Monthly Archives: April 2010

Job Search Strategies: A hit of hope

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

I thought I would give you a little hit of hope to allay any end-of-week slump you may be in. The New York Times on Sunday ran a small item with real numbers showing that the job market is improving. While unemployment remained at 9.7 percent in March, there was a 19 percent increase in job postings in 10 of 12 industry categories over March of last year.

While I have not heard of any new landings by attorney friends and colleagues this week or last week for that matter, some people have been to initial interviews and second interviews for job openings with very large numbers of applicants. I deduce (I hope correctly) that there are more openings coming down the pipeline so they are lining up more job candidates.

One friend received a call back for a financial government job and we are hoping she’ll land it. Another got not one, but two interviews for two different positions with a state agency in Chicago. And a colleague who has chosen to switch fields into teaching got an interview for a high school teaching job and then a request for a second interview.

At the same time that we are struggling with this scarce jobs situation, there is another encouraging statistic: Some Baby Boomers are retiring and more of them will do so in the next few years, freeing up more jobs. And, as companies begin doing better they will need more workers again, and that will include more legal professionals.

Some or all of these factors may result in more job offers, but it is a good sign that the interviews are taking place. As the author and work-force consultant Tamara Erickson says in the article, “Cheer up, the real possibility of finding a job that you’ll like is increasing every day.” Amen.

Get a life!

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.

When you are in transition, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.  Job searching, networking, hand shaking— it can get pretty exhausting.  You have to remember, however, that you are not just a job searching machine, you’re a person.

Now that summer is, slowly, making its way to Chicago you should take some time to enjoy it.  Why?  Why not?  Many of us believe that the moment we take time for ourselves, we miss opportunities.

If you are exhausted from job searching, you probably won’t do too well in an interview anyway.  If you are beyond frustrated, all of the jobs you see will begin to blur in your mind.

I am reading a book called “What Color is Your Parachute?” by Richard Bolles.  This is a book geared towards people who are looking for jobs and changing careers, and I highly recommend that you check it out.  Richard says the first thing you should do after you lose your job is sleep.  Sleep!  I think this is sound advice.  Think about how much more productive you are after you’ve caught up on sleep.  How will you be revved up for the job search if you are a zombie?   Get in a solid eight hours before you spend the day writing cover letters and fixing up your resume.  Trust me, you won’t regret taking that time to let your body and mind heal.

Job searching can also take a toll on your mood.  If you have special people in your life it is ultra important that you take time for yourself.  Think of how your spouse will feel if you snap at her because you didn’t get an interview this week.  The supportive people in your life surely want you to be kind to yourself.

If you are looking for fun things to do, without breaking the bank, you can find tons of free events in Chicago.  One I recommend is the Chicago Art Institute.  It’s free on Thursdays from 5 to 8 pm in the summertime.  If you are on Facebook, you can join a group called Free Things to do in Chicago and tap into tons of opportunities.  Check out Groupon, Metromix and City Search as well for more great ideas for inexpensive and fun things to do.  Don’t forget about the many free concerts and movies in the city parks.

Heck, you can always walk around the block to clear your mind.  If it’s a nice day, you can’t beat the fresh air.  If you’ve been sitting at a desk for four hours or more, it’s a clue that you may need a walk around the block.

When it comes down to it, you are in charge of your well-being.  A well-balanced person is a better employee, friend, parent, and spouse.  Your challenge this week is to go out and so something fun.  You deserve it!

Q & A with one of our speakers

Attorney Christine Svenson, who will be a speaker at our Wednesday event, took some time to answer a few of our questions.

What do you hope people get out of what you have to say?

That hard work and dedication really do pay off, but be prepared for it to take years!  And never give up.

What is the no. 1 piece of advice you have for someone considering starting their own firm?

Be ready and willing to handle any case that walks in the door

What is the no. 1 piece of advice you have for someone going through a career transition?

Talk to as many people in your industry as possible…. and do it face to face, not by sending out e-mails or reading blogs.

Why is networking so important to lawyers facing job uncertainty?

Networking is important for EVERYBODY!  Because in this day in age, unless you graduated from Harvard Law School or the like, you are going to need something intangible to set you apart from the rest of the pack.  And that intangible is most likely knowing and being connected to a person of influence!

Job Search Strategies: your USP

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

This past week, a colleague and I were discussing her burgeoning estate planning practice and ways to increase her client base. We talked about who her target audience is and how to best market to that audience. Thought, research and analysis is required to get the answers to these questions, but your practice will thrive if you stick with developing your ideal client profile and determining the best ways to attract those clients.

With my friend, I thought back to concepts I successfully applied in my prior life as a marketer. I found myself talking to her about USP, her Unique Selling Proposition.

