Monthly Archives: March 2010

Howdy, partner

Tiffany Farber is a solo practitioner who has been practicing law since 2008. As someone who has been through transition in her career, she understands the challenges lawyers in this situation face.

So, you’ve made the decision to start your own law practice.  Congratulations, step one is complete!  Chances are your head is spinning from thinking about the things you need to do to get started.  Starting a practice can be overwhelming at first, especially if you plan to have a full-time practice.

When you are feeling overwhelmed, organization is usually the key to decreasing your stress.  The first step I take when I need to get organized is to make a list of things to consider.  The next couple of blog posts will cover the things that I think you should consider when making your list.  Your challenge is to simply think about my suggestions.  If you like them, add them to your list and flesh them out according to what is right for you.  This week, I ask you to consider whether or not you want to be a solo or work with a partner.

This question requires some serious soul searching.  If you are thinking about partnering, the first question to ask yourself is who your partner will be.

Remember how frustrating it was when you argued with your college roommate about who would clean the bathroom?  I imagine that it’s much worse when you are arguing with your business partner about how much money you are owed or how the office files should be kept.  You need to think really hard about your personality type and how that will or will not mesh with a person that you may have in mind.  The last thing that you want when you are just starting out is to walk into a land mine.

You will also want to ask yourself whether your partner will be someone who has never started a law practice.   It can be a plus to have someone learning along side of you, which can make you feel less alone.  But, if you partner with someone who has never started a practice, it may take some time for both of you to learn the ropes.  In the alternative, your partner can be someone who has experience running a practice.  This may be a good idea because you can learn a lot from that person, but they may also require a bigger piece of the pie when you bring in fees.

If you are going to partner up, you need to decide if the arrangement will be a formal partnership or other type of arrangement.  There are obvious risks involved in a formal partnership, and there is paperwork that needs to be done.  I don’t profess to be an expert in partnership formation and everything that goes along with it, but there are certainly people out there who are experts.  I would recommend asking someone who has already formed a partnership about their arrangement, and how they came to it.

There are other options that don’t involve partnership in the traditional sense.  You can simply share office space with another attorney.  This can be a good way to network and get referrals, but that other attorney may also choose to have nothing officially to do with your firm and focus on his or her own practice.  You may also decide to co-counsel with another attorney and split fees.  This can be a good arrangement, but you will need to negotiate with the other attorney and clear this arrangement with the client.

The decision to have a partner can have a great impact on the trajectory of your practice.  It will dictate what sorts of clients you have, where your office will be and how the administrative aspects of the practice will be run.  Having a partner can be the best decision you will ever make, or it can be a disaster.  You should really think it through before you make your final decision.

Q & A with one of the event speakers

Tamara Klein, one of our speakers for Wednesday’s Attorneys in Transition event, took some time to answer our questions.

What do you hope people get out of the event?

I hope that people learn that there is hope.  I think we have hit the bottom of the financial crisis (in terms of legal placement), and are on our way back up.  There will still be firms laying off people – but I think it’s going to happen more irregularly.  Moreover, I think the firms that continue to lay off people will be ones that should have done it a year ago.  I think we are on our way back up.  There are plenty of jobs out there.

What is the biggest mistake job candidates make when looking for a legal job?

I think there are a number of mistakes that candidates make.  First, I think that associate candidates are trusting headhunters, when they shouldn’t.  Although I think the legal market is picking back up, I don’t think it’s at a level yet where firms are going to pay a recruiter for an associate candidate – except in rare circumstances.  I also think that people tend to sell themselves short.  Although an attorney may have an expertise in employment discrimination litigation, that attorney will be able to handle antitrust litigation.  Litigation is litigation, although the forum may change.  …  People need to think bigger and broader.  They shouldn’t limit themselves in terms of presenting their experience in resumes, and they shouldn’t limit themselves at interviews.

Job Search Strategies: Irons in the fire

Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.

Three attorneys I know have found work at law firms in the last couple of weeks. What is interesting is that in two cases the position is not permanent. The jobs are temporary, with no specific promise of permanency, but open-ended as far as longevity. One friend was told he would have a job until they lost that business and/or the market got worse. The other was told he would be employed as long as the project he is working on continued or if other projects came along.

