Are You Interested in Becoming In House Counsel?

Most lawyers think about the option of in house counsel at some time(s) during their careers. So the question is how satisfied with the work are those who dispense legal advice from inside business organizations?

A recent survey by Leopard Solutions may answer that question and more. Here are the takeaways:

In-house attorneys are, overall, satisfied with their work-life balance. 76% of respondents cite being either satisfied or very satisfied.

A return to a law firm is unlikely but not impossible. 52% of respondents said they would not consider a return to a law firm, many citing the billable hour and work-life balance as key drivers. However, financial incentives may be enough for some. Similarly, the number of attorneys returning to law firms from in-house positions dropped in 2022.

Corporations should look for opportunities for career advancement. Nearly half of respondents expressed neutrality or dissatisfaction with career advancement opportunities. This area is key for retention. A lack of opportunity may be driving in-house attorneys to the door.

Overall, corporations seem to be committed to diversity. 46% of respondents (41% of diverse respondents) felt their organization had made the commitment.

Law firms need to be strategic partners to their clients. Respondents look for firms to act as a true, strategic partners to and valuable resources. Firms can do this by providing practical business advice, offering innovating solutions, and helping their clients create new business connections.

So there you have it. If you want more detail, read the survey. I wish this information had been released in time for my new book. But, alas, the book went to print earlier this week. New Lawyer Launch: The Handbook for Young Lawyers (Full Court Press, 2022) will be available for pre-order in the next few weeks. Just in time for holiday gifting. I will keep you posted!

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When Women Lead: An Important Perspective

Women leaders in both general business settings and the business of law have a lot to teach us. Business leadership is not the exclusive dominion of men. Find out why.

Today I call your attention to a new book, When Women Lead: What They Achieve, Why They Succeed, and How We Can Learn From Them. The author, Julia Boorstin, Senior Media and Tech Correspondent at CNBC, has put together a primer for women who aspire to become leaders throughout business, and she has gathered an impressive group of women leaders to describe their journeys to successful business leadership positions. Although most of those leaders are engaged in the business of raising venture capital to aid in the production and promotion of innovative products and processes, the content is very instructive for all young women in business and law as well as their male counterparts.

Full disclosure. I have yet to read the book. The fifth book in the Best Friends at the Bar series, scheduled for release later this Fall, has my full attention these days. You can be sure, however, that I will get to When Women Lead as soon as possible after my editorial/ marketing responsibilities to my publisher are met.

Like me, however, you can examine the Index and preface to the work and, particularly, the content titled “Concepts and Skills” included in “See Inside” on the Amazon description of the book. Then you can decide if it sounds like something that will be valuable to you. And, if so, you can put the title on your holiday gift list. What a meaningful gift for friends and family to share with young women business leaders in training today.

And think about doing the same for my new book. New Lawyer Launch: THE Handbook for Young Lawyers will be very worthy of your attention and will also make a great holiday gift for the young lawyers in your life.

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Personal Definitions of Success Revisited

I really enjoy spending time with young people. The are fun, and they teach me a lot. I always walk away from them with something important to ponder. I don’t always agree with them, but I don’t have to. It is enough that they make me think.

Young lawyers are no exception.  Recently, when I was talking to a couple of young lawyers about their career objectives, I heard one of them say to the other, “You do you.”  It resonated with me, and it also reminded me of the similar messages I have been sending to young lawyers for more than a decade. 

I coined the phrase Personal Definitions of Success in my first book for young women lawyers, which was published in 2009. In those days, my focus was exclusively women lawyers because of the unique challenges they faced. It still was a bit of a Wild West for women lawyers in those days, and the playing field was very uneven for women as compared to men.  Although I was aware that all young lawyers needed help in those days, it was the women who got my attention. I had experienced those challenges firsthand, and I wanted to throw out a life line as best I could.

That does not mean that there are not special challenges for women lawyers today because there certainly are and always will be as long as women continue to be the primary caretakers of children and elderly and needy family members. But, after three books and scores of programs for women lawyers, I felt comfortable broadening my focus to include all young lawyers. I did that in my last book for and about millennial lawyers, and I am doing it again in a handbook for young lawyers, which will be released later this Fall. 

So whether you call it Personal Definitions of Success or “You do you”, it means the same thing. There is no one definition of success. Success does not mean full time work and partnership any more than it means part-time work and something less than partnership. It means what matters to YOU within your own definition of ambition and your values. It means different things to different people.

The most important thing that we can do as a profession is to respect all choices. Every single sincere Personal Definition of Success and career satisfaction is worthy of respect. 

So remember, you do you.

