Save the Date – ABA Annual Meeting August 5th – 10th

ABA (American Bar Association) Annual Meeting in San Francisco, CA Law Practice Management Section  are meeting August 4-7 at the Hilton Union Square / Business Law Section is meeting August 6-9 at San Francisco,  Fairmont / Intercontinental Mark Hopkins

From Languishing to Leadership through Effective Delegation and Feedback

This week’s Business of Law Guest Blogger at the National Law Review is Deborah Knupp of Akina Corporation  : 

General Patton

The Essence of Leadership

Think of someone who has been a positive leader in your life.  What leadership qualities do they demonstrate that you most value and appreciate?  Some common leadership traits that many admire include the ability to communicate a clear vision, set clear expectations, inspire commitment and give and receive feedback. 

What is leadership?  Does it require a certain personality style to be effective?  In its most basic terms, leadership is the ability to get yourself and others from where you are to where you want to be. It is about getting things done through and with other people.  Leadership is when people follow you because they want to, not because they have to follow.  The most effective leaders utilize influence and coaching not authority or coercion to get positive results.

What’s the difference between leading by authority and leading by influence?  The chart below gives a few distinctions: 

Authority Influence
Do it because I said so… Do it because it is the right thing to do and you want to do the right thing
I say when… I say how… I say when… You say how…
Command and control Collaboration and connection
…Or Else …What Else
Defend and protect Create and build
Scarcity Abundance
Playing not to lose Playing to win

If a leader wants to get things done through and with other people, then effective delegation skills are needed.  If a leader wants to be followed because people want to follow then effective feedback skills are essential.


How many times have we had a task that we are sure we should delegate to someone only to find ourselves working extra hours to get the job done?  Intuitively, most leaders know that delegation is critical to get results, however it’s not always a choice leaders make in the moment.  Typical reasons leaders avoid delegation are fear that the job won’t be done right or done well, and in many cases it is perceived as “easier” to do it yourself.  Consider, though, the longer term consequence to not delegating.  We miss opportunities to grow and develop our people and free ourselves up to work on the more complex, strategic needs of the organization. That said ineffective delegation can be almost as detrimental to no delegation, so the following 5 techniques aid leaders in delegating effectively.

 1)     Decide what to delegate.  A critical first step to effective delegation is to decide what can (or should be) delegated.  The choice is likely dependent upon the complexity of the assignment and time/urgency to complete the assignment.  Low risk or repetitive tasks are an easy place to practice delegation.

2)     Decide to whom to delegate. The second step is to determine who has the skill to do the task, who can be taught the skill to do the task and/or who is available to do the task.  Ideally, the leader decides based upon who will benefit the most in professional and career development from the delegated assignment.

3)     Define the project.  Defining the project begins with clarifying project goals and the expected results. It is critical that the leaders establish clear due dates and project milestones.  The leader should also explain criteria for evaluation and define the limits of authority.

4)     Determine check-in procedures.  During most every delegated project, questions and check-in will be required.  An ideal approach is to mutually determine how and when check-ins will occur.  Determine the preferred mode of communication for check-ins as well as define the process for answering questions.  Lastly, the leader should build in time for mistakes.

5)     Manage completion of the project.  If there are mistakes in the project, the leader should avoid fixing them if at all possible.  Learning from a mistake is often the best teacher. Once the project is completed, it is valuable to review what skills were utilized and developed to complete the tasks.  It is also important for the leader to reward and recognize results.

 Giving & Receiving Feedback

Leaders inspire followers when priority is placed on giving and receiving feedback regularly.  Feedback is a gift, even if it feels like it is wrapped in barbed wire, it is a gift nonetheless.  Following are the 6 techniques for giving and receiving effective feedback. 

1)     Preparation, planning and strategy.  A critical first step to giving or receiving feedback is to have a game plan with a set agenda, goals and objectives.  Leaders do well to ask for smaller windows of time and provide smaller “bites” of feedback in any given meeting.  Preparing thoughtful questions can also be helpful to stimulate conversation and collaboration.

2)     Ask permission. Getting ambushed or receiving a stealth voice mail message requesting to “give feedback” is a recipe for fear, worry and lost productivity.  With spot feedback, leaders are encouraged to ask if it is a “good time” to give/receive feedback and properly set the stage for a productive conversation.  “Asking permission” also gives the other person time to prepare.

3)     Active listening.  Active listening is a function of making eye contact, providing encouragement through non-verbal cues like nodding, asking follow-up or probing questions and confirming next steps.  Leaders should avoid the temptation of multi-tasking with one ear in the conversation and one eye on the computer, PDA or cell phone.  Remove distractions and meet in a neutral setting to encourage optimal listening.

4)     Showing your work.  One of the most basic indicators that feedback has been accurately received is to ask the listener to provide a summary recap in an email of what’s been heard and the next steps.  Alternatively, the leader can also provide a summary of key messages and expectations to ensure that feedback and expectations are clear.

5)     Intentional relationship building.  The most effective feedback is communicated when both parties have a foundation of trust.  Trust is best built through relationship building.  Relationships are built when leaders seek to understand the goals and objectives (personal and professional) of the other person and invite feedback, ask advice and offer to help without any “strings” or ulterior motives.

