Women Lawyers Panel Discussion – Branding, Defining Success, Delegation, Undervaluing, Work-Life Balance…
In late April I was one of two women lawyer panelists in the last of a three part series called “Fearless Conversations: What’s My Worth”, produced by the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan.
Criminal defense/family lawyer Rita White and I covered a range of topics:
- what led us to start our businesses
- what does branding mean to us
- the definition of success
- how lawyers undervalue themselves
- work-life balance commentary
- reframing being effective with our time
- a participant shared how how she built her career from government regulation & research before law school, to FDA legal work, to health care work, then inhouse in a health care system, to inhouse during the pandemic at a gigantic retailer with pharmacies
If any of these topics interest you, feel free to skim through the video and contact me.
Several times I reference being effective with your time and having a productive mindset. As Jim Collins wrote in the foreward, if you are to read one book on executive self-management, it should be management guru Peter Drucker’s classic The Effective Executive, The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done. Although some examples and language may seem dated, Drucker’s insights are timeless and as helpful now as when he wrote them.
Take a look at The Effective Executive no matter whether you are a solo lawyer, a junior associate, inhouse counsel, or the managing partner in Big Law. If you want to know “how to best self-deploy on the few priorities that will make the biggest impact”, apply Drucker’s advice, and stay tuned here.
I would love to talk with you to see if there’s a fit for us to work together. I do spot coaching on an as-needed basis and on-going coaching. There is no one size fits all plan!
Every time I help a lawyer prepare for a job interview or I talk with attorneys about interviewing, they confess the questions they hate. The questions that make them most uncomfortable. The hardest questions.
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why do you want to work here?
- What are your salary expectations? (Anecdotally this seems to be asked more often in smaller work places, by corporate recruiters, and through online applications at all size employers.)
- What is your greatest weakness? (Anecdotally I don’t think lawyers get asked this much. Let me know what you think.)
Lawyers dread these questions and avoid practicing responses even though the questions are about them and they know the questions will be asked. A little chit chat about traffic – now Zoom – or weather, and then boom, there it is: So, Tell Me About Yourself.
Attorneys stress over these particular questions because they don’t know what or how much to say. They tell me they don’t have any idea what the interviewer wants to hear.
I know that preparing for the Tell Me About Yourself and Why Do You Want to Work Here questions is difficult. Practicing is hard. Really hard. You try it a few times and still doubt your answers.
You convince yourself that you are better in the moment. You decide to wing it. Yet when you wing it in an interview, if you’re like most people, you stumble. You trail off. It’s not a good answer. You’ve missed an opportunity to make a great first impression. Perhaps worse!
Being prepared for an interview means being ready to go into a meeting. Preparing means applying yourself to the task so that you are ready for what will almost certainly happen in that meeting. That preparation may take two hours, three hours, or more. Lawyers who want to be considered serious candidates for the position will put in that kind of work.
If you were hired as a lawyer at that law firm or company, you’d never go into a client meeting planning to wing it. You wouldn’t go in without being fully prepared. You don’t want that firm or company to think of you as an interviewee who thinks winging it is fine.
Do you recall the earliest critical juncture in your legal career? If you had known what the first essay question on the Bar Exam was going to be, you would have had that essay answer down cold!
So why not structure and really practice your answers to Tell Me About Yourself and Why Do You Want to Work Here? Be the confident, prepared interviewee you would want to hire!
I love helping lawyers prepare for interviews. Please contact me if you are interested in working together.
I learned an acronym listening to a podcast this morning: FUD. Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. As in “the voices of FUD”.
With beautiful weather and the Masters tournament starting today, a few personal battles with FUD immediately came to mind. A former fear of sand shots. Uncertainty on how to hit a chip and doubts about my club selection.
FUD leads to nothing good. Not only on a golf course!
Most of us know the voices of FUD even if we don’t recognize them as such in the moment. When they show up, they can hold us back as lawyers, as professionals, and in our personal lives.
Do any of these examples sound familiar or remind you of someone?
- Fear of public speaking stops some lawyers from ever mastering that skill. Other fears include fear of displeasing or disappointing someone. Fear of being wrong. Fear of not knowing an answer. Fear of saying no. Fear of work drying up. Fear can keep lawyers from letting their light shine.
- Uncertainty keeps some attorneys from being a good decision maker. An unreasonable desire for certainty often leads to paralysis by analysis, or procrastination. Delays often lead others to doubt your abilities as a lawyer.
