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April 22, 2007

Ode to Solo Practice

A Solo Experiment: Beginning a law practice.

Sasha E. Mackin graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School, and started Sasha Mackin Law in the summer of 2006, at http://www.sashamackinlaw.com/

IT'S IMPOSSIBLE One of the first things you hear in law school with regard to starting your own practice is something along the lines of, "they're impossibly unpredictable,�? "it's too hard to start on your own,�? and "they're notorious for failing.�? At a lazy backyard party the summer of my 2L year, I heard low voices talk about a couple of friends who had bravely started their own firm but within a year they had split apart, and presumably split the losses as well. Suffice it to say, I thought my path, though precisely unclear that second summer, involved an offer somewhere perhaps working with a government entity, public interest organization, or at least something that was at its core, a law firm. I would have a supervisor and co-workers and a commute.

That never happened.

After graduation in 2005 I spent the summer like many of my friends; taking overly expensive Bar/Bri classes, procrastinating, and then studying constantly in a fear and caffeine-fueled final few weeks before the dreaded Bar exam. A saturated legal market in Minnesota meant that the 1990s expectation of an offer of stability and obscenely large starting salary your second summer was unrealistic for most. I was once sitting in my library carrel reading an article in a law journal, and although I can't recall the substance of the argument, I remember marveling at the descriptions of Texas law students receiving sometimes tens of thousands of dollars in incentive bonuses to join firms, and often even new cars. That wasn't going to be my fate; in part because I wished to stay in Minnesota and even extraordinarily successful firms here no longer hand out $140,000-plus starting salaries to new lawyers, and in part because I wasn't attracted to working for a large firm in the first place. My impetus for entering law school was an intricate mix of an interest in helping the disadvantaged, my experience working as a homicide investigator for the Washington D.C. Public Defender Service, and a childhood realization that I couldn't become a veterinarian because I did not excel at math.

Like many of my colleagues who did not find positions prior to walking across the stage at graduation, post-Bar I applied to different opportunities from judicial clerking to small firms to Westlaw. In the midst of the tedium and frustration of applications, cover letters, and interviews, I was contacted by an immigration attorney to work on a project that would eventually lead to starting my own practice.

The catalyst for my law practice can be found in a series of fortunate events during law school. The first was taking immigration law class, rather by chance via our school's registration lottery system. Then the summer of my 2L year I found myself clerking for the Immigration Court in Bloomington, MN. As a 3L I participated in a year-long Immigration Clinic. My second semester I volunteered to write an appellate brief for a Clinic asylum client that had to be filed in three weeks. No one else wanted to work under that time crunch, but I figured in true student spirit that the payoff to taking the challenge was that I could get my clinic commitment out of the way and lighten my schedule my final semester. After all, hadn't I already managed to cram all of my classes into Tuesday-Thursday? Finishing an obligation early was a natural progression. What I hadn't expected was that I would win the appeal.

Winning, then losing Ultimately, the immigration judge presiding over the case, for whom I had clerked, sent the case back to the Board of Immigration Appeals to discuss an adverse Eighth Circuit ruling, and the BIA denied the appeal. But despite that eventual final denial, I had the earned the momentary distinction of winning my case before the Board.

Then 22-year veteran Immigration attorney Richard Breitman contacted me in August after discovering I had succeeded in that initial appeal to the BIA, and wanted to know if I would contract to write a brief to the Board for one of his immigration client's appeals. I accepted the project, eager to have some income as I was searching for a full-time position. That initial project turned into another brief--and another, and the feedback was extremely positive. It led to researching and writing immigration appellate briefs for other attorneys--attorneys who found me through referral by the initial attorney. What was not happening during that period, in spite of multiple interviews and applications, was the extension of an offer for an associate position or judicial clerkship.

It dawned on me, finally, that I had a very interesting practice under my fingers in everything but name. Even though I never once entertained the thought of having my own practice fresh out of law school, (frankly, the idea terrified me) here I had stumbled upon my own niche practice within the field of immigration law. Once I decided to make a go of it, my second revelation was that I had no clue how to start and run a practice.

Most law schools do not teach, which is unfortunate since the practice of law is itself a business. The University of Minnesota Law school offered "accounting for lawyers,�? which I did not take, and corporate law and advanced corporate law, both of which I did. Still, I had only a cursory idea of how to start a practice.