6)     Make the most of small moments.  Leaders often think that feedback is what you give during annual reviews and formal sit-down meetings.  Some of the most effective times to exchange feedback are in the small moments that may include before or after hours, over coffee or traveling with a person when the environment is more relaxed and conversational.

 What’s Possible?

Imagine the possibility that you have more time, more freedom and more trust within your teams.  Imagine what benefits you can receive (short and long term) when you are willing to let go and let others do and when you are willing to provide feedback that is both constructive and rewarding.  Leaders grow future leaders when they are willing to delegate and willing to communicate feedback regularly.  People work with the leader because they want to, not because they have to and ultimately the leaders have more freedom to focus on higher level, more strategic work.  Leadership is privilege and leaves a legacy with those who follow.

Stop languishing.  Start leading.  

Deborah Knupp has worked globally with CEOs, executives, managing partners and attorneys as a coach and business executive for over 20 years. She has helped these leaders align their people systems and business objectives to create cultures based on the principles of accountability, integrity and authentic relationship building. Her work has focused on making the work environment a place where employees “want” to be; where clients “want” to buy; and, where leaders “want” to serve a bigger purpose in their communities and families.

As first appeared in the January/February 2010 edition of the “Administrators Advantage” the newsletter of the Chicago Chapter of Association of Legal Administrators.


Save the Date – Vault/MCCA Legal Diversity Career – July 30th Washington DC

‎Come Check out the 5th Annual Vault/MCCA Minority Corporate Counsel Association Legal Diversity Career Fair in Washington DC at Renaissance Washington DC Downtown – July 30th 8:00 am

Save the Date for National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL's) Annual Luncheon

The National Association of Women Lawyers (NAWL) is the leading national voluntary organization devoted to the interests of women lawyers and women’s rights. Founded over 100 years ago, NAWL has historically served as an educational forum and an active voice for the concerns of women in the legal profession .

Save the Date for NAWL’s Annual Luncheon

July 21-22, 2010
Waldorf Astoria Hotel
New York, NY
More Info

Surviving the Economy: Dancing in the Economic Storm

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass… It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
Vivian Greene

Americans remain apprehensive about the economy, their job prospects and their incomes, even as a recovery is taking shape. We as a country are going through a financial crisis, which is testing us in many ways. Although, individually, we are being and will be affected to different degrees and in various ways, as a country, we are learning how to deal with these challenging times.

It is natural for us to be concerned about our future when we see the economy struggling and people getting laid off and lacking basic necessities. Anger is building in many sectors of society. Like many others, you may be feeling pain, fear, anxiety, betrayal, anger and even hate towards those you believe are responsible for what has happened. However, these emotions will not help you deal with the situation effectively.

Each of us desires the kind of comfort that will keep us steady in times of crisis, regardless of the circumstances. The process of remaining steady in challenging times begins with our outlook. It is important to remember that during difficult moments, we are not powerless. Rather, the contrary is true. We have the power to overcome many of the challenges we face. All too often, we feel so overwhelmed by negative possibilities that we fail to see opportunities before us.

Linkedin Logo Neon It is imperative to maintain an optimistic attitude and arm yourself with practical tools for survival. Since the job market is harder to penetrate now, making it even more competitive, you must be flexible regarding such issues as the type of employer, industry and compensation. Experience and education are more vital than ever. Professional networking sites such as LinkedIn have become an excellent venue for reaching a vast pool of potential employers and should be considered an important resource when looking for jobs. Statistically, over 75% of jobs are found as a result of networking.

It also is essential to know what is going on in the job market and, specifically, the legal industry. This year, small and midsize law firms have been busier than larger ones. Some of these firms are litigation boutiques whose business has increased as a result of litigation related to failed companies and financial institutions or disgruntled investors. Securities and white-collar litigation also has begun to improve. Labor and employment litigation has increased since more companies have implemented layoffs. IP litigation also has remained a strong practice area in most markets. Bankruptcy and reorganization practices have thrived as a result of the economic impact on companies. Additionally, many smaller firms are busier because corporate clients have sought (or demanded) lower fees. Undoubtedly, this trend is likely to continue in the foreseeable future.

Employers of all sizes are taking longer to make hiring decisions. Consequently, finding a job has become a much slower process. It is an employers’ market because they can afford to be more particular about which candidates they interview and hire given that they have a much larger pool of applicants to consider. Therefore, do not assume you have been rejected simply because you have not heard from a prospective employer in a few weeks.

It is a tough job market out there – probably one you never thought you would encounter in your lifetime. Opportunities are scarce in this economic climate and this is the new reality. Multiple job offers are likely a thing of the past, at least for the time being. If you already have a job, remember that anyone in this economy could be the next person let go. Even if you are a star who has great training, experience and skills, and has formed alliances at work, you could be one step away from a job search.

With that said… now is the time to outdress, outspeak and outsmart your competition. And most importantly… it’s time to learn to dance!

Contributed by Guest Blogger Rodney L. Abstone II of  Chicago Legal Search, Ltd.

