Sunday, November 29, 2009

Releasing Your Inner Writer

Secretly harboring a creative writer? Actually a frustrated journalist? Always dreaming of the day you'll start writing your book? You're not alone amongst lawyers. Carpe diem. Take a cue from this blogger who credits a sibling for getting him going. It's about basketball and life. What's YOUR story?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Practical Tips for Networking in a Job Search

A practical article from the WSJ on networking to find a job.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Moms-In-Law: A Kitchen Table Discussion...

I'm facilitating an event in Detroit on December 1st called "Moms-In-Law: A Kitchen Table Discussion. Negotiating and Succeeding With a New Work Schedule."

Co-sponsored by the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan - Wayne Region.

December 1st
12:00 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.

For more information:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Who's That? Self-Introductions At Meetings

I went to two different bar association related events this week. One before work and the other at lunchtime. They both had 20 or so lawyers present. One was a collaborative meeting of various bar groups on diversity issues. The other had a speaker. At the start of the diversity meeting everyone was asked to introduce themselves to the group. When people came in later, they were asked to introduce themselves.

The speaker lunch program started without self-introductions. I know the reason was related to time - - that it would take time away from the hour available for the program for everyone to introduce themselves to the group. However, the difference in the effect on the subsequent discussions was palpable.

Introductions help people connect and relate to each other better. Even when you can't remember the person's name or position, it still helps that you heard it. You know that someone down at the other end of the table does some kind of municipal finance work. Or you've listened and perhaps realized someone else is the person you've been wanting to meet. You've listened and perhaps realized this is the person you've exchanged emails with or read about in the paper. Now you can put a face to a name.

Introductions at this sized event can take as little as 7-8 minutes total with as much as 20 seconds per person. Yet the effect on the membership present can be huge. People will start to get to know more people. A community feeling will develop more quickly. Using greeters or hosts ensures that new members will feel welcome and acknowledged. Then they'll be more likely to return, get active, bring other potential members, etc.

These suggestions aren't new and the benefits aren't limited to association type events. A few years ago self-introductions were used for the first time to start a meeting of partners from multiple offices who were all in the same good sized practice group in a firm. Not surprisingly, this new twist loosened everyone up and set a good tone for an open discussion of strategies for the group. It took a few minutes and perhaps seemed unnecessary to some, but it definitely made a difference to those people who didn't know everyone.

Ms. JD's 3rd Annual Conference on Women In The Law

Check out for information on Avenues to Advancement, Ms. JD's Third Annual Conference on Women in the Law at Northwestern Law School. It includes more than 20 different panels on Saturday featuring lawyers and other professionals from across the country. Friday's student-only workshops on presentation and self-promotion had limited space and sold out.

The conference is co-sponsored by Ms. JD, the ABA's Commission on Women in the Profession and Young Lawyers Division, the Chicago Bar Association, NAWL and the Women and Law Committee of the Illinois State Bar.

And now here's the blatant plug for the Successful Interviewing Techniques panel . . . women from Baker & McKenzie, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, Latham & Watkins and yours truly, moderated by Northwestern Law School's Assistant Dean for Career Services.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Associates: Who Do You See In the Mirror?

I coach a number of lawyers in the mid to senior associate category. Despite success as associates, they often realize that they still hold themselves back by thinking of themselves first as associates, rather than as lawyers or, more specifically, as someone's lawyer. This self image affects how they interact with more senior lawyers and partners, and with clients and potential clients. It also often influences how those people see them and treat them.

I've seen miraculous things start to happen when these associates make the conceptual shift to a bigger vision for themselves. I've seen it happening again this week. When they start to act more like lawyers than associates, they've started to receive more responsibility and get more respect. They've gotten better work. They've started developing ideas and working towards a focus in their practice. They're strengthening relationships with their colleagues and clients, and building relationships with potential clients.

When you step into a bigger vision for yourself, you start taking control of your career. What's there not to like about that?

I talked with another potential client in this demographic this week. I hope he looks in the mirror and sees what I see for him.

Powerful Questions

This week, in a non-coaching context, I experienced the power of coaching questions to diffuse tension and start a productive discussion about an employee's performance. You don't have to be a coach to ask these types of questions.
  • What will help you do your job?
  • What do you need to get this [task accomplished]?
  • What do you need from us?
  • What can we do to help you to . . . ?

If these kinds of questions diffuse tension and open up discussions at work, how can they help your other relationships? What if you asked your spouse:

  • What can I do to help you . . . this week?
  • What do you need from the rest of us [to keep your sanity over the Thanksgiving holiday]?

Thoughtful questions to potential and current clients will elicit the same kind of information. You'll find out their pain and you'll realize what you can do to help them.

You don't have to be a lawyer coach to ask powerful questions, and you don't always have to wear your lawyer hat.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Networking 101 For Law Students, Part Two

Establishing and Maintaining Relationships: What do you do after you have identified lawyers you want to talk to as part of your job search? First, remember that your networking is still about building relationships.