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It’s All About Law Firm Culture

I have been writing about toxic law firm cultures since 2016 when I addressed that issue in an article I wrote for Corporate Counsel magazine. That was early in terms of the seriousness that law firms attached to firm cultures. And, since that time, I have continued to sound the alarm about toxic law firm cultures and the disastrous effects of negative practices on the profession.

Here is a very recent update on toxic workplace cultures based on research conducted at MIT examining workplaces in general. The findings translate well to law firms and identify powerful predictors of toxic workplace behaviors, including toxic leadership, toxic social norms, and toxic work designs. The report also explores the ways employers can dramatically improve employee experiences and minimize unwanted attrition, employee disengagement, and negative perceptions in the business community.

Perhaps most important, the authors of the study have identified toxic culture as the primary driver of the Great Resignation, which has been experienced recently throughout the workforce. In fact they believe that toxic workplace culture is more than 10 times as powerful a factor as compensation.

Now that is worth some very serious consideration — for both legal employees and legal employers.

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Is Multi-Tasking Such a Good Idea?

Most lawyers, especially women lawyers, pride themselves in their ability to multi-task. And, yes, they are pretty good at it. They have had to juggle family and profession under challenging circumstances, and they have done it very well. I am in awe of women lawyers who manage to multi-task and keep their wits about them.

And some male lawyers do it, too. They multi-task. Kudos to them as well.

The truth about multi-tasking is complicated, however. No matter how you do it, the important question is whether multi-tasking is a good idea at all. Young lawyers need to think about it.

Here is an article that argues against multi-tasking. The author is an in-house lawyer, and has additional advice for all of the in-house lawyers reading this.

My advice to all of you is to pay attention to this article. Many of you have very complicated practices, and the ability to hone in on the subject matter and give it your entire attention at times can mean the difference between success and failure. I am aware that taking a more nuanced approach to multi-tasking complicates the balancing act, but it could very well be worth considering.

I am not saying that you should neglect your family and personal responsibilities in favor of your professional life. That is not what I am saying at all. I believe that an effective balance means that some times your focus has to be on family, and some times your focus has to be on profession. Each day is different, and sometimes each hour is different. That is what you should expect, and handling it means staying flexible and keeping your objectives clear.

I am a lawyer/mom. And I can relate. My kids are grown now, but I remember those challenging days of balancing family with profession like it was yesterday. Some days I felt like a failure as a mother, and some days I felt like a failure as a lawyer. All days I had to stay focused and have the confidence that I could pull it off. And I did. Those two kids now are lawyers and doing their own balancing.

Some things never change. And we don’t really want them to. We value both sides of our lives, and we are capable of creating balance that protects both sides of our lives. It might take a little help from the outside from time to time, but we know how to get that. We just need to be willing to accept the help.

My money is on you. You are smart and capable, and you know your limits. Respect them, and the rest will all fall into place.

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Building Networks is VERY Important for Young Lawyers

Recently I attended a program at an AM LAW 100 firm to benefit young women lawyers. The firm has supported my Best Friends at the Bar program from the beginning, and I return the favor by attending their programs and presenting programs for them. I enjoy the energy of the young lawyers who attend those programs, and I appreciate the seasoned lawyers who participate to help develop young talent.

This particular program addressed a number of topics, including the importance of networking — a typically dreaded subject for young lawyers who want to hide out in the bathroom or pretend to be on the phone when faced with a room full of unknowns. I could sense the discomfort of young program attendees when the subject was introduced. For my part, I assured them that even seasoned lawyers can be challenged by these kinds of cold introductions and conversations. Fortunately , however, breaking into a room full of unknowns is not the only kind of effective networking.

A recent article on Above The Law addressed some of these issues. The author, a 2003 law school graduate, lamented the absence of social media networking opportunities in the early years of her practice. Her emphasis was on how the digital world has transformed the way lawyers socialize and network. The “unfettered access” to lawyers across the globe that is possible via social media is a game-changer, and the ability to profile yourself and your practice on some social media platforms is a huge benefit to developing your unique brand.

But her message was not all about social media. She also addressed networking within the office and building meaningful connections there to develop your talent and access valuable mentoring. Adding legal recruiters and bar association colleagues to your networks was also discussed.

All of these things are important, especially social media like LinkedIn, which enables young lawyers to reach out in ways that are comfortable for them. However, the challenge of the less comfortable venues for networking is important also and should not be ignored. Have confidence in your ability to walk into a group, introduce yourself, and join a conversation. Be assured that your background and experience is something of value to share and that others will welcome your presence in their conversations. Practice your opening remarks for that situation in the same way that you (hopefully) practice your elevator speech.

My best advice for starting challenging networking conversations is to ask people about themselves. Lawyers typically love to talk about themselves so you will be on solid ground. With luck, eventually the conversation will turn to you and your experience or, at the very least, you will exchange contact information with those you have met.