©2010 Chicago Legal Search, Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Almost Ten Years After the Enron Meltdown: More Costs, More Prosecution, More Compliance?

I recently heard Sherron Watkins speak as part of a panel at Inside Counsel’s recent Super Conference in Chicago.  Ms. Watkins is former Enron Vice President who is widely credited with exposing the accounting and other irregularities, which lead to Enron’s demise and ushered in a new era of compliance awareness. Ms. Watkins provided some chilling insights and timely reminders about how a company can take great lengths to appear to be highly compliant and ethical but in reality can be a very different creature.      

At the time of the Enron meltdown, Enron was the seventh biggest company in America and the world’s biggest energy trader. Enron also had a Code of Corporate Compliance which would be technically compliant today with many of the Code of Conduct requirements mandated under Sarbanes Oxley (SOX) enacted because of the Enron meltdown. Enron’s Board of Directors famously waived various provisions of their well crafted Code of Conduct twice. These waivers of the Code of Conduct allowed the company’s CFO to run competing companies and companies which traded directly with Enron, and many other questionable business practices.     

Back in 2001, Watkins began investigating Enron’s relationship with LJM (a special purpose entity designed to take high-risk poor-performing assets off Enron’s balance sheet). Watkins became increasingly alarmed as it became apparent that the LJM relationship didn’t stand up to accounting scrutiny. Watkins sent Kenneth Lay, then Chairman of Enron’s Board of Directors, a detailed memo in August 2001 explaining her concerns.  Watkins outlined how the structuring of the LJM deals didn’t seem to have a true third-party relationship and warned Lay that the aggressive accounting would come back and haunt the company. After drafting the memo, Watkins met with Lay to convey her fears face to face.     

Enron Founder Kenneth Lay & Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling

Enron went down quickly. By December of 2001 Enron filed bankruptcy, which at the time was the biggest bankruptcy case in US history. Thousands of workers lost their jobs and thousands of investors lost billions of dollars. Soon after Enron’s bankruptcy, Watkins role publicly came to light. In January 2002, a Congressional committee published her memo to Ken Lay and Watkins and many others testified before Congress about Enron’s corporate culture, internal controls and accounting practices.     

Kenneth Lay Mugshot

In response to Enron, WorldCom and other financial scandals, Congress enacted SOX. Section 404 of SOX requires that company management document, test and adequately support the effectiveness of its internal controls. It also states that such documentation, testing and support be audited and reported on by external auditors.  Certifying officers, the  CEO and CFO, face penalties of $1million for false certification and/or up to 10 years imprisonment for “knowing” violations, and $5 million and/or up to 20 years imprisonment for “willing” violations. In theory, a new era of “transparency” was born.    

Jeffrey Skilling Mugshot

 But Enron famously had a “no harm, no foul” culture and to the outside world, a state of the art Code of Conduct. Whether it was simply looking the other way or actual ignorance, most Enron employees prior to 2001 were unaffected by the executive pillaging going on across all levels of the business and the executives heartily benefited from it. Watkins believes the true bite from SOX comes from the Act’s enforcement penalties. Back in 2003, Watkins famously stated: “Monetary fines don’t do it. If you’ve made a hundred million dollars and you’re fined $25m, you’re still filthy rich. To go to jail scares these guys to death. Standing in a cafeteria line for food, communal showers? It will change them forever.

Significantly Increased Corporate Compliance Spending:

It’s difficult to quantify directors and officers fear but one measurable result of Enron, World Com and SOX has been significantly increased compliance costs. Such costs have been well documented – some estimates placing them at well over $6 billion annually. Two accounting professors at the University of Illinois estimated that companies spent 120 million hours in 2004  alone complying with SOX. They also suggested that outside auditors spent another 12 million hours. That equates to 132 million hours – or, to put it another way, 66,000 people working for one year on nothing else.    

Experts all agree the costs have been steep, but how steep? According to one study that has attracted a lot of attention, SOX contributed significantly to wiping US$1.4 trillion off the value of the stock market. This startling amount comes from a study by Ivy Xiying Zhang, Assistant Professor of Accounting at the University of Minnesota.   

In spite of  the current recession, roughly three out of four companies either kept compliance spending even in 2009 or actually increased it.  For 2010 compliance spending is expected to be about the same as 2009 or even slightly higher.  This data was revealed in a survey published in January conducted by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE) and the Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA).   

Roy Snell, Chief Executive Officer of SCCE,  recently stated: “According to our survey results 33%  of companies surveyed expect a budget increase in 2010, and 18% expect their staffing to increase.” “This shows that the business community has come to realize that the price of cutting back on compliance far exceeds any potential rewards.”    

Increased Regulatory Enforcement of Financial Crime:

While it is difficult to tell if the increased spending on compliance is having any measurable effect on actual compliance, the government has certainly turned corporate and financial crimes as the new target of the “war on crime.”  One area of heightened government enforcement is the FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) which prohibits bribery of foreign government officials. Some statistics illustrate:    

  • In 2000 federal prosecutors brought no FCPA criminal cases.
  • In 2004 there were 3.
  • In 2009 there were 34 criminal FCPA actions with many more in the pipeline – the justice department currently has approximately 150 open investigations.
  • On January 19, 2010, 22 individuals were arrested under portions of the FCPA.   This is the largest single investigation and prosecution against individuals in the 32-plus year history of the FCPA.

