Thought For The Day

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could.  Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can.  Tomorrow is a new day.  You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Let’s Talk About Resumes

‘Tis the season — the one when you MUST polish off those resumes and get them out to potential employers.  This sounds easy, but … not so fast.  If you found it easy, you might want to look again.

There are resumes, and, then, there are resumes.  The Internet is full of information about how to write the perfect resume, and some of that information is good.  Some also is not so good, so let me contribute my two cents to help you out.  I am a very pragmatic person, so that is how I approach resume writing and legal writing in general.  A little bit of “less is more” plus good solid design.  That’s all it takes.  Here’s what I mean.

The overarching goal for any resume is to make it a “clear path to understanding” for the reader.  This is not just true of resumes, it also is true of the other forms of communication you will utilize in a legal career.  The legal memorandum, for instance, and the legal brief — which, typically, is anything but brief — and the client letter.  These all are forms of communication, which, for your own benefit, should be capable of easy comprehension and understanding.  If there is no such clear path to understanding, this correspondence can find its way to the circular file prematurely, and your objective will not have been achieved.

The “clear path to understanding” must be achieved both in terms of content and form.  Content is easier, so let’s take it first.  Aim for a one page resume.  Use this rule of thumb: If it is not possible to say it in one page, it probably is not worth saying.  That should not be much of a challenge for law students and young lawyers, who have not been in practice long enough to list countless law publications and cases argued at the United States Supreme Court.  Choose the highlights of your qualifications, which should include both academic achievements (and, yes, gpa), employment history and other pertinent background experiences.  Only list references, who you are certain will give you good recommendations, and do not list any references without permission. And, if you have to choose between listing your experience as a Redskins Cheerleader or a clerk in a law firm, do NOT go for the most exciting experience.  You get my drift.

You also should try to tailor your resume to your reader.  If you have several different areas of expertise or background, concentrate on the one that best fits the firm or group you are targeting.  You also should choose your references with that in mind.

As for form, it is almost as important as content.  If the form is so difficult to navigate, the reader will never get to the content.  Or, even if the reader does persevere through the challenging form to the substance, by that time it may be clear that you could be just as difficult to navigate as your resume.  This does not bode well for getting the interview.

Choose the form of your resume with the “clear path to understanding” in mind.  Avoid fonts that involve distracting swirls or are overly artistic.   Keep information in easily readable block format, and use bold type for headings.  Do not use a vertical orientation for your headings unless you expect your reader to assume a complicated yoga position to read the resume.

In other words, follow the KISS rule.  Keep it simple, stupid!  If that approach is good enough for the US Navy, it is good enough for you.  Lawyers, recruiting officers, and clients are busy people.  They appreciate all efforts to provide correspondence that is easily read and understood.  You will be rewarded for your simplicity by having them actually read and, hopefully, remember why you are outstanding and why your experiences and talents are great fits for them.

Judges cannot be overlooked in this communications discussion.  When you are explaining complex legal theories and case interpretations, use introductory phrases and references back to tie the arguments together.  Create a “clear path to understanding” through your brief or memorandum as if you were leading someone through a dense forest or other morass.  Avoid hanging pronouns that do not clearly link back to the noun or proper noun.  It is just a matter of taking care with your writing.  Avoid confusion at all costs.

So, those are my thoughts on your resume and legal writing in general.  I have taught legal writing in law school, and I take it very seriously.  Good writers and good communicators are highly prized in the law profession, so get started early.  Begin with your resume, and lead your reader down that clear path to understanding … that path that actually leads to a job or compels the reader to agree with your arguments and rule in your favor.  Save the flowery rhetoric and gimmicks for another project and another day.

Good luck!


Career Counselors, Law School Educators, Law Students, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

Thought For The Day

I haven’t a clue how my story will end, but that’s all right. When you set out on a journey and night covers the road, that’s when you discover the stars.

Nancy Willard

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Baylor University Law Rocks!

Baylor Law rocks, and I had a great time there last week.  I spoke to law students, law professors, and law school administrators the first day and to accepted and prospective students — and some parents and one dog! — the next day.  Yes, one dog — a really precious dog and NOT a service dog!   That was a first for me.

Both of those appearances were very successful, and the young women law students and prospective law students I met at Baylor were fully engaged in my messages and asked thoughtful and thought-provoking questions.  They stayed around afterwards to talk to me, they shared their own personal stories, they bought books, and some of them even e-mailed me later.  I was particularly impressed by the student panelists, who had insight into their future careers that is not typical of women so young.  It was a pleasure to listen to them and to know that they are the next generation of women lawyers and that they are off to such a great start.

My job is so interesting — and just plain fun — which explains why I fly all over the country doing it.  Flying and driving and and taking trains to some parts of the country where I never have been and know nothing about is worth it every time.  The more young women law students and lawyers I can connect with, the better.  They are the solutions to the low retention rates for women lawyers, and, if Best Friends at the Bar can help improve their choices and make successful and satisfying careers for them more possible, I feel like I am doing my part to create an improved law profession for everyone.  I am not a Queen Bee, and I believe that all seasoned women lawyers have a responsibility to mentor and sponsor young women lawyers to give them the best advantages possible in the profession.  They have special challenges, and they deserve our attention.