I knew my business model was ideal; I researched and wrote appellate briefs for immigration attorney-clients. I needed my laptop and my brain, and little else. I don't rent office space or equipment, and I don't have employees. I structured my practice so that I work directly with immigration attorneys, who maintain supervisory control and responsibility for the final product, and I don't undertake to represent immigration clients themselves; a fact that lessens my exposure to liability. The most important thing I did was find wonderful attorneys--Richard Breitman and Kim Hunter are two--to mentor me and give me advice and encouragement in running a solo practice. The biggest disadvantage to running your own practice, in my estimation, is the possibility that your professional growth will be retarded. After all, networking and decision-making remain entirely up to you, and unless you seek out mentors and opportunities to learn from experienced colleagues, you won't have parity with counterparts who have those occasions built-in to their firm setting. On the other hand, your associate colleagues likely won't enjoy the pleasure and experience associated with the responsibility of making every decision in the operation of a law practice.

My experience in forming a solo law practice was that I was already doing the work of a solo practitioner, but I was not holding myself out as one.
My decision to "make a go of it�? was a decision to own my work and declare myself a firm. I had to decide what business entity to form, for what taxes I would be liable based on my business structure, and how to purchase insurance. These decisions were unique to my particular circumstances and comfort level, and ones I talked over with many friends and colleagues.

The most fun I have had is in choosing a name for my practice, creating my own website, and hiring a designer for my logo and business cards--the artistic accoutrements of legal practice. I don't enjoy periodic incidents of instability when a project doesn't come through, figuring out my tax liability, or paying for my own health insurance. Supporting and loving friends and family are probably as essential as professional mentors.

Like I did, perhaps you have no interest in starting your own practice--especially straight out of law school. I believe my success was in large part due to the niche market in which I found myself. Attorneys have told me that my practice is the "wave of the future�? for immigration practice. Whether or not that is true, compartmentalizing my practice has meant limiting my knowledge to a manageable level for a new attorney, and increases the speed at which I can become an expert in my field. Significant to this type of law, I must not only have excellent research and writing skills, but a love of appellate work. The daily toil of my practice is largely confined to the record and a computer screen, and may be a poor fit for an attorney interested in litigation or client contact. Others in my position have expanded their practices to be full-service immigration law firms.

The truth is it takes law firms years to become established and settled, which in turn requires confidence and patience
. Even a failed practice is an exercise in reward--one acquires skills in administration, leadership, creativity, self-motivation, and organization. If you already know that you have the desire to start a solo practice, you should indulge the luxury of preparatory research before taking the plunge, from what your business plan is to whether you want to invest in management software. Yet, finding yourself in your own law practice works too.

April 20, 2007

Summer Roadmap from the CPDC for the Class of 2009

As you head off for the summer…

1. WATCH YOUR EMAIL The CPDC will use email, Symplicity home pages and our website to deliver logistical information about early interview programs, job fairs, on-and off-campus interviews, public and private 2L job search considerations, and other career-related activities. There will be interview prep programs and other events during the summer.

2. KEEP YOUR CONTACT INFO CURRENT Update your contact info in Symplicity. If we need to find you, we will use that as our main source.

3. INTERVIEW PREP ALERT If the 20-minute screening interview has never worked for you in the past, NOW (yes, right now, or at least shortly after finals) is the time for you to meet with CPDC staff to work on your interview skills. We can do video interviews, mock interviews with us and with alumni. Reporting this problem to us in October 2007 will mean that you will have wasted seven months of scheduled interviews and networking opportunities.

4. 2L JOB SEARCH TOOLKIT:
a. Resume Update your resume and cover letter(s) after you have grades, and after journal and moot court selections are made.
b. Writing Sample Select one or more writing samples and revise or redact them as necessary. If you are using a writing sample from work, you must get specific permission to use the document.
c. References Make a list of references and update your recommenders about your new goals.
d. Transcript Obtain a current transcript and create a web-worthy version.
e. Conflicts Checklist Track the work that you do during the summer for future conflicts checks. Keep a record of the name of the client, the name of the case if one has been filed, the attorney(s) for whom you worked, and the subject(s) that you researched. Do this for both public and private employment and include volunteer work.

