Many junior lawyers find themselves unhappy at firms for different reasons. The overriding theme seems to be that the experience turns out to be inconsistent with their expectations. One way to potential avoid this outcome is to ask the five questions listed below before starting the job. These questions are taken from the helpful blog post linked here, which suggests asking these and other questions during an interview. LegalJob notes that these questions can be useful even when networking for the purpose of trying to figure out what kind of legal job (and practice area) most suits you.
Which practice areas are growing and which are declining?
This seems like a useful question to ask a prospective employer or a networking contact during an informational interview. The information provided could help you decide your “major” as a law student and/or which practice area(s) are in demand. Note that the answer could be particular to the firm but even so it is valuable information to have up front. The currency at a firm is the billable hour and a growing practice area is helpful for generating lots of hours.
Legal job posts a lot about the role of a mentor and a sponsor (which often are two different people) and the importance of securing one as a junior law firm associate. This post focuses on the mentee because securing a quality mentor is only half of the equation. There are certain things a mentee can do (and know) to enhance the value of the relationship (for both parties).
Below are five things a mentee can do to make the most out of his or her mentor relationship:
1) Make the relationship a legitimate, two -way exchange of give and take. This item is discussed in Making Partner and is most important. Your mentor has to see the value in serving in that role for you. How will you provide value to the mentor so that he or she will want to be your mentor? Perhaps you will do excellent work for them as their associate. Or you can think of useful business development idea for their practice and further, help your prospective mentor implement the idea. Or maybe you have a business contact or friend of a friend that can help your prospective mentor in some way. Maybe you have a helpful contact that can help your prospective mentor personally, i.e., tickets to a special sporting event, something for her husband or his wife or kids.
1) Get the list of the attendees beforehand and zero in on two or three people with whom you are interested in connecting.
2) Research these people, and dig deep. The internet is just a good starting point. In your research, think about ways you can possibly be helpful to them.
3) Go early and leave early (or at least as soon as you have met the folks you targeted). There will be less people there early so starting a conversation may be more natural. Also, people including you will get tired of the event one hour in so leave before you burn out.
This time of year provides a great opportunity to get a head start on 2015. Consider taking these five steps:
1) Develop your relationship with a mentor. Do you have a helpful mentor with whom you work well? If not, perhaps now is a good time to consider possible candidates and reach out to them. If you have a mentor, consider reaching out to him or her to discuss what went well in 2014 and goals for 2015. Make sure you have an agenda though and have questions thought out and written ahead of time so you can maximize your meeting time.
2) Follow-up on your year-end evaluation. Hopefully, you received some tangible feedback this year as to possible opportunity areas for you to grow and develop as a lawyer. Prepare a plan for addressing these items. If you have a plan, perhaps now is a good time to tackle some of the items. It may also a good time to seek further clarification (possibly from your mentor) for how best to remedy these items.
Successful lawyers have in common that they focus on addressing the client’s needs, wants, quirks, and preferences. They are able to put themselves in the mind of their client because they are constantly asking their clients what they want or learning what they are thinking about. As discussed in Making Partner, this same mentality will help you achieve lots of success in your law career. Your client may change along with the preferences but the model of being other person-centric does not. Consider the short examples below using professors and firm partners (both as your potential employers and as your clients). There will be future posts on this topic, including one that addresses being client centric.
Professor centric. A recent post discussed the value of getting inside your professors’ heads in the context of final exams. In other words, you will likely do well in the class if you spend some (one-on-one) time understanding their background, what topics are interesting to them, how they think, what concepts they believe their students should understand, whether there is an order of importance among topics, etc.
Partner (as your potential employer) centric. To obtain the position at a top law firm — particularly if you do not have top overall grades — your first step is to understand what the firm, or more specifically, the partners at the firm are looking for. Dig deep here in your research. Are they looking for a particular specialty within a practice area? Are they looking for previous work experience? How about relevant academic background from undergraduate school or law school or both? Once you know what the firm is looking for, you can more easily make your case that you could contribute immediately to the practice based on your academic success in xyz law and related courses and relevant work experience and that, as such, the firm’s investment is less of a risk than its investment in others who show little or no previous commitment to xyz law.
This post is the second part to reinforce the idea that before you can have a chance of obtaining your dream legal job, it helps to understand what that concept of “the dream legal job” means for you. Check out this link for additional tips on how to go about that process.
Image courtesy of posterize/FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
LegalJob’s guest blogger Jenny Maxey provides some networking nuggets below for law students. Jenny is the author of Barrister on a Budget: Investing in Law School…without Breaking the Bank, which will be available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble on November 17, 2014. To find out more information, visit www.JennyLMaxey.com.
Attempting to build a network can be costly – new suits, reception or conference fees, professional group membership dues, and even transportation to get to the events can all add up. When you’re a student and especially as a new law grad, no or low income can make networking a challenge. However, the fiercely competitive legal job market demands having a network secured. The old adage of who you know is more important than what you know isn’t wrong, and, although the legal profession requires both, during a recession the “who” becomes critical.
The easiest and most optimal plan to network on a budget includes a significant job from the summer after your first year, continuing through a part-time job for your entire second and third years. Not only will this reduce your likely level of debt, it will prove invaluable for building a professional knowledge, credibility, and network. However, as many summer associate programs have lowered their class sizes, this plan isn’t always achievable.
LegalJob was recently asked whether it is appropriate to ask a partner for an explanation for some of his decisions regarding how much of his billable time was written off or discounted.
This is a thoughtful question and the advice ties together at least three of the best practices discussed in Making Partner: i) having a partner mind-set, ii) being firm/partner/client centric, and iii) making others look good.
LegalJob believes it is very appropriate to have the conversation as long as the associate has the awareness to be sensitive about overstepping. So much of this communication depends on how you frame the issue and your tone.
This post is the second of a two-part series providing practical tips for becoming a rising star. Below are some suggestions for: (i) taking ownership, (ii) using a soft and measured approach and tone, and (iii) managing time effectively. These principles are discussed in further detail in Making Partner.
1) Taking ownership
a) Demonstrate with your words that you believe each issue is indeed your problem as opposed to the partner’s/firm’s problem or the client’s problem.