I’m back!!!

I know it’s been quite a long hiatus.  I continue to keep in touch with many of you via my Twitter account or through LinkedIn, Facebook or my new position at Thomson Reuters.  No matter what, even if I’m not blogging on here regularly, I hope you all know you can always reach out to me.

So, the new project… I’ve decided to write an ebook on legal recruiting.  Basically, I want to give law firm hiring partners and human resources personnel some insights on why efficient recruiting is essential, saves time and money, what technology makes life easier, where to find and source the best candidates, and other lessons that I learned as a contingency recruiter.

For those who don’t know, contingency recruiters — which are the majority in the legal field, I’d say — only get paid by clients (law firms or businesses) if they find someone for the job and that person accepts an offer and stays working for the client for a period of time (3 to 6 months).

Therefore, my book will be aimed at law firms and hiring partners who may want to invest in hiring the best people, but who may not want to pay contingency recruiters.  (Although, yes, there will be some exceptions to this rule.  More to come on that.)

This is not to say that I don’t care about job seekers or those looking for a legal job.  There will be some chapters dedicated to the job search process, interviews, etc.  When read the proper way, this book is for you too.  It’s simply not the *focus* of this book.  (But I do recommend these books as resources:  6Ps of the BIG 3 for Job-Seeking JDs by Amanda Ellis and Nail Your Law Job interview: The Essential Guide to Firm, Clerkship, Government, In-House, and Lateral Interviews by Natalie Prescott and Oleg Cross.)

After I described my idea for an ebook, one of my mentors replied, “So, you want to write a book about ‘disruptive recruiting,’” borrowing the idea from disruptive innovation or disruptive technology.  Yes, I guess I do.

I will be cross-posting some of the book’s content on Thomson Reuter’s blog for large law firms.

Let me know what you think, if you have any ideas for posts, any feedback or inspiration!


JD Profiles: Richard Delgado, University Professor of Law, Seattle University, and Jean Stefancic, Research Professor of Law, Seattle University

In this new series, we are profiling legal professionals and J.D.s and asking them the hard questions that don’t always get answered in law school. For example, how did they find their job? What do they do on a day-to-day basis? And, was law school a worthwhile investment?

Richard Delgado, JD, and Jean Stefancic, MA, teach courses on race and the American legal system at Seattle University School of Law. Two of the leading scholars on critical race theory, they have written books, law review articles, and appeared on national news. Their recent book How Lawyers Lose Their Way: A Profession Fails Its Creative Minds addresses unhappiness in the legal profession. They talk with us about the importance of storytelling, creativity, and collaboration. And they tell us their tips for staying happy in their careers.

RecruiterEsq: Thank you for speaking to us today! As a disclaimer, I had the two of you when you were at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law as Derrick Bell scholars. I took your class on Race, Racism, and American Law where I was introduced to critical race theory. For those unfamiliar with this area of scholarship, can you give us a little background?

As a professor, I’m tempted to ask you the usual Socratic question–What do you think? I believe you know the answer. Critical race theory is a modern version of civil rights theory and scholarship that developed in the mid-1980s when some bright professors and lawyers around the country realized, more or less simultaneously, that the heady gains of the civil rights era had stalled and, in some cases, were being rolled back. New approaches were needed to counter the forms of institutional, subtle, or unconscious discrimination that were developing and an American public that was increasingly tired of hearing about race.

How did you two become involved with critical race theory?

We’ve been in it since the beginning. Richard attended the small founding workshop, held in a convent outside Madison, Wisconsin, in 1989. Shortly afterward, we published the first collection of critical race theory writing, Critical Race Theory: The Cutting Edge (Temple University Press), now in its second edition. Since then, we’ve participated in most of the meetings and workshops and written some of the foundational literature. We also co-edited a book series, Critical America, for NYU Press, that lasted for 14 years and published over 70 books on race, equality, and social critique.

In critical race theory, storytelling plays a big role. How does storytelling relate to good lawyering?

Creating a persuasive story or narrative of the client’s case is an essential part of winning the jury over to your side. It’s also a creative and fulfilling task that can make you happy–much more so than reviewing ten cartons full of documents or writing a 50-page brief with 300 citations.

Richard, you graduated from University of California at Berkeley with your JD. Your undergraduate degree is in mathematics and philosophy. How did you decide to go to law school? Do you ever regret your choice?

I wanted to learn to think and write about social theory, particularly in the area of race and civil rights. I’ve never regretted my decision.

Did you move into academia directly after law school? Did you enter law school with a game plan or an end goal for your career?

I went directly from law school at Berkeley to teaching, skipping the usual period of practice or clerking. By the time I graduated, I was fairly sure I wanted a career in teaching and scholarship, and when the opportunity came my way, I seized it. My first position was at Arizona State University College of Law, then the University of Washington. My game plan, as you put it, was to obtain tenure, which I did, in my third year at Washington, and then look around for a good position at a school that valued scholarship and was located near my roots and family. When UCLA came calling, I was ready.

Is that a usual career path in legal academia? Or, was it harder for you because of you never practiced?

Yes, particularly at first. I was only slightly older than many of my students. That is no longer a problem, but I do try to keep in touch with the profession by taking lawyers to lunch periodically, keeping in touch wtih ex-students, and, of course, doing a lot of reading.

Jean, your background is in liberal arts. How did you get involved with the law? How does your background affect your perspective?

Early in life, I became a librarian, worked first at Harvard, and afterward at a number of places while married to a Unitarian minister and being a mom. Our lives were social justice oriented. In 1980 we moved to San Francisco where, with my son now in school, I found a position at the University of San Francisco law school. The school was then an early center of critical thought, with scholars such as Charles Lawrence, Trino Grillo (pdf), John Powell, Stephanie Wildman, and John Denvir beginning to write foundational texts. Because my interests lay in social theory and activism, they invited me to join their reading group. I met Richard, who was friends with the USF critical theory group, at a law conference; we found much to talk about and began writing together soon afterward. During that time I also earned an M.A. in creative writing. I’ve been writing law review articles and books, and fiction and poetry, ever since.

Have you always collaborated in your careers?

Yes, although it hasn’t been easy. For example, it wasn’t until 2003 that we were able to secure teaching positions for both of us at the University of Pittsburgh. Before then, at the University of Colorado, Jean worked as a senior research associate, a position that did not enable her to teach in the classroom.

What a shame! I was lucky to have both of you!! In your class, you also invited Derrick Bell to speak to us as a visiting scholar. How do you think collaboration benefits the legal profession?

Bell is a good storyteller and spellbinding speaker. We were lucky to be able to get him. Although most serious writers are lone wolves when it comes to their creative process, collaboration on many other tasks–including teaching–can be a rewarding activity. It brings you in touch with another mind and enables you to expand your perspective, which is inherently enjoyable and rewarding.

Your book, How Lawyers Lose Their Way: A Profession Fails Its Creative Minds, addresses the unhappiness of people in the legal profession. I downloaded the book on my Kindle but I have not read it. How did you two come up with the idea for researching this subject?