5. LOOK OUTSIDE OF OCI
a. Job Fairs Sign up for job fairs of interest to you. The Patent Job Fair deadline has passed but you can get the list of employers. There are minority job fairs whose deadlines are in late April and early May. Make sure that you have registered for them.
b. Employers not participating in OCI or Job Fairs The majority of employers on the planet do not participate in on or off campus interview programs. If your interests are outside of large law firms or large federal and state agencies, you will need to search outside of the OCI structure. Many national public agencies, public interest organizations and national non-profits participate in the Equal Justice Works Conference in October. Contact the CPDC to determine when and where the employers of your choice will be interviewing. Some will congregate (Equal Justice Works) and some will need you to seek them out which increases your odds because they may not be flooded with applicants.
c. Resume Collect Many employers who will not conduct on campus interviews are posting their 2L positions under the Fall OCI/Res Collect session in Symplicity. The deadlines are late August or September.
d. Work alumni and other contacts There is never a bad time to connect with alumni and other professionals who are doing the work that you want to do or who are working in a city or town where you want to work. Review the networking scripts and other materials in CareerFiles at http://www.law.umn.edu/cpdc/careerfiles (do a Control-F search) and contact the CPDC for advice and guidance.
e. Know the time line for hire for your target employers. Large firms and agencies hire in the fall for the summer after second year. Small and medium firms may hire part time during the school year with intention to keep you on through the summer and into your third year with the intent of hiring you as a new associate after graduation. Legal services and small non-profits may hire when they have resolved their budge issues, which could be in the fall or in the spring. Volunteering with a legal services office or non-profit often leads to paid employment, rendering a job search either year-round or seasonless.

Summer Roadmap from the CPDC for The Class of 2008

As you head off for the summer...

1. CONTACT INFORMATION If your contact information changes during the summer, update it in Symplicity. If we need to find you, we will use that as our main source.

2. WATCH YOUR EMAIL The CPDC will use email, Symplicity home pages and our website to deliver logistical information about early interview programs, job fairs, on and off campus interviews, public and private 3L job search considerations, and other career-related events and activities. There will be interview prep programs and other events during the summer.

3. INTERVIEW PREP ALERT If the 20-minute screening interview has never worked for you in the past, NOW (yes, right now, or at least shortly after finals) is the time for you to meet with CPDC staff to work on your interview skills. We can do video interviews, mock interviews with us and with alumni. Reporting this problem to us in October 2007 will mean that you will have wasted seven months of scheduled interviews and networking opportunities.

4. FEDERAL CLERKSHIPS Please check the CPDC Judicial Clerkships page at https://inside.law.umn.edu/cpdc/judicial-clerkships for information.

5. MINNESOTA AND OTHER STATE COURT CLERKSHIPS The Minnesota Supreme Court application deadline is July 18, 2007; the Minnesota Court of Appeals application deadline is August 18, 2007. You will find other state court clerkship deadlines in the Vermont Law School Guide to State Court Clerkships, which is password-protected from our CPDC website at https://inside.law.umn.edu/cpdc/judicial-clerkships with the passwords guide2007/Juneau. The link and passwords will change during the summer with the 2008 edition.

6. POST-JD FELLOWSHIP APPLICATIONS Summer is the ideal time to connect with employers who will sponsor you. Connect with Steve Marchese and review the CPDC Public Interest page at https://inside.law.umn.edu/cpdc/public-interest

7. 3L JOB SEARCH TOOLKIT:
a. Resume Update your resume and cover letter(s) after you have grades, and after journal and moot court selections are made.
b. Writing Sample Select one or more writing samples and revise or redact them as necessary. If you are using a writing sample from work, you must get specific permission to use the document.
c. References Make a list of references and update your recommenders about your new goals.
d. Transcript Obtain a current transcript and create a web-worthy version.
e. Conflicts Checklist Track the work that you do during the summer for future conflicts checks. Keep a record of the name of the client, the name of the case if one has been filed, the attorney(s) for whom you worked, and the subject(s) that you researched. Do this for both public and private employment.

8. LOOK OUTSIDE OF OCI
a. Know the time line for hire for your target employers. Minnesota's Third Judicial District (Rochester, Austin, etc.) hires 3Ls for clerkships during Fall OCI. Most other state trial court clerkships hires are in the very late spring or after graduation. Large firms hire during Fall OCI; small and medium firms may hire part time during the school year with intention to keep you on as a new associate after graduation. Legal services and small non-profits may hire when they have an opening.
b. Job Fairs Sign up for job fairs of interest to you. The Patent Job Fair deadline has past but you can get the list of employers. There are minority job fairs whose deadlines are in late April and early May. Make sure that you have registered for them
c. Employers not participating in OCI or Job Fairs The majority of employers on the planet do not participate in on or off campus interview programs. If your interests are outside of large law firms or large federal and state agencies, you will need to search outside of the OCI structure. Many public agencies participate in the Equal Justice Works Conference in October. Contact the CPDC to determine when and where the employers of your choice will be interviewing. Some will congregate (Equal Justice Works) and some will need you to seek them out which increases your odds because they may not be flooded with applicants.
d. Resume Collect Many employers who will not conduct on campus interviews are posting their 3L positions under the Fall OCI/Res Collect session in Symplicity. The deadlines are late August or September.
e. Work alumni and other contacts There is never a bad time to connect with alumni and other professionals who are doing the work that you want to do or who are working in a city or town where you want to work. Review the networking scripts and other materials in CareerFiles at https://inside.law.umn.edu/cpdc/careerfiles for advice and guidance

Summer Roadmap from the CPDC for the Class of 2010

Congratulations to the Class of 2010!