- Doubt erodes trust in yourself, trust from others. Doubt rarely leads to anything positive and productive for lawyers.
Think about whether and where the voices of FUD show up in your professional and/or personal life.
If they do, ask yourself: What’s their value? How may they be holding you back? When are you going to start winning that battle and what do you need to do so?
If you would like a sounding board and guidance to help you move forward and get more of what you want in your legal career, please contact me.
A few recent conversations with lawyer clients reminded me of a Buddhist parable.
Two monks were traveling together, one old and one young. They came to a river with a strong current where a young woman was waiting, unable to cross alone. She asked the monks if they would help her across the river. Without a word and in spite of the sacred vow he had taken not to touch women, the older monk picked her up, crossed the river, and set her down on the other side.
The younger monk joined them on the other side of the river. He was shocked that the other monk had broken his vow but he did not say anything. The woman left them. An hour passed as the two monks traveled on. Then two hours. Then three. After four hours the younger monk could no longer stand it. “Why did you carry that woman when we took a vow as monks not to touch women?”
“Which woman?” asked the older monk.
“The woman you carried across the river!” the younger one exclaimed.
The older monk replied: “I set her down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”
What are you holding onto? How long will you keep carrying it?
Please contact me if you would like to let go of what holds you back and move forward.
I do spot coaching on an as-needed basis, and ongoing coaching on a schedule and for a duration that makes sense for you.
My sister’s ringtone broke the sunny silence. “What are you doing?” she asked. Caught red handed. “Oh, getting distracted before I start writing about distractions.” Ouch. So begins a little advice on personal distractions.
For distractions of our own making, think REMOVE.
1. Remove The Distraction
Different strokes for different folks. These steps and others have worked for attorneys I know. Find what works for you.
Put your phone out of arm’s reach. Put it and your tablet across the room. If you need to be ruthless, be ruthless. Remove your Favorites, Bookmarks, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. from your desktop or laptop. Turn off notifications from NYTimes.com or whatever news sites draw you in. Unfollow Twitter and Facebook accounts that provide you absolutely no value. A lawyer I know even blocked someone on Twitter solely to make it harder for themself to waste time looking at the Twitterer’s tweets.
2. Remove Yourself
When one of my partners had something that demanded his complete concentration for a sustained period, he spent the day in a conference room. His assistant let him know if something really needed his attention and he took breaks. He wasn’t hiding; the conference rooms each had a full glass wall. It worked because he unabashedly managed his distractions by removing himself from his office.
Pre-pandemic many attorneys I know, including solos and lawyers in all size firms, used to go to libraries and other quiet, even not so quiet, public places to avoid their typical distractions and get special projects done. Lots of coffee shops also fit the bill. Filled with a variety of people mostly typing quietly, lawyers found those places buzzed with a productive energy. It’s the kind of “getting stuff done” vibe that makes you self-conscious about constant texting, surfing, and other distractions. You are there for a reason. Do it.
Of course the pandemic has changed our working environments and options. Because of WFH, distractions come in new shapes and sizes – school aged “co-workers”, pets and/or spouses as co-working space colleagues, food, and household chores, to name just a few.
Keep in mind that, perhaps with the exception of small children, you still have Tip 1 – the power to remove personal distractions of your own making. Although figuring out where you can remove yourself to is likely harder in the pandemic, the strategy in Tip 2 remains the same.
Please contact me if you would like help learning to manage all types of distractions.
Sometimes my days have a theme. Yesterday’s theme: Get to the point. Be Direct.
Last night a lawyer friend told us a recent story about filing a motion for summary disposition after he was hired to replace a well known insurance defense firm. As soon as he was hired he recommended the motion to the corporate client. Who knows why the previous firm hadn’t recommended it. He filed the motion and won. The case was dismissed. The client thinks my friend is a genius.
Earlier a client told me she spoke her mind to one of her partners this week using his own words. She was clear, assertive, and decisive. He had nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. He didn’t put up a false front, he didn’t try to intimidate her, and atypically he didn’t argue. Score one for the Practice Group Leader growing in her role.
I also worked with a young 20-something on her resume and cover letters. Her takeaways: in order to distinguish yourself “less is more” and “see your marketing materials through a different lens” – see them through the eyes of your reader. She is redrafting her resume. I know it will be markedly better.
