Real Life Young Lawyer Rainmaker’s Keys to Success

Katie VanderVeen

This month I profiled Dickinson Wright member Katie VanderVeen for the American Bar Association’s Women Rainmakers’ Making It Rain column to inspire and help young lawyers become rainmakers.

Katie is a self-described “early-stage rainmaker” who works in the debt financing area, with a focus on debt lending in regulated industries, including cannabis and healthcare. Based in the firm’s Denver office she works with clients across the country.

Katie shares her rainmaking journey (mistakes included) and wisdom here.
Make It Rain: Katie VanderVeen | ABA Law Practice Today

Building relationships, doing what you enjoy, and keeping the long game in mind continue to be keys to successful business development.

Hopefully how Katie uses these keys will inspire you to adopt or adapt some of her ideas and create ones of your own.

If you’d like a little help finding your keys to more business development success, contact me and we’ll see if there is a fit for us to work together!

Podcast: Mentors, Sponsors, Coaches for Lawyers

What’s the difference between mentors, sponsors, and coaches, and what can they do for your legal career?

I talked about these roles in a July 2023 podcast episode produced by the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan.

In a nutshell, mentors prepare you to move up in your legal career. Think of them as talking with you at lunch. Sponsors are your champions and advocates who use their influence to help you move up in your career. They open doors for you by talking about you at lunch. Coaches help you figure out where you want to go from here in your career, help you craft a plan to get there, and then help hold you accountable to the steps in your plan.

If you have any questions about these roles and/or are interested in seeing if there is a fit for us to work together on something in your legal career, please feel free to contact me !

Lawyers Treading Water at Work: Can You Help Make Change Happen?

When lawyers ask me to help them with a job search, I ask a question many lawyers are uncomfortable answering in job interviews:  Why do you want to leave your current job? 

When lawyers say they feel like they’re treading water, stagnating, or stalled professionally, I want to know what’s really going on. 

One reason I ask is because leaving isn’t always the best move, especially when you like your employer and colleagues.    

For some lawyers, treading water at work is exhausting physically and mentally. For others, it’s easier. 

It depends on how you’re wired and what you want from work:  a steady paycheck, to be busy, to be left alone, predictable hours, time off, respect, an expertise, appreciation, acknowledgment for your contributions, a promotion, a raise, more responsibility, more challenges, professional growth, a corner office, to be in charge. The list goes on.

If you’re a lawyer feeling like you’re treading water, you probably already know what would have to change for you to stay.  But perhaps you haven’t thought about what must happen first for that change to occur.  

Before you decide to leave, you should think about it.  What must happen for the change to occur? And what, if anything, can you do to make those things happen?

Say you’re inhouse or in a firm, and you want more responsibility or a different kind of work, but your boss says his hands are tied for reason x or y or both.  For example, he doesn’t have the other kind of work to give you, or he “has to” give it to someone else, or he just says he’ll keep your request in mind…. 

The change you want is the additional responsibility or the other kind of work.  The things that have to happen first might include creating a reason your boss has to give it to you, him getting more of the other kind of work, him realizing that he wants to give you the work, him realizing he’ll lose you if he doesn’t make these changes, you getting a new boss, etc. 

What, if anything, can you do to make those precursors happen?  What action steps are within your control?  How does a different perspective help shed light on this situation?

It isn’t easy to walk through this thought process on your own.  And the process isn’t always necessary. But if these scenarios feel familiar, please contact me

We can coach through this together to make sure you’ve done everything you can, that you’re not leaving a good job prematurely or for the wrong reasons.  We can also make sure that you’re moving to a better job, a good fit, not just running from a bad one.  Besides, we can vastly improve your answer to why do you want to leave your current job!  

Lawyers – Trim These Phrases From Resumes & LinkedIn Profiles

Lawyer resumes and LinkedIn profiles remind me of my high school English teacher, Ms. Angott. Her red ink filled the margins of our papers with “awk” and “dead wood”. My margins contained many pithy comments, but awk for awkward and dead wood for unnecessary are the two I most remember. Particularly dead wood.

When I read phrases like “experienced attorney” and “demonstrated history of” or “proven track record of“, I start reaching for a red pen or a chain saw. I invoke Ms. Angott’s name. Cut out the dead wood! Eliminate these phrases.