The third attorney was called back by a firm who had laid him off last year and had now seen a resurgence of the business he had done for them before. He was also advised that should the business drop off, he would be again be subject to termination, no minced words.

The salaries are not great, but not terrible. The law firms are reasonably pleasant to work at and do not demand a certain (sometimes crazy) number of billable hours. They just want projects done for specific, paying clients.

I see this as an improvement in the job market. At least the firms are hiring again, though tentatively and with no promises. It makes sense that they are tying the employment to specific projects and clients. And, generally, I think it is better to be forewarned about the durability of the position than to be caught by surprise, again!

Something else that comes to mind when I talk to these newly-hired or re-hired associates is that we should, if possible, keep other work possibilities alive. Such as, if you have a part-time practice, try to keep it going; if you have a good relationship with a recruiter, stay in touch, and if you have other relationships that might lead to permanent work, don’t let them lapse. Likewise with learning new things or re-honing and maybe getting certified in old interests and skills. Adaptation is key.

The business of law feels different to me now—it seems not so much about setting up client relationships with unlimited billable hours and years of durability, but about providing legal services for specific issues that clients need help with right now. Maybe this is a legal twist on the “added value” model with which other types of businesses have long succeeded and which hasn’t in the past been at the top of some law firms’ lists of priorities. Maybe this is a good thing.

Meet one of our speakers

Jinnie English is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and the CEO of International & Chicago’s High Achievers, a personal and professional development firm for High Achievers, their families and companies. She will be one of our speakers at our March 31 event. She took some time to answer some of our questions.

– What do you hope to discuss at the event?

The secret behind transitioning well in ANY career.  How to determine the best type of interpersonal engagement based on the request and circumstance.

– What is the best piece of advice you have for lawyers going through a career transition?

Know what makes you unique and brings value to your clients and firm.  Since there are thousands of attorneys in Chicago and hundreds of firms, it is important to know where you excel and generate the highest revenue and results for clients.  Then, package that message in a strong yet modest manner fashion.

– How can someone leverage their legal career to be more successful?

Use you legal expertise/career to creatively solve common problems.   Great examples are negotiation, do-it-yourself legal, or small business group consultations.

Join a networking group

Tiffany Farber is a solo practitioner who has been practicing law since 2008. As someone who has been through transition in her career, she understands the challenges lawyers in this situation face.

I know I promised that the topics of my next couple blog posts would be centered around starting a law practice, and I promise that those blogs are coming. But, I wanted to take a break to share an idea with all of you attorneys in transition.

Recently, I approached Olivia Clarke, the editor of this fine Law Bulletin, with an idea.  I explained that I love writing this blog because I get to share my experiences and advice with fellow attorneys in transition.  But, what if I could take the blog off the page and into the next dimension?  So, I asked her what she thought about me starting a networking group for attorneys in transition and she was all about it.

Here’s what I propose to all of you attorneys in transition, let’s get together once a month at a neighborhood bar  or coffee shop and swap stories, contacts, job leads and support.  For those of you who read my blog, you know how strongly I feel about the importance of connecting with people.  I am challenging you to come out and meet some other attorneys who know what you are going though and want to hear your story.  The group would be very informal and a minimal time commitment, but I am willing to bet that you will get a lot out of it.

I am part of a networking group for solos that was started by an amazing woman named Dana.  Her group is made up of successful attorneys who are willing to share advice with other solo practitioners.  I have met some awesome people in that group, and I have received some excellent advice.  I have even brought some friends into the mix as well and they are really glad that I invited them.  I look to many people in the group for advice when I’m stumped and they always come through, especially Dana.  Having a group of people that you can count on is worth everything.

Think of a networking group like a pot luck dinner.  Who doesn’t love a pot luck dinner?  You feel great because you have brought something to contribute to the group, and you get to sample what everyone else has to offer as well.  It’s all about sharing and the theme is always the more the merrier.  Think of this group in the same way.  I’m officially inviting you to come and share your stories and advice with your fellow attorneys in transition.  I promise that you won’t be disappointed and, sticking with the pot luck theme, there will be food.

