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

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.

RecruiterEsq: Hi Megan. Thanks for responding to my request on Twitter.

Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my story!

You have an interesting background. How did you decide to go to law school?

I always wanted to be a lawyer, or so my mom tells me. I don’t really remember, but apparently at the tender age of five, I told my parents I was going to be an attorney. In those words! That said, I let the dream fade quite a bit – in college, I focused on a business education and had set my eyes on work in finance and/or marketing. But, when a friend told me she was taking the LSAT, and I checked out her study materials, the interest was rekindled. I honestly took the LSAT on a bit of a lark – I didn’t study much the first time around – but I scored quite well, and thought that if I studied I might get an excellent score. I was lucky.

That’s a cute story. I am fascinated by people who can work full-time and go to law school. How was your experience as a night student different?

Honestly, that’s a bit hard to answer. Schiff Hardin was a very flexible workplace and they fully embraced my legal education as a benefit not only to me but to the marketing department and a firm. While I was officially enrolled in the evening program, I took a good share of daytime classes, often coming in early or staying late at work and taking a lunch hour to attend class. So, I didn’t have the true evening student experience. That said, it’s a challenge working and attending school – I’ve done it twice (for my MBA as well), but I relish the challenge of juggling multiple commitments.

Were there any courses on legal marketing or anything like that in law school?

Sadly, no. I have a good friend who teaches an optional course on legal marketing at Chicago-Kent, but John Marshall didn’t offer anything of the sort. I’ve been lobbying them, through their Alumni Association, to offer a seminar – or anything – on the topic. I’d love to be involved in that type of course.

As a professional, do you think there should be those types of courses offered?

Absolutely. They’re essential, whether you’re at an AmLaw 100 firm or you’ve hung out your own shingle. Marketing is more than just sales or advertising. It’s about developing relationships. You need to know how to talk to clients, how to understand their problems on their terms. Marketing helps all of that.

I always joke about how I never heard of an Am Law firm until I started recruiting. When I brought up the term to friends who worked at Am Law firms, they told me it was recruiting jargon. That’s one indication that legal education doesn’t prepare you for the day-to-day business realities of practicing law. If a law school taught courses on marketing, what do you think should be on the curriculum? What are some books or articles or magazines that helped you along the way?

I’d actually like to see two separate classes – one targeted to law students intending to practice in solo/small firms and the other to those looking for work in larger firms. The basics remain the same for both, but much of the practicality and the nuances are a bit different.

For the solo/small firm class, I’d focus on communication skills, business development basics, and marketing on a shoestring. The course needs to be a bit broader for these folks, as they will be doing everything themselves.

For the larger firm class, I’d focus primarily on project management, business development, and general client relationship skills. I’d stay away from the marketing basics, as a firm of any substantial size will have personnel to handle that work.

Much of my “education” on the topic has been a baptism by fire. I do recommend The Law Firm Associate’s Guide to Personal Marketing and Selling Skills by Beth Cuzzone and Catherine Alman MacDonagh. Dale Carnegie’s classic, How To Win Friends and Influence People, is always applicable and is a fast and very worthy read.

Did you ever think you wanted to practice law?

Absolutely. I have a keen interest in appellate practice, and I still consider practicing. I maintain my license, and therefore I attend the MCLE classes; I choose classes that are either marketing or appellate practice related. I also occasionally select patent law classes, as my firm’s focus is on intellectual property law.

Do you assist clients now or focus solely on marketing?

While I do have some interaction with clients on a limited basis, my focus is solely on marketing and business development for the firm. I will often interact with clients at events, trade shows, etc., and am certainly well-prepared to talk with them about our firm’s selling points as well as legal developments and potential implications. I keep up on IP news and developments and, as an attorney, I can speak of those developments on a different level than others may. I think my firm has seen a benefit from my J.D.

How do marketing and business development differ? Give me an example of an activity you consider marketing that’s not business development or vice versa?

Business development generally involves direct face-to-face interaction with a client, while marketing is the collateral side of that. They certainly combine together in many situations – for instance, while engaging in a business development activity such as hosting a conference, an attorney may hand out a marketing brochure. The two disciplines support and build off each other.

What’s a typical day like for you? A typical week?

It depends on the time of year, and it’s much easier to answer the “typical week” question. Right now, a typical week is spent spot-coaching our attorneys on individual business development activities – answering questions such as, “What do I do when…” or “What’s the best way to follow up with…”. Since it’s close to the holidays, I’ve been providing advice on holiday gifts, cards, and so on. We’re launching a new Website in Q2 2011, and I’m working heavily on that, coordinating needs from different departments and practices, and surveying all of our attorneys and staff on their preferences. It’s a really neat project and I cannot wait for our site to launch. This time of year, I also spend a good amount of time tracking down various vendors and ensuring that deadlines will be met, that we can get invoices before we close out our year, confirming pricing for 2011, and such. It’s a little slower at this time of year – not so many events on the immediate horizon. When we’re in events season, it’s long hours (well worth it) with a moderate amount of travel, while juggling a dozen projects or so.

As I mentioned, we connected on Twitter. What social networking sites do you use on a regular basis?

Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are my favorites. I use Twitter and LinkedIn professionally, and Facebook personally.

What is your firm’s stance regarding social networking? Does the firm recommend for lawyers to use any specific sites? Does the firm prohibit any sites?

We do not have a social media policy at my firm. Not because we don’t think that social media is important – quite the opposite – but because we, culturally, have not been a policy-motivated firm. We encourage our attorneys to use their best judgment in all forms of social media, and I offer occasional training on the different sites. A group of our partners runs Patent Docs, a widely-read pharmaceutical and biotech patent law blog. Another partner authors the Orange Book Blog, a blog centered on FDA law. Dennis Crouch, a former associate at MBHB, developed Patently-O, the most widely-read patent law weblog, while he was at our firm. We continue to proudly support Patently O as the exclusive sponsor of the blog. So, you can see that we very much embrace social media.