If you don’t accept my advice at face value, ask yourself what’s the value of these phrases? What purpose do they serve? What is their relevance? Or like dead branches, are they merely filler taking up room, distracting and detracting?

For that matter, what’s the value of the sentence “Proven track record working in the legal industry“? If that phrase hits dangerously close to home with you, hit the delete key. Ask yourself if you need to replace that sentence with another. Probably not.

Instead, try out sentences with facts. Attorney with 15+ years advising Fortune 500 companies and C-suite executives on … Attorney serving as outside general counsel for manufacturers …. Transactional attorney with 5+ years working on deals ranging from $2M to $200M…. IP lawyer focused on… Legal advisor and authority on HR dispute resolution and retention programs….

Let the facts, and more specifically your accomplishments, speak for you. Select them wisely and let them demonstrate the value you bring to the reader.

Show don’t tell.

Same with cliches such as “trusted advisor“. Yes, I know David Maister, an expert on professional service firms, coined the phrase and wrote a book entitled “The Trusted Advisor.” I know that being or having a trusted advisor is important and desirable. But the phrase is now overused. Look at a handful of corporate law firm websites and you’ll see what I mean.

Individual lawyers and law firms should find other ways to express and demonstrate their capabilities, roles, and relationship skills. Demonstrate that you think independently and creatively and that you are trusted and trustworthy.

Show don’t tell.

I’ve had more than a few clients say, well, that’s what they see a lot of people writing, so they thought they should too. What? You’re not a sheep.

Use of these bland phrases and similar sentences appears to be de rigueur across industries. Do a quick search on LinkedIn. See how you can mind-numbingly blend in and how you can stand out.

Use the analytical skills you acquired in law school and the judgment you’ve developed throughout your life. Question or at least examine and consider the value and purpose of various actions, including your choice of words on your resume, LinkedIn profile, and website bio.

By the way, after you do so, feel free to write or call me. I’d be happy to take a quick look and give you some feedback. I’m not Ms. Angott, but I’d be pleased to be able to pass along at least a smidge of her advice.

If you’d like to talk and see if there’s a fit for us to work together on an aspect of your legal career, please contact me.

2 Common Ways Lawyers Hold Themselves Back in Job Searches

There are a few fundamental and seemingly obvious steps that lawyers often fail to take in their job search. They fail to do so out of fear, mostly misplaced fear.

  • Not Tapping Your Network – Many lawyers don’t talk to their contacts about their job search, current job satisfaction, or career interests out of fear that it will get back to their employer and jeopardize their job. This fear often exists regardless of how the lawyer feels about his or her job and often exists without a careful examination of its validity. The fear typically limits the lawyer’s job search to applying to online job postings – – the vast, impersonal, frustrating, black hole of online applications.
  • Not Aligning Your LinkedIn ProfileThe same or similar fear stops many lawyers from aligning their LinkedIn profiles to better fit the kind of position they are seeking. Yet a disconnect between your current LinkedIn profile and the kind of role you want and positions to which you apply, or pivot you want to make, actually undermines your credibility as a serious candidate. Put yourself in the recruiter’s or employer’s shoes and look at your profile. If you were them, what would you think?
  • Moreover, without key words in your LinkedIn profile Headline, About, or Experience sections, or relevant content in your Activity, legal recruiters will not find you. Optimizing your LinkedIn profile for the roles you seek doesn’t guarantee you’ll be found by recruiters, but it does greatly increase your chances.

Although your LinkedIn profile won’t necessarily get you a job, it can draw recruiters to your door, and it can stop some other doors from automatically closing in your face.

So, apply the uncommon common sense. Examine and balance your fears against your goals and start making the most of your network and your LinkedIn profile.

Individual nuanced challenges abound in job searches. If you’d like help, whether as a sounding board for spot coaching or coaching with more support, please contact me to see if there is a fit for us to work together.

The Lawyer Aha Marketing Moment

I didn’t know you do that.” That’s what one of my clients heard at a recent lunch with a corporate client. It was one of several lunches I’ve been encouraging her to schedule. He already sends me the legal work he needs done, she had said. He isn’t one I need to catch up with so what’s the point?