This concept dates back to the 1940s but is still as valid today as it was then. According to Wikipedia, the Unique Selling Proposition, a term invented by Rosser Reeves of Ted Bates & Company, is “a marketing concept that states that marketing campaigns make unique propositions to the customer and that this convinces them to switch brands.”

Each advertisement must say to each reader: “Buy this product, and you will get this specific benefit.” Obviously, it would be a violation of ethics rules to say that to our prospective clients, but we can differentiate ourselves through our skill set so that the clients perceive a specific benefit in hiring us, and not another lawyer.

“Today the term is applied to other fields to refer to any aspect of an object that differentiates it from similar objects.” So, you are saying to yourself, how does this apply to my law practice? The reality is you are selling yourself and you have to differentiate yourself from other lawyers. You have to attract your clients with a specific set of abilities and characteristics.

The large firms are a brand in themselves, they are known names and attract clients simply as a result of USPs that were developed years ago. Your solo or small law practice has to develop its own USP.

I believe in a small practice, success is achieved by specialization. That is, the more specialized you are the better your chances of appealing to clients with a particular issue that you have identified as your USP.

Even though my solo practice was very new before I moved to Miami, I had a  respectable flow of clients. Local attorneys referred clients to me because they knew that I was Hispanic and would relate well to Hispanic clients, (especially if they didn’t speak English well!), and that I would competently litigate real estate cases with which those attorneys were not prepared to deal. These referring attorneys related to me that clients specifically asked them if they knew of a Hispanic woman attorney they could recommend for their real estate issue.

From these referrals I realized that my USP was clear and it was working. You may think that you don’t have such a built-in USP, but you can certainly develop one. My estate planning friend has to focus her marketing efforts on a particular market segment. This could be single women, or same sex couples, or Baby Boomers, or athletes, etc. At the same time honing her expertise and attaining visible achievements in a particular facet estate planning that these types of clients will need.

Obviously, at the outset, for financial expediency you sometimes have to take cases that do not serve your particular selling proposition, but your steady focus on your particular USP plan will help you to succeed. Over the long run, this establishes a clear direction for the development of your practice.

Meet one of our upcoming speakers

Richard Komaiko is a co-founder of The Lawyer Market.  The Lawyer Market is the world’s first online marketplace for legal services.  Headquartered in Chicago, The Lawyer Market helps lawyers find new clients with no up-front costs, no membership fees, and no commitment.

He is one of our speakers at our upcoming Wednesday event. He took some time to answer our questions.

What do you hope people get out of what you have to say? Unit economics

What is the no. 1 piece of advice you have for someone considering starting their own firm? If you try and fail, you can always cure your failure.  If you don’t try, you can never cure regret.

What is the no. 1 piece of advice you have for someone going through a career transition? Everyone in the legal industry is going through a career transition — some just haven’t realized it yet.

Why is networking so important to lawyers facing job uncertainty? Networking is important because of unknown unknowns.  You won’t come to know what you don’t already know until you go out and talk with people.

Oh clients, where art thou?

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.

If you are starting a law practice, there are a million things on your mind.  You are looking for office space, making business cards and marketing materials, and networking your butt off.  It’s possible that after doing all of those things you may realize that you do not yet have any clients.  No fear.  You have built the foundation of your practice, and the clients will come.

So, how will potential clients find you?

Word of Mouth:

The most popular way to get clients is through word of mouth.  I know an attorney who built a thriving practice strictly through word-of-mouth referrals.  Make sure to tell your friends, colleagues, former colleagues, networking buddies, family— everyone really— that you have started a practice.  The more people who know you are open for business, the more people will think of you when someone they know needs a lawyer.  Make sure to especially let your friends at firms know about your practice.  I have had many friends contact me to tell me a partner at their firm is looking for an attorney who practices in a certain area of law that the firm doesn’t handle.  Those can be some of the best clients.

Marketing:

Marketing is an essential component to any successful business.  These days, it is almost essential to have a website if you run a business.  If you do create a website, make sure that the content on your website complies with the ethical rules for the states you are licensed in and the states you hope to attract clients from.  There are rules about advertising and solicitation, so make sure you are familiar with all of them.  I would also suggest writing a disclaimer on your website.  Here are some helpful links to help you determine the ethical obligations you are responsible for in Illinois and other states:

http://www.abanet.org/legalservices/clientdevelopment/adrules/

https://www.iardc.org/rulesprofconduct.html

Social media is a great way to market your practice.  Many of my colleagues have fan pages on Facebook for their firms.  They also use Twitter to publish links to informative articles or court decisions.  Be careful with social media.  Treat it no differently from a website and abide by all ethical rules.  If you are going to use social media to market your practice, use your common sense.  If you are friends with a client on Facebook, don’t complain about how much you hate working on a Saturday and, for heaven’s sake, don’t post pictures of your weekend drinking binge!

