Young Lawyers: Are You Asking the Right Questions?

Recently I read a piece which was prepared as advice to young black women lawyers but has a broader application beyond that group. The piece addresses the right questions to ask when interviewing with a firm in this post-pandemic world. Experiences with COVID-19 have changed so much in our society, and that certainly is true when it comes to the post-pandemic practice of law.

You cannot assume that some of what you learned about interviewing pre-pandemic will any longer hold true. One of the most far-reaching changes in law firms, that of remote work, is especially important for firms with offices located in highly-populated urban areas where many of the firm members must rely on overcrowded mass transit for commutes.

Allowing firm members to work from home — or from Starbuck’s — has been the solution for many firms, and also has proven to be very profitable. So, it will be no surprise if remote work continues as at least a partial option into the future. As attractive as the opportunity to work remotely appears to many lawyers, it also presents significant challenges for new hires in terms of integration into a family of lawyers. And those challenges cannot be overlooked.

The essay, which was written for the Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, is based on the author’s experiences interviewing during the pandemic when everything, including meeting new colleagues and clients, communication with colleagues, clients, and staff, and developing rapport with members of those cohorts was done remotely. She emphasizes the “two-way” street of responsibility for positive outcomes and the importance of keeping new hires engaged to assure successful assimilation — and, I would add, to retain talent.

This is very sound advice and will continue to be important as “new normals” develop in law firms. So, here are the questions you should be asking (with a bit of editing on my part):


1. How has the firm handled the transition from office to remote work?
2. How are partners maintaining communication with associates?
3. How is the effective communication achieved between lawyers and support staff?
4. What does the firm do to ensure employees stay connected?

Asking questions in advance can alleviate a lot of pain down the road. Be prepared!

Law Firm Managers, Law School Educators, Law Students, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment

When A Benefit Is Not Really a Benefit

A law firm employment benefit is something of value that is conferred on or available to an employee or firm member by an employer and is a term of employment — either at the beginning of employment or added at a later date. It typically is something that the employee or firm member otherwise could only get or would have to pay more for.

Think health insurance. Although the employee or firm member has to pay the health insurance premiums, the employee or firm member typically is part of a large group and, therefore, “benefits” from lower premiums than if that employee or firm member went out and shopped other healthcare plans.

Also think flexible work schedules. No one but your employer can give that to you, and it can confer a huge amount of value to an individual employee or firm member.

An article earlier this year in Above the Law announced a new “benefit” from a top Big Law firm. Here is how the benefit was described:

It’s now easier for those at the firm to save for future education costs. The firm recently announced a new benefit for employees, a 529 College Savings Plan which allows folks to start saving for those educational expenses through automatic payroll deductions.

Sounds good. But wait a minute. Is it really a “benefit”?

529 education savings plans are ubiquitous and are available through many state-sponsored programs. If you are not familiar with these plans, which are named for the section of the IRS code that enables them, you should Google it. People in all walks of life and varied circumstances are able to participate in these plans through their state governments.

So, unless I am mistaken, the “benefit” announced by this Big Law firm, a program that employees and firm members can use to save for their kids’ educations, provides nothing more than what employees and firm members already have available through similar programs. And any “benefit” conferred is simply an automatic payroll deduction. Not much of a benefit in the large scheme of things.

Do your homework. Get savvy. Do not be fooled by things that are labeled “benefits” and do not confer true value to you. And for sure do not accept those things in lieu of compensation. It is not apples for apples.

Labeling things as “benefits” can be a shell game, and you do not want to play.

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Two Ways to Look At End-of-Year Bonuses

End of year bonuses for associate lawyers are at an all time high right now. Many firms, mostly Biglaw, are celebrating what has been referred to as “stunning” profits in 2020 and sharing the largesse with associate lawyers in the form of bonuses. Some of those bonuses are far in excess of $25K, paid out in increments, and additional money is being thrown at newly hired laterals, who are able to introduce the firm to other interested and highly-credentialed associate lawyers who then also become lateral hires. One of the Biglaw firms reportedly is valuing that effort to the tune of $50K as a type of finder’s fee.

It is all part of a current war for talent and the resulting hiring frenzy at law firms. If this sounds like good news to young lawyers, I am not surprised. That kind of money gets everyone’s attention, especially associate lawyers with law school debt hanging over their heads.