If you haven't already checked in with us, please do so in the next few weeks. We want to make sure that your job search is either complete or on track and that you know what services are available to you throughout your career.

1. CONTACT INFORMATION If your contact information changes during the summer, update it in Symplicity. If we need to find you, we will use that as our main source.

2. CPDC CHECK-IN Please stop by the CPDC to check in with one of us if you haven't done so already. We'd like to catch up on what you will do next year and make sure that you have a plan in place if you aren't yet certain.

3. INTERVIEW PREP ALERT If the 20-minute screening interview has never worked for you in the past, NOW (yes, right now, or at least shortly after finals) is the time for you to meet with CPDC staff to work on your interview skills. We can do video interviews, mock interviews with us and with alumni. If you have had interview issues in the past or if you need to brush up your skills, please know that we are here to help.

4. RECIPROCITY WITH OTHER LAW SCHOOLS If you are leaving town and are interested in using other law schools' career offices, check in with us first. We communicate with the other schools and make the request. Note that most schools close their doors for reciprocity during the fall, request your summer access now.

5. GRADUATE JOB POSTINGS FROM OTHER LAW SCHOOLS The BYU Intercollegiate Job Bank has graduate postings from more than 100 law schools. Because the site is password protected, you must request access from us through the CPDC. Write "BYU Job Bank�? in the subject line of your message.

6. ALUMNI JOB SEARCH TOOLKIT
a. Resume Update your resume and cover letter(s) after you have grades.
b. Writing Sample Select one or more writing samples and revise or redact them as necessary. If you are using a writing sample from work, you must get specific permission to use the document.
c. References Make a list of references and update your recommenders about your new goals.
d. Transcript Obtain a current transcript and create a web-worthy version.
e. Conflicts Checklist Always track your work for future conflicts checks. Keep a record of the name of the client, the name of the case if one has been filed, the attorney(s) for whom you worked, and the subject(s) that you researched. Do this for both public and private employment.

7. COMPLETE YOUR GRADUATE SURVEY IN SYMPLICITY. Instructions below:
a. Log into Symplicity account at https://law-umn-csm.symplicity.com/students Please contact the CPDC if you need a password (cpdc@umn.edu or 612/625-1866).
b. Select the Profile tab and then the Graduate Employment Survey tab. Then complete the following sections:
(1) Personal Information - Self explanatory.
(2) Demographic Information - This is used by NALP to create its fine-grained, detailed picture of law graduates by a multitude of categories. Note that the 'Anticipated Degree' is/are the degree(s) you earned at the U of MN.
(3) Graduate Employment Information - This section reflects your status as you know it now.
(a) If you have secured employment for after the bar exam, you are "employed.�? When entering salary information, NALP counts salary exclusive of bonus.
(b) If you are working in a job that will continue after the bar exam, you are "employed.�?
(c) If you plan to seek a job between now and the time you take the bar exam, you are "seeking.�? If you do not plan to seek employment until after the bar exam, you are "not seeking.�?
(d) When you select 'Employed', your screen will refresh and provide a section titled "Job Information�? with additional information based on the job type.
(4) Job Information
(a) Clerkships are federal, state (includes appellate only), and local (for state trial courts).
(b) Law firm - Again, your screen will refresh and you will be asked to provide the firm and office size.
(c) Public interest - the screen refreshes to show categories allowing for fine distinctions among organization's missions.
(5) Job Source Please indicate "Career Services Job Posting�? if you used Symplicity to find your job.
(6) Additional Information - Self explanatory.

April 16, 2007

What if my reference has changed jobs?

My manager from my last job before law school just informed me that she is leaving the company. Can I still put her as a reference for that job?

Yes. Just keep in touch with her. And the more nice things she's willing to say about you from her position in another context, the more opportunities that more people have to hear good things about you.

As a side note, just as you are asking her to "invest" in your career with a reference, you should offer to do the same for her. Often prospective employers are interested in checking references from subordinates -- it helps to prevent hiring the "Nightmare Boss from Hell" who causes angst and the ever-more-expensive employee turnover.

What about faculty recommenders? This applies as well to faculty references. While GI Generation and Boomer faculty tended to stay put at their institutions, Gen X and Millennial faculty will be mobile. Just because your faculty recommender has left the building doesn't mean that the relationship that you forged is over.