More details regarding location and dates will follow.  In the mean time, if you are interested in joining up, grab your puzzle piece, practice your elevator speech and please e-mail me at tiffany@tiffanyfarber.com.

Opportunity to volunteer, network at Northwestern Law

Dana Hill is a Clinical Assistant Professor in Northwestern University School of Law’s Communication and Legal Reasoning Department

Since I started as a clinical assistant professor at Northwestern Law in August 2009, I’ve had several informational interviews with attorneys seeking to make the transition into teaching at a law school. One piece of advice I have given in these meetings is to get involved at the local law schools – which will help show your interest and commitment to legal education.

In particular, I’ve suggested volunteering to serve as a judge for moot court because it allows attorneys to participate in an on-campus event, meet law school faculty, and to network with other local attorneys.

Such an opportunity is right around the corner.  On April 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, and 14, the Communication and Legal Reasoning Department of Northwestern University School of Law is holding the Arlyn Miner Moot Court, its noncompetitive Moot Court for first year students.  The arguments will begin at 7 p.m., with a buffet dinner for the participating judges beginning at 6 p.m.  The arguments, generally by two teams of two, take about an hour, plus whatever time your 3-judge panel chooses to use for evaluation.

Prior to the date of the moot court, volunteer attorneys will receive a bench memo describing the students’ problem and potential questions.  CLE credit is available, but may include a $20 administrative fee.

To volunteer or inquire further, contact Jason Kaiser at j-kaiser@law.northwestern.edu.  Northwestern University School of Law is located at 357 East Chicago Avenue in Chicago.

This is a great opportunity to help build the next generation of advocates and to network with other Chicago area attorneys.

Job Search Strategies: A meaningful CLE class

Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.

In last week’s posting I commented that CLE programs often are not directly instructive to our specific areas of law, but that we sometimes sit through them just to comply with the CLE hourly requirement.

In contrast, the Continuing Legal Education conference titled “Ethics in the Movies Presents Michael Clayton” at The John Marshall Law School I attended last week was pertinent, instructive, and enjoyable. You can find more information at http://www.jmls.edu/cle/index.shtml

The Professional Responsibility requirement of the Supreme Court Rule prescribing CLE requires a minimum of four hours of instruction in professionalism, diversity issues, mental illness and addiction issues, civility, or legal ethics.

Just about all of these issues are covered in the movie Michael Clayton.  Cliff Scott-Rudnick, director of continuing legal education and assistant professor at The John Marshall Law School, presents an engaging and illuminating program centered around this movie.  Attorney and movie expert Richard Adler contributes with a detailed and fascinating look at the symbolism in the film.  Entertainment attorney Hal “Corky” Kessler provides useful commentary as well.

The program begins with a discussion of the concept of professional responsibility and of the New Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct effective January 1, 2010.  Scott-Rudnick provides handouts to facilitate the discussion:  “The New Rules Guide – Rule by Rule” from the ARDC, “Highlights of the New Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct,” and a comprehensive “Redline Comparison of the 1990 Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct to the 2010 Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct.”

Selected scenes from the movie are then discussed in the context of ethical breaches by the characters and of the professionalism Rules that are being stretched, or violated. On the other hand, it is interesting to note that in a couple of the scenes, dialog or actions that seem to be violations of the Rules, are not.

Presenting the CLE topic within this format is highly effective because specific Rules are illustrated by particular scenes in the movie and guide the discussion.  The drama in the scenes, the human motivation revealed and the moral dilemmas are compelling and therefore, memorable.

For example, the failure to timely confront and deal with a senior partner’s mental illness results in a cataclysm for all parties involved in the case.  Should I ever encounter a colleague suffering from a similar affliction, I think the pertinent scenes in this movie would quickly come to mind, reminding me vividly of the reason and necessity for the Rules. Illustration is a powerful tool in the learning process.