In addition to critical theory, the legal profession has been a strong second interest of ours. In recent years, our concern for the wellbeing of lawyers increased when we would see our own students, particularly our former research assistants, a few years after graduation. During law school, when we knew them, they would be full of life, at the top of their game. A few years later, we might run into them at an alumni gathering or bar event, and they would seem prematurely tired and shopworn. Their hair might be thinning or falling out; they might have gained or lost weight. They might have developed facial tics. Many of them seemed distinctly unhappy. Earlier, we had done some research on a prominent lawyer-poet (Archibald MacLeish), who seemed unhappy, as well, although for different reasons. So, we decided to study happiness and unhappiness in the legal profession today. We read every single study and survey of lawyers’ happiness that we could lay our hands on and were shocked at what we found.

Is your book written specifically with practicing lawyers in mind? Or, do you see the same lack of/need for creativity and enjoyment in the academic world of law?

Teaching law remains one of the few jobs where it is possible to be a lawyer and relatively fulfilled and happy at the same time. Even there, however, you see some of the same forces–regimentation, accountability, pressure to produce–beginning to set in that make legal practitioners so unhappy. Although we wrote the book with lawyers in mind, professors are starting to feel the heat, too. This is true not just in law, but across the board. Professors in every discipline complain of a new corporate or business model, with detailed reporting requirements and oversight. One university system has even begun requiring professors to file lesson plans ahead of time!

Without asking for too many spoilers, do you provide recommendations as for how lawyers can use their creative minds?

Within the existing system, one can opt for a smaller firm or agency that offers work-life balance. The work will still be mundane, highly fragmented and specialized, regimented, and carried out under a system of billable hours and competition for partnerships. Not very appealing for persons with creative minds and high ideals. It would be better, in our opinion, if we spent less attention trying to incorporate a few cosmetic changes in a fairly dismal landscape and tried to change that landscape itself. Not too many years ago, law was a much more rewarding profession than it is now. Every older practitioner with whom we spoke told us so.

One review mentioned that the book is a catalyst for discussion. Do you think this discussion should happen on a national level? A local level? Perhaps we should start a Google group or wiki to broaden the discussion!

Since we wrote the book, others have written other books. And now everyone is talking about misery, over-regimentation, and how we have gone astray. Law students at Stanford and other elite schools are clamoring for better terms from legal employers and threatening to withhold their services unless they get them. Just last month, two sections of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) at the annual meeting of law professors in San Francisco co-sponsored a panel session on just this topic. The two of us, along with Deborah Rhode and Nancy Levit, who are also authors of books on the legal profession’s troubles, spoke to an overflow audience of over 300. The latest issue of American Bar Association Journal (ABAJ) addresses unhappiness in the bar. The topic is front burner news.

I’m glad to see the topic in the news. What responsibility do you think law schools have to their students?

The law schools need to do a better job of countering the excesses of formalism and regimentation that make legal thinking so arid and unappealing, and the practice of law so deadly. Critical theory and interdisciplinary courses try to combat these trends, but a powerful counter-movement that emphasizes skills and narrow professional values is taking the life out of law–and of students.

The term “preventative care” is mentioned frequently in the health care debate. What measures of preventative care would you recommend for the lawlorn?

Notice when those around you are getting sick, and leave before you do, too. Make a close study of workplaces and types of practice that appeal to you and that you know, instinctively, will make you happy, challenged, and fulfilled. Then, go there, even if it entails a pay cut.

Speaking of the lawlorn, you, Richard, used to contribute to blackprof.com with an advice column to the lawlorn. How did you get involved with blogging? What are some of the lessons you learned from your involvement with that site?

I learned to write fast and succinctly, in short sentences, and with wit and humor.

Great skills, says the blogging advocate! Unfortunately, blackprof is no longer live. Is there any way for the lawlorn to access the archives to Dear Mom?

I (Richard) went looking for one of my postings the other day and couldn’t find it. The site seems to be down and out for the count. If one of your technologically adept readers has any clues about how to find the site’s old content, I’d love to hear them. I didn’t keep copies.

Ah, that’s unfortunate! Well, what websites do you two visit on a daily or weekly basis?

Brian Leiter’s law school reports. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Arts & Letters Daily. And a few left-wing sites I don’t care to list here.

A few to add to my own blogroll/Google reader! Onto the elephant in the room: student loans. It’s hard to avoid the issue of student loans and money when talking about happiness in the legal industry. Many people I know may have liked to use creativity in their jobs but they need to work as hourly, document review attorneys in order to pay bills. Many public interest attorneys work long hours and get paid very little whereas many large firm associates work long hours and get paid a lot. While it seems the grass is always greener, both types suffer from burn out or depression. What are your thoughts on how money affects happiness?

Beyond a point, perhaps $70,000 a year, income does not correlate with happiness. Student debt, however, is an extremely corrosive force that makes people work in ways that do not appeal to them, simply to be able to pay the lenders back. Fortunately, some law schools and the federal government are taking small steps toward loan forgiveness for graduates wishing to practice public interest law.

How have you two found happiness in your own careers?

By speaking our minds, as we are doing now. By helping as many students as we can. By helping our kids. By writing as many hours a day or week as we can squeeze in, in line with our other commitments.

Wonderful tips from awesome, inspiring people. Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us!

Keep up the good work.

Richard Delgado is university professor of law, Seattle University, and distinguished professor of law emeritus at University of Pittsburgh, where he was also the Derrick Bell Fellow. Contact him at rdelgado@seattleu.edu.

Jean Stefancic is research professor of law, Seattle University, and research professor of law emeritus at University of Pittsburgh, where she was also the Derrick Bell Scholar. Contact her at jstefan@seattleu.edu.

JD Profiles: Amanda Ellis, Author, Attorney Recruiter/Search Consultant

In this new series, we are profiling legal professionals and J.D.s and asking them the hard questions that don’t always get answered in law school. For example, how did they find their job? What do they do on a day-to-day basis? And, was law school a worthwhile investment?

Of course, for this series, I had to interview one of my own mentors, Amanda Ellis, Author, Attorney Recruiter/Search Consultant, and Co-Founder of #LawJobChat (our joint project!). Amanda began her career as a bankruptcy attorney where she learned the benefits of waking up at 4:30 am to start work. She transitioned to a career at a large search firm where she found her niche – networking and recruiting. She decided to go off on her own. For the past two years, she’s continued her recruiting business and wrote a book entitled, The 6Ps of the BIG 3 for Job-Seeking JDs: 60+ Ways to Get Hired Using Social Networking. She now speaks at law firms and law schools on legal career topics.

RecruiterEsq: Hi Amanda! Thanks for speaking with us. What are the 6Ps of the Big 3?

The 6Ps are the components required to use the Big 3 social networking sites successfully in your job search (or in business development):  Purpose, Profile, Privacy, Performance, Practice and Protocol.

How did you decide to write this book?

When I started my own recruiting firm, I started writing a monthly e-newsletter.  I frequently wrote about using social networking in your job search.  An increasing number of law schools began to read my newsletter and some asked me to speak at their schools.  The more I spoke, the more I realized how many people were interested in this subject.  And, there was no guide or resource to teach law students how to use the sites.  I decided I had to write a book.

I’m glad you did! I’m so proud of you. Who do you think can benefit from this book?

While the examples in the book are from law students and lawyers using the sites, the book is helpful for anyone searching for a job or looking to develop business.  I’ve even had friends share the book with their grandparents who wanted to learn how to use Facebook.

That’s funny! You self-published the book. What did you learn from that experience?

Well, I can’t say that I would attempt to self-publish another book again while running a recruiting business.