Another attorney acknowledged that he borrowed language from a friend’s resume because he thought it was standard even though he didn’t really like it. As I tell clients almost daily, use your own voice on your resume, be direct, be clear. Use a relevance test for each bit of content and make it easy for the reader to see they should talk with you. But no matter how many interesting experiences and measurable successes you’ve had, don’t give it all away. I say be intriguing and they’ll find you compelling. They’ll want to talk with you to see if you are the one. Most important, don’t create stumbling blocks for the reader. One stumble and you are out. Get to the point!
If you would like to better distinguish yourself, please contact me!
No news is not good news! No news in the practice of law ratchets up people’s imaginations and stress levels as fast as thinking about sharks when you are swimming in the ocean.
- When clients hear no news from their lawyer, they start questioning whether their lawyer is working on their matter. When partners hear no news from associates on projects, they wonder if the work is even being done.
- Hearing nothing on their matters, clients and partners also start to worry that no news means bad news – bad news that is being kept from them.
- Just as bad or perhaps worse, clients and partners start to worry about the size of the eventual bill for the work about which they have heard nothing!
The bottom line is people start to doubt the non-communicator. Doubt – which rapidly becomes lack of trust – is a kiss of death in the practice of law.
Today’s Communications Tips:
1. Communicate frequently
The definition of frequently depends on the situation, of course, but you should start with a clear understanding of your client’s or colleague’s timetable. Ask people for it, tell them when you will get back to them next, and stick to it. Err on the side of reporting too often. People will tell you if it is too often. If you are not sure whether they like it or not, ask them.
2. When you have nothing to report, communicate anyway
“I only hear from my lawyer when they send a bill.” Don’t be that lawyer!
Call or write your client or partner BEFORE they contact you. If you’ve been putting off contacting a client, inevitably they will contact you and you will kick yourself for not contacting them first. Even if you make that call and they say I was just about to call you, your relief on making that call just in time will be huge. Contact them BEFORE they contact you. That means if you are even thinking this might apply right now, CALL them!
3. When you have nothing to report, in most situations don’t just communicate that you have nothing to report
For example, if you are waiting for information from someone else or from a court, don’t simply say we haven’t heard back yet. Because the client’s or partner’s next thought will be: Well, what have you done about it? They will look at you as responsible and your passivity will look weak. By taking action in advance, even if the result remains the same, you can report on what you have done and head off the doubters. Bonus: that email or phone call is also an opportunity for you to provide them with some extra, unexpected value.
I had a minor situation like this a few weeks ago where I was going to report to colleagues that I still hadn’t heard from a potential vendor. I was ready to write off the vendor but also felt that the others might misinterpret my “still haven’t heard” email, and I felt I hadn’t given it my best effort. Maybe my previous emails to the vendor had gotten caught in a spam filter. So I called, left a message, emailed the vendor again, and then reported that to my colleagues. Crickets. We moved on.
4. A regularly scheduled reporting system or communication check-in spurs action
My earliest experience with this was in the mid 1990’s on an out of state multi-party Federal case in which the judge required a monthly conference call with all of the lawyers. Knowing the call was always looming on the calendar, between calls we had to make progress on discovery, do our best to resolve discovery disputes, and not waste time. No one wanted to admit to the judge they had not done what they should have done or be accused of being difficult. Most of those monthly calls were incredibly brief. The judge’s communications system worked.
I often think of that first experience and of regularly scheduled coaching calls as what I call the weekly piano lesson lesson. Even though my piano teacher could always tell if I had only practiced a few days before the lesson, at least I had practiced. Having to report on a regular or as-promised timetable spurs action.
In future posts I will talk about other benefits from frequent communications, how to communicate mistakes and other bad news as an attorney, and, far and away the most common complaint against attorneys – failing to timely respond to clients. In the meantime, if you would like help communicating more effectively, please contact me.
I love March Madness. Men’s college basketball is my favorite spectator sport. Fortunately for me, the University of Michigan regularly shows up ready to play in the NCAA tournament. The No. 16 ranked women’s program has been moving up, too, receiving its highest tournament seeding this year and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time. Monday night the men’s team beat LSU in an 86-78 shootout to advance to their Sweet Sixteen.
After the game Michigan senior guard Eli Brooks talked about his shooting.