In 2009, the federal government significantly beefed up the False Claims Act (FCA) under FERA (Federal Employment and Recovery Act). The FCA applies to the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to prosecute persons who make false statements to obtain TARP funds.   TARP also created a Specialized Inspector General (SIGTARP) who will collaborate with the FBI and federal prosecutors.  Many states also have their own false claims acts which will should also come into play as TARP money flows to states.     

State Attorney Generals and Federal officials are starting to work together as never before, too.     

  • Operation Short Change:   A joint effort of the FTC and 18 state attorney generals targeting business scams taking advantage of the economic downturn.
  • Operation Loan Lies:  A joint effort of the FTC and 18 state attorney generals targeting mortgage modification scams.
  • Operation Stolen Hope:  A joint effort of 26 federal and state agencies to crackdown on mortgage foreclosure rescue and loan modification scams.

Take Away:  While Enron had a stellar Code of Conduct on paper – it was waived by the Board and the potential  profits at the time seemed to seriously outweigh any civil and criminal penalties in force at the time.  Almost ten years later, companies are spending vast resources on compliance, even in the wake of the current recession.  Wall Street’s recent problems which prompted TARP seems to have motivated both federal and state governments to step in with heightened enforcement of financial crimes.  Whether heightened government enforcement coupled with increased corporate awareness is enough to deter the temptation of potential profits still remains to be seen.

How Law Firms Can Leverage Their Relationships With Alumni (Including Those Not Leaving of Their Own Accord) and Why It Matters

From Guest Blogger Kate Neville of Neville Career Consulting, LLC – why keeping good relations with firm Alumni is important: 

A. Challenges of the New Economy

In 2009, more people were laid off by more firms than had been reported for all previous years combined.1 Letting attorneys go in significant numbers is not something large law firms have had a great deal of experience with until recently. Standard practice in most large law firms had been to retain attorneys until a partnership decision was made. These firms did so in part because they feared the reputational stigma attached to firing one of their own; as one blog explains, the “vast majority” of prospective lawyers “turned up their noses at firms…[that] laid people off.”2

How quickly times have changed. Despite the novelty of big firms having to let their attorneys go, it still comes as a surprise how poorly some large law firms have handled the process of layoffs over the past year. To be fair, firms made these decisions under great stress and uncertainty, when the risk of total firm collapse existed and in fact happened to some, which certainly influenced the choices they made.  Many firms insist that they have only let attorneys go for performance rather than economic reasons, even when it strains credulity. It is difficult to believe that a firm suddenly realized, all at once, that dozens of its attorneys had sub-par performance, particularly when some of those lawyers were recently made junior partners, or when those attorneys were in their first or starting their second year of practice.

Most analysts (and other attorneys in private conversation) recognize that these lawyers would never be let go in a stronger economy as long as they made money for employers. To their credit, some firms forced to make layoffs have stated this explicitly and expressed regret at having to say goodbye to respected colleagues.  Even at firms that have been up front about the economic necessity of layoffs, however, stories abound of attorneys being given almost no notice, little or no severance, and no assistance in securing a new position.  Departing associates have told of working closely with a partner for years, only to receive an email message in farewell.  In a few cases, attorneys have been shut out of the firm’s computer system while they were being given the news, and others have been immediately escorted out of the building with their personal items forwarded separately by messenger. Such jarring departures, while common in investment banking and internet start-ups, had been unheard of for members of the bar in good standing whose only misdeed was that they were caught in a down legal economy.

Certainly, not all firms have handled things so poorly. Indeed, some have worked to create a “soft landing” for their attorneys who have been laid off. These efforts have typically included providing career counseling and outplacement services, offering appropriate severance packages, making office space available, and keeping attorneys’ phone lines and email accounts active.

By far, the most helpful — and loyalty engendering– thing a firm can do for its former attorneys is to make calls on their behalf and provide contacts who are knowledgeable about opportunities for the individual now looking. In the past, once it was decided that a senior associate was not going to be made partner, almost all large firms made an effort to place the individual in a position with a client or somewhere one of the firm’s partners was well known. While some individual attorneys have asked for and received this type of help in the past year, the courtesy has not been extended as a matter of practice to attorneys told that they no longer have a position with their firm.

There is of course no public data on which firms did what in the process of letting go of attorneys, so it is impossible to calculate how things were handled by the field as a whole.  Nevertheless, it remains clear that in the face of hard times and increasing financial pressures, it is in a firm’s interest to avoid unnecessarily aggressive, and arguably self defeating, approaches to downsizing their workforce.