This excellent program, through its creative format, promotes learning in a painless and memorable way.  And, if you haven’t seen Michael Clayton, watch it. I guarantee you will be moved and will find it meaningful in your practice of law.

Starting your own practice

Tiffany Farber is a solo practitioner who has been practicing law since 2008. As someone who has been through transition in her career, she understands the challenges lawyers in this situation face.

I always said that I would start my own practice “some day.”  The thing about “some day” is that it always comes sooner than you think.

When the economy tanked and I lost my job, I really had no idea what would happen next.  I began job hunting immediately.  I searched on every job Web site I could think of, got in touch with all of my attorney contacts and went to meetings and networking events.  A job didn’t fall into my lap right away, and I didn’t expect one to, but the opportunity to handle some legal work on my own did.  So, I took that opportunity.

A lot of attorneys have the desire to start their own practices, but they are afraid of the unknowns.  What if I don’t get any clients? What if I don’t make any money? What if I drain my savings? The decision to start a practice isn’t one that should be taken lightly but, if starting a practice is something you really want to do, try not to get hung up on the what ifs.  There are ways to start a practice that don’t involve breaking the bank, there are ways to make money and there are always people out there who need legal representation.

My first client came the way most do—through a referral from a friend.  The client was buying a house and wondered if I could help.  I thought about it, and I realized that I could, in fact, help.  I had mentor attorneys who had handled dozens of residential closings, and I had ample materials on how to handle a real estate closing.  I knew that I could do it, so I did.

Obviously, the first step in starting a practice is to make a choice.  Starting a practice doesn’t mean that you have to stop looking for full time employment.  You can have a small practice or, in some cases, a side practice.  You can take cases while you are trying to get back on your feet or you can dive in and invest everything into your practice.  It’s really up to you.  Everyone has different circumstances and limitations so you need to do what is right for you.

If you are thinking about starting your own practice or taking cases on your own, the very first thing I would recommend doing (besides securing malpractice insurance) is contacting someone who has experience as a solo practitioner.  That was the very first thing I did.  The attorney I spoke with helped me believe that it was possible and rewarding to be a solo.  The concept of being a solo may be very isolating, but there is a community out there of others who have been very successful at it.

In the next several blog posts, I will share the things that I feel are important to take into account when starting a practice.  These are things that I have learned and experiences that I have had.  In the end, starting a practice is a highly personal decision but it can be a very rewarding one.

If you are interested in starting your own practice, your challenge for the week is to talk with someone who has already done so.

Job Search Strategies: CLE time

Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.

Illinois is one of the states coming late to the Continuing Legal Education requirement, Part C. MINIMUM CONTINUING LEGAL EDUCATION of the Supreme Court Rules having been adopted Sept. 29, 2005, with a couple of amendments since then.

But now all of us who are Illinois licensed attorneys have to fulfill this requirement. The purpose of the Rule is for attorneys to: “remain current regarding the requisite knowledge and skills necessary to fulfill the professional responsibilities and obligations of their respective practices and thereby improve the standards of the profession in general.” You can find the entire rule at: http://www.state.il.us/court/SupremeCourt/Rules/Art_VII/ArtVII.htm#c

The deadline for completion of CLE classes, for the group that I fall into is July 1.   Many of us are somewhat frantically trying to find appropriate courses and planning how to meet the deadline.  I am required to take classes to fulfill the minimum requirement of 24 hours of CLE activity, as most of you are also.  Four of the hours have to be on Professional Responsibility.  Some are offered at reduced cost, but as we all know the majority require a significant expense.  Some of the free courses have the additional requirement that you join (and pay several hundred dollars in dues, of course) one of the professional lawyers’ associations.

I have tried, over the past three years, to accumulate the hours I needed prior to this last minute rush, but in my defense, moving between states and having a busy personal and professional life, it has been difficult to take the necessary classes early on in the current licensing period.  I now find myself somewhat short of the needed hours, at what feels like the 11th hour.  This is a dilemma that many in our profession face due to time constraints and financial considerations.

Many of us help one another with tips on free or low cost courses that we can work into our daily lives that will still permit us to meet the CLE requirement. So, as always, as professionals who are completely inured to the necessity of meeting dates, mostly for serious court matters, we will meet the deadline.