“The coaches have been on me about being aggressive, taking my shots. Coach [Juwan Howard] is on everybody because we believe everybody is really talented on the team. It’s about confidence and instilling confidence into each other.”
Many of us already know in our own lives what Eli is saying about confidence coming from the coach and from players believing in each other. His comment reminded me of three lawyers I recently worked with on specific career opportunities. A lot of that coaching work was about confidence. We developed strategies for interviewing and negotiating, and we gave them a new lens through which to see themselves and the opportunities. This gave them the confidence to be themselves and to take their best shot.
Having someone else believe in us and even push us instills confidence that can then grow from within. Even though a win isn’t always a sure thing, and every lawyer is different, with a game plan and confidence you, too, can succeed in more of your opportunities.
The demanding practice of law is sometimes a bit like March Madness or at least madness. I love coaching and I would love to help you find, believe in, and take your shot as a lawyer. If you are interested, please contact me.
Today’s post covers the last part of the Success Patterns exercise. I often give this exercise to lawyers who are unsatisfied or unfulfilled in their current position and wish someone would hand them a new job or tell them which path to take or pivot to make. It also works for lawyers who want more clarity about their strengths.
Having worked through the first two parts of the Success Patterns exercise, you have identified your success patterns and more clearly see when and why you feel at your best in certain kinds of contexts. Now what?
Take courage, look for, and create opportunities to be in legal contexts where you will shine
The idea is not to just look for a new job, a clean slate, a better boss, or something other than the law. Those goals alone do not address professional fulfillment.
Use the Success Patterns results to help you shift from a negative “I’ve got to get out of here” mindset to a positive, goal oriented one that intrinsically addresses satisfaction and fulfillment. Your goal is to be in those now better defined contexts where you thrive.
So, with your success patterns in mind, begin with a small, measurable, do-able action step that moves you toward those contexts. Preferably make it a baby step. I say this because if you are like many lawyers I know, that is the most effective way to start. The alternative is often overwhelming and keeps us from ever starting.
I know that after completing the first two parts of the Success Patterns exercise, some attorneys are still mired down unable to identify what practice areas or positions might be a good fit, and wondering if there is something more satisfying for them outside the law. Unable to see a clear direction and goal, they still don’t know what steps to take or which way to pivot.
It definitely can be hard, especially on your own. Take a deep breath, take the personal evidence from this exercise, and enlist someone you trust – a friend, a mentor, a coach – to help you brainstorm and take practical steps. Set up an accountability system and a timeline. Reward yourself for taking steps that you wouldn’t have taken before. That difference right there is change. It is you shining your light ahead on your path.
Like some of my clients, you may even realize “I am well suited for my practice area!”
The Success Patterns exercise is not magic. Your patterns won’t tell you exactly which road to take. But they will help you give shape to a destination and formulate small steps to get you there.
Instead of jettisoning what you have built in your current job or legal career, use your success patterns to exercise some control over your career. Creating a path forward beats waiting for a dream job to land in your lap.
I would love to help you if you are looking for more satisfaction and fulfillment in your legal career. Please feel free to contact me.
In the previous post, I outlined the first part of the Success Patterns exercise I often use with lawyers wishing for a new career direction or job and/or more fulfillment and satisfaction. Today’s post looks at the second part of the Success Patterns exercise.
Write a detailed description of each experience you identified in Part 1
Reflect on the subject matter, people context, your role, purpose, etc. in each experience. Dig deep to recall what is going on when you are firing on all cylinders. Then write about each experience with as much detail as possible and without self-editing. After you finish writing all of the descriptions, and only then, reread them to look for themes and patterns. What do you notice?
Example – shining experiences: planning a wedding, crafting a strategic appeal, developing an expertise
Detailed description of each experience: . . . .
Sample patterns & themes from the descriptions: strategic planning, organization, preparation, time management, setting and achieving goals, taking the lead, independence, decision making
If the above hypothetical sounds like you but you are in a practice area where you are constantly putting out fires, are always in triage mode, and never get ahead of the practice, of course your natural light is not shining! On the other hand, your job may be a great fit for the nimble lawyer who dislikes writing lengthy briefs and thrives on flying by the seat of their pants thanks to their own particular talents and success patterns.
The next post will cover the last part of the Success Patterns exercise.
Please contact me if you are ready for change and would like to see if we can work together to help you get more of what you want in your practice and career.