Archive for February, 2013

Xiomara Angulo Blog Photo (2)Law students are often advised that “networking” is the best way to “make connections” and “create leads.” Law schools reinforce the importance of “working a room” by encouraging students to attend monthly (sometimes even weekly) networking events.

Unfortunately, one size does not fit all. If you’re a shy person or an introvert, who finds it difficult to “work a room”, does that mean that you won’t be able to “network” effectively within the legal community?  Absolutely not! Does it mean that you’ll have to find an alternative to spinning your wheels at your school’s weekly cocktail reception? Probably. What the current legal networking culture really means for shy and introverted types is that you’ll have to unlock traits you already possess and apply them in a different manner. You’ll have to redefine “networking” and make it work for you.  In the first of two posts, guest blogger, Xiomara Angulo, a member of IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law’s Class of 2012, gives TheWaltersWay her personal insights. If you are yearning to take a break from the networking reception while still developing potentially fruitful relationships with legal practitioners, keep reading.

Introduction (My Story)

When I arrived at law school, I vowed to be involved and develop relationships with professors and practitioners who could share their wisdom with me. I had worked full-time during undergrad, and had finished my college career regretting that I hadn’t been sufficiently involved with school organizations and events. So, in law school I painstakingly pushed myself to attend every networking reception I could (I called these my “productive breaks from legal writing assignments”). I also took leadership positions within student organizations to market myself to practitioners. Through these experiences, I learned a lot and met great lawyers but ultimately found myself unsatisfied in terms of reaching my goal. It wasn’t until I began my post-graduate job search that I learned where I had taken the wrong turns in terms of networking. Luckily, you can use the power of my hindsight to avoid making the same mistakes.

The amount of business cards I collected over three years of monthly networking receptions could stack up to a mini Leaning Tower of Pisa. The problem is that all of these cards are lost connections if you don’t follow up. This epiphany came on October 1, 2012. The bar results were in and I had passed. Still unemployed, I sat at my deck on a gorgeous autumn morning thinking there was absolutely nothing hindering me from an associate position at a firm now. After all, I had the contact information for several attorneys at wonderful firms in my leaning tower of business cards, and all I had to do was send each one of them my resume for future openings!

Nope. Wrong. When I opened my compose section in Gmail and entered the address on the business card, I realized that I had not seen or spoken to this person since the day I had met him or her. My business card contact wouldn’t know me from Adam if I reached out now. Slowly, my leaning tower of business cards dwindled down into a tiny stack as, one by one, my “contacts” were eliminated.

Ironically, the remaining business cards were ones I didn’t really need because I already had those contacts in my cell phone – my previous mentor from a JD Mentors program, the judge for whom I had externed, my employed classmates, my previous summer clerkship supervisors, my professors, and my moot court coaches. I had kept in regular contact with all of these contacts. I had nurtured these relationships. Another email from me would just be part of the normal relationship.

The entire time I had been stepping out of my comfort zone at monthly networking receptions in pursuit of a greater cause, I had been unconsciously doing lots of useful things from squarely within my comfort zone. I had managed to foster and nurture relationships with contacts who had become friends. Once I understood that this was the true meaning of networking, I was able to cast off the ominous aura that, for me, hangs over the networking reception. Better yet, I realized I didn’t even have to go to networking receptions to create these new relationships.

The Test

Start examining your own leaning tower of collected business cards. If you were to seek a full-time lawyer position today, how many people could you comfortably approach to ask about opportunities, to vouch for your talents and abilities, or to help you create employment for yourself? These are the fruits of your “networking” efforts. If they are several, that’s wonderful! Keep nurturing your relationships by staying in touch and being a good friend. If they are few, keep reading on how to tailor your networking so it works for you.

Challenging the Assumption that “Networking” is defined by “Working a Room”

As you may have gleaned from my story, networking is simply a term of art, if you will, for something which introverts and extroverts alike are capable of achieving: nurturing relationships. You do not need to “work a room” to achieve this end result. While it is certainly advantageous to attend events of particular interest to you, if you tremble at the mere idea of standing alone in a crowded room or of being forced to think of an ice breaker on your feet, then don’t start building your relationships at a networking reception! Instead, start at your place of work or volunteer organization with the attorneys who work or volunteer there. You’ll eventually be able to attend receptions once you don’t view them through a nerve-racking lens of “I need to make a contact here and now.”

1. Find your focus and get involved. Really take some time to figure out now what your legal interests are. Once you have narrowed them down to one or a few, research the organizations specializing in those fields and get involved with them.  Social networking is great for finding new organizations or practitioners in a particular field without having to dream up ice-breakers. Once you have found your focus, tailor your social networking profiles to your area(s) of interest. Establish yourself as a knowledgeable person in that area. Blog or share useful and interesting articles on your Twitter and Facebook profiles, for example. Attend community events or workshops where the emphasis is on client interaction rather than public speaking or mingling. Such events will allow you to meet new people with similar interests in a smaller setting.

