We’re in transition

Attorneys in Transition is becoming a part of the Around the Water Cooler blog. You’ll find all of your favorite writers there, posting about careers as well as a wider range of topics.

You can find all of the content from Attorneys in Transition as a category within the new blog.

Thanks for supporting us – and keep following us as we make the move!

Attorneys working non-attorney jobs at the firm

J. Nick Augustine, J.D., is the principal of Pro Serve PR Marketing, a firm that creates and manages a focused image of success through marketing and publicity strategies for law, finance and small business professionals. Nick enjoys sharing career growth, strategy and experience with legal job seekers and attorneys in transition. The Pro Serve Club is a members only PR Marketing resource.

There are attorneys who cannot find jobs, and they don’t want to work at the mall to make ends meet. There might be another spot in a law firm where you could hang your hat for a while. You are not going to earn as much income as a practicing lawyer but it will probably be better than folding shirts and jeans all day. While working as a support professional, you might apply for an associate position when the next one becomes available.

There are a variety of professional positions at midsize and larger law firms. More consumers are searching for professionals in a digital world, and many firms experience increased demands on marketing and communications departments. If you are a numbers person, you might find satisfying work in the billing and accounting department. Technology skills are also valuable to law firms, and when billing and profitability pair with technology, law firms need IT people. These are just a few of the professional capacities in which new lawyers can work in firms and keep a foot in the door.

I understand the hesitation to work at a law firm in a capacity other than attorney. Sure, there might be some who look down on the non-attorney “professionals,” but most lawyers are happy to go to work and build their career. If the alternative is not working in a law firm, wouldn’t you be better off around the industry on a daily basis? If you’re in the marketing department, for example, you might have cause to learn a few things about new practice areas. If your experience set is insurance defense, and now you’re writing ad copy for the trademark attorneys, you just might discover a new practice area you enjoy.

Don’t worry about “tarnishing” your resume with non-attorney work after graduation. Anyone in a hiring position understands the economy and job outlook over the past half-decade. Recruiters are more impressed by a candidate who continued working towards their goal instead of throwing in the towel when the perfect job didn’t materialize in a few months.

Back in the marketing department you keep hearing about a developing area of intellectual property that the attorneys continue promoting. You might want to let it be known that you find a particular area of law interesting and communicate that if a position opens up in their department, you would be interesting in practicing intellectual property law. Remember, there are many people who really don’t want to practice law and are quite happy working long-term in a professional position at a firm – so do not assume people know your career goals. At the same time, you might enjoy your alternative legal career and accepting this might put a smile on your face.

Socially Phobic? What would YOUR Agora say?

Debra Pickett is president of Page 2 Communications (www.page2comm.com).  A former newspaper columnist and television commentator, Pickett offers consulting and training to law firms and lawyers who deal with the media.  Reach her at deb@page2comm.com.

Six LCD screens dominate the reception area of mobile phone maker Nokia’s corporate headquarters in Finland.  They call it “Agora, after the Greek meeting place where people came together to discuss things and learn from each other,” according to Tom Libretto, VP consumer engagement for Nokia, quoted here.

The screens feature web and social media content produced by Nokia — and its customers, fans and critics.  It’s unfiltered and posted in (almost) real time so that employees from all around the company can see exactly what people are thinking and saying about their products — a great reminder of how their work translates into real world, real life experiences.

So, imagine, for a moment, that you have an Agora system.

OK, maybe your firm isn’t a brand with worldwide recognition.  And, yes, yes, OK, maybe your “lobby” would be a little cramped with six big screens, at least some of which would be, quite possibly blank.  But let’s just go with the idea for a minute.  Imagine.

And, since we’re in fantasy territory here anyway, let’s also imagine that your Agora system includes not just social media references, but real, live comments that come out of other people’s mouths.  What would be captured on those screens?  What would people be saying about your firm, your work, the services you provide?

Our immediate, reflexive answers to these questions are not always accurate.  Sure, you WANT to believe that people are buzzing away about that expensive magazine ad you bought.  And raving about what you were able to do for them in handling a difficult matter.

But the things people really pay attention to — and talk to their friends about, whether in real life or virtually — are often far more subtle.  The things worth mentioning, in fact, very frequently are the “little things” — the small details of daily interactions that make them just a tiny bit better than we might have expected them to be.  Non-irritating (or, dare to dream, interesting) music or programming while on hold.  A patient, helpful explanation of a complex transaction.  A smile.  A really good cup of coffee.  An assistant who goes out of his way for a client.  A personal greeting that doesn’t try too hard to sell anything.