Networking is a process, and it is critically important. Having a professional network can lead to important contacts and clients — exactly what you need to impress your firm and climb the ladder of success.

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Considering the Fate of Bar Exams and Revisting Diploma Privilege

During this bar exam week, I am reminded of the great debate about the necessity for bar exams at all. This is something I have pondered many times before and written about as well. Maybe it is because of my respect for knowledge — and the pursuit of knowledge — and not memorization. Maybe it is because I am a pragmatist and understand that whatever you spit out to pass a bar exam can seldom be relied on in practice. Everything has to be researched again and updated unless you are hankering for a malpractice suit. Everything. And all competent practitioners know it.

Or maybe it is because I am from Wisconsin, the birthing ground for progressives, and I know a lot of lawyers practicing there who never wrote a bar exam and are very competent and impressive members of the bar. My Dad was one of them.

One of the things that Wisconsin got very right over the years is what is known as “diploma privilege.” Diploma privilege in Wisconsin confers a license to practice law based on a diploma from one of the two law schools in the state. It has been alive and well for generations in Wisconsin. If it was a problem, you can bet that the Wisconsin legislature would have changed the policy long ago. No state wants to encourage and tolerate incompetence among its lawyers.

I wrote about this in a blog on September 8, 2020 during the fiasco of bad bar exam experiences associated with the pandemic. If you are interested, you can access that blog in the Archives under that date on the Home Page of this website.

Many others have addressed the subject before and since. When looking at diploma privilege Wisconsin-style, the salient question is how many Wisconsin lawyers are deemed incompetent or a threat to the quality of the bar because of diploma privilege. The answer is very few, as confirmed by a recent article in the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics, which was referenced in Notice and Comment earlier this week where author, David Lat, revisited the subject of diploma privilege.

The Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics article sheds important light on the subject of diploma privilege. In that article, Professor Milan Markovic examines the experience of diploma privilege in Wisconsin and concludes:

[T]he bar examination requirement has no effect on attorney misconduct. The complaint rate against Wisconsin attorneys is similar to that of other jurisdictions, and Wisconsin attorneys are charged with misconduct less often than attorneys in most other states. Moreover, the rate of public discipline against Wisconsin attorneys who were admitted via the diploma privilege is the same as that of Wisconsin attorneys admitted via bar examinations.

Professor Markovic further noted that, during the pandemic, four states and the District of Columbia adopted some form of limited or modified diploma privilege. In 2021, these jurisdictions all returned to administering the bar exam again, however. But the pandemic experience shows that instituting diploma privilege is possible and establishes the groundwork for more lasting policy change in the future.

In recent years, the support for diploma privilege has grown. Instead of assigning incompetence to lawyers who do not write and pass a bar exam, maybe the American Bar Association should be looking at its accreditation criteria for law schools. The fact that Wisconsin only has two law schools — both of them very fine legal training institutions — might be a clue in this process.

Control the quality of legal education, and bar exams will not be necessary to protect the quality of the bar. It seems fundamental.

 

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Leadership Skills for All Young Lawyers

You know that I talk a lot about leadership skills throughout the various platforms within the Best Friends at the Bar project. Developing positive leadership skills is critically important for young lawyers who hope to ascend the professional ladder of success. And that ascension is not limited to partnership in a law firm. There are many different ladders of success within the profession of law — just as there are many legal practice settings to choose from.

But there is really only one set of leadership skills. No matter who you talk to, you will hear the same fundamental skill set repeated over and over again. Below is the way those skills are described in a recent Above the Law article (in my words with a few editorial comments):

  • Encourage and inspire others — As a leader, it is important to be a motivating force for those around you. It starts with being positive about your work and communicating that to others. When your team feels that positivity, you are more likely to achieve success;
  • Listen carefully and respond thoughtfully — To lead a team effectively, you must be aware of the needs and concerns of the members of the team. To demonstrate that awareness, you need to listen carefully to people’s concerns and show them that you sincerely value their input. The combination of seeing both sides of an issue and seeking common ground are essential in a strong leader;
  • Be decisive — A strong leader needs to make decisions quickly and confidently. As a general rule, there is no room for second guessing. But there are bound to be exceptions, and you must remain flexible to allow for those exceptions. You need to be able to change your mind without letting your ego get in the way;
  • Be open to new ideas — Whatever your level of experience and practice, you always can learn and grow. Your team will respect you for understanding that; and
  • Be willing to take risks — Risk taking as a leader can present itself in terms of changing the approach to a problem or giving team members the autonomy they need to develop their own skills. If this delicate balance is achieved, it will benefit your team by creating a dynamic and innovative work environment.

Good luck in becoming effective and impressive leaders.

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