2. Be friendly and interested in other people. Once you are involved and in the thick of things, pause for a moment. Where are you present? On Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin; in student organization X,Y,Z; in class A,B,C; interning, externing, or clerking a handful of hours a week? All of these places, organizations, and social media sites are full of other students, practitioners, and professors. Have you taken the time to get to know them? Have you suggested a casual coffee or lunch to find out whether their interests are perhaps compatible with or similar to yours? Maybe you’ll realize that they are a great person you’d like to stay in touch with long after you leave the class, organization, or place of work. Fifteen to twenty minutes of reflection and connection each week will go a long way in helping you focus on how well you know those around you.

3. Be selective with the relationships you’d like to foster. It’s important to look at relationship-building through a long-term lens. The contacts you meet need to be individuals who you’ll be able to talk to and click with for years to come. Just as we are selective with our friends, we should be cordial and professional with everyone we meet, but nurture and go the extra mile with individuals with whom we feel a strong connection and who reciprocate our enthusiasm about the relationship.

4. Create face-to-face contact. While I am no expert in human relationships, I know that it’s much more difficult to have a healthy professional friendship when you don’t see the person. If your contacts are far away, you need to make an effort to see them. For example, after a summer internship in New York City, I returned to my studies in Chicago. But the following spring, I asked a friend if I could crash at her place in Brooklyn for four days. Once she agreed, I saved some money, booked a flight to NYC, and emailed all my previous supervisors for lunch and coffee. I was able to keep the connection alive with a face-to-face interaction. If you are a law student on a budget, schedule a Skype or FaceTime meeting – both are free. Regardless of budget, you can make small efforts to create quality time for your professional relationships.

5. Remember that a relationship is a give and take. If you’re going to be asking for your contact’s help in the future, think about what you can do for them today.  Can you help them find an intern for their office, edit a paper or a legal brief, or help them with brainstorming ideas? Periodically dedicate a half-hour of your weekend to check-in and see how you can help you contacts. And, make sure they know that you are pleased to do this. It’s a mutually benefitting experience as it helps your contact outsource a task and allows you to learn more about your area of interest.

Now that you’ve realized that you don’t necessarily have to go to a networking event to make connections, take some time to reflect and tailor this advice to work for you! Be creative and selective, and you’ll find yourself feeling motivated to achieve manageable goals. Good luck!

~ Xiomara graduated from IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law in May 2012. She now works as an immigration associate at Andres Cerritos Law Offices and serves on the CARPLS Legal Aid Associate Board. Connect with her at angulo.xiomara@gmail.com or @xangulo2 on Twitter.

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desiree_moore (1)It’s tough to embark on a legal career right now.  It’s not enough to have legal knowledge and analytical skills (was it ever?) What attributes do law students and young lawyers need to develop in order to thrive?  In this guest post, attorney and entrepreneur Desiree Moore draws on her own experience as a successful lawyer and small businesswoman to address this question.  Many thanks to Desiree for hanging out with us on TheWaltersWay and for sharing her story!  We hope she’ll visit again soon!

Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down for coffee with Professor Adrian Walters (who happens to be the founder of this great blog).  This was not the first time I connected with someone in person whom I first met via Twitter.  What struck me this time – and actually, this has been the case each time I’ve done this sort of thing – is how accurate an Internet persona can be.  In a handful of exchanges limited to 140 characters, you can get a decent sense of a person.  As expected, Professor Walters was open and mindful, a genuine thinker who cares deeply about his law students and the future of legal education.  The meeting was a welcome reprieve on a grey and rainy Chicago day, but I digress.

Thrive: A New Lawyer's Guide to Law Firm Practice

Thrive: A New Lawyer’s Guide to Law Firm Practice

To back up for a moment, I’m Desiree Moore.  Founder of Greenhorn Legal and author of the new book Thrive – A New Lawyer’s Guide to Law Firm Practice (ABA, 2012).  Through Greenhorn Legal, I work closely with law students and law firms to help train law students and new lawyers in practical skills not taught in law school that are nevertheless central to a successful legal career.  I am also the author of a popular newsletter and blog that focus on practical skills “quick-tips” and I do a good amount of guest writing in the legal community (for Lexis Nexis, Above the Law, The Girl’s Guide to Law School, and others).  All of this sounds good, but it is not exactly what I set out to do when I left my law firm in March of 2011, after nearly seven years of practice.

The original idea was to launch a BarBri-style program for law school graduates that focused on practical skills.  I envisioned jam-packed classrooms of recent grads, eager to learn practical skills and to make a genuine, substantive transition from law students to practitioners.  Before launching, I did significant research (not to mention that I observed my law students as an Adjunct Professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and the young lawyers that came into the firm year after year).  There was no question that there was a need for this type of training.

