Career Development & the Art of Auto Mechanics

Paul, the 20 year old technician who shuttled me back from the dealership, was talking about how he fits in there. He credited being outgoing as the reason everyone seems to like him at the dealership, even as a fairly new employee. He wondered aloud how some seemingly less friendly types sell the most cars.

When I asked how he thought those salesmen did it, Paul said he had not seen them in action. I pressed and he was silent. As the light turned green, he suggested that instead of talking a lot, the salesmen might be studying the customers, trying to figure out what they need.

It took Paul just a few moments to come up with this theory. If he is even partially right, why do we lawyers keep proclaiming that we do not want to be like car salesmen? Maybe we should reframe our challenge and try to be like some of the most successful ones. Talk less, listen more.

I liked this kid. I talked less, listened more.

Paul has a niche all to himself in the service department – - electronics. He got into it for two reasons: he has always been interested in playing around with electronics and no one else in the service department wanted to do that work. I suspect he is developing a niche skill set that he can build on for years to come and use anywhere in the country.

In high school Paul thought he wanted to be a psychologist but realized he did not like to study. So he decided to go to an out-of-state technical institute. He may not like studying, but obviously he likes to learn. He picked a specific car family track and graduated in two years. He chose the track based on his personal background and what he knew of the need in the market.

Of multiple job offers, he accepted this one based on the dealership’s reputation and his sense of how employees are treated there. He has benefits, a nice car and funds to travel to see friends in college.   Unlike two friends at the institute who have held and lost several jobs elsewhere in less than a year, his niche and relationships in the dealership seem secure and full of potential.

As he pulled up in front of my house, I repressed an urge to thank Paul for starting his career exactly where I wish more lawyers and other people could be, in the middle of a Venn diagram. He is thriving in the intersection of three circles: his interests/passions, things at which he excels and a need or opportunity in the market.

Instead, I thanked him for the ride and wished him luck.  He is a terrific young man headed in the right direction.

If you would like to thrive more in your legal career, please contact me.

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Career Building Buffet for Young Lawyers: 20 Tips

slideshare logo20 tips for new or young lawyers - – This is a slideshare of a breakfast talk I gave on Saturday to lawyers at the State Bar of Michigan’s annual Young Lawyers Section Summit.  It’s a mix of advice ranging from communicating with colleagues, clients and other people, to values, interviewing, productivity, business development and building on successes.

If you want to work on one of these areas, please contact me.

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Breaking Through Barriers to Greater Success, part 1

MH900385401Insanity, fear, control, values and strengths.  When speaking to two lawyer groups recently, I touched on these key words as ideas to break through a few common career barriers.

First, “insanity”.  Einstein is attributed, probably inaccurately, as defining insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  What do you do repeatedly and expect a different result?  Maybe you promise yourself daily that today is the day you will leave the office at 5:30 or that tomorrow you will get up 45 minutes early to work out.  Perhaps you continue to attend time consuming meetings for a business group from which you’ve never received a business referral.  Yet the hope of getting more clients is the sole reason you belong to the organization.  How many random acts of lunch do you have without any preparation and a clear understanding of how the person fits into your strategic business development plan?  How many times a month do you describe your legal services without tailoring your words to your listener or to attract more ideal clients and referral sources?    Yes, business development is built on relationships and they take time to develop.  It takes time to become known, liked and trusted as a lawyer.  But if you feel like you are banging your head against a wall, stop!  Evaluate the situation and consider whether you should continue on or pursue other courses of action.

Ask yourself this question:  “What can I give myself permission to stop doing?”

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Stuck in Neutral? 5 tips for Faster Career Success

Regardless of whether you are an in-house lawyer, in private practice or elsewhere, if you have at least a few years of experience under your belt, focus on the following tips in 2014 to take your career to the next level.

Get a Sponsor.  Mentors talk with you; sponsors talk about you.  Mentoring prepares you to move up; sponsorship makes it happen.  Unlike a mentor, a sponsor is an influential person who goes to bat for you, pounds on the table and uses his or her political capital to open doors to opportunities.

Maintain a Master Resume.  A master resume is solely a resource.  Create one with details on all of your jobs, accomplishments, skills, experiences, etc.  Add to it twice a year.  This reference document makes drafting easier when it is time to write a tailored resume.  You should use it to prepare answers with examples for interviews and to assess your career path, direction and speed and make adjustments.