Yeah, I have to admit, I didn’t envy you although I was impressed with your pursuit. What is the most common question you hear from law students across the country as you speak about getting hired through social networking?

“There are lawyers on Twitter?!”  I hear this statement after each presentation.  They are surprised that to learn that there is a legal community on Twitter.  The second question I get is, “Is it okay to connect with lawyers even though I’ve never met them?”  I refer them back to the “Purpose” of Twitter (hint: yes, it’s okay – the purpose of Twitter is to connect with people you want to get to know).

Are the tips in your book applicable to law firms that want to hire those JDs? Will it teach firms how to identify and recruit laterals or new lawyers?

Absolutely!  Law firms can take the same steps to attract candidates from their existing networks.  In my book, I discuss several free ways law firms can share job openings on social networking sites, including:

  1. Facebook Note (page. 126). The Facebook Note allows you to use more characters than a status update.  You can also tag friends who may be interested in the position you post in the Note.  And, your friends can share the Note so that it appears on their Facebook pages.
  2. Facebook Marketplace (p. 129). Firms can post job openings in the Facebook classifieds.
  3. Facebook Firm Page (p. 131). Firms can post job openings on their own Facebook page, and the posting can be shared by fans of the page.
  4. LinkedIn Group Job Posting (p. 171). Identify the LinkedIn Groups that will contain candidates you are seeking and post jobs in the relevant Groups.
  5. Facebook or LinkedIn Status Update (p. 174). Firm recruiters and hiring personnel can share job openings in their individual status updates on Facebook and LinkedIn.
  6. Tweet Job Openings (p. 201). Share your job openings on Twitter.

Great advice. How did you get into recruiting? Why did you decide to leave the practice of law?

I never wanted to be a lawyer – I went to law school because I didn’t know what I wanted to do.  I always pictured myself in a consulting role of some type.  I hated law school but I loved practicing.  I loved practicing because I liked the “business” of practicing law.  I was very fortunate to have a section head who was a top rainmaker and mentored me about the business side.  I began to create a list of career options that would combine business plus law.  Recruiting was one of the options and the one I chose.

What were you like in law school? In which activities did you participate?

Ha!  One could probably look at my law school activities and tell I would eventually land in a creative role.  I was Editor of my law school’s yearbook, the Peregrinus.  I was also active on the Student Bar Association – Editor of The Writ, Secretary, ABA Representative.  I did not participate in traditional activities like moot court – did not interest me.

Did you get your first job through your law firm’s career services office or how did you get your first position?

I obtained a job offer through my law school’s OCI but ultimately turned the offer down to move to Boston (where I had no contacts or ties – but, thought it would be fun to live in a different part of the country).  I gained reciprocity with Boston University and Boston College.  Before moving, I applied for a position one of the schools posted.  I interviewed and received an offer about a month before taking the bar exam.

That’s important to remember that most schools offer reciprocity with their career services, especially if you move to another state or city. In regard to your recruiting business, do you only recruit locally or in specific practice areas?

My focus is (1) all practice areas in Texas and (2) bankruptcy attorneys nationwide.

What is the toughest aspect of being a recruiter?

The roller coaster effect.  As you know, you can go from an emotional high to an emotional low in one day.  Understanding this concept (and how it feels) is perhaps the hardest concept for new recruiters to grasp.

Do you set goals for yourself – like, “I want to connect with this type of person by X date” or “I’ll stay on Twitter for an hour today.”

A great boss once told me to create a “Top 7” list – the top 7 things you hope to accomplish each day.  I have to do this daily to be productive.

Top 7, eh? I think I may try this. What about rejection or people being mean on the phone? How do you handle that?

Honestly, I can probably count on one hand the number of “mean” people I’ve encountered either by phone or email.  I really don’t get many mean replies.  When I do, I may vent internally but my external reply is always polite and kind.

What websites to you visit on a daily basis?

Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Above the Law.

What advice do you have for female business owners who want to start their own company?

Don’t lose focus of your core business.  It’s great to branch out and try new things, but make sure 80% of your time is spent on your core business.

Thank you very much for enlightening our readers on what you do!

Amanda Ellis is the Owner of Amanda Ellis Legal Search. She is the author of The 6Ps of the BIG 3 for Job-Seeking JDs: 60+ Ways to Get Hired Using Social Networking and a frequent lecturer on these topics at law firms, law schools, and bar associations nationwide. You can find Amanda on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook and hear one of her presentations at Solo Practice University.

JD Profiles: David Hobbie, Litigation Knowledge Management Attorney, Goodwin Procter, LLP

In this new series, we are profiling legal professionals and J.D.s and asking them the hard questions that don’t always get answered in law school. For example, how did they find their job? What do they do on a day-to-day basis? And, was law school a worthwhile investment?

David Hobbie started his career as a litigator at Bingham McCutchen (then Bingham Dana & Gould) before moving to a new firm and a new type of career. Nowadays, he serves as the Litigation Knowledge Management Attorney at Goodwin Procter, LLP in Boston. David shares with us how he started blogging, how he segued into a new position, and he also shares some resources for lawyers interested in KM.

RecruiterEsq: Hi David, thanks for speaking with us. You work at Goodwin Procter, which is one of the world’s top law firms. American Lawyer Magazine ranks it in the top 50 US based firms. The firm allows you to use Twitter, LinkedIn, and maintain a blog?

Yes, my firm’s social media policy allows attorneys and staff to blog, although of course some topics are off-limits and I have to make it clear I’m not speaking for the firm. I blog (intermittently) about litigation knowledge management and related topics at Caselines; that blog is my own and it is not firm-sponsored. There are three firm-sponsored blogs, Sustainable Development (e.g., green building), Financial Crisis Recovery, and the Founder’s Toolbox blog, part of the Founder’s Workbench online resource. I do not write for them or the firm’s Twitter accounts. I’ve had my blog Caselines since 2007 and have been using Twitter since 2008. Stay tuned also for some news about a new channel related to ILTA!

Initially I was using these collaborative tools with an eye to their possible use inside my enterprise; that remains true, but they have also turned into a great way to connect with KM colleagues around the world and to keep informed of all the latest developments in my line of work. For instance, I can get a daily snapshot and preview of the content that some of my favorite tweeps are linking to at http://paper.li/kmhobbie/legal-kmers, which is a compilation of stories from the people on my “legal-kmers” Twitter list.

As for LinkedIn, there are degrees of use, but I think that it’s well past the adoption tipping point. At my firm, over 1000 of us (attorneys and non-attorneys alike) are on LinkedIn already (that is, have Goodwin Procter as their “current company”) out of a total population of south of 1500.

Goodwin Procter, LLP seems to embrace the changes in technology. For start-ups, the Founder’s Toolbox that you mentioned is an awesome resource. How does the firm’s environment foster innovative thinking and lawyering?

One of the firm’s formally expressed core values is “collective entrepreneurship.” That means that, even if you’re a relatively junior person on the team, and you have a good idea, it won’t be dismissed out of hand simply because of your seniority. Many of the firm practice areas have developed technological sophistication and social media savvy simply in order to keep with their extremely sophisticated clients.

That’s awesome to know. It’s something you don’t necessarily find out during OCIs or even interviewing as a lateral. How did you decide to start blogging?