Do you train lawyers on how to use social networking sites? E.g., proper conduct, how to make connections…. If so, what are one or two takeaway points from your training sessions?

Yes, I run training sessions for our attorneys, primarily on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Some of my favorite points:

  • Social media is a conversation. It’s give and take. You have to listen more than you talk.
  • Use LinkedIn and Twitter for competitive and client research. Hit up the standbys, but always check out those two sites to see what’s being said about the company/firm.
  • LinkedIn Groups are underutilized, in my opinion. Pick a few groups that cover your area of interest, and join them. Listen to the conversation and participate if appropriate. Some groups will end up being service providers promoting themselves, but others have valuable discussions with industry stakeholders.
  • Use social media to humanize yourself. It’s OK to post pictures of your children, talk about your volunteer work, and share your interest in competitive extreme ironing. While there’s always a line – and you must remain sensitive to that – have fun and enjoy the experience. That’s the only way you’ll come back.

You have your law degree and your MBA. Do you think one degree or the other helps you in your position? Or is it the combination?

Both degrees are helpful, I believe. I started on my MBA in late 2008 and finally got it earlier this year. I did have a BBA, so I already had a lot of the business education that’s attendant to an MBA. I found the connections and the communication skills I learned through the MBA program were more invaluable than the actual classes themselves. As for the JD, I don’t think I would have gotten this job without it, frankly. I was 25 when I was hired here, and I don’t think anyone would have taken that risk on me without knowing that I had the level of sophistication that a JD brings. It puts me on more equal footing with the partners, and allows me to speak to them on their terms.

For lawyers who want to transition to a marketing role within their firm or law students who want to find a law firm marketing position, what type of advice do you have for them? What should they be prepared to do that they may not like? What skills will they have to learn or re-learn that were not part of the law school curriculum?

Learn everything you can about marketing and business development. If you’ve already got a degree in marketing, you’re ahead of the game, but I don’t know that it’s mandatory. Start thinking from the mindset of the client. Who are you marketing to? Why would they want to work with your firm over another? How can you communicate that to them?

I really like every part of my job. Dealing with politics – and they exist everywhere – is probably my least favorite part, but it’s always educational and I come out of the situation knowing so much more about the personalities I deal with every day. I think one of the things I love best about my firm is that we’re mid-sized. That means I know every attorney, and I know most of them very well. I know their quirks (who needs extra reminders, who can I count on to talk to the media, who doesn’t get in until 10:00, and so on).

Marketing and business development are not part of the law school curriculum at most law schools. So, all of those skills will need to be discovered and learned. Luckily, the legal marketing community is very helpful. The Legal Marketing Association, of which I am an active member, has chapters in many metropolitan areas, and meets on a regular basis. The LMA Listserv is an invaluable resource for those new to the field, and members of LMA are friendly, helpful, and accessible.

What tools do you use on a daily basis? E.g., type of cell phone, computer, phone apps, SaaS

I wish I could say I use some cool exotic tools, but I really don’t. I have a Dell Latitude E6410, running Windows XP, with Office 2010. I use Adobe Creative Suite for most of my ad designs. My mobile phone is an iPhone 3GS that will soon be upgraded to either the iPhone 4 or the Droid X (still considering my options).

How has legal marketing changed since you started in 2002? How do you think it will change in the next five (5) or ten (10) years?

I’ve seen legal marketing evolve towards a focus on client relationships. I’m very much excited to see how the field will shape up in the future – I see marketing becoming even more essential to firms as attorneys realize the importance of client relationships and client development. I look forward to a time when legal marketing isn’t initially equated to phone book covers and low-production-value television ads!

Megan, thank you very much for telling our readers about what you do for a living.

Thank you for the opportunity.


Megan M. McKeon is Marketing Director at McDonnell Boehnen Hulbert & Berghoff, an intellectual property boutique with offices in Chicago and Washington State. You can connect with Megan on Twitter or LinkedIn.

JD Profiles: Gyi Tsakalakis, Executive Director, AttorneySync

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?

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.

RecruiterEsq: So, I see you went to the University of Michigan. I also went there. Go Blue! How did you decide to go to law school?

Gyi Tsakalakis: Well, I had studied Computer Science at U of M for 3 years when I decided that I didn’t want to be a computer programmer. I decided to study something “more practical” so I majored in Philosophy. To my surprise, there wasn’t a high demand for philosophers. I have always been interested in politics and history, so law school seemed like a natural fit.

After law school, you worked for Turner & Turner, P.C. How did you get that job? Did you work there during the summer?

I owe a great deal of gratitude, and my first legal job, to Michigan attorney Matt Turner. He was my football coach in High School and a mentor to me. I worked there as a clerk through law school, and upgraded to attorney upon graduation from law school.

What type of cases did you handle?

I worked on several civil matters but primarily handled injury and malpractice cases.

You started AttorneySync shortly after you left the practice. Was this an idea that had been brewing for some time?

I had always felt a compulsion to “go out on my own”. Whether it was going to be with my own law firm or business, I always felt a strong entrepreneurial urge. I was approached by a close friend from college, Jeff Berman, about starting “something”. We actually brainstormed several ideas, including operating a franchise before we settled on our initial concept of AttorneySync.

How did you finally decide to start the business and what steps did you have to take?

Basically, my desire to start my own business began to consume me to the point of obsession. We spent a lot of time (about a year) planning the business. From positioning, to core values, to organization, to back end systems, we laid out a complete blueprint about how our business would look and operate. We formed our LLC and were off and running.