Run Highly Effective Meetings.  Distribute the agenda in advance.  Start on time, end on time.  Do not stop to catch up the late arrivals.  At the end of the meeting, everyone should know who is going to do what by when.  Distribute the minutes or summary soon after the meeting.

Develop & Deepen Your Expertise.  Your colleagues and/or clients are more likely to seek your advice and services if they know and trust your expert knowledge.  Your expertise can keep you ahead of the competition and on the leading edge of your practice area.

Raise Your Visibility.  Being an experienced and excellent lawyer is no longer enough to get you what you want in your career.  Opportunity won’t come knocking if the right people don’t know you or what you can do.  Create, volunteer or ask for projects or assignments that get you, your name and your talents in front of whoever is in your target market.

If you would like coaching on any of these suggestions in the new year, please contact me.

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Holiday Networking Tip for New Lawyers & Law Students

thPSQYKOC8New lawyers and law students, do you freeze in your tracks at the thought of going alone to a bar association or other holiday event full of strangers? Attending a social event where you know no one is hard for most people.  In my highly unscientific opinion, based in part on my own personal experience, it is even hard for extroverts.

This holiday season consider an “ask” like the following which a law student sent me recently.

“Hi Elizabeth.  I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed meeting and working with you for our presentation. I was hoping that in the future, I could go to a [Bar] event with you since I do not know that many people.  I can’t go to the [. . . ] because I have class, but hopefully sometime after that. * * * ”

Of course my answer was yes, happily, let me know when you are interested in one.

Like this student, you will sound comfortable and confident, even if you’re not, if you:      (1) ask someone who knows you through more than a five minute conversation (people do business with people they know, like and trust);  (2) ask someone who displays friendly or helpful tendencies; and  (3) ask to do something you know the other person does or will be doing anyway.

Good luck and let me know if you try this tip.

If you would like help developing or rekindling relationships for your job search or book of business, please contact me.

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Mentors v Sponsors (Part II)

Since sponsorship sounds like a miraculous career enhancement tool, there must be a catch.  Anecdotally the catch for many lawyers seems to be the necessity that they proactively and strategically identify one or more sponsors and intentionally develop a relationship.  To many lawyers this sounds calculating, perhaps even manipulative, certainly not natural.

For example, many lawyers have had colleagues who from day one identified lawyers with their name in lights, or those who were soon to be, and went to lunch only with them.  They were thought of as gunners or worse and disliked for it.  Yet look at their subsequent career track and consider the role of sponsors in it.  Many experienced lawyers know sponsored lawyers who were elected partners in stark contrast to their unsponsored peers with equal or better skills and statistics.  Similarly, they have seen the protection sponsors provide from missteps and layoffs.

So take Hewlett’s advice as well as pages from those “gunners’” playbooks and rewrite them for your style of play.

  • First, identify what you would like a sponsor or sponsors to help you get.
  • Second, scan the horizon for potential sponsors.  Look for those with real influence and, if possible, sponsor tendencies.  Look beyond your boss, mentor and immediate supervisors.  As Hewlett says, choose efficacy over affinity.
  • Third, get in front of would be sponsors.  Ask a supervisor for an assignment in the sponsor’s area.  Request a meeting with the target sponsor for career advice.  Attend networking events and other gatherings where you can approach the person and introduce yourself.
  • Fourth, offer to co-author an article, collaborate on a project of interest to the person or share an idea or feedback on something important to him or her.  When possible, let the person see you in action.   As you get to know the person, share your goals appropriately.  You may even propose a quid pro quo.
  • Fifth, minimize your risk by developing more than one sponsor at work and developing a sponsor relationship outside of work as well.
  • Sixth, consistently deliver outstanding performance and make your sponsors look good.  Be relentlessly loyal.
  • Last, be strategic and patient.  Like all relationships, sponsorships take time and trust.

For those of you who do not need or desire a sponsor, turn the concept upside down to consider who you could sponsor and how being a sponsor might benefit you.

Finally, regardless of where you are in your career, you might have clout you can wield in some circle to benefit someone else.  Wouldn’t it be nice to start building a cadre of protégés for yourself?

If you would like help identifying sponsors and developing sponsor relationships, please contact me.