B. The Business Rationale: Why It Matters

As one large firm associate noted in early 2009,

I remember back in 2003, one of my colleagues was laid off from our firm, and they provided him with six months’ salary and hired a professional career consultant/placement agent to help him land safely.…This firm did all the right things, including telling him that it was purely for economic reasons and not performance related. The rewards to the firm were obvious — he joined the in-house legal team of a Fortune 50 corporation, and still looks back fondly at our former firm despite being laid off.3

The absence of far-sighted strategies on the part of some large firms in letting attorneys go exists, of course, in large part because firms are under pressure to save money—the driving force behind the layoffs in the first place. Economic conditions have changed drastically since 2003 — firms no longer feel flush, there is no reassurance that business will increase in the near future, and fewer Fortune 50 corporations are hiring.

It seems that, in their rush to adapt to changing economic conditions, decision makers at some firms may have lost their long-term perspective. In some cases, administrators in charge of marketing and business development have made the case internally for substantive severance packages in order to maintain goodwill among departing attorneys only to be turned down by managing partners or others on the management committee.

The question remains at what cost firms make these decisions. Eventually the downturn will end. Law firm alumni will find jobs somewhere, very possibly with potential clients, and firms will get back into hiring mode. Consequently, it makes economic sense for firms to handle layoffs sensitively and to do as much as they can for outgoing employees in the midst of tough economic times.

When firms insist on claiming performance issues and treat their former employees so poorly, it not only poisons the relationship with the individual but also can quickly ruin the firm’s reputation with that individual’s former colleagues, clients, and fellow alumni. These procedures and processes — or the lack thereof — also mean that a firm assumes the risk of driving away future candidates and causing prospective clients to question the firm’s judgment, placing its future in jeopardy. It is difficult to see a rationale for some of the problematic things firms have done.

Accounting firms and management consulting firms have for many years invested in maintaining good relations with their former employees. They have, of course, not done so out of the goodness of their hearts but rather because it has proven to be good business. Through measures such as developing alumni networks to keep in touch and developing programs that attract alumni to remain engaged with their former employers, these companies regularly develop future business contacts and promote loyalty and goodwill that can help attract top candidates and clients in the future. The business argument that has persuaded business leaders across industries to maintain good relationships with their former employees follows.

First, attorneys already have a lifetime affiliation with a firm for which they have worked because the firm is always on their resume. When asked, as will be the case in almost any new position, alumni will of course speak more highly of the firm if their departure is handled well. The reverse is also true.

Second, the market will improve at some point, and firms will again compete for talent.  It is much less expensive to rehire people who have already been trained by the firm than to invest the huge sums that firms have traditionally put into their recruiting programs or paying recruiters to hire laterals.  Alienated former employees will not want to return and, even if they do, are not likely to perform at their best. In addition, any negative information about a firm will impact future law student candidates who often listen closely to the experience their school’s alumni have had with a firm. These recruiting circles are small.

Third, especially in a tough economy, it is critical to leverage relationships for business development. A firm has no way of knowing where its former attorneys will end up; and, if they happen to land in a large potential client’s office, their opinion of the firm matters a great deal. Conversely, if attorneys retain a positive view of their experience there, the firm could have much to gain.

Law firms have an opportunity to learn from corporate America and recognize that it is always good business to create a web of connections and to invest in developing positive relationships among people. Over the past year, only a limited number of law firms have seemed to understand that it is in their interest to help their attorneys land well.

C. What: Programming For Big Impact With Little Dollars

The lack of foresight many firms have demonstrated in how they let attorneys go is not only due to pressure to save money but is also explained in part by the legal field’s record of lagging behind other industries in developing and leveraging alumni networks.  Some law firms have taken the lead in developing such programs in recent years, but making the case for a law firm to develop procedures to maintain goodwill with their attorneys on their departure and going forward will likely be an uphill climb in the current economy. Virtually all businesses are concerned about how to do more with less, so law firm leaders are likely to question what can be done when most are already having to make budget cuts.

Even though law firms lack the infrastructure that other industries have created, measures to maintain good alumni relations do not need to be cost-intensive. At their core, successful networks are a combination of strong communications, networking, and follow-up. As other industries have learned, such programming is all about relationships; and, while it may be nice to have money to support them, hosting receptions and other costly events is not the only option.

In fact, inviting alumni to a law firm social event may not be the most effective route to maintaining good relations with attorneys who have been asked to leave. In one example, associates who had been laid off received their firm’s alumni end-of-the-year newsletter, which included an invitation to the firm’s holiday party. To its credit, the firm was making clear it considered these former employees to be just like other alumni of the firm, but several of the laid-off attorneys expressed incredulity that the firm that fired them now wanted to celebrate the end of the year with them. Further, the firm seemed to lack sensitivity when the letter it sent went on to tout how successful the firm had been that year — one in which it also laid off 55 attorneys, all of whom were receiving this news.4

Other kinds of interaction could prove to be both more productive as well as less expensive than formal events. Particularly when administrators within a firm have seen their responsibilities expand because fewer people are left to do the work, the measures a firm is most likely to adopt are those that will not require much additional work. A few lowcost examples of steps to maintain good relations with law firm alumni follow.

First, the loyalty-engendering practice mentioned above — of partners giving departing attorneys contact information for those who are knowledgeable about the individual’s field and making calls on an attorney’s behalf — costs nothing but a little time. Particularly since it has now become standard practice solely to confirm dates of employment, law firms willing to reach out on an individual’s behalf, give candid recommendations, or at the very least provide an objective reason for the departure, will stand out among their competitors.

