Make The Business Case For A Firm To Hire You.

The single most important thing to keep in mind when interviewing at a law firm is to understand how the law firm will make money when they hire you.

It sounds shallow, but law firms exist to make money.  Hiring you to sit in an office and wait for work to land on your desk is a horrible strategy.  Make the decision to hire you an easy one for the firm.

Will you bring clients?  Will you solve a problem (i.e., handle existing work that is not being done)?  Will you fill some internal hole in the law firm’s legal team that will assist the firm attract or support clients?  Whatever it is, being able to understand and articulate the business case for hiring you is the first step.

The next step is to be able to articulate why YOUR solution is better than all other solutions.

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Playing the Field

Okay, so you have decided to test the market to see if there is a better job option for you. Maybe you can’t tolerate your boss or coworkers; or perhaps you have reached your professional limit at your current job and need a new platform to grow. Whatever your reason, since you have committed to exploring other jobs, why not make the most of it by considering multiple opportunities.

I understand that the market is still tight but some people will have the opportunity to weigh multiple options if they so choose. Having options is important because you are more likely to find the right fit and get the most from an offer.

For some people, their only basis of comparison is the job they are departing when considering another employer. Yes, even having a limited comparison is helpful, but think how much more effective that becomes when you add a few more opportunities to consider. The one place you are considering may be an improvement, but you should make sure that it is truly the best option for you – not just better than your current job.

The other reason it can be beneficial to consider multiple job opportunities is leverage. While the threat of staying at your current job can be used, there is obviously a reason you are looking and most people (including potential employers) know that accepting a counteroffer is often a recipe for disaster. Whereas employers are more likely to put forth their best possible offer when they know there is competition for your services. In fact, some employers are so competitive (can’t stand the thought of losing to a rival firm, etc.) that they might even pay above market if necessary.

So if you are truly ready to take the plunge in the job market, do yourself a favor by considering multiple job opportunities to make the most of situation.

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Cover Letter Mistakes

I wanted to pass along a couple of thoughts on cover letters.  Maybe the most common error that I see on cover letters is that they simply rehash the details on the resume.  If you are simply going to walk me through the resume, then please don’t send a cover letter.  It’s not necessary.

Use the cover letter to EXPLAIN how your experience relates to a specific position.  ARTICULATE in a brief statement or two how your particular experience can immediately assist an employer.  Simply telling me where you worked and what skills you gleaned from the position (repeated for each position) is not helpful.

Also, like resumes, these documents should be sent in PDF format for two reasons.  First, sending them in any other format invites formatting errors.  Secondly, and maybe more importantly, sending the cover letter in a format other than a PDF allows the recipient to see how you’ve modified the document (and with a simple control-Z command they can see where else you have applied).

Another thing to keep in mind is that in today’s digital age, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out who is seeing a cover letter.  At our company, there are only two people and they are both guys, so I often wonder how much homework someone has done when they address a cover letter to “Sir/Madame”.  Although opinions differ on this, I believe that if you don’t know who you are sending your cover letter and resume to then you should not address it to anyone, but instead jump right into the body of the letter without the formality of “Dear Hiring Partner” or “Dear Sir/Madame.”

Finally, please keep the cover letter short.  You need to sell yourself, but if the letter is text-dense and long, it’s a daunting task to read the entire letter (when there are 19 other letters/resumes on my desk).  Please be concise and summarize why you are a good fit for the position in a couple of paragraphs.

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Generating Business Is More Critical Than Ever

Are you beholden to other attorneys for supplying your work? Do you wish that you had more control over your practice? Would you like more options for a change in employment? Not surprisingly, the key is building your own client base.

Now more than ever business generation is critical to building a successful law practice. The times of inheriting institutional clients are fading as businesses are charged with finding quality legal services at a competitive price. Attorneys are forced to adjust their approach the practice of law accordingly with an emphasis on generating business and keeping that business.

Yes, this is no small endeavor but like many things in life, the fear or anticipation of business generation is much worse than the actual effort. You may not consider yourself an outgoing person but keep in mind that many of the people that you will be connecting with are not either. Often times it is more a matter of letting someone get to know you versus hard-selling them on your skills as an attorney. The key is to take it one relationship at time and stick with it. It may take time for your efforts to bear fruit but the more relationships you cultivate the more the work will come in on a steady basis.

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When It All Goes Wrong.

I received a call from a good friend who has his own law firm.  His firm has several partners and a couple of associates.  He let me know that he just let one of his associates go, and in the course of telling the story, I quickly realized what was wrong with their employment relationship (spoiler: everything was wrong).

The associate apparently wasn’t happy.  When he was approached and told that he was being let go, the associate quipped that the appellate brief he was “working on” hadn’t been touched because he expected to be fired.  Further, he complained that there wasn’t a mentoring system in place and that was why the relationship hadn’t worked.  (An important piece of information is that this associate had NEVER asked a single question during his tenure at the firm).  Next, the attorney said that he had billed significant time to some of his files and therefore he knew he was being underpaid by the firm.  He concluded by stating that if he were replaced, no new associate would be able to last at the firm.  With that, he packed up his desk and walked out the door.

When I asked my friend about the associate’s billings, he said the associate was a very heavy biller to flat-fee criminal files, billing incredible time to files where most of the time needed to be written off.

While there are always two sides to every story, it appears that there are a few lessons we can glean from the associate’s behavior.

1.        If things aren’t going well, DO SOMETHING.

Apparently this associate knew things weren’t going well.  The important brief that is due next week has languished on his desk and remained undone because he assumed he would be fired before it was due.  Besides showing an incredible lack of initiative, this associate really needed to do something to improve the employment relationship.  In my experience, if you think you are going to get fired, you probably are going to get fired.  Before things get that bad, do something to improve the relationship.  Ask the partners how to improve.  Ask for help if you need it (more on that below).  Get started on big projects before they become an overwhelming time crunch.

2.       If you don’t know how to do something, SAY SOMETHING.

Mentoring programs are great, but are rarely available at any firm besides the largest firms in town.  While an associate is expected to work to figure out issues before asking questions, there are times that asking questions is your best course.  Rather than spinning wheels on a procedural matter, asking how to do something is the best course.  If you need help, ask for it.

3.       Think like an owner – try to understand your value to the firm.

The associate had a fundamentally different view about what his value was (and what his hours spent on files were worth) to the firm – he failed to think like a partner/owner.  To me, this is the most egregious error the associate made.  He never thought about how he “earned” his salary.  He never took a step back and thought about whether his billings actually brought money in the door.  He never thought about how, at the end of the month, this attorney had brought so little into the firm coffers.

In the end, this associate probably is better off not being at the firm, but he will have an incredibly hard time finding a new job.  Most legal communities are small, so his reputation might precede him when he seeks another position.  This attorney should have been focusing on doing good work AND been looking for a job.  It is far easier to find a job when you are employed and can get a good reference than when you are unemployed and will not be able to use your past employer as a reference (a serious red flag for all future employers).

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