Social networking… Yea or nay?

I was excited today to open the latest issue of Law Practice Management magazine, which features social networking.  (Thanks to Stephanie West Allen for leeting me know when the link was posted!)  Blogs and podcasts are old news to many people now.  But there’s so much more!  I get requests for connections via LinkedIn and Plaxo fairly frequently, and I keep hearing about lawyers having terrific results from using Facebook and MySpace and Twitter.

The highlight of LPM this month is a “conversation” about social networking between Ernest Svenson and Denise Howell, both early adopters in the legal blogosphere.  Even though law firms have begun using Facebook, I’d frankly given it very little thought… But after reading Denise and Ernie bandy about all the advantages (and mysteries) of Facebook, it may be time to take a serious look.   Here’s a snippet from Denise:

I’m one of the people who abandoned LinkedIn for Facebook. . . As things now stand, I think Facebook is the winner in the interactivity battle.

Facebook makes it possible to funnel certain information only to certain parties.  These fine-grained access controls help Facebook move beyond a resume-type experience and encourage and ongoing and evolving exchange between you and everyone in your network. . .  Also, because Facebook makes it easier and more comfortable for people to share more of themselves and their interests, the information on the site is more genuine and less filtered.  Facebook emulates social interactions in the real world in an impressive way.

Thinking maybe it’s time to investigate some of the newer technology?  Ernie has this to say:

So experience leads me to conclude that social networking tools like blogging, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and so forth are most powerful when you are willing to experiment with them early on — while the pond is still small enough, so to speak. . . If you understand the tools and have a plan, then odds are you’ll reach your goal more quickly.

Seems to me that there are several issues here.  Time is one, certainly.  And I’m seeing a cross-pollination between branding (as in, establishing your brand as a lawyer, your firm’s brand, what sets you apart) and authenticity (as in, being more or less the same person at home as at work, because personal consistency and authenticity is a key attribute of a leader).  Those who balance these issues according to a marketing plan may see some stellar results.  My guess is that the fun is just beginning.

Tuesday Shorts 1/29/08 (for new partners, retention, recession)

Letter to a new partner: Blawg Review #142 featured letters to new lawyers.  What about new partners?

While some tasks and concerns certainly continue even after a lawyer makes partner, the elevation brings with it a host of new duties and issues.  (In fact, new partners comprise one of the largest groups of lawyers who contact me for coaching.)  And now, Brian H. Corcoran, a partner with Katten Muchin Rosenman, has written a Letter to a New Partner.  His tips include listening to less senior lawyers, being a great mentor, remembering that you’re a professional and not “just” a business person, and having fun.  Although there’s a lot more that goes into making the transition, this letter is a nice transition marker.

Does associate retention matter if we’re in a recession?  Carolyn Elefant recently posed this question:

I wonder whether we’ll see much of these kinder, gentler law firm policies designed to keep associates around.  Many of these programs are an added expense to firms, either in the form of additional implementation costs or at the least, foregone billable hours.  When firms are laying off associates to stay afloat (or, for the more cynical, to preserve profits per partner), will they still care about associate happiness — or be grateful to see associates leave voluntarily to spare themselves the negative publicity of announcing mass terminations?

It’s an interesting question, and the answer will depend largely on what sort of associate retention policy is at issue.  As Carolyn notes, retention programs often do add to firms’ expenses, and it may be difficult to see which add to the bottom line over time, though those are the kinds of programs likely to succeed and to ensure that, recession or no, the right associates stay.

And speaking of “recession”… I appreciated a post on Robert Middleton’s The More Clients Blog (not a lawyer-focused blog), which suggests that recession-talk can be a self-fulfilling prophecy but that each professional has an opportunity to apply tested marketing techniques to attract business.  This is true for lawyers.  What’s your plan?

Are law firms “cuddly”?