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Mentors v Sponsors: Do You Need Advice or Action? (Part I)

875654-lunch-meetingWhen asked for a show of hands by those who had sponsors, about 20 of 200 lawyers present raised their hands.  When asked how many of those sponsors were powerful people who could help get them promotions, raises or high visibility assignments, most of the hands went down.  I conducted this exercise at the annual mountaintop retreat last weekend of the Women Lawyers of Utah to emphasize the difference between sponsors and mentors and how landing sponsors, not just mentors, can more quickly advance your career.

Compare the advice “Jodie” received from a few close lawyer friends to “stop apologizing so much” to the introduction and subsequent recommendation a senior lawyer gave to another senior lawyer – “You should hire Jodie.  She’s perfect for this job.”   He did.   Mentoring prepares people to move up.  Sponsorship makes it happen.

Although sponsorship is not a new concept, it is getting a lot of attention lately, particularly thanks to economist and author Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s latest book, Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor.   Harvard Business Review Press, 2013.  Hewlett uses a two year study of over 12,000 professionals for her proposition that powerfully positioned champions, unlike mentors, make measurable differences in career progress.

As Hewlett writes, mentors talk with you at lunch.  They act as a sounding board, offering advice, support and guidance, and they expect very little in return. An informed mentor knows the lay of the land in the firm or office, can help you understand the unwritten rules and navigate the corporate ladder.

Sponsors, on the other hand, talk about you at lunch.  They are influential champions who advocate on their protégés’ behalf, connecting them to important players and assignments.  And by doing so, they make themselves look good.  These are mutually beneficial arrangements where the sponsor’s reputation vouches for the protégé’s legitimacy and abilities, and the protégé’s loyalty and stellar performance enhance the sponsor’s position.   Unlike a mentor, a sponsor is someone who goes to bat for you, pounds on the table and uses his or her political capital to open doors to opportunities.  And because a sponsor is someone who puts their reputation on the line for you, you have to earn the relationship rather than have one appear in the doorway of your office.

Next time, Part II, putting together your sponsor playbook page.

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LinkedIn Lawyer Pitfalls & Mistakes Beyond Endorsements & Recommendations

MH900078790In addition to the potential ethical issues for lawyers raised by LinkedIn’s endorsements and recommendations features, beware of the following potential pitfalls and mistakes on LinkedIn.  I’ve seen way too many real life examples of all of these.

-          A bare bones profile.  This does nothing to enhance your image and can even detract from it.

-          No photo or only a snapshot.  The absence of a photo raises questions and a poor snapshot detracts from your professionalism, especially when you are looking for a job.

-          A profile written exactly like a formal resume.  Such a profile screams that you are looking for a job even when you aren’t.  You are also missing an opportunity to show a little personality and a human side.

-          A profile inconsistent with your bio on the firm website.  Your LinkedIn profile and website bio do not need to be and should not be identical, but you should avoid creating confusion about what you do.

-          A “headline” (the line next to your photo) that says “New Attorney Looking for a Job”,  or “Associate [or Owner] at  Smith, White & Jones PLC”.  Instead of blending in, make a first impression with a “headline” that describes your background, other experience and/or area of interest.  Ie.  “Information Technology Focused Lawyer with Project Management Experience, [SWJ]”.  In addition, all lawyers should search engine optimize their profiles with descriptive terms.  The basics include using the word attorney or lawyer and practice area terms in the “headline” and in the title of your current position since those are the first two places that the LinkedIn search engine searches for keywords.  Use lawyer in one place and attorney in the other since people use both as search terms.

-          Using your “update” bar too frequently and/or only for shameless self promotion.  Constant use of the update bar can give the impression you have a lot of time on your hands and not enough work.  And don’t make your updates all about you.  Using the update bar solely to promote yourself is very noticeable and a big turnoff.

-          Never using your “update” bar.  Consider how you can provide value to your connections through the update bar by promoting an event, sharing an article (yours or someone else’s), sharing legal updates or other relevant useful news.

-          Joining LinkedIn only when you are fearful of losing your job, are looking for a new job or want a book of business overnight.  Build your network, on and off LinkedIn, before you need it!

-          Not joining LinkedIn for fear that your employer will think you are looking for a new job.  There is a reason over 100 million people are on LinkedIn and it’s not because they are all looking for jobs!      

-          Sharing strong political or religious views in your profile or on your updates.  The appropriateness of sharing this information may depend on the nature of your practice area, clients and referral sources.