Second, a firm can piggyback the steps it takes to develop alumni networks onto other initiatives already being undertaken. These can include incorporating alumni into client seminars and events, offering discounted continuing legal education (CLE) programs to keep bar memberships current, and inviting alumni to program events already planned as part of women’s or diversity initiatives or of particular practice areas.

Third, a firm can inexpensively create an alumni directory, keeping email addresses and other contact information updated so that individual alumni can reach out independently to one another. Maintaining such a directory provides a fair-value exchange for the firm, which gets up-to-date employment information and business leads.

Fourth, disseminating job postings has been a low-cost item that many attorneys have appreciated in firms that have begun this practice. The firm’s clients are often happy to have applications from alumni, and posting positions of which a firm’s individual attorneys are aware helps build their personal networks as well.

Finally, in headier economic times a number of firms developed a component of their websites specifically dedicated to alumni of the firm, but creating a firm-specific alumni group on Linked In and Facebook can achieve similar results at lower cost. Content is typically driven by determining what information alumni want, which has included career programs (webinars, conference calls, or in-person) and allowing alumni to opt in to different newsletters that practice areas put out with practice/industry-related news.

The future hiring model for large law firms remains up in the air, and the rise in the use of contract attorneys may change these equations so that law firms make money without modifying the way they let their attorneys go. The return on investing in continuing relationships will be great for firms that still want to compete for top talent and loyal clients.

For those firms that want to compete but might have handled layoffs in ways that were less than productive last year, future success will largely depend upon senior management creating a culture that recognizes the value of strong relationships and leverages opportunities to maintain them.

1 “The Year in Law Firm Layoffs – 2009,” LawShucks. According to the blog LawShucks and as cited in the ABA Journal on January 8, 2010, 4,633 lawyers were laid off at 138 large firms.

2 Ibid.

3 Anonymous posting to Above The Law, February 5, 2009.

4 As posted on Above The Law, December 8, 2009.

© 2007-2010 Neville Career Consulting, LLC

Posted by: Kate Neville

Kate Neville, Esq., a Harvard Law graduate, is founder of Neville Career Consulting, LLC, which provides guidance to attorneys considering a job change or career transition, whether within the practice of law or to another field.She began her career practicing law at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and as an in-house attorney for New York City government before shifting to positions in management consulting and policy analysis. After serving as an advisor in Georgetown Law’s Office of Career Services, Kate decided to use her experience to help practicing attorneys identify the full…

Hope for a Silver Lining in the Legal Employment World

From Guest Blogger Kate Neville of Neville Career Consulting, LLC – thoughts on the Legal Employment Outlook:

Attorneys who have been laid off or who cannot find a job after graduation have plenty of reasons to be disappointed and resentful–they have invested a great deal of money, time and effort to get where they are professionally. It is important to remember, though, that these feelings are not uncommon to lawyers who are actually in the sought-after big-firm jobs. Indeed, stories of unhappy attorneys at large firms are nothing new; they continue to drive traffic to numerous blogs and websites, such as Above The Law, which has covered in detail the panic attacks, ulcers, and other stress-related issues of which large firm attorneys often complain.

When economic times are booming, attorneys typically have gotten jobs at large firms almost exclusively based on their law school, their first year grades, and their ability to play well with others over the course of a summer. Rather than the result of thoughtful consideration whether they are a good fit for a big firm, many new attorneys accept these jobs as the path of least resistance. And while some love their experience at large firms, the hiring decisions often result in a mismatch as a significant percentage of these lawyers routinely become miserable after they begin to work there on a full-time basis.

Among those considered the lucky ones — both new and experienced attorneys who have large firm jobs — a not uncommon thread continues to be, “The idea that I might still be doing what I’m doing now for another ten years is frightening to me…I’m so bored, and when I look at the life more senior people lead, I do not want that in my future.”

A considerable number of large firm attorneys who feel this way nevertheless spend several years mulling over their situation before taking any action to address it. This inertia is often based in part because many seasoned lawyers have never looked for a job before — they went from college to law school and then were recruited by firms — and are not sure what else to do. And, of course, the firm salary has made it easier to defer making a move.

The current economy has changed that calculus. For many attorneys at large firms, the current market is accelerating the timeline of their departure, albeit to a time they would rarely choose independently. Rather than lament the loss of the pre-recession system, however, it would be nice if some constructive changes could come from the current pain. As businesses, large firms might adjust their hiring practices to become more effective. As institutions, law schools could help students learn the skills necessary to succeed at a firm, such as interacting with clients, working as part of a team, and business development. As individuals, attorneys who have been laid off or are unable to secure a law firm job can hopefully take advantage of an opportunity to investigate the range of their professional options and determine which might prove to be a good fit, now and in the longer-term.

The pain unemployed lawyers are feeling should of course not be minimized. It is difficult to consider being laid off a “blessing in disguise” under any circumstances, and particularly not when recent graduates bear significant debt and questions about how those loans can be paid off by people without jobs remain unresolved. Similarly, as fewer options are available at the moment for more senior attorneys who have been laid off, they have to focus on how to pay mortgages and college tuitions, and often on how long their savings can support them.