But, I encourage you to see it for what it is. This is not just the generosity of law firms. This also is a way to keep associates at the firms where they are highly leveraged and producing significant income for the firms. There is an expectation at law firms that the high billables among associates during 2020 can be repeated again in 2021, and the ching-ching sound is very appealing to law firm management.

The “golden handcuffs” of high salaries for associate lawyers has been recognized for decades. The “gold” clearly is the compensation, and the “handcuffs” represent the constraints that accompany that level of compensation in terms of the lifestyle it enables. That lifestyle can include big home mortgages, expensive club memberships, and other trappings of wealth.

But it does not have to be that way. If you are one of the recipients of the big bonuses and/or finders fees, think about how you use that money. If you spend it all on expensive cars, boats and extravagant vacations, you will find yourself unable to leave the money behind and exercise your free will in the event that the Biglaw experience does not work out for you.

Be smart. Be strategic. Plan for your future. See things for what they really are.

For more information on the two sides to this particular coin, see this article recently published on Above The Law.

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

The Student Loan Forgiveness Program Works!

The substantial student loan debt that many law school graduates incur follows them a long time into their practices. It hangs over their heads like dark clouds, and it affects their life style options. Those options are not limited to expensive vacations and other choices that may seem extravagant. No, they include options for home ownership, education choices for children, and job flexibility. 

Some young lawyers have the ability to have their loans paid off by family members or other interested parties. That is indeed fortunate for them, although I always hope that those “pay-off” scenarios include leaving portions of the debt with the young lawyers. They need to have a financial stake in their futures.

But other young lawyers must look elsewhere for loan forgiveness, and the current federal program is the place to start until additional loan forgiveness becomes law — as is being promoted by the Biden administration and certain members of Congress. See this article on options for federal student loan forgiveness, and discover what might be available for you. 

The public service option for those employed by a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or not-for-profit organization is a place to start for young lawyers. It is an especially good opportunity for those of you who think that you cannot take another day in private practice. Billable hours and representing the establishment do not appeal to everyone, but the high salaries keep them there. 

And for those who say it never will happen for them and that the effort for loan forgiveness is too weighty for a young lawyer with practice responsibilities, check out this success story

Is this a perfect fix? No. But hopefully you have learned by now not to sacrifice “good” on the altar of “perfect.” It is a dead end.

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

Women Lawyers Have a Lot to Think About

My thoughts this week are with the women lawyers. Not only was it Mother’s Day on Sunday, a day which always leads me to thoughts about the challenges for women lawyers with young children, but it also was a week when I took a first look at the results of the new ABA study, Practicing Law in the Pandemic and Moving Forward, which surveyed 4200 ABA members (54% men and 43% women) from September 30 to October 11, 2020 and found that the pandemic has been very hard on women lawyers. Read the specifics in this article from Bloomberg News.

Most of you know the issues. Lack of childcare or complicated childcare at best. Home schooling responsibilities when schools have been closed. Space issues as you and a mate both are working at home. And the list goes on.

But knowing the issues is different than knowing what you will do about it. And most of you know that Zoom is not the panacea. Even though it has been heralded as a benefit, it is hardly the answer to all workplace woes. Most people are zoomed out by this time.

As detailed in the Bloomberg News article, a McKinsey report on women in the workplace concludes that a third of women in the workforce with small children are contemplating scaling back on their careers or quitting entirely. That is of great concern.

So, before you join those ranks and do something precipitous and unwise, think about how you can change things in your practice and at your workplace. Discussions about flexible hours, working from home opportunities, and part-time pathways to partnership that will accommodate you and your employer are important to improving the legal profession for women lawyers.

Women want to see law firms invest in them, and law firms want to see women take realistic views of what the practice of law means. Although there are arguments to be made that face time all of the time is not necessary, the legal profession has operated on that basis for the last two hundred years. It is better to negotiate working from home part of the time if you really want to be successful.

I understand that billing hours in sweats is comfortable and low maintenance, but it is not “the fix”. It is far more likely that reasonable compromise will get you where you need to be if making mortgage payments and educating your children are important goals in your life.

In some cases it IS all about money and financial security. Finding a way to meet those goals and also have a satisfying career is the challenge.

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

Well-Being Week in Law

You probably were not aware of it, but this week is Well-Being Week in Law. I hope you always are focused on your well-being and especially this week. So much has happened in the last year during the pandemic to challenge our well-being, and it is essential that we are ever cognizant of where we stand on the spectrum of personal well-being and know how to combat signs of threats to our mental health from external forces.