What exactly are the services you offer to law firms? For example, do you teach them only about their websites or do you teach them about Twitter or LinkedIn?

We provide law firms a comprehensive approach to web strategy customized to their goals. From building a website to social media (including Twitter and LinkedIn) to advanced search marketing techniques, we manage a law firm’s entire web presence. We also provide consulting services for those legal professionals that want to learn how to perform web strategies for themselves.

What are some of the objections you hear from law firms about why they don’t want to invest in your services and what are your responses to those rejections?

I think there is a genuine skepticism of search engine optimization, social media, and more generally, “web consulting services”. Unfortunately, much of the industry’s reputation is deserved. We focus our efforts on educating legal professionals about what we do and how these strategies work to increase business. Our mantras are transparency and accountability. By showing legal professionals what we do, measuring tangible results, and allowing them to decide whether they are getting a return on investment, we establish a professional relationship built on trust.

As an expert in the industry of law firm online presence, what are some firm websites that impress you?

Generally speaking, I am most impressed with law firm websites that position the attorneys at the firm as experts in their field and speak to their audience in terms of solving the problems that their users are facing. Too many law firm websites are “attorney-centric”. They list their professional achievements and credentials without communicating to their readers how they can help them.

When a firm wants to work on its web presence, which decision-makers should be involved with the process?

I believe that each legal professional should have the opportunity to make an informed decision about how they are portrayed online. After all, an attorney’s professional reputation is their most valuable asset. In addition to the attorneys themselves, marketing agents and technical development staff should be included.

How did you learn about SEO and the web, in general? Or, the challenges of law firm marketing?

My computer background at U of M was very helpful in getting started. The hands-on experiences of working at a law firm were also very instructive. On the other hand, there is a lot of information available on the web. Unfortunately, a lot of it is just wrong. The key is to finding reliable sources of information. Here is a great list of 100 SEO/SEM Blogs. My personal favorites are SEOmoz.com and searchengineland.com.

I download guides from your site all of the time. How does the freemium model work in your business?

We have found the freemium model to be one of the most effective ways to build new professional relationships. Offering free educational materials is a win-win. The publisher of freemium content is able to demonstrate their knowledge and build trust with their readers. Readers of freemium content get access to free educational resources. Like other marketing strategies, using this model effectively comes down to implementation and the quality of the information you give away. Finding the right balance of how much to give away for free is the key.

What can the legal industry learn from this type of business model/alternative pricing model?

Law firms that provide free educational resources are having great success with this model. From blogging to offering free downloadable legal guides, the legal industry can greatly benefit from this type of offering. Again, the key is for legal professionals to figure out what to give away for free. Historically, the legal industry has “held its knowledge close to the vest”. In the era of the web, taking such an approach is much less effective.

For attorneys who want to become entrepreneurs, can you tell us a few lessons you learned from your mistakes?

Being an entrepreneur is a complete lifestyle change. It is not a job, it’s a way of life. Be prepared to pour everything you have into it. Once you have decided that it’s right for you, you will have to take a leap of faith. Unless you get really lucky, you will likely have to make uncomfortable sacrifices. Set measurable goals. Don’t make decisions out of fear. Read business books such as these.

Thank you so much for your input!

My pleasure, thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts.


Gyi Tsakalakis serves as Executive Director at AttorneySync, an organization dedicated to helping law firms with their web strategies. Gyi can be reached on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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

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?

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.

Around three years ago, Matt changed directions and started his own business, Matthew D. Emmer Communications.  Today, he uses the writing and editing skills he honed as a lawyer to assist clients with their writing and editing needs.  He handles everything from online articles to blogs to graphic novels, and even video game design and development.  As LA County Political Buzz columnist for Examiner.com, he covers issues of interest to California, including the 2010 elections, global warming, hybrid and electric vehicles, marijuana legalization, and same-sex marriage.

RecruiterEsq: Thanks for speaking with us Matt! So, why did you decide to go to law school?

Matthew Emmer:  I had worked at a law firm one summer during college and enjoyed it, and then I worked at CNN the following summer. I had a real passion for communications, and CNN offered me a permanent job, but at the time, they were starting everyone as low-paid video jocks. My interest was not on the production side of things. So I thought that combining my communications and law interests would be a good solution.

Did you know you wanted to practice media/communications law when you went to law school or how did that come about?

I knew that’s what I wanted from the get-go. One reason why I went to Boston University for law school was that B.U. also had an excellent College of Communication, and a longer joint J.D./M.S. Communications degree program that involved both schools. I applied and was accepted into the program, but when I asked attorneys about it, all of them said that it would be better to graduate law school on time with just a J.D. and get out into the real world. So I did that, although I took as many electives in the College of Communication as I could, got law school credit for them, and really liked those classes.

Media or communications law is one of those ‘sexy’ practice areas. As in, it sounds cool to say, “I’m a communications lawyer.” I assume you get to work with hot issues that are more interesting than municipal tax, for example. For this reason, I’d think it would be tough to find a job in law school in this practice area. How did you get your position as a law clerk at the FCC?

It was tough. At the time, there were only about 1,500 members of the Federal Communications Bar Association, who practiced in this field. Now there are probably ten times that amount. I applied for the FCC job, and I’m sure the previous CNN job and B.U. Law School/College of Communication classes stood out somewhat as both academic and real-world experience.

Is that what led to your first associate job? Was it through connections or did you apply with a formal cover letter?

I applied with a formal cover letter, with various firms, companies, and organizations that were involved in communications, mostly television. And then, after taking the bar exam, I went off on a bicycling trip down the coast of California. When I returned, I had some messages asking me to schedule interviews. So when people ask me how I got my job, I say that I went on a bike trip. I’m not sure if that helps them too much.

