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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Keep It Classy When Giving Your Notice

Resigning from a job is awkward at best and can get downright ugly in some situations. Whether you are leaving for money, career advancement or personality differences – offering a polite, professional resignation is always the best course of action.

So you have gone through the long process of applying for jobs, interviewing, perhaps facing rejection multiple times along the way, and you finally have landed your dream job. Now you are faced with the inevitable task of telling your current employer that you are leaving. There is no “right” way to give notice because it will often depend on the circumstances. If you have a close, personal relationship with your boss then an in-person meeting is probably the best way to break the news. In such a situation, it is also advisable to have a written letter prepared so the employer can actually have a notice of resignation for your employment file. If you have a poor relationship with your boss and cannot stomach the idea of confronting that person directly then simply providing a letter of resignation (whether by person, mail or email attachment) is probably the best route in order to avoid any heated personal encounters.

Even in situations where animosity is almost unavoidable (taking business from your firm to a competitor), you should act with civility and professionalism. If your employer accuses you of being a cheat, traitor, etc. – just do what you came to do and make a quick exit. Not only will it help down the road if you encounter that person (legal markets can be fairly small) but it also can work to your advantage if you still need something from your former employer (client file transfers, personal items, etc).

Just remember, you cannot lose by taking the high-road when resigning but it is very easy to torch some bridges if you treat it as an opportunity to get in some parting shots.

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Recruiters Understand “Fit”

You can learn a lot from a resume.  You can learn more from a recruiter.

Getting to know a recruiter can help you if you are a candidate or a hiring entity.  A good recruiter goes beyond the resume and can advocate for a candidate and understand the subtle nuances of “fit” for a firm or legal department.

If you are a candidate, a good recruiter will advocate for you when it is appropriate.  They can call out characteristics that are not readily apparent on your resume. In short, a good recruiter takes you from a piece of paper (your resume) to a person.  The reciprocal is also true.  A good recruiter will be able to assess your personality and know when a fit isn’t there, even if the skillset on paper is possibly a match. This is invaluable, as you don’t want to waste your time on job searching that will be fruitless.

If you are a firm, a good recruiter will learn a bit about your culture and work environment before submitting candidates.  They will understand what makes a candidate successful and use that measure to screen potential candidates for fit before sending information to the hiring authority. They won’t waste your valuable time with candidates who won’t work.  Candidates that mesh with your culture are more likely to stick around, are more productive and cause less disruption to other employees.

Ultimately, an attorney needs the appropriate skills to do their job well, but overlooking fit is a mistake and one that can be mitigated when using a recruiter.

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How To Nail That Next Interview

Is there an interview on your horizon? If so, make sure take a common sense approach to making a good impression by utilizing three essential P’s: preparedness, positive attitude and professionalism. There won’t be much you can add to your skills and experience prior to the interview but you can control how prepared you are coming into the interview, the attitude you convey, and your appearance and demeanor.

First, spend as much time as you can to not only learn about the organization but also the people conducting the interviews. Most companies have their own websites that provide a wealth of information but you can also use resources such as Linkedin, Facebook, Hoovers, Yahoo Finance, etc.

I am always amazed to hear feedback from employers that a candidate appeared aloof or even negative during an interview. Keep in mind, you are going to work with these people and they do not want someone who is going to bring down the office moral. It is okay to show some excitement and genuine interest in the opportunity. Everyone has negative work experiences in their past but if you are forced to talk about it, then try your best to put a positive spin on the event – you can always chalk it up to a learning experience.

Finally, everyone has the ability to convey a sense of professionalism. It starts with your dress and grooming (always error on the side of being too formal) and continues with good manners (sit up straight, look the person in eyes, etc) and proper speech/conversation (don’t get too comfortable). Not talking back seems obvious but can be an easy trap if the interviewer is questioning your experience, etc. If this happens to you, then politely address their concern the best you can and then move on. Your tone can end up being more of an issue in the end than the concern called into question.

Some things will be beyond your control during an interview so why not give yourself the best opportunity to make a good experience employing the three P’s – all of which are within your control.

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Are You Hiring or Recruiting? There Is A Difference.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record by quoting from my favorite business author/philosopher Seth Godin yet again, here is what Seth has to say about the difference between recruiting and simply hiring:

Hiring is what you do when you let the world know that you’re accepting applications from people looking for a job. 

Recruiting is the act of finding the very best person for a job and persuading them to stop doing what they’re doing and come join you. 

If you take only one thing away from that quote, it’s that there is a BIG difference between hiring and recruiting. I think that this distinction may be the most important reason that employers and savvy job seekers reach out to recruiters as a component of their job search.

Law firms and in-house legal departments realize that the job market is significantly better than it was even last year, and to see the very best candidates for a position, they need to utilize a recruiter to expand their candidate pool.

Placing an ad simply lets the world know you are accepting applications. You need to PERSUADE someone to join you. That ability to position your opportunity vis-a-vis a candidate’s currently job is a key role of the recruiter. They need to be able to make the case to the candidate why they might be better off leaving their job for a new opportunity, and that ix oftentimes a very tough thing to do.

Ads, website postings, tweets and other traditional ways of announcing openings rarely have the ability to persuasively “sell” an opportunity. That’s what top recruiters do every day.

In short, if you are an employer looking to fill a position and you can’t show that your job is one worth quitting for, you will never have the deepest candidate pool to choose from until you are able to reach candidates and EXPLAIN why your position is such a great opportunity.

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