For a substantial number of lawyers, the real challenge to getting out of their current situation and moving ahead remains taking charge of their careers to learn about their options and make knowledgeable career decisions. For better or worse, this is rarely something attorneys at large firms do. Many lawyers who always wanted to practice law get frustrated with large firm life and take the first offer they get to leave, sometimes becoming dissatisfied all over again. Other attorneys who went to law school to “keep their options open” remain unsure after years of practice what those options are or how to pursue them.

Now is the time to find out.

For attorneys having difficulty finding a job, it pays to keep in mind the following as they move forward with their searches:


Because of the recession, being laid off or graduating without a job is no longer the black mark that it may have once been. It is fairly obvious that law firms — even those who continue to claim that their layoffs are performance-based — would never have fired these attorneys in a better economy. Similarly, a decision to rescind offers to new graduates has nothing to do with the performance of those individuals.


It is in a lawyer’s interest to cast a broad net when looking at potential options. Whether expanding the search to include non-legal and quasi-legal positions or different geographic areas, being flexible increases the chances of landing a job. One job does not have to dictate the rest of a career. Further, many people report that some of their best work experiences proved to be in jobs that they never thought they would take when they first heard about them. For example, an attorney who initially scoffed at compliance as “checking off boxes” eventually accepted a job as a compliance officer only to discover that the management and policy issues inherent in ensuring compliance within the company were quite compelling. She ultimately found her work there much more satisfying than her large firm position litigating multi-million dollar cases.


In bullish markets, many lawyers have gotten good jobs without ever needing strong interviewing skills, but in the current market, those skills have become critical. Since many talented professionals are now in the market for jobs they otherwise would not have pursued, lawyers cannot assume they are attractive candidates by virtue of their credentials or intelligence. They need to make the case for themselves — why they are genuinely interested in a position and how their skills and experience make them a good fit.


Another important difference from flusher times is that headhunters no longer routinely call with a range of opportunities. Instead, sitting behind a computer and applying for postings has become the most common method of job searching — and that is where many attorneys are most comfortable. It turns out that this strategy rarely works, however, because most jobs are never posted. The vast majority — most statistics cited say over 80 percent–of jobs are gotten through networking, which is not necessarily a skill most lawyers have. While it is possible to do quite well in law school without interacting with other people, much less having to make a good impression on them, learning to network is key to success in a job search and as a professional.


The importance of networking in a job search complicates things for many attorneys who have been laid off or searching for some time. Being upset at your current situation can cloud your judgment, and it is critical to remember that pouring out your heart or taking out your frustration on people who are in a position to help you professionally is a self-defeating strategy if ever there was one.


It can be helpful to treat a job search as a job in and of itself — ideally, a job with good hours: 9 to 5 with a break for lunch. Even if those hours are not feasible given the need to bring in some income, developing a routine is important. While something can fall into a strong networker’s lap at any time, six months proves to be a good case scenario, and many searches take significantly longer. Use this window of time productively rather than procrastinate and get stuck.

Posted by:

Kate Neville

Kate Neville, Esq., a Harvard Law graduate, is founder of Neville Career Consulting, LLC, which provides guidance to attorneys considering a job change or career transition, whether within the practice of law or to another field.She began her career practicing law at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and as an in-house attorney for New York City government before shifting to positions in management consulting and policy analysis. After serving as an advisor in Georgetown Law’s Office of Career Services, Kate decided to use her experience to help practicing attorneys identify the full…

Three Keys to Increased Client Retention

Business of Law Guest Blogger Sarah Johnson of PDI Global discusses Three Keys to Increased Client Retention

Client retention is one of the top issues facing law firms today. Yet, for many firms, client retention is an uncoordinated and inconsistent effort. As a result, they lose both clients and revenue.

But smart firms know that retaining clients is critically important, especially in today’s highly competitive environment. Smart firms are placing a high priority on the three key elements of client retention: providing exceptional client service, adding value and being proactive.

Providing exceptional client service

Clients hire a firm because they expect great service. But clients remain with a firm because they receive exceptional client service. (Hint: This goes way beyond just providing the project deliverable on time or returning client calls and e-mails.)

To provide exceptional service, you need to fully understand client expectations. Because these are subjective, they will be different for every client. So start by directly asking clients what they expect in terms of deadlines, service quality, project outcomes, progress reports, communication and other factors. Then continually evaluate how well you’re meeting those expectations. 

Exceptional client service doesn’t stop with the partners. Firm leaders should communicate client expectations down throughout the firm so everyone involved with the client knows what’s expected and works to deliver that.

Adding value

Your clients need to feel they receive the maximum amount of value for the money they spend with your firm. But as professionals who live by the billable hour, we often start and stop the clock every time we pick up the phone or respond to an e-mail. This can lead us to equate the level of service we provide with the amount of time we spend on a client.