Or… Maybe it’s time for a change.  There’s been much discussion for the past few years about the viability of the billable hour, the high numbers of lawyers (especially but not exclusively women and women of color) leaving the profession, and the high rate of lawyer depression.  In case you missed it, Thursday’s New York Times carried an article that quickly hit the top of the “most emailed” list: Who’s Cuddly Now?  Law Firms (free registration required).

A snippet from the article:

Over the last few years and, most strikingly, the last few months, law firms have been forced to rethink longstanding ways of doing business, if they are to remain fully competitive.

As chronicled by my colleague Alex Williams in the Sunday Styles section earlier this month, lawyers are overworked, depressed and leaving.

Less obvious, but potentially more dramatic, are the signs that their firms are finally becoming serious about slowing the stampede for the door. So far the change — which includes taking fresh looks at the billable hour, schedules and partnership tracks — is mostly at the smaller firms. But even some of the larger, more hidebound employers are taking notice.

It includes a quick recap of Deborah Epstein Henry’s FACTS proposal, which suggests that:

work time can be: Fixed (allowing lawyers to choose less high-profile work for more predictable schedules), or Annualized (intense bursts of high-adrenaline work followed by relative lulls); Core (with blocks mapped out for work and for commitments like meeting children at the bus); Targeted (an agreed-upon goal of hours, set annually, customized for each worker, with compensation adjusted accordingly); and Shared (exactly as it sounds).

And sure enough, some firms seem to be listening.

“The Parent Track”

There was an interesting discussion on the Wall Street Journal blog The Juggle last week, inquiring, “When Dads Demand Flexibility Will the ‘Mommy Track’ Disappear?”  The post begins, “The idea of the Mommy Track is well worn. Perhaps too well worn. The term has always bothered me, in part, because it leaves out the many dads who actively participate in the juggle.”  And after recounting her husband’s experience in helping with their son’s care, author Jennifer Merritt muses, “I know of at least two other fathers who’ve also asked for adjusted schedules — without the repercussions a lot of moms seem to face. I’ve long wondered if the Mommy Track will go away, in theory, if more dads start asking for flexibility.”

A few of the comments address the question specifically for lawyers:

I’m at a large law firm and it’s widely-known that taking full paternity leave is far more frowned upon than taking full maternity leave. Sad, but true.

Comment by AnonymousJanuary 16, 2008 at 10:49 am

and

In my experience at a large law firm, I always tried to push the idea that “work-life balance” was not just a women’s issue – it had to be an issue for everyone if it was really going to work. It hasn’t fully caught on, although we did have one male associate who worked part-time (which was a big change from a few years earlier when a male associate was denied the p/t option). That said, I doubt he would have ever made partner and I think there’s still a long way to go. If I have any choice at all, I would only work for a company that has flexible schedule available to everyone. It’s just so much easier to convince the men that flexibility/part-time works when they do it too.

Comment by mamabearJanuary 16, 2008 at 11:17 am

It’s an interesting discussion, especially in light of last month’s NALP press release entitled, Few Lawyers Work Part-Time, Most Who Do Are Women.  According to NALP:

In 2007, nearly all offices, 98%, allowed part-time schedules, either as an affirmative policy or on a case-by-case basis, but as has been the case since NALP first compiled this information in 1994, very few lawyers are working on a part-time basis, just 5.4% overall. Associates are more likely to be working part-time (4.8%) than partners (3.0%), but other lawyers, such as of counsel and staff attorneys, show the highest rate of part-time work, over 19%. Nearly all associates working part-time (91.2%) are women; among part-time partners, 71.2% are women. (See Table 1.)

According to the survey, about 2% of male lawyers work part-time.

One commenter on The Juggle seems to have summarized a common view of the situation without referring to gender but also ignoring the potentially disparate views of men and women seeking to work part-time:

1) It is a “parent” track, not a “mommy” or “daddy” track.

2) Those who want/need flexibility are generally going to receive less demanding assignments, less recognition, and less compensation than those who do not. Hopefully this is in proportion to the results produced.

3) When jobs are tough to fill, due to a strong economy, a shortage of specialists in a given area, etc., flexibility will increase. The reverse is also true.