But I don’t feel good about meeting this deadline. I would like to see a rule that requires you to take CLE courses that will truly help you in whatever area of law you practice and truly help you to remain current by improving your knowledge and skills in that area. I know that is what the rule says, but ultimately, it can be a scramble to just meet the requirements and the courses you take are not necessarily the best ones for your practice. And no one, as far as I know, is monitoring that the “right” courses are taken.  And, being lawyers, we could probably argue our way into being allowed to take Indonesian basket weaving as having something to do with improving our skills in our practice.

The current system places the emphasis on the individual attorney to select courses that will best add to a skill set for their chosen specialty.  If we are not able to do so, collectively, MCLE may make the requirements even more stringent in the future, probably not a bad thing.    Whatever…  I know that to do the above would require a much more complex structure and would make it even more difficult for us to conform with CLEs, but I think it would make us all better lawyers, which ultimately is the goal for all of us.

You can find information on the CLE system at http://www.mcleboard.org/rules.htm

Stress management

Tiffany Farber is a solo practitioner who has been practicing law since 2008. As someone who has been through transition in her career, she understands the challenges lawyers in this situation face.

It’s no secret that being an attorney can be stressful.  Job hunting can make you pull your hair out, appearing before a judge for the first time can cause heart palpitations and working until midnight can make you cranky.  It’s also no secret that stress can really mess up your productivity, self-esteem and personal relationships.

I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a stressball myself so, in order to make it through the day without freaking out, I try to exercise practices to reduce my stress.  I would like to share some of those techniques with you.  These techniques require you to take small steps but will hopefully cause a big change in your well being.  As an added benefit, they are inexpensive and easily accessible.  Your challenge this week is to pick one or two of these suggestions and give them a try.

1)      Accept the stress and move on:

  • So, you’re having an all out panic attack.  Don’t fight those emotions—accept that they are there.  Telling yourself to “snap out of it” or pushing those feelings aside will only make you feel worse.  All of us feel negative emotions at some point or another, it’s perfectly normal.  It’s what you do with those emotions that really make the difference.  Be present with that loss of control, as hard as that may be.  Remind yourself that it’s just an intangible trick of the mind and let it go.  It sounds simple, but it is a very hard thing to do in practice.  Negative thoughts can trick your mind into believing they are real by taking your nervous system hostage.  I have worked with teachers of release techniques and read some great materials on this topic, and I have found that letting these negative feelings go feels better than letting them take over.

2)      Don’t eat junk:

  • I know, you’re going to argue that you don’t have time to eat well.  Nonsense.  If you work in an office, I suspect there is a fridge in the kitchen that you can use.  If you don’t have that option, you can bring a lunch bag with a freeze pack.  I have friends who bring their lunches to work at least three times a week.  This practice not only helps them control what they are eating but also saves them a lot of money.  If you are in transition and working on job searching from home, try to curb your snacking if you can.  If that is hard for you and you feel like you need to be crunching on something at all times, try to substitute the unhealthy snacks for healthy ones.  Eating well throughout the day will hopefully help to keep you from crashing and feeling tired and cranky.

3)      Get some exercise:

  • I have an exercise bike from 1982 in my apartment.  Sure, people tease me about it, but it really helps keep me sane.  Even when I don’t have much time in my day, I try to get a little ride in before or after working.  If you don’t have access to exercise equipment, try to walk to your meetings or office, if possible.   If you have any opportunity to get your heart rate up, take it.  My fiancé does push-ups in his office.  Getting exercise will clear your mind and make you feel more energized.

4)      Surround yourself with people who don’t suck:

  • I know that sometimes we can’t control having to interact with jerks at work.  But, in your personal life, you do have control over the people you allow into your life.  If someone is really bad for your psyche and they are brining you down, distance yourself if you can.  When I learned to do this, my stress got infinitely better.  Being stressed about work is bad, but being stressed about personal relationships can be even worse.  Wouldn’t you rather be around supportive folks who take your mind off of work?  I think most of us would answer yes.