I started blogging as part of an experiment with social media. At the time, I was lucky enough to have Doug Cornelius as a fellow KM attorney at my firm. We were looking at social collaborative tools in part because we were moving to SharePoint 2007 (which includes primitive wikis and blogs) and wanted to see how they might enhance knowledge-sharing, and what security or governance challenges they might present. Doug had started KM Space six months or so before Caselines got underway. I haven’t been able to put as much time into it as I would like, but it’s proven a useful way to capture and organize my thoughts, particularly at conferences, and it’s also raised my visibility in the legal km field and led to speaking opportunities I might not otherwise have obtained.

What are your responsibilities as Litigation Knowledge Management Attorney?

My role and that of my team is to help the litigation department attorneys and staff function more efficiently and effectively. We do this by providing cutting-edge tools for searching and browsing information about the substantive work of the firm, such as previous briefs or deals, and putting information “at the fingertips” of the attorneys and staff. So I have some daily responsibilities to help people find what they need, and longer-term responsibility to A) make sure the firm has cutting-edge search, storage, and collaboration tools and B) deliver enough training and awareness for the attorneys and staff to know the best tool to use in a given situation.

What does a typical week look like for you?

My weeks vary a lot. I typically spend a number of hours responding to specific requests relating to firm work product or other internal information, and the bulk of my time on specific projects such as budgeting and alternative fee arrangements, investigating what to do about docketing and calendaring, developing a new shared workspace, or rolling out the next training & awareness on-demand resource.

You were a litigation associate in the early part of your career. How did you segue into knowledge management?

I had enjoyed the legal research and writing I did as an associate. I also realized that I liked working in an office, with intelligent colleagues, but that I didn’t enjoy the more adversarial aspects of civil litigation. To put that into simpler terms, I didn’t like butting heads with people all the time, and having it be my job to show that the attorney on the other side was an idiot (and vice-versa, his job to show me for a fool). The litigation KM position at this firm was advertised in the state’s local legal weekly, and I knew from reading the description that it would be a great fit for me. I relish being in a “helper” role instead of an adversarial one, and while not writing memos myself I’m close enough to the process to still be participating in identifying the best firm resources that fit a particular legal or business challenge.

How do you think clients benefit when law firms invest in knowledge management?

This is a great question. With better knowledge management resources and systems, a law firm is better able to find and refind key content, and keep from reinventing the wheel. Clients should be able to get answers faster, and hence–at least under a billable hour model–cheaper. Better KM should also lead to better identification of who has the most relevant experience for that project or potential project.  Lawyers who have to worry less about how their teams organize and find information should be more able to focus on their clients’ needs.

Some KM tools, such as document assembly and checklists, also enable a firm to move work to a lower-cost provider. For instance, a junior associate might be able to generate and do basic vetting of a set of transactional documents a lot faster using such tools, work that would have required a senior associate to adopt a slightly different form of agreement. On the litigation side, to give another example, an associate can get started on a legal research project into a topic such as commonality requirements for class actions at the fourth or fifth stage, instead of at the first stage, by quickly finding and leveraging the dozens of briefs on that topic that have already been written.

Collaboration tools such as matter wikis might also prevent a matter team from having to waste time looking for information that might be buried in an email chain or otherwise not readily available.

Do you think knowledge management is something that lawyers should learn in law school? How do you think it could or should tie into the law school curriculum?

I have mixed feelings about this. The emphasis in academia is, and perhaps should be, on learning how to think like a lawyer. While study groups are great, a lot of that work is best done by the individual law student struggling with the caselaw. I start off junior lawyer training sessions by contrasting how taking advantage of other’s work is treated in law school or college, as compared to how it’s treated in a law firm. It’s grounds for expulsion in one, and the zenith of communal good in the other! So, enterprise-type KM is probably not really relevant yet.

On the other hand, law students should perhaps be thinking already about how they manage their personal store of information, their personal knowledge management. How are they going to keep up with the changes in their profession? How will they learn about the firms or other careers they hope to join? How will they be able to organize and share what they learn? There’s a whole group of people studying personal knowledge management, and increasingly impressive technological tools (such as Evernote) to help them do it.

Speaking of Evernote (which I love!), what tools do you use on a daily basis – cell phone, cell phone apps, SaaS, etc.?

I work with an at-times bewildering array of tools. On a given day, I might be developing on a SharePoint list of settlement agreements; crafting or editing a Captivate training and awareness video; searching for samples of a certain type of motion to dismiss in a certain federal court through West KM; reviewing data-mining from our BudgetManager tool about work done in previous matters; setting up a SharePoint or PBWorks wiki; or testing search features of our document management system iManage/ Autonomy.

For my personal KM I use Hootsuite to publish to Twitter and LinkedIn; paper.li to catch up on stories people I follow have published; and Evernote and Instapaper, to hold interesting posts or other content. I have an iPhone, which I use primarily to consume rather than create content.

For someone interested in knowledge management topics, are there any resources (books, websites, groups) that you can recommend?

For on-line resources, the best legal-km related blogs at the moment are above and beyond km and Three Geeks and a Law.

The twitter hashtags #km and #kmers are used quite often.

ILTA is a great way for km peers to get to know each other, though it is not the only km peer group out there. There are also a few groups on LinkedIn, though those aren’t particularly active.

Some excellent books on KM-related topics that I’ve been reading lately include Richard Susskind’s The End of Lawyers?: Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services, Andrew MacAfee’s Enterprise 2.0, and Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto.

Awesome resources. I’ve added those books to my wishlist. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us!

David Hobbie is Litigation Knowledge Manager at Goodwin Procter. A frequent speaker on legal business intelligence, knowledge management, and enterprise 2.0, you can find David on LinkedIn and Twitter or check out his blog Caselines.

JD Profiles: A Recap

Law BooksWe’ve heard some feedback that our readers love the JD Profiles but they almost wish the profiles came out less frequently so each profile would get more attention. They mentioned that this isn’t the type of stuff you hear about in law school and there’s only so much time to read in a given day.

So, dear Readers, thank you! We’re listening. Every so often, we’ll return to our archives and remind you what you missed along the way.

JD Profiles: Matt Emmer, Writer, Editor, and Former Communications Attorney

Our first profile is about Matthew Emmer, J.D. turned writer and editor. Matt’s experience in media dates back more than 25 years, including stints at CNN and the Federal Communications Commission. After law school, he worked as a communications lawyer/lobbyist in DC, mainly representing cable companies. He stayed at the same firm throughout his legal career, first as an associate, then as a partner.

JD Profiles: Gyi Tsakalakis, Executive Director, AttorneySync

Today, we are profiling Gyi Tsakalakis, a former Michigan attorney who is taking a break from legal practice to help attorneys build their professional reputations online.  After practicing at a small firm in the suburbs of Detroit, Gyi decided to follow his entrepreneurial instinct and started AttorneySync with a friend from undergrad.  AttorneySync helps law firms build their online presence.

JD Profiles: Kevin Noonan, PhD, Patent Attorney, McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP

Kevin Noonan, Ph.D., is a partner at McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP, an intellectual property boutique with offices in Chicago and Washington State. With a PhD in Molecular Biology from Princeton University, Kevin specializes on biotechnology clients, including hot topics such as gene cloning and gene patenting. Kevin also co-founded the blog Patent Docs, which he manages with Donald Zuhn, Jr. Ph.D., his colleague at MBHB. Kevin talks to us about how a cab driver in New York City decides to become a patent attorney and how teaching and blogging about biotechnology patent law keeps him updated with the current issues affecting his clients.