What I found, though, is that there was no drive for this training (it turns out that need and drive are not the same thing).  There was no incentive.  No passion.

This is understandable, certainly.  Law students and new lawyers are inundated with negative information about their futures as lawyers.  Law school tuition has increased exponentially.  Outstanding loans are at an all-time high.  “BigLaw” hiring is down.  Starting salaries elsewhere are too low to answer seriously to student loan debt.  It all looks rather bleak.  And, as a result, investing in practical skills training is not a priority.

After making a go of the live program concept, I changed course significantly.  In addition to live courses in-house at law schools and law firms, I developed on-line programs, CLE courses, and wrote a book.  I thought creatively about the best, most cost-effective ways to bring my content to as many new lawyers as possible.

Two years have now passed.  A wild two years.  Along the way, I learned a lot – about business, about incentivizing others, about inspiring a tribe.  And I think there is a take away here for you – the law student or new lawyer, and other readers of this blog.

1. It’s a Mind Game 

Your mental state dictates nearly everything.  The way you perceive your circumstances is going to govern exactly how you feel about your circumstances, as well as how you move forward.  If you feel that, as a law student or law school graduate in this contemporary legal market, your situation is dire, it will be.  If you think you are never going to get a job, you likely won’t.  If, however, you are willing to think about your legal career in the long term, relish in the fact that you are one of the chosen few who will ever experience the level of higher education that you have experienced, and view everything that comes your way – good or bad – as an opportunity, you might just find your way.  I believe so strongly in the power of mindset that I devoted an entire chapter to it in Thrive.  Without the proper mindset, nothing else matters.

2. Do Not Make Assumptions

This is one of the most valuable lessons I have learned in the last two years.  There is a lot of noise out there, in the legal community and otherwise.  Some of it is useful.  Most of it is not.  If you listen too closely, if you are too influenced, if you assume that what you’ve heard is the whole truth, you might just be missing out on key opportunities.  Instead of making assumptions, do your own research.  Study.  Learn.  Do your best to find out the reality of the situation.  Be confident that you have gotten to the bottom of whatever rumor is relevant to you before you act on it.  More specifically, do not assume that you are precluded from a certain job or career path or other opportunity in this legal market simply because some conventional wisdom says so.

3. Be Flexible

I shared my story with you up front.  If I was not flexible, I would have packed my bags in the first few months after launching Greenhorn Legal when it became clear that the BarBri model was not the right one.  In business, and in life, you have to be mentally flexible and open to permutations on your original ideas.  As a law school graduate, you might not get your dream job right out of the gate.  You might not even know what your dream job is.  This is OK.  Great, in fact.  The more open you are, the more flexible, the more likely you will end up exactly where you are meant to be.  What’s important is to remind yourself that you have no idea, as you sit here today, where you are actually headed.  None of us do.  We can’t see the future.  We can’t predict what life events will materialize in valuable opportunities.  If you approach everything you do with intention and purpose, if you are willing to shift and adjust as necessary, if you say yes to new things, something good will come.

4. Create Create Create

I went to a small business conference last year.  The host had a mantra (and he made us repeat after him again and again): “I’m a creator!”  He said this with wild inflection – I’m a creeeAYY-tor!  At the time, I didn’t think much of it.  I’ve learned, however, that this is truly a key to success.  No matter who you are, the more you create, the better.  As a law student or new lawyer, if you are routinely creating a better resume, if you are writing blog posts and law journal articles and practice exams, if you are corresponding over email with mentors and other potential business connections, if you are preparing a guest lecture for a local bar association (the list goes on and on – email me if you would like some ideas), you are going to stand apart from your peers and find success sooner.  You are going to gain experience and expertise, not to mention great exposure.  The more you create the better, in this profession and beyond.

5. Never Give Up

You’ve heard this a million times, I’m sure.  Everyone always says that you should never give up.  Well, I’ve reconciled that there is a good reason that we hear this again and again – it’s incredibly valuable advice.  Things are admittedly not easy for law students and new lawyers.  This is not the best of times for our profession.  But things are not easy generally, and the only way to guarantee that you will never make it is by giving up.  Simple as that.

*     *     *

Desiree Moore is the founder of Greenhorn Legal, LLC and author of Thrive – A New Lawyer’s Guide to Law Firm Practice (ABA 2012).  Desiree is a frequent contributor to the Lexis Nexis Hub for New Lawyers, Above the Law, and the Girl’s Guide to Law School, among others.  Check out Desiree’s newest on-line practical skills training program here and connect with her on Twitter at @greenhornlegal.

If you have a question for Desiree please leave it as a comment!