This week of well-being observance for lawyers was launched in 2020 by the Institute for Well-Being in Law, a non-profit dedicated to advancing systemic change in the legal profession to promote well-being as a core component of personal and professional success. Prompted by the findings of the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being and the release in 2017 of its report, The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change, the focus of the Institute is addressing growing concerns about mental health, substance use and addiction, and stress affecting lawyers. The leadership of the Institute recognizes that it is imperative to create culture changes in how the profession prioritizes the well-being of its members.

The findings of the National Task Force do not exist in a vacuum. In a June 2020 report published by the Association of Corporate Counsel, results of a poll showed that 75 percent of respondents were experiencing moderate to very high levels of burnout, including sleep disorders, chronic fatigue and increasing use of controlled substances. And the American Bar Association has identified well-being as a major focus in its work during the last several years. The agreement among professionals is that the problems did not start with the pandemic but have been exacerbated by issues related to the pandemic, racial justice reckoning, and environmental disasters, which all have led to increased levels of stress and associated health problems.

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms threatening personal well-being, please seek the help you need in the medical community, professional organizations, or on line at the Institute for Well-Being in Law.

Remember that you cannot be good for others if you are not good to yourself.

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

The Importance of Team Play for All Lawyers

My most recent column in the ABA Journal was published this week and says it all. Read this article for all you need to know about team play. It is essential for success in the practice of law today, and you need to learn to be a team player.

https://www.abajournal.com/columns/article/in-defense-of-the-team-what-basketball-and-law-practice-have-in-common

Businesses know this. MBA programs are designed with the team approach in mind. But the law profession has been reluctant to follow suit. However, many of the clients today have C-suites full of young MBAs, and THEY know how effective organizations should be run in this multi-faceted and global business environments. So, it is time that the law profession got with it to do the most effective work and to keep the clients who know better.

Happy reading!

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Young Lawyers, Listen Up! What You Say About Yourself Defines You

Marshall Goldsmith is one of the most influential leadership trainers in the country. I have taken his course and am a certified leadership counselor through his organization. I based my book Top Down Leadership for Women Lawyers on much of what I had learned from Marshall.

Below are excerpts from one of his recent blogs on his website. The gist of it is that what you say about yourself through your behaviors and your speech determines whether you receive positive or negative recognition and how successful you will be.

Here is a summary of what Marshall has to say:

My mission is simple. I want to help successful people achieve positive, lasting change in behavior; for themselves, their people, and their teams. I want to help you make your life a little better.

Start by refusing to define yourself as a jerk. Here’s how it happens.

We all have that relative who is always late. She comes in and says, “Oh I am so sorry, I am always late.” Or, we hear another relative who always makes embarrassing gaffes. He excuses himself saying, “I always say the wrong thing.

In reality, these people who “admit” their mistakes are setting themselves up for a self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, they are giving themselves permission to always say or do the wrong thing.

The fact is that what we say about ourselves, both positive and negative, defines who we are.

How about the boss who, on the positive side, says things like… “I am usually able to figure these things out,” or “I am dedicated to outworking the competition.”

On the negative side, the boss may say things like…”I am a bad listener” or “I am not detail oriented.”

These little sayings add up to your definition of who you are. They are a group of behaviors that you define as “me.” The more we talk, the more we define our unalterable essence.

Well. Let me alter your perspective.

If we buy into our behavior definition of “me,” which most humans do, we can learn to excuse almost any annoying action by saying, “That’s just the way I am!”

As you read this column, think about your own behavior. How many times does your “need to be me” get in the way of building positive relationships with the important people in your life? How many times have you rationalized inappropriate behavior by saying, “That’s just the way I am!”?

There comes a moment for all of us when change becomes possible, when we realize that stern allegiance to our chosen behavior is pointless vanity. We realize that we are hurting our chances for success.

Shedding the “excessive need to be me” is a defining moment. It’s an interesting equation: less me + more them = more success as a leader.

Keep this in mind the next time you find yourself resisting change because you are clinging to a false, and/or probably pointless, notion of “me.” Free yourself from those behaviors to reach your full potential.

Career Counselors, Law Firm Managers, Law Students, Practice Advice, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | Comment