Funny! Well, I’m sure the exercise took your mind off the pressures of job-searching. So, at this time, you’re a recent law school graduate beginning your legal career as a media/communications lawyer. For people who are interested in this field, what did you do on a daily basis?

It was a mix of several things. Part of it was lobbying and policy work, especially before the FCC, as well as the U.S. Copyright Office. Part of it was transactional work, such as sales and mergers. And part of it was regulatory compliance. The most enjoyable part for me was persuasive writing, which I got to do every day, whether that was in a 3-page letter or a 200-page policy paper.

Without breaching any confidentiality and speaking in general terms, who were your clients and what were the issues they faced?

They were mostly large and mid-sized media companies, many with very recognizable names. They faced large policy issues, for example, the creation and then implementation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which affected everything from cable television content to the then-burgeoning Internet. They also faced many business disputes, such as some of the high-profile cases you read about now involving television content providers turning off their signals to cable operators, usually right before major sports events like the baseball playoffs, because the two sides can’t agree on price. And the clients faced many day-to-day compliance issues, such as how high their antenna tower can be so that airplanes don’t crash into it.

After 18 years of practicing, how did you decide to transition to a full-time writing career?

As I indicated earlier, persuasive writing was my favorite part of my attorney job. I had also acquired rigorous editing skills along the way, which you usually can’t help acquiring if you’re a lawyer. Moreover, I had been doing the same thing in the same city for a long time, at a time when multiple career changes for adults were becoming much more commonplace. And finally, you may recall that the 2008 recession didn’t happen all at once. In many industries, there had been a slow decline for a number of years, which affected many people in the legal and communications fields, as well as many others. Just take a look at the stock market during the years leading up to the recession. So everything kind of came to together in a perfect storm. I ended up not only changing careers, not only working for myself, but also moving across the country from the Washington, DC area to the Southern California beach, which is something I had dreamed about doing since that bike trip.

That’s an awesome story arc. No wonder you’re a writer. As a writer and editor, what is a typical weekly schedule for you?

It varies each week depending on the workload, deadlines, and even late-breaking developments. I try to set my own hours where possible and work when I’m most creative, which includes late night hours. I’m sure I work 6 days a week on average, including covering and attending certain events. But everyone I know works hard, which is why I think it’s important to work on things that you feel passionate about, whether it’s the law, teaching, or something else. Last week, for example, I covered the L.A. Auto Show on Press Day, focusing on the new hybrid and electric cars, and edited a video game development document tied to a sci-fi, futuristic graphic novel. It was a lot of work, but lots of fun too.

Writing is a competitive field. It’s definitely not easy. Do you think your legal background is an asset when working with clients?

When working with clients, my legal background is a most valuable asset. In particular, negotiation becomes second nature for many attorneys, and it did for me. Likewise, I think law school and legal work gives many attorneys skills in clear thinking, analysis, and level-headed judgment. Those skills are invaluable not just in working with clients, where it’s important to stand your ground and be assertive, yet not turn every disagreement into a fight, but in everyday situations as well. Buying a car. Handling a dispute with your phone or credit card company. I’m extremely grateful for my legal background.

How does your experience as a lawyer help you in your writing career?

Aside from the negotiation skills, my legal experience gave me the writing and editing tools to take on my new career. I’m not trained as a journalist, but I thought, if I could communicate to prospective clients just how rigorous and technical legal research, writing, and editing is, then perhaps I could convince them that I was the right person to assist them. And thus far, it has worked pretty well. Despite all the lawyer jokes, there is a level of prestige associated with the legal profession, and I think it’s tied to our abilities to read, analyze, explain, write, and edit a wide variety of materials, including “terms of use” agreements that many people now encounter on the Internet.

For example, in my side project as the L.A. County Political Buzz reporter at Examiner.com, many of the issues I write about are generated from developments in the law, such as California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, or court cases, such as the ongoing “Proposition 8″ case regarding the legality of gay marriage in California. I was recently interviewed on a podcast regarding the Prop 8 case. I don’t see how a non-attorney, even one who regularly covers politics, could possibly read, digest, and quickly and clearly explain new developments regarding legislation or court cases the way someone with a legal background can.

Here you are, you practiced law for almost 20 years, then you decided to start your own business. What skills did you have to learn from scratch?

As with many people running their own business, I am not just providing the underlying service, but I am also my own head of marketing and my own IT guy. I certainly wouldn’t work without having a second, backup computer, in case something goes wrong technically when I’m on a deadline, which has happened.

What did your legal background NOT prepare you for?

Did I mention marketing? That’s something that lawyers in private practice have to do, it’s something that many people in many fields nowadays have to do, but not everyone receives training in this area. I do think that many workers in numerous fields, including attorneys, need to think of themselves as entrepreneurs who, beneath it all, are selling themselves as a product or brand. With our modern economy resulting in frequent corporate changes, long-term careers at one organization are mostly a thing of the past, and, for most people, those marketing skills will be called upon sooner or later, probably sooner.

Do you think law firm marketing materials – web copy, brochures, lawyer profiles – should be an in-house or outside job?

Of course, I think it should be an outside job. Then again, I may be biased, since law firms can hire me to do it.

As a writer and communication strategist, what would be your advice to law firms regarding their online presence and content?

If you’re not in the 21st Century, it’s time to get there. I’m sure things are improving, but I fear that some lawyers and law firms still like to do things the old-fashioned way, and by “old-fashioned,” I mean 18th Century, with powdered wigs. I read and/or write enough online articles and blogs each day to know that most consumers, including clients for legal services, are quite used to modern, even edgy, forms of communication and marketing. Thus, while I’m sure there are exceptions, it could be quite off-putting for consumers to spend time on the Internet each day, and then see law firm marketing materials that look like something from a Charles Dickens novel.