Agora was intended as a marketing metric, but the thing that it ends up demonstrating is that the best marketing/promotion/PR/reputation-enhanacement/whatever-the-really-expensive-consultants-are-calling-it-these-days is Not Marketing.  It’s getting the small things right and treating people well.  And, of course, this has always been true, but the social media megaphone just amplifies it all the more.  Nobody tweets about the thing that precisely met expectations.  They’re either complaining or raving.

So, which is it?  What’s popping up on your Agora screens these days?  Do you like what you see?

The benefits of building a resource library

J. Nick Augustine, J.D., is the principal of Pro Serve PR Marketing, a firm that creates and manages a focused image of success through marketing and publicity strategies for law, finance and small business professionals. Nick enjoys sharing career growth, strategy and experience with legal job seekers and attorneys in transition. The Pro Serve Club is a members only PR Marketing resource.

Early in law school we meet the representatives from several legal vendors who offer publications full of articles and resources. Often we flip through the magazines, sometimes flagging articles we want to read later, and then we add them to the pile that eventually is stored or tossed. If we collect and organize interesting articles we can start building a personalized law library. List and subdivide the headlines by topic area, and keep track of niche topics.

Imagine being a 3L working at an insurance defense firm, and working on a case with compelling e-discovery issues. While grasping the nuances of defense work, an interesting topic arises – the discoverability of social media groups and its intersection with spoliation exposure! When we see articles we like, we read them intently. Once we realize that we are more interested in the underlying issues than our main practice area, we make a mental note and hopefully continue learning specialized information.

Specialized focus areas and topics in law are the basis for lectures, articles and referrals. We value the lawyers who are well-read and knowledgeable about pinpoint legal issues and the leading theories and cases.

Action Items:
First, search for publications that feature topics and content supporting your special topic. Read and then remove the articles you like and collect them in file folders or binders. When you have enough articles, organize them and create a table of contents. As the library grows, there will be a natural desire to seek out missing information and add more articles – you’re becoming more valuable.

Next, make a list of the authors of articles you read and visit their websites. Make notes, if possible, about the groups and publications the authors list. If appropriate, send and e-mail or make a phone call to the author and compliment their work. When recognizing another lawyer with common interests, the author you read might spot case referral or collaboration opportunities – you’re part of club.

Then, as the library and specialized practitioner lists grow, consider writing articles or assembling Continuing Legal Education manuals and programs. So long as courts address and rule on issues in the focus area, the body of legal knowledge continues growing. At some point most of us become comfortable enough to write a book; e-books and printed copies are easily leveraged to attract new sources of revenue and opportunity – you retire and live on sales from your book!

Avoid ageism: Don’t let senior practitioners hoard the work

J. Nick Augustine, J.D., is the principal of Pro Serve PR Marketing, a firm that creates and manages a focused image of success through marketing and publicity strategies for law, finance and small business professionals. Nick enjoys sharing career growth, strategy and experience with legal job seekers and attorneys in transition. The Pro Serve Club is a members only PR Marketing resource.

Young attorneys need to stand up and lead, not pushed to the side. I have seen a drop in associate hiring in Chicago over the past few years. It appears the generations ahead of you chose to ice you out and keep all the work for them.

What I have learned from working with top-level finance industry professionals is that generations of Americans spent and didn’t save, and now, when the legal market suffers, some freak out and hold on to all the work they can get. I have no doubt that this is a survival tactic for many. This creates a disservice to the client – shouldn’t they be served by the most knowledgeable and able attorneys?

I have seen bogs of middle-aged lawyers shift to practices that are more profitable, and in some cases, attract clients away from younger but more experienced attorneys.  My work with law and finance professionals led me to a conclusion: we have an ageism problem in Midwestern cities and Chicago seems to be an epicenter of professionals trying to ice out the future leaders and rising stars.

Likely, the stories we hear from law firms are flawed. So many large firms report, “Times are good,” but I think many are lying. If things are going well, where are your summer associate programs? I think the reality of the slow decline of the billable hour has many shaking in their Cole Hahn’s.

If you want to be the best lawyer in any given practice, area you should just do it! Why do you need to be pulled up by silk stockings to be successful? My best advice is to hitch your wagon to a mentor who can help you grow without that individual feeding you the work. At the end of the day, most attorneys I know are quality practitioners who strive to keep the position noble.

To the young attorneys who graduate, earn their license, and strive to affect the world: do not wait; position yourself exactly where you need to be, and then, crank it up a notch!

If you have the passion, the will, and desire to change the world – you can – and you will.