4) The higher the pay, the lower the flexibility. Deal with it.

Comment by Ann in St PaulJanuary 16, 2008 at 3:04 pm

Forgot something –
The lower the pay, the lower the flexibility, because you are easily replaced.

Comment by Ann in St PaulJanuary 16, 2008 at 3:06 pm

 

I’d be curious to hear readers’ thoughts on flexible and/or part-time schedules, and specifically whether there is some disparity in how men and women are viewed when working a reduced or flexible-hour schedule to help with child care.  Any thoughts?

Tuesday Shorts: 1/22/08 (leadership, work/life, writing competitions, Blawg Review)

After a semi-brief hiatus, Tuesday shorts are back.  This is a roundup of interesting things that have caught my eye but didn’t result in a full post.

Duke Law Leadership Experience:  Last Friday, I was privileged to be a part of the Second Annual Duke Law Leadership Experience .

I served on a panel with Cait Clarke, Director of Public Interest Law Opportunities for Equal Justice Works, and Jay Moyer, Special Counsel to the NFL, in which we addressed “Leadership in Practice.”  Moderator Kevin Smith, Scholarly Communications Officer for Duke and copyright expert, kicked off the conversation by asking, “Can you discuss what leadership means within your own work?  What are your goals as a leader?  How can those goals translate to other legal occupations?  What is generic about leadership and what is particular?”  The conversation touched on principles of leadership and the “road less traveled” in practice, and the theme that emerged was focused on development of leadership style through authenticity and self-awareness.  Bruce Green, a professor at Fordham Law whose interests focus on ethics, delivered a fascinating presentation that focused on the ethics and leadership concerning actual innocence discovered post-conviction.  And finally, Angela Oh, a civil rights attorney with LA-based Oh & Barrera and a priest with the Zen Buddhist Rinzai Sect presented a fascinating keynote speech titled, “The Inevitable Journey – Lawyers as Leaders.”

Answering the challenge for the work/life imbalanced:  Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour work Week: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich maintains a blog that often has interesting tips, though I judge that many of the ideas are unworkable for lawyers.    However, guest blogger Anne Zelenka offers 5 Boundary-Setting Tips for the Work Obsessed, with some great ideas for those who would like to take a break from work but find it difficult because work is omni-present.  Her ideas for a solution are:

1.  Choose flow-inducing hobbies that really engage you and pull your mind away from work.  Such hobbies include anything that fully engage you and seem effortless. Examples might include swimming, knitting, or working a challenging puzzle.

2. Set goals in your personal life just like you do in your professional life.

3. Schedule dates with other people for non-work activities.

4. Use tech boundaries to separate your work and your life. You might choose to separate your work and home email accounts, for example, so that you don’t inadvertantly get sucked into work when you just intended to send a quick email to a friend.

5. Decide your “no”s in advance. I actually prefer to frame this item in the positive, and to choose your “yes” list first — spending quality time watching a movie with the family, perhaps — and deciding in advancing that anything that doesn’t advance your “yes” list is an automatic “no.” However this item is phrased, though, the key is to set and maintain boundaries.

Author, author!   “Why do you believe the legal profession is the greatest profession in the world?”  If you’re an ABA member and write the best essay on this topic (entry deadline March 3), you could win $5000.  Alternatively, the Ms. JD blog and the Project for Attorney Retention are offering a $1000 prize for the best answer to, “”How Do We Close the Gap Between Baby Boomers and Millennials on Work/Life Balance?”   Details and links to both contest entry forms here.

Blawg Review #143: Gideon, of the Public Defender Stuff blog, hosts Blawg Review #143 — a special theme for MLK day.  Though Gideon writes that the Blawg Review “reads like my briefs: long, rambling and not always on point,” it’s a well-done issue, focusing on the struggles inherent in criminal defense.

How big is your network… And how strong?