Thank you again for speaking to us!

Thank you, that was very enjoyable!


You can reach Matt by e-mail, read his column, or connect with him on LinkedIn.

Lessons from #LawJobChat: @doncruse @dtoddsmith @KiangaEllis + @reneefishman on Leaving BigLaw

On June 24, 2010, we hosted our inaugural #LawJobChat.  Our hosts were all formerly BigLaw attorneys who successfully transitioned to a new career or practice environment.  Thanks to all who made this inaugural chat a success!  I’ve pasted the full transcript below.

About our Hosts

1.  Don Cruse (@doncruse) is a Texas appellate lawyer.  He publishes @scotxblog and he created of @docketdb and @blindcarbon;

2.  Todd Smith (@dtoddsmith) left BigLaw to start a solo practice that focuses on civil appeals and litigation support.  He also blogs at Texas Appellate Law Blog;

3.  Kianga Ellis (@KiangaEllis) became an Art Evangelist after she left BigLaw; and

4.  Renee Fishman (@reneefishman) who decided to become a NYC real estate broker after leaving BigLaw.

5 Takeaway Tweets

  • kiangaellis: It’s a great time to be less conventional. I strongly encourage it. Major shifts in biz + industry. Carve ur space.

  • dtoddsmith: Talk to people you trust, those who have taken paths similar to what you’re interested in.

  • reneefishman: always easy to leave BigLaw: lots of attrition. Real issue is how easy/hard is it to enter what u want to do.

  • dtoddsmith: Had saved some $. Main thing was to have pieces in place to start working on day 1 of new firm. Planned & planned some more.

  • doncruse: Don’t assume friends/classmates know about your venture. In retrospect, I could’ve announced mine much better.

I’d also recommend Amanda’s post that highlights the important points as well.