Referrals:

Many organizations have referral lists that you can get your name on.  For example, the Chicago Bar Association (CBA) has a lawyer referral program.  There are some requirements to be included on their list, however, so make sure to check with the CBA first.  Many non-profit organizations will gladly refer cases to you if you are looking to get some pro bono experience or are willing to use a sliding scale fee.

I have also been told that pre-paid legal service agencies are a good way to get clients.  Like anything else, there are certain requirements that pre-paid legal service agencies have to be affiliated with them, so you should definitely get all of the facts before you sign up with one.

You became a lawyer to serve the needs of clients.  This week’s challenge is to take steps to make that possible.

Job Search Strategies: hearing more about change

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

This past week I received e-mails from various sources that described changes in the legal profession and changes in the way lawyers are educated and trained. About the first, it remains to be seen whether the changes will be positive. As for the second, hallelujah.

Those who converse with me on a regular basis know how strongly I think the legal education system needs an overhaul. And we all know that I not alone in thinking this, that it has become a torrent of opinion, criticism and progressive new ideas. The poor economy and job market probably have something to do with the calls for change, but the outcry is also probably due to the globalization.

One e-mail came from The Posse List and it was a review of a conference titled “Future Ed: New Business Models for U.S. and Global Legal Education,” covered by an article from Law 360. The conference was sponsored by Harvard Law School and New York Law School. The substance of the conference is how to control the cost of law school in view of the changed job market. But the item that spoke to me the loudest was the impetus to give law students more practical training during law school. The connection is that the students will be more valuable when they start practicing than if they only experienced the theory of law.

Many of us have discussed with great regret how, when we started working as lawyers, we didn’t even know how to draft an order, or necessarily how the court system works. Some schools are going to be requiring students to undergo experiential learning. At Washington and Lee University School of Law, for example, the third-year students will be going through simulated client experiences. What a wondrous thing!

Part and parcel of this process is the globalization of law school learning, an inevitable result of what is going on in the world. Even if you grew up and live and now work in a small town you will probably at some point encounter the need to counsel clients on some international issue. It might be the immigration of a relative or something to do with an export or import business, or a myriad other issues. Being prepared for that will make for better lawyering.

Talking to strangers

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.

You know how your mom told you not to talk to strangers when you were a kid?  Guess what?  You’re not a kid anymore!  You should go ahead and chuck that concept all together.  Talking to strangers is the best move there is.  It can land you a job or it can be a great rainmaking technique.  The more you talk to strangers, the more you realize that they were never really strangers in the first place.

Let’s say you catch wind that one of your favorite authors is going to be speaking downtown.  You really want to go see him, but you are afraid to go by yourself and none of your friends know his work.  You suck it up and go anyway, but you are nervous because there is a cocktail hour beforehand and you don’t know who will be there.  It’s okay to be nervous, but don’t let that stop you from walking up to the first person you see, extending your arm and saying, “hi, I’m [insert name here].”  The person on the other side of your handshake will be genuinely interested in talking to you.  Why?

Well, despite what you may think, you are interesting.  I realize that some of you are shy or don’t enjoy “networking.”  I respect that, but I can’t imagine that when provided with the opportunity to make a new friend you wouldn’t take it.

I recently attended a talk on networking.  Someone in the audience asked, “How do I connect with someone I have nothing in common with?”  My own response to that question is, You do have something in common with that person, you just don’t know it yet.  There is a reason your mom told you not to talk to strangers when you were a kid.  Kids talk to everyone!  Parents have to teach kids to be careful because kids don’t yet have the ability to judge.  I say, embrace your inner child and stop judging.  Don’t put labels on other people, and especially don’t put them on yourself.  You are more than your law license.  You are an alumnus of a school, an avid fan of something, a parent, a friend of a friend, a member of some kind of group.  You have many component parts that make up your story, and your story is interesting.  Tell it to the person you are talking with, and I can assure you that something you say will resonate with them.  It’s really that simple.

If you are in transition, there are so many opportunities to meet new friends.  New friends can help you change your perspective when you’re down, they can point you in the direction of job opportunities,  – they may even become your significant other or business partner one day.  Once you realize that you can relate to everyone you meet, your mood will significantly improve and opportunities will multiply for you.

Your challenge this week is to connect with someone new.  There are so many ways to meet people whether in person, or online.  Stray outside your comfort zone a little and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Job Search Strategies: our judges, a precious resource

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

This week I attended an event hosted by a bar association.  It was lighthearted, nothing too serious, but the attendees were primarily lawyers and law students.  It turned out that there were a few judges in attendance as well.  While I waited for the event to begin, I struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me.  After we talked pleasantly for a while about our children and how they are finding their way in the world, I learned that my neighbor was a judge.