Have you paused to consider the full scope of who’s in your network?  When I talk with law students, they often worry that they don’t have a network yet or consider their network to be composed of other law students and lawyers with whom they’ve worked or met at some event, and that perception may or may not change over time.  I often ask clients about their network when we’re discussing business development or job changes, and I’m surprised at how narrowly some people define their network.

A BusinessWeek online interview with Michael Dulworth (author of The Connect Effect: Building Strong Personal, Professional and Virtual Networks) suggests using a tree analogy to analyze the scope of your network:

In the book, I describe multiple ways to map and analyze your network. My favorite way is to describe your networking journey in a narrative summary while in parallel creating a network tree diagram. I describe how my network has formed since birth, starting with my parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends of the family, my friends, school friends, business associates, parents of my son’s friends, etc. If this is done in chronological order, you can see how your network has formed over time and how it has grown, sometimes slowly and sometimes very quickly.

Now, I’m not necessarily suggesting writing your life story and creating your network tree in the process.  I’m sure it’s an effective approach, but the idea is a bit daunting, barring a compelling reason to write such a narrative.  (It sounds like a great thing to do “one of these days,” except that those days tend never to come.)  But I do like the idea of drawing a tree and noting important branches of a network that could otherwise go untapped.  That’s a shorter process, and when I tried it, I quickly discovered that my network is actually quite a big larger than I’d realized.

What I like even better about this network-as-tree analogy, though, is that it’s a nice reminder that a network is only as healthy as the environment that nourishes it.  It requires attention: even a strong tree will be weakened without sufficient water and sunshine, and a network weakens without contact.  A tree grows more quickly when fertilized, and a network expands with conscious effort.  And, like a tree, sometimes a network is stronger if a branch is pruned– if, for example, effort is going into a “nonproductive” group of the network.  Note, however, that groups can be “productive” if they create supportive personal connections just as much as if lead to business or career opportunities.

How large is the tree that represents your network?  How strong is it?  What attention does it need to grow stronger?

Does leadership matter for lawyers?

Today marks the release of the first issue of the new twice-monthly e-newsletter, Leadership Matters for LawyersMy conversations with lawyers have revealed deep interest in the topic of leadership.  Law firms have initiated leadership development programs and bar associations have instituted Leadership Academies.  Attorneys are reading (and writing) books that address how leaders are made.  Lawyers in private practice often aspire to be leaders – perhaps by becoming managing partner of the firm or being named to the executive committee.  But is leadership development just another box to tick for the “average” lawyer, another drain on precious non-billable time?

I hold that leadership reflects action rather than a title and that the action of leading is intrinsic to the profession.  Lawyers lead in their practices, through business development, and in numerous other ways.  Leadership capacity is directly tied to success and satisfaction in practice, so smart lawyers spend time and energy in developing their skills.  The first step on the leadership development path lies in revealing the many dimensions of leadership, which opens opportunities for a leader’s growth.  And it’s that conversation where we begin by asking the question: Does Leadership Matter for Lawyers? 

It’s a fair question, and a good place to start off with the Leadership Matters for Lawyers newsletter series of articles.  After all, if leadership doesn’t matter, there’s no point in spending valuable time reading (or writing) on this topic. 

The truth is, leadership absolutely matters to lawyers, and it matters on several levels.  We’ll begin by identifying these levels, and future articles will address them with greater depth. 

Internal Leadership

Internal leadership matters for lawyers as the basis of individual success and as the foundation of advancement within any kind of organization.  “Nothing so conclusively proves a man’s ability to lead others as what he does from day to day to lead himself.” (Thomas Watson, Sr., former IBM president from 1914-1956.)  The capacity to lead begins with discipline and the ability to set and execute plans with integrity.  Leadership is based in vision; the process of bringing a vision into reality requires great discipline.  “Do as I say, not as I do” usually doesn’t hold water with children, and it certainly isn’t a platform that will inspire others to follow.  Leadership matters to lawyers in developing the discipline necessary to succeed on a personal level. 