JD Profiles: Nicole Gesher, Mediator and Owner, Gesher Mediation

Nicole Gesher is a San Francisco based mediator and attorney. She founded Gesher Mediation in February of 2010, where she happily helps resolve conflicts for her clients throughout the Bay Area. While relatively new to the ADR scene (she’s not even 30 years old!), Gesher tied for 2nd place in the Individual Mediator/Arbitrator category in the Recorder’s Best Poll (San Francisco based Legal newspaper – results published 12/6) (PDF). She is currently a panelist for the Bar Association of San Francisco, and the Contra Costa County Superior Court. She is also a volunteer mediator for Community Boards, a local non-profit.

JD Profiles: Megan M. McKeon, Marketing Director, McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff LLP

Megan M. McKeon worked her way through the evening J.D. program at The John Marshall School of Law and graduated in 2004. By day, she worked as a Marketing Magician for Schiff Hardin, an Am Law 200 firm, where she assisted with the firms marketing and recruiting efforts, including handling media relations, drafting external and internal communications, and promoting firm-hosted events. Rather than use her law degree to practice law on a daily basis, Megan continued to work in the marketing department of law firms. Eventually, Megan returned to school and achieved her M.B.A. in Marketing Management and Leadership and Change Management from DePaul University’s Charles H. Kellstadt Graduate School of Business. Today, she applies her legal and business background as Marketing Director for McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff.

JD Profiles: Richard Russeth, Vice President + General Counsel, Leprino Foods Company

Richard Russeth has worked in-house at various multi-national companies in the food industry since his graduation from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1982. In his roles as Assistant General Counsel and General Counsel, his clients may ask him questions relating to employment, intellectual property, or international tax law on any given day. Rather than focusing on one area of the law, Richard has become a rare entity – a self-proclaimed generalist. The Last Generalist talks with us once again about his career path, networking philosophies, technology, and the implications of the Food Safety Modernization Act for FDA lawyers.

JD Profiles: Philip Guzman, Director of Public Service Programs, North Carolina Central University School of Law

Philip Guzman worked in government and private practice before he became the Director of Public Service Programs at North Carolina Central University School of Law. He talks to us about his day-to-day responsibilities in the career services office as well as his career path to his ideal job or, as he calls it, “The Persistent Dream.” (Published in NALP Bulletin, Vol.22, September 2010.)

JD Profiles: Matt Podolnick, Litigation Associate, Aaronson, Rappaport, Feinstein, + Deutsch, LLP

Matt Podolnick graduated from an Ivy League law school. Like many of his classmates, he summered at a high-end litigation boutique in New York and accepted a job there post-graduation. After two years, he decided to head to a medical malpractice firm where he’d get more hands-on experience. He tells us why he never doubts taking a 40% salary cut and why he’s hesitant to want to be Superman.

JD Profiles: Susan Cartier Liebel, Owner, Solo Practice University

Susan Cartier Liebel worked in advertising then sales for ten (10) years before she decided to go to law school. As a law student, she realized there were hardly any resources for anyone who wanted to start their own law practice or learn the business side of running a law practice. She took the initiative, sought out mentors from her clinics and network of contacts, and opened her own law firm with friends from law school shortly after she graduated.  Since then, Susan has successfully practiced as a solo/small firm founder. Based on her own experiences, she started to teach others how to do the same. She served as an adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University’s School of Law and then opened her own consulting firm. About two years ago, Susan brought the idea to a larger scale and started Solo Practice University, the ‘practice of law’ school. Susan talks about her journey and the void SPU fills in legal education.

JD Profiles: Susan Cartier Liebel, Owner, Solo Practice University

In this new series, we are profiling legal professionals and J.D.s and asking them the hard questions that don’t always get answered in law school. For example, how did they find their job? What do they do on a day-to-day basis? And, was law school a worthwhile investment?

Susan Cartier Liebel worked in advertising then sales for ten (10) years before she decided to go to law school. As a law student, she realized there were hardly any resources for anyone who wanted to start their own law practice or learn the business side of running a law practice. She took the initiative, sought out mentors from her clinics and network of contacts, and opened her own law firm with friends from law school shortly after she graduated.  Since then, Susan has successfully practiced as a solo/small firm founder. Based on her own experiences, she started to teach others how to do the same. She served as an adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University’s School of Law and then opened her own consulting firm. About two years ago, Susan brought the idea to a larger scale and started Solo Practice University, the ‘practice of law’ school. Susan talks about her journey and the void SPU fills in legal education.

RecruiterEsq: Thank you for speaking to us today! You worked in advertising and sales for ten (10) years before attending law school. Why did you decide to go to law school?

I love education.  I found advertising and sales very unfulfilling.  I was very good at it but I wanted my advocacy skills to have more meaning and becoming a lawyer meant I could use those skills for something more important than creating a campaign to sell more batteries or perfume.

Directly after law school – well, after passing the bar exam – you opened your own firm with two classmates. Who started this discussion? Why did you decide to take that path?

When I finally decided to go to law school (four years after taking the LSATs and after turning down an almost six figure job) I was unsure if I was going to actually practice law.  I knew I wanted the education to navigate through life.  It was during law school that I realized I wanted to open my own practice and become an entrepreneur in the legal field.  I believed being an entrepreneur in the legal field was the epitome of law practice. But, I was quickly disabused of that notion while in law school. When I told people my desire, especially academics, I was looked at like something unpleasant on the bottom of their shoe.  That really pissed me off (excuse my French). I was so confused by that attitude.  So, I realized I had to figure out my own game plan within law school to take the right classes, clinics, etc. to make me prepared to go out on my own when I passed the bar.  This was no easy feat.  Yet, on the very first day of school I met two gentlemen who felt the same way so we navigated together and formed a game plan.

What type of law did you practice when you owned your own firms? How did you decide what area of the law you wanted to practice?

I concentrated on family law doing primarily divorce as well as representing children during the dissolution process.  I personally enjoyed the one-on-one versus dealing with business entities. While family law can really burn you out over time, the personal advocacy can also be very rewarding as you know you had a hand in directly changing lives. I’ve represented more than 100 children through the process and had several very memorable cases.  Putting my skills to use in this way was what I always envisioned.

As part of your game plan, did you work for firms during your summers in law school? In which law school activities did you participate?

I don’t recall what I did during the summers except take summer classes.  However, clinic was the defining event for me.  We had a full blown 30 day custody trial.  We did all the research, interviewed the witnesses, the plaintiff, the experts, took depositions and put on the trial with supervision.  I got pneumonia during the trial and the judge ordered me home.  The trial lasted up until Christmas Eve so we missed our finals (we took them after the break after getting special consideration).  For this experience, I received a prestigious litigation award (along with a sizable check!) from the sponsoring highly-regarded insurance defense firm in CT.  These events ultimately gave me the confidence to go out on my own.  I wasn’t particularly worried about marketing or getting business as I had this background in sales and advertising already.

Because I knew I was going out on my own, I never did the ‘hire me’ activities such as law review or moot court.  Maybe it’s because I was a non-traditional law student (not directly out of college and older) or because I’d had enough working for others, but I directed all my activities to those which helped me be my own profit center and self-sustaining once I passed the bar.