Full Transcript


1:00 am
aellislegal: Welcome to our 1st chat! We have 4 fmr BigLaw attys to chat about why, when and how they left & what they are doing now #lawjobchat
1:03 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat 2 years and 5 mos at Cravath, Swaine + More. Now an art evangelist using social media and other forums to connect ppl w art.
1:04 am aellislegal: Once we begin questions, anyone can comment, ask follow-up questions, etc. #lawjobchat
1:04 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat Whoops, will watch the typos. That’s Cravath, Swaine + Moore LLP… 1998-2001
1:05 am aellislegal: @kristahiner Awesome! Welcome!! #lawjobchat
1:05 am doncruse: #lawjobchat Three years at Wachtell Lipton. Then four years at Texas AG’s version of OSG. Now a solo appellate lawyer in Austin. #lawjobchat
1:05 am dtoddsmith: About 9 years total at Fulbright & Jaworski in Dallas and Austin offices. Now have my own civil appellate boutique. #lawjobchat #lawjobchat
1:06 am aellislegal: Hi @doncruse @kiangaellis @dtoddsmith – thanks for your intros! #lawjobchat
1:07 am aellislegal: Not sure if @reneefishman is here yet – I’ll start the questions and let her introduce herself when she arrives #lawjobchat
1:08 am kiangaellis: @doncruse I spent the summer before law school as a paralegal at Wachtell. Mostly manual labor lifting tobacco litigation boxes #lawjobchat
1:09 am aellislegal: Q1: at what point in career did you realize you wanted to leave BigLaw to do something else? what factors motivated you? #lawjobchat
1:10 am reneefishman: @aellislegal thx. Columbia Law grad. 5+ yrs @ Weil Gotshal, then in-house @ startup. Now NYC Real Estate broker: VP @halstead #lawjobchat
1:11 am doncruse: @kiangaellis Small world! #lawjobchat
1:11 am aellislegal: Hi @reneefishman! Q1 (to all): at what pt in career did you realize you wanted to leave BigLaw, what factors motivated you? #lawjobchat
1:14 am reneefishman: #lawjobchat I studied communication & #marketing @UPenn. Wanted to use both sides of my brain: intellect + creativity
1:14 am aellislegal: RT @reneefishman I always knew BigLaw wasn’t my end game; I wanted to move to business side & also be able to use my creativity. #lawjobchat
1:14 am adamcollyer: @aellislegal The #lawjobchat is a great idea. I’m grateful to be employed in Sept, but am passing along advice to friends in need. Thank you
1:14 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat Had a feeling 2nd summer in law school that it might not be what I’d been expecting since 13yrs old…
1:15 am dtoddsmith: @aellislegal Q1: Always wanted to have my own firm. Wasn’t handling kinds of cases I wanted & desired more client contact. #lawjobchat
1:16 am doncruse: #lawjobchat #Q1 It felt pretty natural. TxOSG offered a chance to be lead counsel on big appeals, which some firm partners didn’t get.
1:17 am doncruse: #lawjobchat #Q1 (cont’d) The cases at the firm were amazing, as were the people. But the opportunity for growth as an advocate was bounded.
1:18 am reneefishman: warning to my followers: I’ll be co-hosting #lawjobchat for next hour to answer questions about careers after BigLaw.
1:18 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat I should mention, after Big Law went in house at Goldman and Lehman dealing w derivatives + commodities (in between start ups).
1:19 am aellislegal: @kiangaellis @reneefishman Q2: did u know what u wanted to do when u left BL? @doncruse@dtoddsmith kind of answered this in Q1 #lawjobchat
1:20 am kristahiner: @kiangaellis That is how I’ve been feeling. (The expectation). Starting to look for a less conventional legal route. #lawjobchat
1:20 am reneefishman: @aellislegal Q1 cont’d: motivated to get into #realestate to help people & I <3 NYC. Plus I knew my legal skill would add value. #lawjobchat
1:20 am mjsq: @kiangaellis I’m sure many lawyers are in the same spot now. #lawjobchat
1:21 am dtoddsmith: @doncruse I’ve always admired TxOSG. Envy the experience young lawyers are able to get there. Extremely valuable, no doubt. #lawjobchat
1:22 am reneefishman: @KiangaEllis #lawjobchat small world! I did event planning on the side while @ WGM. Search for me + #Bizbash article from ~2003 ish
1:23 am reneefishman: @KiangaEllis #lawjobchat small world again. I was in-house @ Creditex (now part of ICE) – interdealer broker in derivatives
1:24 am j_lavalley: Everyone who’s left BigLaw knows it’s 1/2 meat-grinder, 1/2 boiler room & 1/2 laughing academy. How EZ/hard was it 4 ppl 2 exit? #LawJobChat
1:24 am reneefishman: @aellislegal #lawjobchat Q2: 1st went in-house after BigLaw – goal was to get to biz side but startup grew fast & too much legal work
1:26 am reneefishman: #lawjobchat Q2 cont: I always had entrepreneurial streak & knew I wanted to run my own biz. As RE Broker I’m an independent contractor
1:26 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat Q2 cont. 1st tried 2 get a job in fashion. No go. I liked organizing events in college + law school so that’s what I started w/.
1:27 am kristahiner: @reneefishman how has your JD helped with RE?–Skills? Reputation? I’m considering a non-firm route and wonder how the JD helps. #lawjobchat
1:27 am aellislegal: Good question via @j_lavalley How EZ/hard was it 4 ppl 2 exit? #LawJobChat
1:28 am kiangaellis: @kristahiner #lawjobchat It’s a great time to be less conventional. I strongly encourage it. Major shifts in biz + industry. Carve ur space.
1:29 am doncruse: #lawjobchat #Q3 Wanting to leave a place is very different than wanting to be somewhere else. [fortune cookie version] Wait for the latter.
1:30 am aellislegal: Another great question RT @kristahiner @reneefishman how has your JD helped with RE?–Skills? Reputation? #lawjobchat
1:30 am reneefishman: @j_lavalley always easy to leave BigLaw: lots of attrition. Real issue is how easy/hard is it to enter what u want to do. #lawjobchat
1:30 am dtoddsmith: Q3: Talk to people you trust, those who have taken paths similar to what you’re interested in. #lawjobchat
1:31 am reneefishman: @aellislegal Q3: best #advice is don’t leave BigLaw til u figure out what u want to do next #lawjobchat. At least u need a game plan
1:32 am kiangaellis: @reneefishman #lawjobchat I was *so* into Bizbash!!! Also got very active in a prof assn can’t remember the name of and James Beard House.
1:32 am j_lavalley: @reneefishman Yes, precisely! I should’ve asked how EZ/hard it was 2 *transition* (i.e., effectively/successfully) to a new gig. #LawJobChat