Now she knows the point. With that one remark, this lawyer realized her client thought she only does the kind of legal work she does for him in his department.

The casual lunch she had been skeptical about deepened the relationship and helped the client understand her other practice areas and how she can help people he knows. She included a couple of recent examples because she has learned they help people remember. Stories stick, stories sell.

This is a pattern I’ve seen numerous times over the years. Lawyers assume that people they know well know what they do as lawyers.

They assume that clients know, that referral sources know, that colleagues on boards and committees know. They also assume that their own colleagues in the law firm know.

Then there’s a spark. Someone says, “I didn’t know you do that”, or “I thought you do ______”, or, the absolute worst, “I would’ve called you but I didn’t think you did that kind of work.”

The spark often ignites frustration and blame. “They’ve known me forever. What the heck did they think I do? I’ve told them so many times.”

Then the aha. The light of day shines brightly on the truth:

Even people you know well don’t necessarily know or remember what you do. You haven’t been as good at communicating it as you thought.

You can wait for this moment of realization, or you can get better now at communicating what you do, including who and how you help as a lawyer.

  • Stop assuming people you know well know and understand what you do.
  • Craft a handful of concise sentences about who and how you help as a lawyer. Call it an elevator pitch, a self-introduction, whatever.
  • Focus on work you enjoy. Your energy and interest will show. You’ll be more compelling and attract more of that work.
  • Get comfortable tailoring those sentences to fit the type of listener and context.
  • Have a few very short examples to use if the timing and moment allows it.
  • Create a list of anecdotes, examples, items you can work into self-introductions or casual conversations when appropriate.
  • Gather your courage, stop falling back on your usual description, and start saying something meaningful and helpful. Helpful to others and to yourself.

Like losing weight, these steps are simple but not easy. If you would like to brainstorm and practice how you talk about what you do as a lawyer, please contact me.

Lawyers, Ditch the Word “Networking”

Networking Event Calendar Page

If You Hate “Networking” Stop Using That Word

If you hate networking, don’t go to a legal “networking event”.  Don’t force yourself to schedule a “networking coffee”.  Don’t ask a partner to lunch to network with her. Don’t network to find a new referral source.  Definitely stop reproaching yourself for the size of your network!

You have my permission to stop. 

Now, pause.  Let this sink in.  Are you starting to feel better?

But you’re also thinking, Elizabeth, what the heck?  What about “Business Development”?  How will I get clients or referral sources if I’m not out there networking?  It’s what the law firm, consultants, articles, blogs, and TEDX tell me I’m supposed to be doing.  You know, “build your network before you need it” and “it’s not about who you know, but who knows you.” 

Yes, yes, yes, all true, except for any variation of the word network.  It’s a noun and a verb. That monster holds many attorneys back.

Reframe “Networking” As “Meeting People You Might Like”

Networking is relationship building.

If you dread the “networking” activities in your business development plan, reframe them as opportunities to meet people you might like.  Go meet people in these strategically chosen organizations and see if you’d like to get to know them a little more. See if you’d like to talk with any of them again.  Go with an open mind and see if something enjoyable happens.

If you don’t want to get to know anyone you meet, fine, no problem. Seriously, it’s fine.  Just don’t be rude.  Rude is rude.  It’s wrong, and it will come back and haunt you.

If you meet someone and you think, yes, I wouldn’t mind talking with this person again, great.   

There you go, you’ve met someone you wouldn’t mind talking with again.  Congratulations.

Of course, you’re thinking, so what, I met someone nice, what do I do next?  I want clients now. How do I turn this person, this contact, into business? Into a referral source? Into a client?  Into $$$?

Whoa, Padewan.

Meeting Someone You Wouldn’t Mind Talking with Again is the First Small Step in Building a Relationship

Networking is relationship building.

Building a relationship takes time.

Despite love at first sight, marriage proposals take time.  Job offers take time.  Even your loyal pet probably held off for a little bit when they first met you. 

Even if business sparks fly with someone you just met at the Turnaround Management Association conference, that person is very unlikely to jump into a business deal with you tonight.

It Takes Time to Become Known, Liked, and Trusted

So put your lawyer business card (do people still carry them?) back in your pocket.  Stop worrying about how to ask for business from someone you just met. 