Leadership as a Skilled Practitioner or Rainmaker

A similar leadership concern also exists when a lawyer strives to develop competency and then excellence as a practitioner or a rainmaker.  Such a level of development requires great internal discipline and also implies some measure of leadership of others, as with a trial lawyer who’s learned how to lead a jury to follow her logic and return a verdict for client.  Becoming a “leading attorney” in a substantive area or in bringing clients to a practice requires competency in leadership skills. 

Team Leadership

Leadership also matters to lawyers on the team level in the workplace.  We tend to think of law firm leaders as being practice group leaders, managing partners, partners in charge of an office in a multi-office firm, and so on.  But every lawyer who is in charge of a team of any description is a leader and must exhibit leadership abilities to be effective, whether that person is a partner in charge of a team of lawyers working on a particular client matter or a first-year associate who’s heading up a team of paralegals doing document review.  

Leadership in the Community

Consider our society and the roles that some lawyers choose to play in it.  Those who become members of boards, who serve on community committees, or who become involved in politics must possess leadership abilities.  Those who succeed and advance in politics must be master leaders to be effective. 

Leadership to Effect Change

Finally, those who seek to effect change through any kind of grassroots campaign must possess leadership skills — not just the “leaders” in name, but those who canvas door-to-door to find support for the cause, those who speak at rallies or before Congress, those who write persuasively.  Certainly, not all lawyers engage in these activities, but some do.  Leadership matters for those lawyers. 

Why Does Leadership Matter to You?

So, consider your own life, your practice, your goals and desires.  In what way are you currently serving as a leader, using these broad definitions?  Whom are you intending to lead?  Whom are you “supposed” to lead?  What value do you find in assuming a leadership role? 

Future issues of Leadership Matters for Lawyers will probe leadership skills, how to develop those skills, and how doing so will enhance your practice. 

Blawg Review #142: Letter to a new lawyer

Susan Carter Liebel of Build a Solo Practice LLC is the host for Blawg Review #142.  Styled as a Letter to a New Lawyer, Susan has done a masterful job of delivering advice by using the titles of the legal blogs that have featured such letters this week.

Here’s a short taste of this week’s review:

And then there is the actual work. You may be nervous you don’t know the law and have to spend an entire Day on Torts because you have no mentors and you get a case which requires real Legal Juice from a seasoned veteran.  Mentors abound.  You just have to ask.  Find an affiliation which works for you. There are more lawyers like yourself looking for the same things then you realize. Or you may be a Mediator in the Making or want to be a PT Law Mom or you can be the Black Sheep of Philly Contract Attorneys discussing unionization of contract lawyers. Alternative ways of doing legal work will happen. Recognize not every lawyer wants to practice law in the traditional way.  Not every client wants to hire lawyers in the traditional way.  This is a reality which must be faced.  So be creative.

This Blawg Review is a grab bag of sorts, since you won’t know the topic of any post until you click on it.  Kudos to Susan for such a useful and lighthearted Blawg Review!

Letter to a young lawyer

Some months ago, Stephanie West Allen requested that fellow bloggers write a “letter to a young lawyer.”  Susan Carter Liebel has recently renewed the request  and I am delighted to join in, at last.

To the new attorney:

Welcome to the practice!  You’ve learned much over the last three years of law school, and you may be somewhat dismayed to discover that your learning is just beginning.  It’s a cliche to say that law school merely teaches you to think like a lawyer, but you’re about to find that there’s quite a bit of truth there.

I’d like to offer you a roadmap of sorts… A short list of foundations that underlie a successful practice.  Think of these as guideposts.

1.  Each time a client entrusts you with a matter, you’ve been granted a sacred trust.  You will have hundreds of clients — perhaps thousands — over the course of your career.  Some may be sophisticated legal consumers, but others will bring to you the only legal matter they’ve ever had.  Whichever camp your client falls into, it is your responsibility to treat the matter as if it’s the most important matter this client will ever have.  That isn’t to say that each client should in effect run your practice (you’d never get anything done), but when a client trusts you enough to request your representation, be aware and respectful of the trust… And earn it.