Once you started your own firm, to whom did you look for guidance regarding different matters?

I went to my professors first, then other attorneys I’d met and even judges!  I have no problem meeting and greeting but always offering my assistance to others first.  We did something very cool, I think.  When we met lawyers in court who were traveling to that court house from another town, we always told them if they ever needed a place to hang their hat they could borrow our conference room or offices.  (And prior to having an office ourselves, we would ask lawyers if we could rent theirs if needed – this was before virtual offices, etc.)  This always presented nicely and we genuinely meant it.  It was our way of putting it out there first.  We never did yellow pages or traditional advertising as we couldn’t afford it.  We did hang out in the court houses and restaurants lawyers frequented, acting part of the crowd.  We’d often get, ‘don’t I know you?’ because we’d be seen around and that was our entree to introducing ourselves.  It was fun.  And, naturally, these lawyers would offer their assistance if we needed it.  We used these offers sparingly, but strategically.

How did your background in advertising and sales help you when you decided to go off on your own?

My background in sales and advertising played a huge role because I know how to interview clients and ‘close the sale.’  There is nothing wrong and everything right with being able to identify a client’s needs and effectively address them.  When you do so, they want to hire you.  When you understand what will inhibit an individual and overcome those inhibitors, they want to work with you. That is the nature of sales.  It’s a critical skill in advocacy, not just in getting clients but in working with opposing counsel, mediators and judges.

You’ve been blogging for a very long time about solo practice. Do you ever read old posts and question whether your thoughts about solo practice are still valid?

I actually don’t.  When I write a blog post it’s fairly well thought out and generally global in application.  I don’t shoot from the hip because I know it will be in cyberspace forever.  Therefore, I’m pretty pleased with the content and prepared to debate and defend my thoughts or statements if someone doesn’t agree with me :-)  It was years of this consistent content and message about solo practice which permitted me to attract those who have helped to make SPU the success it is – the faculty, the students and our sponsors. Most importantly, going solo is about entrepreneurship.  Principles of entrepreneurship are timeless.

How did you start writing “An Independent Spirit” for Law.com?

‘An Independent Spirit’ was a column I was invited to write for the Connecticut Law Tribune after I won their New Leaders in the Law Award for Education.  The class, obviously, was my course at Quinnipiac University School of Law.  Since CT Law Tribune was owned by Law.com, when the columns were particularly interesting, Law.com would pick up the columns for national exposure.

Can you tell us more about the course you taught at Quinnipiac, “How to Open and Manage [a] Law Practice Right After Passing the Bar Exam”? What were the types of assignments or readings that were on your syllabus? I’m thinking about the realities of starting my own business, which I should point out is not a law firm, and what I didn’t learn in law school – e.g., marketing, accounting, etc.

Students ultimately created a very unique and personal business plan which took them out two years.  It was labor intensive and no two plans were the same, nor could they be, because no two lawyers are the same.  This may sound strange to you, but this is the truth:  You can’t box in entrepreneurs, only lay the ground rules for what they absolutely cannot do.  Then the sky is the limit.  The business of lawyering should be no different.  Before we ever started the business plan each student went through a guided analysis of their strengths, weaknesses, individual needs, support systems, and technological savviness.  This helped me to help them and it guided their business plan, how they needed to allocate their resources and more.  It was never used to dissuade them from solo practice.  It was used as an exercise in overcoming perceived obstacles and to build confidence.  Many students years later told me it was the one project they saved from law school and with a few tweaks they implemented it when they were ready.

Oh, I love that philosophy about entrepreneurs: “You can’t box in entrepreneurs, only lay the ground rules for what they absolutely cannot do.” I need to stick that quote next to my desk! It applies to lawyers and non-lawyers but, based on my own experience, law students graduate without a good sense of what they absolutely cannot do, despite the ethics exam and ethics class requirements.

When I graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 2006, there was nothing like the course you taught at Quinnipiac and you started teaching that course in 2001!  Now, I see that Legal Rebel Max Miller started a program at Pitt Law called the Innovation Practice Institute. Have you seen more law schools implement programs on how to be a successful solo over the years?

I see law schools making efforts to do so but ‘named’ schools are restricted by bureaucracy and tenured professors fighting for their livelihoods.  The newer schools seeking accreditation are much more innovative taking their classes on line and recognizing their students will be going into business for themselves upon graduation like Lincoln Memorial in Tennessee.  Keep an eye on them.

With Solo Practice University, you’re able to offer many courses like the one you developed at Quinnipiac on a much larger scale, given the online platform. You’ve created that space in which lawyers can learn how to be more entrepreneurial within the limits imposed by the profession. How did you decide to start Solo Practice University?

Solo Practice University is a labor of love.  Truly.  It sounds like it was an overnight brainstorm but it was many years in the making, I just wasn’t able to fully realize the vision until January, 2008 when all the necessary elements came together. Half of any successful venture comes from recognizing when all the necessary ingredients to create a business are right in front of you…then getting in the kitchen and cooking! Ironically, I started ‘cooking’ at a time when law students were graduating into $200,000 associates positions.  Yet, SPU physically opened its doors one month after Bloody Thursday.

How do you choose faculty and guest lecturers?

Choosing faculty is both subjective and objective. We are frequently solicited by those who wish to teach. However, before we ever opened I actively solicited people I knew  who are excellent in their fields and believed in me. When I told them of my idea they were on board because it is positioned as a 100% win for all involved. I want those interested in teaching to approach me, too, because they may bring up a course I never thought of. One doesn’t need to be out for a 100 years to teach, though. They need to be good at what they do and have an active interest in a 21st century practice. If you are a superb advocate but don’t know how to turn on a computer, it will be very hard for you to teach others how to build their practices in the 21st century and on an online platform. I really enjoy using the SPU platform and traffic to popularize excellent lawyers who are teaching who might not otherwise be able to get the reach and audience SPU can provide. It’s actually one of my favorite things to do.  :-)

Are most of the people who enroll recent graduates?

Actually, no.  We are split between recent grads (0 – 3 yrs out), those out 4 – 8 yrs and a significant number out 10+.  Many finally want to learn how to build a 21st century practice and many are changing practice areas.  We also have a significant number still employed who are planning their exits or expect they will be shown the door soon.

Some of the skills that are taught at SPU would be beneficial for all lawyers to learn, solos or otherwise. Do attorneys ever sign up for SPU to learn how to expand their practice even if they have no desire to go solo or would SPU not be right for them?

Actually, we have many working for law firms (as noted above) who are utilizing the marketing, blogging, copywriting and virtual technology classes. And others are getting the benefit of the forensic accounting course and e-discovery class and other substantive classes and more to enhance their current work. While we emphasize solo practice, as you recognized, many classes can help any lawyer however situated.

Now that you’ve started Solo Practice University, what are your job responsibilities?

At this stage of the game I am totally in charge of SPU as the Founder and CEO with the exception of the actual architecture and maintenance of the site. However, 2011 promises expansion as we bring in more dynamic people to take SPU to the next level of operation.

What websites do you visit on a daily basis?

Interesting question.  There was a time when I had a list of must read blogs.  Now I utilize Twitter and use those I follow to drive me to excellent blog posts and articles, readings I would not otherwise know about.  I read NYT, WSJ and other news on a regular basis.