Calling all law clerks!

J. Nick Augustine, J.D., is the principal of Pro Serve PR Marketing, a firm that creates and manages a focused image of success through marketing and publicity strategies for law, finance and small business professionals. Nick enjoys sharing career growth, strategy and experience with legal job seekers and attorneys in transition. The Pro Serve Club is a members only PR Marketing resource.

In a recent alumni board meeting, I heard a college mentioning a change in the patterns of students looking for law firm jobs. Apparently, there are plenty of applicants for associate positions. Fewer students, however, respond to law clerk opportunities.

The traditional employment route when I was in law school started with the first summer job at the end of the first year. Many of my friends applied for summer associate programs with larger firms. Some people enjoyed their summer associate experience and stayed on for a second year. If you do your job right as a clerk, you have the chance to stay working with the firm and can apply for an attorney position for after graduation.

Not only have large firms offered clerk positions. Students interested in clerking often overlook smaller firms. The benefits of clerking run to the small firms as well as to the students looking for the right fit. Law students should consider that smaller firms offer a unique experience.

A smaller law firm looking to expand might use a clerkship position to add new attorneys instead of hiring associates directly. Consider that associates often need to learn the nuances of a firm’s practice and niche in law. It makes more sense for a small firm to hire and groom a law clerk for the associate position. A law clerk to associate transition is more profitable for small firm partners.

The pressure is less when law students learning the ways of a firm before becoming more significant overhead. Likewise, the buy-in from the 2L might be easier than for a more experienced student or associate who is comparing law firms by short experiences – a treacherous thing if you only have snapshot experiences.

In 2012, even in a recovering economy, managing partners cannot afford to make poor hiring decisions and law student applicants have fewer opportunities to make an impression of commitment. Remember, once you look like a job hopper, employers might see you as impatient or finicky, not good.

Small law firm advice notwithstanding, the road to big firm starts early and if you want to work for a big firm, your focus should be big firm clerkships. You can always leave a big firm later, but going small to big is a tougher ladder to climb.

Land of Linkin’ – Apps for Illinois Lawyers

Debra Pickett is President of Page 2 Communications (www.page2comm.com).  A former newspaper columnist and television commentator, Pickett offers consulting and training to law firms and lawyers who deal with the media.  Reach her at deb@page2comm.com.

Vicki Steiner, at UCLA’s Law Library, assembled a fantastic guide to Mobile Apps for Legal Research and News.

She includes a pretty comprehensive set of national resources, from the ABA Journal’s free app to the $54.99 iPhone, iPad and Android-friendly versions of Black’s Law Dictionary, which are well worth checking out.  (Android users will also want to explore DroidLaw, a free reference that has evolved significantly since Steiner listed it.  And downloaders on all platforms all well-advised to steer clear of LawBox, which Steiner describes as a free app, but which has recently dramatically changed its interface and moved all of its most useful, state-specific content behind a pay wall.)

For Illinois attorneys, there are a number of locally-based apps to use and explore, too.  Consider:

Illinois Statutes ($5.99) – iPhone listing of all 67 Chapters of Illinois Law, including the Illinois Vehicle Code, the Illinois Criminal Code and the Code of Civil Procedures.  Updates when the law changes.

Illinois Compiled Statutes ($29.99) – Same basic content as above, but with superfast searching and offline access (for those no Wifi, no 3G courthouses) and a more user-friendly set-up.

Illinois Pro Bono (FREE) – Created by Illinois Legal Aid, this easy-access directory lists volunteer and training opportunities across the state, organized by area of interest.  (Incidentally, the group has also created a Legal Aid app for non-lawyers.  It’s an easy-to-understand field guide for those dealing with divorce, child custody matters, small claims, evictions and foreclosures.)

Finally, for lobbyists, or, really, anyone interested in “how the sausage is made,” legally speaking, Cohen Research Group’s Illinois+ ($4.99, for iPhone) and IllinoisPro ($29.99 for Blackberry) are must-have tools.  These interactive lists of contact, staff and biographical information on Illinois legislators connect you quickly to the folks making decisions in Springfield.  Incidentally, their well-known guide to Capitol Hill is called Congress in Your Pocket.  I’m assuming they didn’t want to call this one “Illinois In Your Pocket” because the listings for state senators and representatives do not include PayPal links to make contributions to their campaigns.  Perhaps that’s coming in an update.

Have fun downloading and exploring this stuff and let me know what you think.  While I can’t promise you’ll love these new tools, I can assure you that it will be a more valuable use of your smartphone than, say, tweeting insults about opposing counsel.