Congratulate yourself for banishing the word network and stay tuned on how to build relationships with people you just met or reconnected with and wouldn’t mind talking with again.

Business development involves nurturing relationships over time with care and attention. You’re planting the seeds of relationships and tending your garden.

Fn. This same concept applies to “networking” for legal job searching and other legal career management purposes. Wherever you are and whatever stage you’re at as a lawyer, interesting and positive things can happen when you are open to meeting people and naturally building relationships.

If you would like practical, strategic, customized help with your law practice and legal career, I would love to work with you.  Please contact me

Career Related Decision Making: Core Values Exercise & Your Values Lens

A magnifying glass focused on the words Core Values.

Yesterday I spoke with a class of University of Michigan law students about a myriad of topics including making career related decisions.  One useful tool for that decision making process is what many of my lawyer clients call their “value lens”. 

The feedback from this values-driven process can help you eliminate or at least reduce your second guessing, and guide you to make better informed, more personally satisfying decisions.

Using Your Values Lens is a Straightforward, Two-Step Process:

  • Identify your core values using the exercise below 
  • Look at the decision you have to make and consider how your options align with your core values

For example, if you have offers for two different types of jobs, use a scale of 1-10 to assess how well each of your core values aligns with each position. (1 = very little alignment, 10 = very aligned.) Consider which values are least aligned with your options.  Note: not all of your core values will come into play with every decision or possible choice. 

What does this assessment tell you about how your options fit with what is most important to you? What additional information, if any, would you now like before you make your decision?

By the way, since they are your core values, they come into play in far more situations than just when you face a career related decision. For example, when you feel conflicted about something, use your values lens. If you feel out of sorts, look and see whether your conduct or activities have been aligned with your values lately. Sometimes dissonance arises from honoring one or more values to the detriment of another.

Using your values lens to identify what’s going on helps you see and understand the issues more clearly. Armed with this insight, you can start taking action.


How to Identify Your Core Values – A Core Values Exercise:

Below is a Core Values Exercise I give to my clients.  If you search online for values exercises, you can find a multitude of similar lists.  Core values exercises relate to your whole life, not just your professional life. 

  • Choose 10 values from the list below. Choose the values that call to you, the words that resonate with you, not the values you think you should have.  Listen to your gut.  Don’t overthink. 
FairnessFaith FamilyFame
Inner HarmonyInnovationIntegrityJoy
  • Narrow your 10 values down to five and list them. If you are really struggling between two values, consider which value you treasure the most in others.
  • Narrow your choices down to three and list them.
  • Tip:  Don’t worry about the definition of each word.  Let the words mean whatever they mean to you as you read them.
  • Tip:  You may find it easier to group some values together and perhaps assign the grouping one word that represents that value group.  For example, I have a very strong pull for a group I call my integrity/honesty/fairness/justice value. 

The Bottom Line:  Use Your Values as a Guide

To make better, more personally satisfying decisions the next time you have to make a career decision, or you have a choice of actions to take unrelated to your career, use your core values as a guide. 

Keep a list of your core values close by and practice identifying when they are in play in your day. Consider also how you could honor more of your core values in your day/week/month/life. Fit it in while you drive, take a shower, or work out.

For example, if collaboration is one of your core values, and you’re giving it a 2 because you rarely collaborate anymore at work or at home, start thinking about small steps you can take to raise it to a 3 or a 4. Move it there and then raise it again. Small steps, people!

If you would like a sounding board to help you make a decision, or simply help identifying and working with your core values, I’d love to work with you. Please contact me.


Sample Questions in Areas Where Your Values Lens May Help You Make a More Personally Satisfying Decision:

Should I continue participating in this organization?

Which organization should I join?

Do I really want to be a partner at this firm?

Should I fire this client?

Should I accept this new client?

Should I invest more time in this relationship?

Should I buy this house?

Which job offer should I accept?

Should I accept this job offer?

When should I start a family?

Should I follow up with that person?

Should I start looking for another job?

Should I speak up or refrain from saying anything about this situation?

Should I first pay off all my debt?

Should I develop a niche?

Should I ask for a raise?

Should I get a new car now or next year?

Should I pivot and switch career paths?