Therefore, regardless of how you contact the lawyer, instead of starting by asking whether the law firm or company is hiring, consider what will produce a longer conversation. Get to know the lawyer and the law firm, and let them get to know you. Doesn't this sound like getting your foot in the door? If you start by saying you are looking for a job and then asking whether the law firm is hiring, the conversation may end with a quick "no".

Your preparation helps you again. Think of ways to ask for advice and information, rather than asking immediately for a job. Tell lawyers why you are interested in talking with them and ask if they would be willing to talk to you. Let them know how long it will take. Thinking of this as information gathering and relationship building will build your confidence and also help you excel later when you have real job interviews. You can learn a lot if you are curious during informational interviews. And since it is flattering, people are more likely to respond to this approach and give you some of their time.

At the end of any conversation, ask if the person can suggest other lawyers for you to contact. This question can be more effective than asking to be kept in mind, or simply asking whether they know of any openings. By consistently asking for additional names, you can quickly build a list of lawyers to contact. Doesn't that sound a lot more promising, proactive and effective than waiting for job postings to appear?

I am a believer in hand written notes to thank contacts for their time and advice. If your goal is to set yourself apart, this will help. At a bar association board meeting last year, a member commented about the board writing thank you notes to our corporate sponsors: "I didn't think people did that anymore." My point exactly.

Stay in touch with your contacts with periodic follow up on the status of your information gathering and job search, and later, after you get a legal job. You can send short emails updating them. If it makes you more comfortable, you can make it clear that no response is required. Since no response is required, and people like to know that they invested their time well, there is little downside and much to be gained by staying in touch. You want to be in their thoughts if they later learn of an opportunity that would be right for you.

A law student asked me the other day about staying in touch with a lawyer in a law firm from which the student ultimately did not get an offer. The same approach can be used in this kind of situation. When you connect with people, you can follow up, tell them why you are interested in talking to them again and go forward from there.

Of course, you will use your own words and find a way that works for you. Networking for job purposes (and most purposes) takes time. Like public speaking and many other skills, the more you do, the better you become. Why not start building some relationships today?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Networking 101 For Law Students, Part One

Today I gave a lunchtime presentation on networking to about 45 first and second year law students at the University of Michigan Law School. The term "networking" didn't even exist when I graduated from there 20 years ago. The event was called "Networking Without Fear!"

So how do you network without fear, or at least reduce your fear to an acceptable level of anxiety? I believe that the key lies in the words of legendary Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler when talking to his players about the only way they will defeat the opposing team whose players they must assume are just as big, strong and talented: "Preparation, preparation, preparation." Two of my former partners were players under Bo, and they use exactly the same mindset and approach in their cases to defeat their legal opponents. I believe that when something works for sports, it often works very well in other aspects of our lives as well.

What does preparation mean in terms of networking for law students? First, know yourself. Do a self assessment just like you would to prepare for actual job interviews. Identify your strengths, interests, values, unique attributes and the value you offer. Second, know what you are looking for. Something as broad as a job doing anything law related anywhere in the country? Or can you be more specific as to location, type of employer, area of practice? Do you want to work for a firm, a corporation, the government, a non-profit organization?

Know the purpose of your networking -- to find a job now and/or in the future. Short term and/or long term. Remember that networking is about establishing relationships. People do business with, and hire, people they know, like and trust. Be known, be liked, be trusted. Make friends. When you connect with people, you will know it. Don't just collect business cards. Remember that sometimes it takes time to make friends, to build relationships. Stick with it. (A bonus from this networking is that when you maintain these contacts after you get a job, you have a large network of people who already like you and may send you business someday- - business referral sources. Don't go to all this effort networking to find a job and then let the relationships lapse once you land one. You never know when your network may help you again. You may want or need a new job someday, perhaps sooner than you think. Getting business referred to you will always make your day.)

Third, conduct purposeful networking. Establish relationships with people in or near what you are looking for in terms of the type of employer, a particular firm or company, location, a practice area or specialty, etc. Review your existing personal network to see who you already know who fit those criteria. Your existing personal network includes your family, relatives, friends, classmates, family's friends, neighbors, colleagues at previous jobs, teachers, professors, people from your extra curricular activities, church, your kids' friends' families, etc. Then look at the next level of your network - - your law school's alumni. They are probably everywhere in every kind of position imaginable. Use your career services office & website, alumni office & website, LinkedIn, FaceBook,, and any kind of search available on the Internet to find them. Include your college alumni network and career services office and website resources. Look at the websites of the firms, companies, organizations, offices, in which you are interested. Do they include alumni from your law school or undergraduate institution? Identify those people.

If you are open to different kinds of employers in a certain city, and you don't know anyone, or want to get to know more people there, keep in mind that local bar associations are excellent ways to meet lawyers. There are city, county, women's, specialty, etc. bar associations everywhere. People in leadership roles within them tend to be particularly receptive to inquiries and interest displayed by aspiring, enthusiastic law students.

Next time - - Part Two of Networking 101: Establishing and Maintaining Relationships.