It was such a pleasure to meet everyone at Baylor Law and to hear from Baylor Lawyers, who take great pride in their educations and their camaraderie. It was so rewarding to watch the “light bulbs” go off for young women in those audiences.  It was so gratifying to know that these experiences will become part of the foundations for their law careers and will inform their decisions and professionalism throughout their careers.

The Baylor experience is unique.  The underpinnings of that experience are positive personal values, mission and service, and, for me, there are no better words to describe the most significant aspects of a successful and enduring law degree.

For a refresher course about how I view the law profession, read my article, Part 1 and Part 2, on the University of Michigan Career Services web site to learn what I love about the law and what I learned from my Dad.  He could have been a Baylor Lawyer.  Instead, he was a Badger Lawyer (UW Law grad), but the things he respected about a law profession and his high standards for practice and service were indistinguishable from the Baylor experience.  How lucky I was to learn from him.

So, is it any wonder that I loved my time at Baylor Law?  Thanks to all of you at Baylor, who created that for me and who take every opportunity to make positive differences for remarkable young women in the law.  You know who you are …. and so do I …. and I will not forget you!

Go Baylor Law!

Career Counselors, Law School Educators, Law Students, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

Thought For The Day

Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all.  Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach.  The world you desire can be won.  It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it’s yours.

Ayn Rand

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Thought For The Day

Rounding out the President’s Day observation (and as a nod to my two UVA-grad kids!):

It seems the harder I work, the more luck I have.

Thomas Jefferson


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More on Gender Discrimination and How Women Lawyers Address the Issues

In my last blog, I challenged you to answer the question about the responsibility for the Queen Bee Syndrome that too often thwarts the progress toward advancing women in our profession.  I provided you with the thoughts of one commenter on the responsibility for that syndrome, and I told you that I would provide you with my own assessment.

I hope you have given some thought to the issue and to the way that the commenter evaluated the responsibility underlying the Queen Bee Syndrome.  As you might expect, I would not have answered the question in the same way that the commenter did for the following reasons.

When I heard the discussion, I wondered how the commenter would explain jealousy and competition between women in other settings like all-women book clubs, PTAs, and charity volunteer groups, for example, where gender discrimination is mostly irrelevant.  I have seen this competition, and show me the woman who has not.  I think the underlying reasons for the Queen Bees are very different and are derived from women’s inherent competition among their gender, and women are not going to face those issues and improve their behaviors and their effectiveness in advancing other women if they keep blaming the men for everything.

My answer would have focused on the responsibility for women to put their unfortunate experiences behind them and reach out helping hands to the new generation of women.  That is what Best Friends at the Bar is all about, and the women I have hand-picked as book contributors do it very well.  As a pioneer in my field of construction contract litigation (when I had my own hardhat and was one of the first women lawyers to litigate those cases), I understand the temptation to continue to dwell on the past.  I had plenty of challenges, and I had to give up my partnership at one point because I refused to work full-time when my children were young, and then I had to give up the construction contract practice because our clients, the good old boys, had enough trouble accepting a woman for a lawyer and presumably would not have tolerated dealing with a part-time woman lawyer.  (That, incidentally, was proven wrong in the end.)  At one point, I gave up private practice for public service, and it took me years to work myself back up to partnership.

However, I do not dwell on those past and personal challenges in my message, and I only use those examples to help young women put their challenges in perspective and see how far women in the law have come and how much farther they can go.  I always have been a problem solver, and I am no different in carrying out my mission for Best Friends at the Bar.  I concentrate on “personal definitions of success” and finding career satisfaction on individual terms.  I am not nearly as interested in the blame game as I am in finding ways for women to be successful and satisfied professionals.

Don’t misunderstand me.  The challenge of women helping women is a big problem, but we have to assign blame very carefully.  I have met too many powerful women in the law profession, who appear not to want things to be any better for the younger generation of women lawyers than those things were for them.  Many of them gave up family, lasting marriages, etc. for the singular focus that was necessary to reach the view from their high perches.  Their professional successes are noteworthy and admirable, but that is not a reason to refuse to help others.  Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, says it best, “There is a place reserved in hell for women who do not help other women.”

Complaining about past and even present grievances, to the exclusion of all else, can be a distraction and saps us of too much energy that we need to find practical solutions for women in our profession.  We have to stop rehashing the same old problems.  We need to redefine them in contemporary terms and move on.  We also must understand that law is a business, and all of the things that men “do to us” in the business is not because of discrimination but because it is a business.  Rent and overhead and salaries have to be paid, and the doors must remain open to attract clients.  Without a healthy bottom line, there will be no jobs for women or for men.

So the next time you hear harangues about gender discrimination that brush too broadly, remember that this coin has two sides.  Real gender discrimination cannot be tolerated.  But, all of what you hear is not about real gender discrimination.

It is your job to be a discriminating listener not a listener for discrimination.

Career Counselors, Law School Educators, Law Students, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

Thought For The Day

In furtherance of the  President’s Day observation:

I am a slow walker, but I never walk backwards.

Abraham Lincoln

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