Did you not "forge a relationship" sufficient for the person to write a meaningful letter for you? Just as you have friends around the country and around the world, you can have references from other time zones. Your responsibility is to keep connected. Report in annually and check in on their careers, as well.

To read more about recommendations and recommenders, go to Career Files at "References and Recommendations."

April 14, 2007

The Five Worst & Best Ways to Find a Job

From What Color is Your Parachute? (2007) Bolles, Richard N. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press. Note that this information includes a large and wide variety of occupations to include legal positions.

Five Worst Ways to Find a Job: (in order from very worst to somewhat worst!)

1) Using the Internet – success rate 4.1% out of 100% who search on Internet find jobs there.
2) Mailing out resumes to employers at random – 7% success rate. Otherwise known as the 'shotgun' approach.
3) Answering ads in professional or trade journals – 7% success rate.
4) Answering local newspaper ads – 5-24% success rate.
5) Using private employment agencies or search firms – 5-28% success rate.
http://blog.lib.umn.edu/lawcso/vocare/
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Five Best Ways to Find a Job: (in order from lowest success rate to best)

1) Asking for job-leads from: family members, friends, people in the community, staff at career centers – 33% success rate.
2) Knocking on the door of any employer, factory, or office that interests you, whether they are known to have a vacancy or not - 47% success rate.
3) By yourself, using the phone book’s Yellow Pages [or other applicable directory such as the NALP Directory, PSLawnet.org, and/or Martindale.com, etc.] to identify subjects of fields of interest to you in the town or city where you are, and then calling up the employers listed in that field, to ask if they are hiring for the type of position you can do, and do well. - 69% success rate.
4) In a group with other job hunters, using the phone book’s Yellow Pages [or other applicable directory such as the NALP Directory, PSLawnet.org, and/or Martindale.com, etc.] to identify subjects of fields of interest to you in the town or city where you are, and then calling up the employers listed in that field, to ask if they are hiring for the type of position you can do, and do well. 84% success rate.
5) Doing a life-changing job hunt - 86% success rate (i.e., spending time assessing what you really want to do and finding people who are doing it and spending time looking for what you really want to do and will be happy doing.

Bottom Line: Create and implement a plan that includes as many job search strategies listed above as possible.

April 3, 2007

Employer Outreach Update: Seattle

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have been spending some time on the road to meet with employers to discuss ways they could connect with our students here at the law school. My most recent trip was early last month when I visited employers in Seattle and attended a local alumni reception. My experience was helped greatly by the fact that I landed on a day when it was 66 degrees and sunny -- not typical of early March in the Pacific Northwest. During my time, I met with legal recruiting personnel and attorneys at Perkins Coie, Lane Powell, Stoel Rives and Riddell Williams. At each of these firms, there was uniform interest in having more Minnesota law students make there way out to the area. These employers have had some track record of hiring alumni from the law school and, after our meetings, well aware of all that students and grads from this institution have to offer. A couple of tips for those interested in applying to these and other Seattle area firms:

1) It helps to have had some experience living and/or working in the region. These employers want to know that you understand the area and have a sincere interest in starting your career there. While connections to the Puget Sound area are helpful, it is also a plus to be from the greater Pacific Northwest region (Eastern WA, OR, ID, Western MT -- even northern UT).

2) If you are interested in practicing in Seattle with these kinds of employers, make sure that you apply during the late summer and consider flying out to the area (at your own expense) to do screening interviews. At this point, none of these firms participate in our interview programs. (Of course, convincing them to do so was one purpose of my trip.) However, recruiting staff and partners read your cover letters and resumes and are impressed when someone says they will be coming just to meet them. After the screening interview, fear not, any callbacks will be at the prospective employer's expense.

3) Seattle is a modest-sized legal market. This means that there are still more lawyers for the number of positions available. You need to find a way to distinguish yourself -- either by your academic, credentials, experience, connections to the area or sincerity of interest. One recent alum worked a number of different angles to land a job with the branch office of a large law firm. She spent her summers there and networked with alumni and other attorneys around town. It paid off for her and it can for you.

We have a reasonable number of alumni in the Seattle area and the ones I met seemed eager and interested in helping Minnesota students. They can be one of your best resources to making connections and finding your way around town. Don't be shy.

Dean Charles and I will be returning to New York in May for additional employer visits. In addition, Susan, Vic and I will be attending the annual NALP conference in Colorado later this month. The conference affords us an opportunity to meet with dozens of legal recruiter types from employers throughout the country. We plan on making sure the good news about our law school spreads.