What technologies do you use in your business, e.g. blogging software, accounting software, SaaS products?

Our site is completely built on WordPress and BuddyPress and highly, highly customized as well as maintained by the extraordinary David Carson.  He’s absolutely loved by faculty and students.

[He’s also on Twitter!]

Solo Practice University is almost finished with its second full year of operation. Looking back, what has surprised you the most about the venture?

What has surprised me most about the venture is how universally well received it has been by colleagues, students, law schools and professional associations.  One person well positioned within a law school said, ‘You not only filled a void, the void was the size of the Grand Canyon.”  This was high praise indeed.  Along the same lines, the gratitude from students is very rewarding.  While our site is filled with testimonials, what I love most is hearing students say they finally have a place they can call home while they prepare for solo practice or continue to grow their solo practices.  Secondarily, we are reassured on a daily basis that we are delivering for our faculty, too.  They are receiving book deals, significant referral business, getting noticed by reporters and other opportunities they might not otherwise have gotten.  I feel personally successful when I know I am delivering on my promises.

You’re delivering on promises and you’re giving lawyers a space to achieve career success in their own way.  It was truly an honor to speak with you!

Solo Practice University, Susan Cartier Liebel’s brainchild, opened its doors in 2009. You can connect with Susan Cartier Liebel on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Coworking for Lawyers: First Impressions

As I sit here, on a couch at IndyHall, a coworking space in Philadelphia, I’m watching someone make brownies. Not a typical law firm office activity… but, did I mention that there’s a kegerator next to me? Needless to say, that’s not a typical law firm office fixture. I’m here on a fact-finding mission of sorts. I’d like to determine whether lawyers can join the ranks of the coworking communities.

About Coworking

Unless you live in a forward-thinking metropolitan area like San Francisco, Austin, or (eh-hem) Philadelphia, coworking is a relatively new phenomenon. In general, coworking spaces attract writers, coders/developers, entrepreneurs, and visual artists. While each facility exudes its own personality, many share the same philosophies of collaboration, openness, community, and accessibility. Not only is a coworking space a working environment but, as Craig Baute writes, “[i]t’s a community of ambitious individuals [who] participate in discussions, share ideas, and build relationships.” Baute then lists common coworking community activities such as weekly lunch-ins for members, member led workshops, xTed Talks, Meetup groups, and launch parties.

Therefore, it may be easy to think of coworking spaces as more sophisticated Starbucks locations. In exchange for a little rent, you obtain a secure space where you can leave your laptop or desktop unattended, a kitchen where you can make brownies, albeit with a community of like-minded professionals who know that working alone sucks. Or, it may be easy to think of coworking spaces as casual versions of Regus or other similar rent-a-space solutions. Maybe tear down the walls, throw in a few toys, arcade games, or kegerators as decoration, and pump in a collaborative spirit. However, both of these descriptions fall short of what coworking really means and what coworking really offers.

As Alex Hillman, co-founder of IndyHall explains, “It’s really easy to look at us as space first, community second.” The benefit of coworking and what makes coworking unique derives from “the focus on community and social interactions first, and amenities second.”

So, where does this leave the ethical attorney (not an oxymoron)? Is the legal industry stranded on the outside looking in for fear of potential conflicts of interest or potential breaches of client confidentiality? Or,with the correct preventative measures, can lawyers also thrive in these collaborative environments?

…I hope so but I don’t know. I do know that I’m not at IndyHall to practice law. Therefore, I don’t need to worry about the ethical quandaries that coworking may present for lawyers. (I’m also pretty certain that any answer begins with the phrase, “it depends.”)

Nevertheless, I’d love to see more lawyers take advantage of coworking and share their experiences so that we – the legal industry – can join the ranks of the dilettantes. (I say dilettantes in a positive way.)

In my research, I found a few trailblazing lawyers who may be able to serve as resources. Perhaps coworking lawyers can share boilerplate language in retainer agreements or other tips on ethical coworking. (Note: The coworking community is all about sharing resources.)

To further explore this (serious) topic, our #LawJobChat in March will focus on coworking for lawyers. (Mark your calendars: March 31st, 9-10 pm EST.) We hope to have a panel that includes the voice of the coworking community (Alex Hillman, Co-Founder of IndyHall), practicing lawyers who use coworking spaces (John Koenig, Indigo Venture Law Offices), and practicing lawyers who can speak to the ethical aspects of coworking. (Brian Tannebaum? Carolyn Elefant? We’re looking at you!) Know anyone who would be interested? Tell ‘em to get in touch!

Miscellaneous things to think about:

1. Lawyers transact business at Starbucks, e.g., writing a brief there, meeting a client for coffee, etc. So long as they follow the professional rules of conduct, e.g., keep confidential documents confidential, why not a place with actual desks and a manager who gives you a tour of the place? Google Voice and other technologies allow you to bring your work phone wherever you are so you don’t need a receptionist. For client meetings, you can reserve private conference room space. Explain to clients the nature of coworking spaces, the precautions taken to ensure confidentiality in the collaborative environment, and greet them personally at the door when you have a meeting.

2. What about ethical walls within law firms? How do they apply to coworking spaces? Or, a step backwards, can their principles apply to coworking spaces? If coworking spaces allow lawyers, what warnings/compliance measures do the spaces need to take, if any? E.g., Should all lawyers be told what other lawyers are working there on a given day?

3. On the flip side, why should lawyers be a profession that deserves oversight by coworking facilities?

4. When law firms strive to create an atmosphere of collaboration and community, they may implement a firm-wide wiki, knowledge sharing application, or create a physical space within the law firm that fosters conversation. The firm, as an institution, reaps benefits. How is this different from the collaboration and community that occurs at coworking spaces?

5. ACPE 718/CAA 41 (pdf), the joint opinion by the New Jersey Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics and the Committee on Attorney Advertising, found that virtual offices are not bona fide offices under New Jersey law. Under the opinion’s reasoning, are coworking facilities bona fide offices? Do we want them to be?

Further reading:

Keeping Your Office-Sharing Arrangements Squeaky Clean under the Ethics Rules

More Solutions in Search of a Problem

Virtual Offices May Violate Ethics Rules, New Jersey Opinion Says

Model Rules of Professional Conduct

ABA Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions (pdf)

5 Signs Co-Working Might be for You

JD Profiles: Matt Podolnick, Litigation Associate, Aaronson, Rappaport, Feinstein, + Deutsch, LLP

In this new series, we are profiling legal professionals and J.D.s and asking them the hard questions that don’t always get answered in law school. For example, how did they find their job? What do they do on a day-to-day basis? And, was law school a worthwhile investment?

Matt Podolnick graduated from an Ivy League law school. Like many of his classmates, he summered at a high-end litigation boutique in New York and accepted a job there post-graduation. After two years, he decided to head to a medical malpractice firm where he’d get more hands-on experience. He tells us why he never doubts taking a 40% salary cut and why he’s hesitant to want to be Superman.

RecruiterEsq: Hi Matt, thanks for speaking to us. You graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 2004. After your first and second years of law school, you took associate positions in New York handling litigation cases. Did you always know you wanted to be in New York?