Should I accept this invitation to speak on this topic, or write on this subject?

Should I quit this job before I find a new job?

Should I move to Colorado?

Cover Letters for Lawyers: Get the Nod with Bullet Points

The purpose of a cover letter is to position yourself such that before the hiring manager, law firm partner, or recruiter even turns to your resume, they feel they want to talk with you.

Realistically, you only have a few seconds to get that person’s attention. They usually don’t have the time or inclination to read a wordy letter. You need to be compelling and concise in order to stand out.

You can make your fit for the role easier to see at a glance with the use of tailored bullet points.

Lead-in Sentence

Replace a dense, lengthy middle paragraph with a sentence or two. Then lead into bullet points with something like “Following are a few highlights demonstrating my fit for the ____ position”. Or “Representative experiences include:” Sometimes it works to simply start the middle paragraph with the lead-in sentence. (Omitting a detailed description of career steps or certain projects is hard for some lawyers and a relief for others!)

Dissect the Job Description

Craft your bullet points by pulling the top 3-5 key responsibilities or requirements from the job description. It’s rare to match a description perfectly but show in a couple of lines how you meet the ones you’ve listed. If you don’t match one, don’t list it. Identifying the top 3-5 isn’t always easy but give it your best shot.

Formatting the Bullets

Use hyphens, dots, or another symbol that uploads well. If your proof is longer than a couple of lines, you may have defeated the purpose of using bullet points. Assess it visually with your purpose in mind.

You can make it even easier for the reader by naming each bullet point. If possible, use the terms from the description. See the 3 examples below. Also, if possible, which for lawyers isn’t always, use numbers or somehow quantify your proof.

This process might be a little harder at first, but it will force you to focus on what an employer is really looking for and whether you have it.

  • Contracts:
  • Policy Advising:
  • Managing Litigation Claims:

It’s Good for Managing Frustration, Too

Granted, this format doesn’t allow for much fudging. It’s harder to hide a lack of specific experience when you’ve called out the key responsibilities or requirements. But look at it this way – it’s a process that can save you the time, energy, and black hole frustration of applying for jobs for which you are not a good fit, at least not yet.

I don’t necessarily recommend this format for all experience levels and all jobs but see if it works for you. Notice what you learn about postings, your job search, and yourself. Notice what happens.

If you would like help with your cover letters, resume, interviewing preparation, search strategy, or another aspect of your job search, please visit my Job Search Coaching page and contact me.

Of Year-End Self-Promotion Documents & Meetings: Evaluations, Shareholder & Compensation Memos, Marketing Plans…

It’s that time of year. If you are like many lawyers, your firm or employer has asked for, or given you an opportunity to submit, a year-end or new year type document.

  • Year-end written Self-Evaluation or Performance Review (private practice and in-house)
  • Memo to support Election to Shareholder, Partner, Member, Equity status, or in-house Promotion
  • Memo related to Compensation
  • 2022 Business Development/Marketing Plan
  • 2022 Performance Plan
  • Other similar materials
  • Preparation for meetings on any of the above

Maybe you haven’t started it yet for various reasons. Perhaps you’re incredibly busy, a little jaded, or really interested and intrigued, but unsure where to start or what to include.

Maybe you’re considering the ROI. That’s definitely valid. I understand lawyers who don’t want to invest much time and effort on these materials because they believe it won’t make much of a difference.

Maybe you’ve recently changed firms, moved in-house, or been promoted. As a result, you may be facing new year-end review and self-evaluation processes, and you’re “all in” but unfamiliar with the protocol.

If you go it alone or enlist a friend or loved one as a sounding board or editor, keep the following in mind.

Universal tips:

  • Consider your readers and what is important to them
  • Use a subtle theme to help the readers see both a positive, compelling big picture of you and how your smaller pieces fit into it
  • These are internal marketing documents; treat them as such
  • You wouldn’t adopt a “wing it” approach for a client’s document or a client meeting; give yourself the same respect

These employer-structured opportunities to advocate for partnership, a promotion, raise or bonus, or more buy-in on your career, don’t come along every day. I’d love to help you with them as a sounding board, editor, or whatever you need.

Please contact me if you’re interested in letting your light shine even more.



Take Charge of Your Practice and Career!