Pre-law students spend a lot of time deciding whether they should go to law school and which law school they should attend. What if law school does not work out? What if they cannot get a job? Should they go to the higher ranked school in the city in which they have no desire to live?
Law students spend a lot of time picking their major. What should they pick? How do they make the choice? What if they pick the wrong the practice area? What if there are no jobs available in this practice area? What if they make the “wrong” decision and hate what they do?
Law firm associates spend a lot of time focusing on a niche. What should they pick? How do they make the choice? Is their pick a viable niche in the long term? Is Making Partner a feasible goal? Should they stay at the same firm?
LegalJob has mentioned in Making Partner and on this blog the importance of picking a major as the first step in pursuing a legal job. This step can open up opportunities for you when networking as you target your meetings with people who are practicing in the area you have identified and you later reference what you learned in your interviews as a way of demonstrating your sincere interest level and seriousness of purpose.
So how do you start? What major should you pick if you have no idea what you want to do? As mentioned in previous posts, reading a paper and watching Congress highlights the heavy activity in regulatory areas such as tax, securities, financial services, health care, intellectual property, etc. These areas seem to have lots of job opportunities as demand is outpacing supply.
There are also some up and coming practice areas that are worth exploring. Take a look at this blog which discusses eleven hot practices areas such as digital asset planning, privacy law, nontraditional family practice, marijuana law, wine law, robotics, etc. The author notes that each of these areas provide lots of job opportunities, staying power, are growth industries, have relative ease of entry, and have wide geographic scope.
Making Partner provides tips for how to be a successful law student such as joining study groups, reviewing old exams if available, and learning about the issues which interest your professors. Supplement the advice in Making Partner with the guidance contained in the article linked on this blog (click on PDF option near bottom of post).
The article provides useful advice on reading cases, briefing cases, taking notes, creating outlines, and preparing for exams.
Making Partner today is likely to depend on various factors for which you have no control — how the firm is doing, how your practice group is doing, who else is being considered at the same time, etc. There are, however, at least two items you can control — becoming technically proficient in your particular practice area and mastering certain behaviors called soft skills that will help you work effectively with all types of partners and clients. Soft skills are personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people. These skills are covered extensively in Making Partner.
This post focuses on one soft skill, effective communication. Note, however, that demonstrating substantive proficiency is a must and a focus on developing and refining soft skills is not a substitute. Young lawyers should strive to learn as much as possible from partners, seek mentors, regularly keep up with recent developments, write and speak on relevant and timely topics, attend seminars to stay current with the latest happenings in the area, etc. The ABA has various books in its survival guide series to help you navigate through various practice areas.
Now, back to the soft skills. The key to communicating effectively is to determine and satisfy partner preferences as much as possible. As summarized below, each stage of a project from the partner – receiving the assignment, performing the work, and presenting the conclusions — provides the associate an opportunity to demonstrate understanding of partner preferences and to satisfy those preferences. Read More…
In Making Partner, we talk about the importance of securing an effective “sponsor” early on as an associate. In that context, a sponsor is someone who has your back and is in a position of influence when it comes time to fight for your annual raises, leadership positions for you at the firm, and consideration for partnership (both whether you should be considered and timing). It is also important to secure a mentor who can help teach you how to practice law and how to be a xyz (tax, securities, corporate, etc.) lawyer. Generally, a mentor and a sponsor will be two different people. A mentor can be someone for whom you do a lot of work and one who is clearly technically proficient as a xyz lawyer. A sponsor should be someone with whom you may have something in common, so called touchpoints (i.e., a female for female associates, someone with a similar background, from the same hometown, someone with whom you share similar interests, hobbies, etc.) that is in a leadership position at the firm.
Check out this interview to learn about sponsors (albeit in the corporate context but it works the same way at the firm) and advice for finding the right sponsor. The article explains the difference between a sponsor and a mentor (and suggests sponsors are more important but in the law firm context, they are both important on your way to making partner). From the article, “Mentors shine as you start to define your dream. They can see and put into words for you what you may not see about yourself or be able to articulate. They can help you determine your strengths: what you do exceptionally well and what sets you apart…If mentors help define the dream, sponsors are the dream-enablers. Sponsors deliver: They make you visible to leaders within the company — and to top people outside as well. They connect you to career opportunities and provide air cover when you encounter trouble.”
Image courtesy of nokhoog buchachon/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
LegalJob is frequently asked how young attorneys can build their client base. Many ideas for long term success are provided in Making Partner. Two of those ideas are to: (i) actively seek referrals; and (ii) have the long view.
Actively seek referrals
One should consider actively seeking referrals from: (i) existing clients; (ii) colleagues; and (iii) friends.
Four ways to distinguish yourself early in 2014:
1) New Years card – Did you not send holiday cards to clients? What about sending a Happy New Years card this week? Sure, there is a risk that you will be seen as procrastinating but you will also distinguish yourself from the pack, especially if you tailor the card to the recipient with a short note (as opposed to just signing your name).
2) Check in with clients — Talk to the firm clients for whom you have recently worked and ask how the firm is doing. Are the clients pleased with the firm’s work? What are the clients’ goals (legal and non-legal) for 2014? How can you (and the firm) help? Note this call should not be about collecting outstanding receivables. Also, make sure to obtain approval from the appropriate partner before doing this, and coordinate with the client contact by email first to give that person the heads up (for good times and days for a short phone call).
Five thoughts to help hit the ground running in 2014:
1) Prepare a rough chart estimating where you think your work will come from in 2014 with detail about projects/matters and number of billable hours in three columns: 1) Most likely projects/matters (e.g., projects which will continue from 2013, projects you have been told about); 2) Potential projects/matters (based on 2013 and prior years, if relevant); and 3) Aspirational projects/matters (those items for which you have express interest in or would like to develop an expertise in). The value in this exercise is thinking ahead and having a general game plan with which you can proceed to step two.
2) Review your list with your practice coordinator (or whoever is the right person). Are your estimates consistent with the Firm’s/partners’ plan? If there are major discrepancies, do you understand why after discussing the list? Are there too many entries on your list? Not enough? Are they appropriately categorized? Should you look for more long-term projects to keep your plate full during slow times now? Are your allocations of time reasonable? Are there ways the Firm can help you work on projects on your aspirational list?
This article linked here “The Economic Value of a Law Degree” should be of interest to young persons investigating whether or not to go to law school.
The authors conclude that ”a law degree is associated with a 60 percent median increase in monthly earnings and 50 percent increase in median hourly wages…[and] estimate the mean pre-tax lifetime value of a law degree as approximately $1,000,000.”
Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net.