a myriad of reasons for their reluctance but I still don’t get it especially since the vast majority of successful people maintain these skills.


Do You Have Friends in the Right Places?

Date March 18, 2008 Comment Comments Off on Do You Have Friends in the Right Places?

I learn so much by watching politicians stumble. Sometimes I feel a sense of schadenfreude (i.e. rejoicing in the misery of others.) But I actually feel sorry for Eliot Spitzer (and especially his wife–who looks like she has aged years in the last month.) My take away from the whole affair (pun intended) is that Eliot Spitzer fell quickly because he did not have friends in the right places. His aggressive and muckraking style made him an easy target when it became clear that he had some skeletons in his own closet.

It was only 48 hours from the time that the first news hit the press to the time he announced his resignation. By any measure, that is a meteoric fall.

Would Spitzer had survived if he had made more friends in Albany? He certainly would have lasted longer. So the career take away is that given the choice, it is better to make friends than to make enemies. Get to know your colleagues. Show interest in them. You never know when you’ll need their support.