I don’t know what reaction you have when you meet a judge in a social setting.  Some attorneys I have worked or socialized with are very accustomed to dealing with judges as “lay” people, that is, outside of the court setting.  They frequently attend social events, or work on committees, or even play golf with judges.

Having been an attorney for only a few years, I generally only interact with judges as they sit on the bench and rule on cases I bring before them in the course of my work as a trial lawyer.  While I have immense respect for sitting judges in the courtroom, I am not overawed in that situation— I consider the sitting judge on any one of my cases as one part of the process, albeit a very important part.  We each perform our roles. Litigation is an adversarial procedure and the judge, in my view, is part and parcel of that procedure.  I am the advocate whose job it is to convince the judge to rule in favor of my client.

So I present my case, and argue to convince, persuade, and if necessary, respectfully confront a judge that I believe is not arriving at the conclusion that I see as reasonable in light of the law and the facts presented.  We all do that in the courtroom or we would not be proper advocates for our clients.

But strangely enough, when I meet a judge outside of the courtroom and our roles at that moment are not strictly defined by the legal process, I find myself unsure and tongue-tied.  I have given some thought to this and have a come up with this conclusion.

In court, we each have our prescribed roles, the judge’s, of course, being the most powerful one and the most important to the integrity of the system.  Outside of court, I am reminded that our judges are regular people, with the same joys and problems as the rest of us, in other words, just as fragile and subject to the ups and downs of life as we all are.  I think that is what I find unsettling.

The freedom and well being we enjoy as a society is a result of a working system of law, of which judges are a fundamental component.  Without learned and fair judges that system falls apart.  If you have lived in, or studied countries where the system of law is weak or failing, you understand why good judges are so important.  If you haven’t, take my word for it.

Our judges make or break our system of law and for that reason, carry an awesome burden for all of us, that of upholding the system to the best of their ability and making sure it works. This they do admirably, in spite of also having to deal with their own personal issues on a daily basis.

So to me, judges and their work are so crucial to a free society that I feel more comfortable interacting with them in their authoritative role in the courtroom rather than in person, as fragile human beings.  But, on the other hand, maybe it is the very humanity of a judge, in part, that makes him or her fit to dispense justice.

Time well spent

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 have geared my last couple of blog posts towards those of you who are thinking about starting your own law practice.  In my last post, I suggested organizing your thoughts.  The best way to organize is by making a “start-up” list.  Last week, you considered whether you wanted to partner up or fly solo.  This week, you should think about the nuts and bolts you will need to get your practice running such as malpractice insurance, business cards, websites and bank accounts.

First and foremost, you should consider your budget.  Budgets can be fluid things, but you should have a general idea of how much money you want to put into your practice on the front end.  If you don’t already have a budget, I recommend checking out a Web site like mint.com, which is a free budget manager.

If you know that you will buy malpractice coverage, which I strongly suggest, shop around.  Ask other attorneys about their carriers.  There are several options out there.  I recommend that you contact at least three carriers before you decide on one.  If you plan to have a side practice, ask the insurance company if they offer a part-time policy.  A part-time policy will cost you less in premium payments, but it will limit the hours you may work on client matters during a week.  You may also want to ask if the carrier offers discounts if you are a member of an organization like a bar association.  It’s worth taking a little time to shop around before you commit to a carrier.

You should definitely have business cards.  When you are out networking, business cards are the icing on your professional cake.  There are obviously many places out there that will set you up with business cards.  Again, it is worth shopping around for the best deal.  One site you may want to check out is called vistaprint.com.  Business cards are free to make on this site, you just pay for shipping.  Depending on the shipping option you choose, you can end up paying a rather minimal fee for your cards.  I highly recommend that you check this out.

Another business tool that you should look into is a Web site.  A Web site is like a virtual follow-up to your face-to-face networking.  These days, no one has credibility without a Web site.  There are tons of Web hosts out there, and you can get a domain name for a relatively low price.  The real key is making your Web site look professional.  Chances are everyone you know also knows a web designer.  My website, www.tiffanyfarber.com, was created by my cousin, graphic designer Angelica Farber. Because there are so many people versed in designing Web sites, you have a good chance of finding one that matches your style and budget.  There are also lots of beginner designers out there who know their stuff and are willing to offer a discounted price.  Ask around.

Aside from your marketing tools and malpractice insurance, make sure you head over to the bank and set up your accounts.  In Illinois, you must set up an IOLTA account.  You should also open an operating account to keep track of money that you earn and money for business expenses.  Make sure to get the card of a business banker.  That person will likely know how to answer your questions that arise in the future.

Your list may begin to seem a bit daunting, so make sure to chip away at it one step at a time.  Don’t get too far ahead of yourself and you will be right on pace.