1:33 am reneefishman: @kristahiner JD & legal experience can help w/everything. 4 me in RE I play “translator” b/w clients & RE attys #lawjobchat
1:34 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat Q3 Tough! Current Big Law, I guess don’t get stuck looking 4 the perfect thing or feel you need to figure out the end game.
1:35 am aellislegal: Q4: did you begin saving $ before leaving BigLaw? how long? any other planning u did before leaving (e.g. special training)? #lawjobchat
1:35 am reneefishman: @kristahiner also I understand nuances of contracts & complex issues that clients & other brokers don’t get #lawjobchat
1:35 am j_lavalley: @kiangaellis LOL ~ I know that feeling all 2 well! Left Boies Schiller?w/no real prospects?but knew I had 2 do “something else.” #LawJobChat
1:36 am mjsq: re:Q2 I see lots of event planning/bus development positions in BigLaw. Was it an option to shift positions w/in firm? feasible? #lawjobchat
1:37 am reneefishman: @kristahiner JD & BigLaw legal experience helps differentiate me & shows I’m intelligent in a field w/low barrier to entry #lawjobchat
1:37 am aellislegal: RT @mjsq re:Q2 I see lots of event planning/bus development positions in BigLaw. Option to shift positions w/in firm? feasible? #lawjobchat
1:38 am reneefishman: @mjsq I know many people who stayed w/in BigLaw 2 do event planning/biz dev/recruiting/associate relations. not what I wanted #lawjobchat
1:38 am kiangaellis: @mjsq #lawjobchat Taking a non legal role in a firm sounds like a gr8 strategy 2 me. Gets u experience and results to bolster another move.
1:38 am mjsq: @doncruse, nicely put. #lawjobchat
1:39 am kristahiner: @reneefishman Fantastic way to distinguish yourself. #lawjobchat
1:40 am reneefishman: @aellislegal Q4 #lawjobchat saving $ is good idea. esp if u plan to start own biz. will tackle training next
1:40 am kiangaellis: @j_lavalley #lawjobchat Yeah, I took the leap right after major market crash. #brilliant. But law always helped me get back in2 a good job.
1:41 am reneefishman: #lawjobchat Q4 so crucial to get good experience so resume doesn’t read so “legal”; best way to do this is experience thru volunteer work
1:41 am dtoddsmith: Q4: Had saved some $. Main thing was to have pieces in place to start working on day 1 of new firm. Planned & planned some more. #lawjobchat
1:42 am jerry_levine: Well, I’m finally back home. Attended some job search strategy thing at NJ Law Center. Now time to pay attention to #lawjobchat for a bit.
1:42 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat Q4 Aahh, saving $. I didn’t plan well or handle money very well for a long time. Learned/learning lots of lesson there…
1:42 am aellislegal: @dtoddsmith Q4: how many months prior to departure did u start planning? #lawjobchat
1:43 am reneefishman: #lawjobchat Q4 if u r involved in charities, committees, etc u can get biz dev, event plan & other non-legal expereince. Tout this on resume
1:43 am mjsq: @dtoddsmith and how long did it take for you to begin day 1 of new firm after departure? #lawjobchat
1:43 am aellislegal: @reneefishman Q4: how far in advance to start saving? from day 1 since reality is most ppl don’t stay in BigLaw? #lawjobchat
1:43 am doncruse: #lawjobchat #Q4 How much to save depends (obv.) on what you want to do. But if you’re reading this chat, you probably should be saving now.
1:44 am reneefishman: RT @KiangaEllis #lawjobchat Q4 I didn’t plan well or handle money very well for a long time. Learned/learning lots of lesson there | Ditto
1:44 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat Q4 The truth? My planning was take a HLOC, shop like a nut in LON + Paris. Quit my job. Take out a Small Biz loan. #terriblemove
1:44 am j_lavalley: @kiangaellis @reneefishman In my experience, no matter how much $ U have saved it NEVER goes as far as U think/hope. #savemore! #LawJobChat
1:45 am reneefishman: @aellislegal hard 4 me 2 answer. I wasn’t great at it. NYC cost of living is high. I purchased my apt just b4 leaving BigLaw. #lawjobchat
1:46 am aellislegal: Q5: what BigLaw opportunities should current BL associates take advantage of while there?Anything u took for granted while there #lawjobchat
1:47 am allhomemortgage: RT @kiangaellis: #lawjobchat Q4 The truth? My planning was take a HLOC, shop like a nut in LON + Paris. Quit my job. Take out a Small …
1:47 am dtoddsmith: @aellislegal @mjsq Q4: Planned several months. Kind of practice, biz dev strategy, insurance, systems. No gap between firms. #lawjobchat
1:47 am j_lavalley: IMO networking is necessary (if not sufficient) 2 making an effective transition. Local Bar Ass’n involvement can B a HUGE help! #LawJobChat
1:48 am kiangaellis: @mjsq @toddsmith #lawjobchat When I started thinking I shld get a job after 2 yrs w startup, quickly linked w GS. Derivatives helped a lot.
1:48 am reneefishman: @aellislegal #lawjobchat best BigLaw perk: Free #CLE. I still keep my license current & CLE is $
1:48 am aellislegal: YES! what I tell associates when they call me! via @doncruse: “if you’re reading this chat, you probably should be saving now” #lawjobchat
1:49 am dtoddsmith: Q5: Training. Also, learn as much as firm will teach about biz development. On your own, work doesn’t just show up on your desk. #lawjobchat
1:50 am reneefishman: RT @j_lavalley IMO networking is necessary 2 making an effective transition. | Agree. But u should be networking no matter what #lawjobchat
1:50 am j_lavalley: @aellislegal Use it or lose it! Whether firm-paid CLEs, FSIA accts, or support for pro bono &/or Bar Committee work … take it! #LawJobChat
1:50 am doncruse: @aellislegal #lawjobchat #Q5 I’d say to take advantage of the networking opportunities a big firm presents.
1:51 am reneefishman: RT @doncruse: “if you’re reading this chat, you probably should be saving now” #lawjobchat | Save even if you’re not contemplating a move
1:52 am lisasolomon: @aellislegal A gr8 source for free CLE is Virtual LegalTech. ABA will also have a virtual CLE conf. in the fall 4 solos #lawjobchat
1:52 am aellislegal: Q6: share a networking tip, resource, or organization that has helped u in your entrepreneurial endeavor #lawjobchat
1:53 am reneefishman: @aellislegal #lawjobchat Q5 I still see & speak w/many of my colleagues from Weil Gotshal & co where I was in-house. Many are my RE clients
1:53 am lisasolomon: @reneefishman @aellislegal My husb transitioned 2 new career (sound design/engineering), but keeps up his license. Vry valuable #lawjobchat