-          Providing legal answers to questions in LinkedIn groups.  Although LinkedIn and marketing gurus advise people to become known as “thought leaders” or experts by answering questions on LinkedIn, lawyers must be careful of unintentionally creating an attorney client relationship.  Don’t provide specific advice or ask for confidential information.

-          Sending LinkedIn requests without personalizing the message.   Using the default message can signify laziness and it does nothing to advance or deepen an existing relationship.  Also, you will increase your chances of a stranger accepting your request if you personalize the message.  Avoid using the white plus sign when LinkedIn suggests you connect with someone.  That is a quick connect and it will send a request without giving you an opportunity to personalize the message.

-          Being afraid to decline requests to link.  Go ahead and click no.  LinkedIn does not send the requestor a message saying that you refused to link with them.

-          Being afraid to remove a connection.  Go ahead and remove a connection by pulling up your contacts list and using the remove connections tab in the top right corner.  Your former connection will not receive a notice.

-          Linking primarily with other lawyers and people you already know well.  Think of your LinkedIn network as an investment portfolio and diversify it.     

-          Letting LinkedIn search your Outlook Contacts or other contacts list.  I have not heard any horror stories about this feature but common sense says retain control over your own password and contacts.

-          Using LinkedIn solely for your own benefit.   You and your network can be tremendously helpful to your friends, family, colleagues, clients and other people in your life, now and in the future.  Expand your use of LinkedIn and create some good karma.    

If you would like to learn how to use LinkedIn more effectively for your law practice and career, please contact me.

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Two Tips For Solo Lawyers On Space Sharing, Of Counsel & Other Arrangements

Man ThinkingI know solo lawyers who have entered into arrangements with other lawyers and firms, such as space sharing and informal and formal affiliations, that did not work out for various reasons and they regretted it.  The reasons run the gamut from differences in work ethic, ethics, values, quality of work, client service, to nature of practice, practice area, nature of clients, unrealistic business development dreams, billing practices and office management, etc.  Here is some practical advice culled from those experiences.

Don’t enter into a space sharing arrangement unless you have a real need and reason for that office and the price is too good to pass up.  Be skeptical of references to overflow work as justification for the move.

Don’t enter into loose affiliations or of counsel arrangements unless you have the same reasons as above, or the other side gives you substantial evidence that they need you to do a certain kind of work they currently have and can’t handle and the numbers work out in your favor.  Promises that the other lawyers will introduce you to their clients or that the arrangement will give you greater visibility are often just made to secure you to benefit the other lawyer or law firm in some other way.  What’s really in it for you that justifies the cost and the disruption in your practice?

I rarely see such arrangements working out to both sides’ benefit solely from a business development angle.  Have reasons to enter into those arrangements other than just the promise, hope or idea of generating more work for one or both sides.

If you would like help considering your options, please contact me.

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Prerequisites to Networking Like a Pro

Group of PeopleI returned from a bar association conference over the weekend and it made me reflect again about networking basics on which I can keep working.  Networking is relationship building no matter if you are a lawyer, baker or candlestick maker.

Tip 1.  Get comfortable with your self introduction or “elevator speech.”

  • Keep it simple.  Focus on the benefits of what you do and for whom.  “I help small businesses avoid legal problems“  vs. “I am an associate at Smith, Jones & White.”
  • Consider your audience and modify your introduction accordingly.
  • Say what you really enjoy.  Your interest and energy will shine through.

Tip 2.  Think “help this person.”

  • Provide value first.  What goes around comes around.  For example, you can:
  • Be a connector – - put other people together for their mutual benefit.
  • Be a resource or sounding board.
  • Ask “how can I help you here?”

Tip 3.  Improve your listening skills.

  • Focus on the other person instead of what is going on in your head.
  • Be curious about them.
  • Hear who they are, want they need or want.  Listen for their “pain”.
  • Listen twice as much you talk.

Tip 4.  Develop the skill of acknowledging others.

  • This is different than giving a compliment or praise.  It reinforces the person’s foundation.
  • Acknowledgment sees who the other person is rather than simply what they did.  ie.  “You are tenacious” vs. “You did a great job.”
  • After you acknowledge someone, be silent and notice the effect.

Tip 5.  Confidence.

  • Focus on others instead of on how you feel.
  • Start and keep going.  It gets easier.

If you would like coaching on these or other networking and relationship building skills, please contact me.

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