2.  Remember that the other lawyers in your firm who ask you to do work are your clients.  Act accordingly.

3.  It’s called legal “practice” for a reason.  You’re bright and accomplished, and you’re accustomed to knowing it all.  You’re about to enter a phase in your life in which you’re likely to feel that you know very little.  It’s your opportunity to practice the skills you learned in school, to read the law and to think deeply about it.  You’re going to make mistakes, no doubt.  It’s your duty to learn from each mistake and to make each one only once.  Ask intelligent questions and study the lawyers you admire.  A mentor is invaluable, and here’s a secret: your mentor will learn as much from you as you learn from your mentor.

4.  Begin your business development activities now.  Especially when you’re just beginning to practice, when you know so little about how the law really functions, it’s hard to imagine that you’re going to be responsible for bringing clients in.  Whether that need arises immediately (as of course it will if you’re a sole practitioner) or in a matters of years, you need to lay the groundwork today.  Keep up with your classmates from college and law school.  They may be at the bottom of a corporate rung today, but they (like you) will advance, and the confidence they develop in you over time will position you well to turn a social relationship into a business relationship.  The best marketing flows from superior legal skills plus masterful interpersonal relationships.  Remember that you need to develop both.

5.  Set goals for your career and adjust as appropriate.  Two errors plague lawyers: advancing in practice without having a plan and sticking to a plan even after it’s quit being the right plan.  Spend time determining what you want your life to look like both professionally and personally.  That knowledge will guide your steps as you decide where to practice, whether to stay there or leave, whether to pursue or accept a partnership offer, and much more.  However, be sure that the plan you’re following really fits you.  There’s little worse than climbing to the top of the ladder only to discover that you’ve scaled the wrong wall.

6.  Develop your leadership skills — you’re going to need them.  You may not view yourself as a leader right now, but you’re going to find yourself in a leadership role sooner than you recognize.  Learn how to discipline yourself, how to communicate what’s right, how to stick to your vision and to motivate others to join in the effort, how to convey your presence as a leader.  You’re going to find yourself on a board, in a courtroom, leading a team of lawyers, or bringing your legal skill to a matter of importance in your community.  Learn how a leader behaves and seek opportunities to practice.

7.  Integrate your personal and professional aspects.  You will be most effective in the office when you’re rested and the demands of your personal life are sufficiently met.  It’s unrealistic to imagine that you will always be able to meet those standards, but you must strive to do so.  “Work/life balance” doesn’t mean dividing your time or energy 50/50: it means knowing how to devote your time and attention where you need to, when you need to, according to your values.  Sometimes you’ll have to disappoint friends or family, and sometimes you’ll have to disappoint colleagues or clients.  Learn how to balance competing demands to wring the most out of every moment you have, without wringing yourself out.

8.  Give back.  You may feel overwhelmed when you think of the debt you’ve accumulated while pursuing your degrees.  Never forget that you’re among the most privileged people in the world, whether you’re at the highest paid law firm or the lowest paid public service agency.  Find ways to contribute to your profession and to society.  You will be richer for all you give.

There’s much more to say and learn… And you’re in for the ride of your life.  Welcome to practice!  Go as far and as fast as you can, in service to your clients, your community, your profession, and yourself and your family.

An 18-year path to partnership? Maybe…

There’s an interesting (quite short) article today titled, Law Firms Let Women Forge Their Own Way.  The story centers on a Gabrielle Higgins, who recently made partner at Ropes & Gray and was “pleasantly surprised” to discover that 7 of the firms 10 new partners were women.  And if that 70% figure isn’t striking enough, the story goes on to recount Ms. Higgins’ path to partnership — a path that spanned 18 years and was “entirely based on decisions she made because they were the best for her.”

The article’s title hit me also: law firms let women forge their own way(s)?  My impression is more along the lines that women have been working and seeking improvement within the profession (and especially in large law firms) not to mention leaving private practice in droves, and I’m not quite sure how that translates to law firms letting women do much of anything.  But, I (perhaps) digress.