1:53 am kiangaellis: RT @j_lavalley: @aellislegal Use it or lose it! Whether firm-paid CLEs, FSIA accts, or support for pro bono &/or Bar Committee work … take it! #LawJobChat
1:54 am reneefishman: @aellislegal I am a big fan of @lawline for CLE. Great online classes. #lawjobchat
1:55 am aellislegal: RT @lisasolomon: gr8 source for free CLE is Virtual LegalTech. ABA will have virtual CLE conf. in the fall 4 solos #lawjobchat #lawjobchat
1:56 am reneefishman: @aellislegal #lawjobchat #Q6 #networking tip always 2 talk 2 people even if u don’t think ur interested. I talked to recruiters from day 1
1:56 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat Q6 Honestly, the best resource to help me as an entrepreneur has been the Bible! Wld lose my mind completely without it.
1:56 am Tartipants: RT @reneefishman RT @doncruse: “if you’re reading this chat, you probably should be saving now” #lawjobchat | Save eve… http://foook.com
1:56 am dtoddsmith: Q6: I think @doncruse would agree that blogging can be a difference-maker. Makes you visible. Good conversation-starter. #lawjobchat
1:56 am kiangaellis: RT @reneefishman: @aellislegal #lawjobchat #Q6 #networking tip always 2 talk 2 people even if u don’t think ur interested. I talked to recruiters from day 1
1:57 am aellislegal: Final Q (though welcome to keep chatting): would u ever return to BigLaw? Any other advice u haven’t shared but wanted to share? #lawjobchat
1:57 am reneefishman: RT @KiangaEllis #lawjobchat #Q5 The rigor, pressure and complexity of performing at Big Law is so valuable. | Agreed.
1:59 am reneefishman: @dtoddsmith @doncruse #lawjobchat I don’t blog b/c no time to do it consistently. But Twitter, LinkedIn & FB help me keep in touch w/pple
1:59 am doncruse: @aellislegal #lawjobchat #Q6 Don’t assume friends/classmates know about your venture. In retrospect, I could’ve announced mine much better.
1:59 am aellislegal: Agree – recruiters can be referral source, too RT @reneefishman #lawjobchat #Q6 always 2 talk 2 people, I talked to recruiters from day 1
2:00 am aellislegal: @mjsq @reneefishman and, recruiters often refer clients to attys! #lawjobchat
2:00 am reneefishman: @aellislegal #lawjobchat I <3 what I do now & am passionate about my biz. BigLaw not for me. But some people like BigLaw & security offered
2:01 am kristahiner: @doncruse That’s an excellent point. It is easy to forget how valuable classmates are when starting a new venture. #lawjobchat
2:01 am BetsyMunnell: True fact: @reneefishman JD/BigLaw experience helps differentiate me; shows I’m intelligent in field w/low barrier 2 entry #lawjobchat
2:02 am reneefishman: @aellislegal #lawjobchat biggest misconception is that life after BigLaw is easier. NOT SO. I work much harder & longer hours now.
2:02 am mjsq: @doncruse Def! Send an e-mail to your contacts, let ‘em know what yr up to, start a mailing list, ask ‘em to join #lawjobchat
2:03 am kiangaellis: #lawjobchat Final Q I wld not return 2 BigLaw + after 10 yrs of back + forth, no more practicing 4 me. It’s a personal journey 4 each one.
2:03 am kristahiner: @reneefishman Wow, I am glad you said that; I foolishly assumed that was the reason many people left. Great advice. #lawjobchat
2:03 am aellislegal: Next #lawjobchat 7/29 9pm EDT. Follow @LawJobChat for topic, let us know your suggestions, comments, etc – doing this for you! #lawjobchat
2:04 am kiangaellis: RT @doncruse: @aellislegal #lawjobchat #Q6 Don’t assume friends/classmates know about your venture. In retrospect, I could’ve announced mine much better.
2:04 am mjsq: We’re also going to set up a #LawJobChat wiki. We’ll link to bios of past guests & have a place for follow up discussion, topic requests.
2:04 am kiangaellis: RT @BetsyMunnell: True fact: @reneefishman JD/BigLaw experience helps differentiate me; shows I’m intelligent in field w/low barrier 2 entry #lawjobchat
2:04 am dtoddsmith: On going back, never say never. But I like what I’m doing now. Much more control and satisfying for me. #lawjobchat
2:05 am aellislegal: Gr8 pt!! RT @reneefishman #lawjobchat biggest misconception = life after BigLaw is easier. NOT SO. I work much harder & longer hours now.
2:05 am BetsyMunnell: I’d like to chime in on Q5 (former 25-yr Biglaw partner/now bizdev coach 4 lawyers/students)? @aellislegal It’s a key question #lawjobchat
2:05 am reneefishman: #lawjobchat When u finally determine what u want to do, have the courage to follow that path, even if it seems scary. You will be rewarded.
2:06 am aellislegal: RT @BetsyMunnell: I’d like to chime in on Q5 (former 25-yr Biglaw partner/now bizdev coach 4 lawyers/students)? @aellislegal It’s a key question #lawjobchat
2:06 am dtoddsmith: @reneefishman Couldn’t have said it better. #lawjobchat
2:07 am doncruse: @aellislegal #lawjobchat #Q6 I’d just echo what Todd said. There are real advantages to a bigger firm. But I like what I’m doing now.
2:07 am reneefishman: RT @doncruse #lawjobchat Don’t assume friends know about your venture. In retrospect, I could’ve announced mine much better. | Gr8 pt
2:08 am BetsyMunnell: @aellislegal Q5 Before you leave, learn about the real world-if the firm is teaching this…Can you read a financial statement? #lawjobchat
2:08 am j_lavalley: RT @reneefishman: When u finally determine what u want to do, have the courage 2 follow that path….You will B rewarded. #TRUTH #LawJobChat
2:09 am reneefishman: #lawjobchat Key is u have 2 determine what your skills r & what u like 2 do. Many lawyers do not want to be entrepreneurs. Too risky 4 them
2:09 am kiangaellis: @dtoddsmith and everyone behind #lawjobchat, this was really fun and I hope helped someone. Life is what you make it. No limits.
2:11 am aellislegal: HUGE THANKS to guest co-hosts @doncruse @dtoddsmith @kiangaellis @reneefishman – excellent info!! #lawjobchat
2:12 am mjsq: Yes, thank you to @kiangaellis @reneefishman @doncruse @dtoddsmith @aellislegal & participants – the 1st #LawJobChat rocked! #lawjobchat
2:12 am reneefishman: #lawjobchat #advice Most important is determine what u love 2 do. Understand what is involved – not just the glamour but also the grit.
2:14 am reneefishman: RT @aellislegal HUGE THANKS to guest co-hosts @doncruse @dtoddsmith @kiangaellis@reneefishman – excellent info!! #lawjobchat | Thx!
2:15 am reneefishman: @aellislegal & #lawjobchat participants THANKS for including me. Had a blast & hope I helped. Follow your passion & do what you love!
2:18 am kiangaellis: RT @reneefishman: #lawjobchat #advice Most important is determine what u love 2 do. Understand what is involved – not just the glamour but also the grit.