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In my last post, I mused a bit on the subject of reflective practice and on what reflective practitioners may be able to contribute towards the goal of helping law students begin to “do” as well as “think” law.  In similar vein, I’ve decided that the time has come to try a little legal education crowd-sourcing experiment.  It’s more than likely this will fall flat on its face… but, what the hell; I don’t have anything to lose, so I’ll try it anyway…

Here’s the problem for the educator.  Imagine a law student or young lawyer who is asked to draft a business contract for a client (hypothetical or real) for the very first time.  How does the educator equip that law student or young lawyer, faced with a client on the one hand and a blank page on the other, to meet the challenge?  Where to start?  Is it possible, at least in general terms, to generate a set of principles, steps or processes – call it a professional guide or modus operandi or what you will – that our apprentice lawyer can meaningfully grasp and operationalize?

In the spirit of the endeavour, I throw out a few random and disorganized thoughts by way of an initial brainstorm:

  1. Understand the client, the business context and the relevant business relationship.  Goes without saying?
  2. Understand there is invariably a delicate balance to be struck between the client’s desire to limit length, complexity and legal costs and the need to protect the client’s interests effectively.  In my experience, clients favour “short and sweet” (which they associate with lower cost) over “long and winding” (which they associate with higher cost).  How to strike the balance is tricky but it needs to be worked out client by client and assignment by assignment.  One possible litmus test is to ask whether you can convincingly explain and justify each and every clause in the draft – what’s it for, why’s it necessary etc.  For an excellent account of how to think about and manage the cost-versus-protection trade-off I recommend this recent post by Brian Rogers, aka the Contracts Guy.
  3. Recognize and source high quality forms and precedents and understand their set up and slant.  OK, so if you are working in a law firm environment, there will likely be a precedent bank.  Even so, it’s clearly not a great idea to work uncritically and unthinkingly from precedents.  From which party’s perspective is the precedent drafted?  Why is what’s in there in there and why is what’s not in there not in there?  The discerning of quality is a harder task for the novice.  And even for the initiated it can be a bit like the proverbial elephant (i.e. easy to spot but difficult to describe in words).  Best then to give you an example.  Here’s Brian Rogers again with a sample B2B sale of goods agreement drafted from the standpoint of a seller.

OK, crowd.  Over to you.  Please go ahead and add to the list as you see fit!

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One of the biggest challenges that I face as a law teacher is how to go about helping students make the transition from “thinking” law to “doing” law.   So, for example, in a Contracts class how should we move beyond the necessary foundational task of teaching students to learn how to extract, handle and apply basic legal principles and begin to develop their skills in the practical tasks of contract evaluation and contract drafting?   Put another way, how do we foster the acquisition of legal “craft” skills relevant to everyday practice alongside, and in addition to, the cognitive and meta-cognitive skills, such as knowledge acquisition, comprehension, analysis and synthesis, that are our stock-in-trade?

The folk I tend to turn to for inspiration in helping me address this challenge are what I call reflective practitioners.  “Reflective practice” is a recognized term of art associated in particular with educationalists such as John Dewey and Donald Schön.  However, I use the term “reflective practitioner” to describe practicing attorneys who “do law” on a daily basis but constantly reflect on what they do, and how they do it, in a quest for continuous improvement.  Over the next few posts, I’ll highlight some recent examples of reflective practice that, as well as being useful in their own right, also, in my view, illustrate the potential value of collaboration between classroom academics and reflective practitioners in enhancing legal education.

For starters, let’s consider contract evaluation.  The process of contract evaluation in part requires us to develop a sense in practical settings of how courts interpret contract language. Over at Drafting Points, Reed Smith attorney Vincent Martorana has just posted an incredibly useful guide to contract interpretation which he recently co-authored with his colleague, Michael Zitelli.   It does a great job of synthesizing contract-interpretation principles from court opinions delivered during 2012 in Delaware and New York, arguably the two leading commercial law jurisdictions in the US.  The authors’ aims are “to educate transactional attorneys… regarding principles of contract interpretation so that they can draft contracts with these principles in mind” and to provide “a resource for analyzing contracts that have already been drafted or that are already effective, whether that analysis precedes or is in response to a specific dispute.”

Also on Drafting Points, you can find a useful brief summary of the main categories of contract-drafting language that draws on the work of Ken Adams, the author of A Manual of Style for Contract Drafting, to whom I made reference in an earlier post.  The post provides a very handy introduction to the basic building blocks of contract language, which nicely illustrates the importance of underlying conceptual distinctions, for example, the distinction between language of obligation (“I will do x”, “I promise to do x”) and language of performance (“I hereby do x”).  An understanding of these building blocks gives us a code that can help us unlock, evaluate and critique existing contracts as well as learn how the best lawyers go about drafting contracts.

I am shortly going to be working on a small project with Ken Adams and I’m looking forward to what will be a highly instructive experience.  He is a practitioner-educator from whose practice there is much that law teachers, students and the wider legal profession can learn.

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