I had never really given much thought to where I’d end up practicing while in law school, but I think I knew that I’d end up in New York. Penn is like a feeder into Manhattan, and I’d estimate that at least 70% of Penn Law grads end up in New York. During my first summer in the city – after my first year of law school and working for Aaronson Rappaport – I lived in the NYU dorms on 3rd Avenue. I had never been to the city before that. It took me about a day or two to realize that this was where I wanted to live. Lucky for me, that’s where most of the work was anyway.

Did you always know you wanted to be a litigator?

As long as I had wanted to be a lawyer – which wasn’t very long – I did know that I’d want to be a litigator. Nothing against the deal-makers, but I’ve always been attracted to the adversarial aspects of the law. I like the challenge of it and the competitor in me enjoys the prospect of beating someone else in an argument while playing by the same rules. Of course, when a case is a loser, it’s a loser, but litigation allows you to dispute damages, too. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have some unhealthy lust for arguing – but it does bring a challenge to the job and keeps it interesting.

How did you get your position at Otterbourg? For those who are unfamiliar with the firm, will you explain what attracted you to the firm?

I was offered an interview and then a position as a summer associate at Otterbourg after a preliminary interview during On Campus Recruitment (OCR) at Penn. All the major Manhattan firms participate in OCR, as well as some of the lesser-known firms, like Otterbourg. Otterbourg, unlike the more prominent firms, was mid-sized (about 60 lawyers total) and seemed like a place where I’d get more opportunities early on than I would had I gone someplace like, say, Skadden. I felt like I’d be given more attention and responsibility as part of a class of four as opposed to a class of 30.

You stayed at Otterbourg for over two (2) years. Why did you decide to move to Aaronson, Rappaport, Feinstein, + Deutsch, LLP?

Otterbourg wasn’t what I expected it to be. I didn’t like the work and I didn’t like the culture of commercial litigation. I think that to be successful in the field of commercial litigation – to be really successful – you have to love the type of work you’re doing. You have to be wired that way. I mentioned above that I enjoy arguing, but there has to be a civility to it. At the same time, I wasn’t doing much arguing – it was mostly document review and document production. Boring and tedious. To make things worse, I was representing financial institutions trying to recover money or other assets, something I just didn’t find terribly interesting or, more importantly, fulfilling. So I save Wachovia a few million bucks at the end of the day – so what? It’s one thing to sacrifice your social life for the sake of a pay check, but you’ve got to really love what you’re doing to do so for years.

I had spent my first summer at ARFD and loved doing medical malpractice as well as the people in that office. I followed the money when I went to Otterbourg, so after I found out the hard way that money doesn’t buy happiness (it helps, though), I went back to ARFD, prepared to take a massive pay cut in exchange for more interesting, fulfilling work and a change of culture. One of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

What type of hands-on experience do you get at a smaller firm? Have you ever litigated a trial? Do you have more client contact?

I wouldn’t call ARFD small by malpractice firm standards, but I suppose it’s small in NYC standards. Like Otterbourg, ARFD is about 60 lawyers. Unlike Otterbourg, though, where cases are managed by several partners and associates, cases at ARFD are assigned to one partner and one associate. This makes the case your case in a very real sense, and it’s much more fulfilling to handle a case from its inception through its resolution. This also gives me a lot more responsibility, such as court appearances, drafting motions, conducting depositions, client interactions, meeting with experts, and pretty much everything else involved in a malpractice litigation. I am yet to appear for trial, but I look forward to doing that (hopefully) soon.

Right now, you focus on defending medical malpractice claims. Does that mean the majority of your cases are in state court? In practical terms, e.g., convenience of filing or computer systems, how are state court actions different than federal court actions?

Almost all of my cases are in state court; only one is a federal case. Filing is largely unaffected. What is different, though, is how strict the courts are with discovery deadlines. In state court, nothing can get done for months – or years – and there’s really no penalty. The plaintiff will circulate a stipulation to extend the time he or she has to file the Note of Issue and, unless they’re a total asshole, we’ll sign it with no problem. The most the courts will do is threaten preclusion of testimony or other evidence if a deadline isn’t met. In federal court, though, it’s a lot different. Everyone knows that you have to get your shit done immediately. If not, you better get in touch with the judge ASAP and have a good excuse.

What does a typical day look like for you?

There are really three types of days. The first is an office day – a day in which I have no appearances. I usually have some medical records to review or report on, or some demands to respond to, and these types of tasks can keep me busy most of the day. There’s lots of phone calls with plaintiffs and co-defendants, and the day’s mail usually means a lot of work to do, too. The second type of day is when I have a court appearance, either for a motion or a conference. I go to Brooklyn, Manhattan, Bronx, Queens, and (mostly) Staten Island for court, and this takes up my day until lunchtime. After that, it’s back to the office to write a report on what I just did and then finish the day with what I had mentioned above. The third type of day is a deposition day, but those are wild cards. It could be a clueless witness who doesn’t remember a thing and the dep itself takes a couple or hours, or it can be a doctor with a chart two feet high, in which case the dep will take the entire day.

Back to your undergraduate degree, you graduated from the University of Florida with a B.S. in Zoology and Mass Communications. That’s a strange sort of academic path. How did you pick those majors?

When I was 18 and a freshman at UF, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I always loved science and animals, so studying zoology for four years seemed like an easy decision. I didn’t know what I was going to do with that degree, but at that time I didn’t really care. The minor was simply to make my transcript look better.

You took a year off before attending law school. Why did you decide to do that? How do you think that helped you prepare for law school?

I had to wait a year in between graduating college and going to law school simply because I decided to take the LSAT last-minute. It wasn’t until the end of my senior year and a long conversation with my uncle (also an attorney) that I decided to go to law school. Since I took the June exam, I would have to wait a year to attend law school. I ended up teaching the LSAT and SAT for Kaplan during that year while living at home with my parents. It helped me prepare for law school only in the sense that I realized how much living at home sucked. Especially after four years at UF.

During law school OCIs, one of my close friends was asked, “If you could be any superhero or villian from comic books or video games, who would you be and why?” Knowing your interests in comics, video games, and creative writing, I thought this would be a great question for you to answer.

This is not an easy question. Asking which superpower I’d want is an easy question, but to actually be a specific hero or villain is a lot more difficult. Superman can do pretty much whatever he wants, but he’s also an alien who often feels out of place on Earth. Batman is great, but he also saw his parents murdered. Tony Stark battles alcoholism and his father is dead. Spider-Man has a shitty, underpaying job at the Daily Bugle and his boss is a dick. Wolverine has seen more bad shit than anyone can imagine. One of his girlfriends was raped. So I don’t know that I’d want to be any of those guys. So I really don’t know. I guess I could get past the whole being an alien thing in exchange for flight, invulnerabliltiy, laser vision, and super strength, so my answer is Superman. More specifically, the “bad” Superman from Superman III who didn’t shave and liked to get drunk.

If you had to do it all over again, would you go to law school?

Probably not. I absolutely love my job and can’t imagine being happier working anywhere else in the legal field, but I’d probably focus a lot more on writing and see what I could have done with that. I can’t say enough great things about the people of ARFD and I truly enjoy being a malpractice attorney, but it’s not a dream job.

Thank you, Matt! We enjoyed speaking to you!

No doubt.

Matt Podolnick works as an associate at Aaronson, Rappaport, Feinstein, + Deutsch, LLP where he handles medical malpractice defense. You can reach him at his firm.