But clients define service not by how much time you spend on them but by how much you show that you’re invested in advancing their long-term success. Depending on the individual or company, this can mean different things. Some ways to show value might include:

  • Introducing them to other professionals who can help them solve a business problem or challenge,
  • Spending an hour to educate them on how to do their job better, or [gasp]
  • Giving them a free assessment or advice. 

Remember that the client is ultimately the one that defines the value, so start by asking them what that means to them and then make sure you follow through.

Being proactive

Clients don’t know what they don’t know. They’re looking to you as their trusted advisor to tell them what they need to know about matters that affect them and what steps they might take to achieve their objectives.

Oftentimes we expend a lot of time and energy when we are courting a potential client to show them what we will do for them, only to forget about our promises once they have signed with us. Proactively bringing ideas to your clients will not only help you retain them and add value to the relationship, but it may also help you generate additional opportunities for business. So what are ways you can be proactive?

  • Share articles, blogs, videos or podcasts of interest that will expand their knowledge.
  • Schedule regular meetings to discuss their business (not your services) to better understand what they might need in the coming year and then help them achieve that.
  • Bring them ideas that will help them succeed, even if it’s not one of your services.
  • Do you have a new or innovative approach to a common issue they might face? Share it with them.
  • Have you completed an industry survey recently? Schedule a meeting to share it with them.

If you aren’t doing this but your competitors are, clients may begin to question their relationship with you. Therefore, whether it’s through one-on-one conversations, a newsletter, a blog or some other media or forum, make sure you’re proactively providing ideas and information to your clients.

Building a loyal client base

Practicing exceptional client service won’t just help you retain your clients. It will also help you uncover new opportunities to generate revenue from them. By giving clients what they want and working to advance their success, you’ll secure your client relationships, win client loyalty and boost your success, too.

© 2010 PDI Global Inc. All rights reserved.

Sarah Johnson is the Director of Marketing Consulting Services for PDI Global and a marketing consultant to law firms. A highly accomplished marketing professional with a passion for success, Sarah excels in advising CPA, law and other professional service firms on ways to realize more of their profit potential. She is especially adept at identifying growth opportunities, formulating business development strategies, maximizing human capital and working with clients to meet the challenges involved in implementing change.

BP Mismanages a Coffee Spill and the Best of @BPGlobalPR

Not surprisingly, the whole world pretty much hates BP now. And more and more people are lashing out against the oil conglomerate with attacks. Some are vicious advocacy campaigns that include pocket-hurting measures like boycotts. Others are vicious satirical jabs at a company whose reputation is being destroyed, piece by piece, day by day.

Here is the funniest attack I’ve seen. From the Upright Citizens Brigade, it’s a spoof of how BP would try to handle a boardroom coffee spill. (There is one instance of NSFW language at the end.)

Good stuff.

And coming in at a close second is the fake BP public relations Twitter feed. If you’re not familiar, many companies use the social media site Twitter to inform the public of their latest news and offerings. And someone has created a satirical @BPGlobalPR account that sends out frequent humorous updates laced with acerbic cynicism for how BP is handling this mess. Often accompanied by the sarcastic “#bpcares” disclaimer, the account advocates charity causes such as offering ”free bpcares” t-shirts that you can purchase for $25. (You can read more about @BPGlobalPR here and here.)

Here are the cleverest updates from the account so far:

SPOILER ALERT: The leak stops eventually, everyone forgets about it and we all buy another vacation home. #cantwait

Found driftwood that looks like Jesus crying oil. Not sure what it means but we’re charging 20 bucks to see it. #bpcares

If we’re being accused of being criminals, we want to be tried by a jury of our peers — wealthy execs who don’t give a damn. #fairisfair

I’ve gotta say, at night the gulf really doesn’t look that bad. #bpcares

OMG This isss ridciulsus. playing a drinking gamee where we drink a shot everytme we seeee an oily birdddd!!! LOL! so wasted!!11 #pbcares

What a gorgeous day! The ocean is filled with the most beautiful rainbows! #yourewelcome #bpcares

They want to fine us $4,300 for every barrel of oil spilled? Umm, we’re not spilling barrels, the oil is going directly into the gulf. DUH

A bird just stole my sandwich! You deserve everything you get, nature!!! #bpcares

If Top Kill doesn’t work, we’re just gonna toss a giant “Get Well Soon” card into the gulf and hope for the best. #bpcares

Just wrapped up a meeting with the EPA. Terry kept farting out loud at all the right moments. Not sure how he does it, but it’s SO FUNNY!

Funny, no one has thanked us for seasons 3-15 of Treme yet. #bpcares

The good news: Mermaids are real. The bad news: They are now extinct. #bpcares

Catastrophe is a strong word, let’s all agree to call it a whoopsie daisy.

Beverly Hillbillies marathon on TBS – now THESE guys knew what to do with an oil leak!

Not only are we dropping a top hat on the oil spill, we’re going to throw in a cane and monocle as well. Keeping it classy.

Authored by: Jared Wade

The above article is reprinted from the Risk Management Monitor – the official blog of Risk Management magazine.

Reprinted with permission from the Risk Management Monitor. Copyright 2010 Risk and Insurance Management Society, Inc. All rights reserved.