January 13, 2010

How do you learn the unwritten rules of law firms?

In a very fun but true way, here is a list of many of the unwritten rules of law firms that you may want to know.

December 22, 2009

A Letter to the Next Generation of Lawyers

A nice letter from a father/lawyer to his two children entering the profession. It gives some solid advice on how to be a good lawyer. A Letter to the Next Generation of Lawyers

December 18, 2009

Think government jobs don't pay well? Think again!

For feds, more get 6-figure salaries:

Or maybe you are unsure how to get hired?
Government recruiting young talent:

December 9, 2009

Interested in making a change?

Want to change from a small firm to a big firm? Litigation to transacation? Read some advice on making a change.

December 4, 2009

Salary Negotiation: "Can Nice Girls Negotiate?"

In this economic time, many people are scared to negotiate a salary, the post "Can Nice Girls Negotiate" gives a little insight into negotiation and gender. The bottom line, it never hurts to ask for more if you know your audience, you either get more money, or more information, both of which are important.

November 24, 2009

Looking for your next step? Been laid off? Take time to evaluate.

If you have been laid off from your firm or your organization, your well meaning friends and family may say things like: "things happen for a reason," "you will be better off" or "take this as an opportunity." It is hard to take those to heart, but read the below article and see if are able to find that silver lining.

Hope for a Silver Lining
Current legal market offers attorneys an opportunity to figure out what they want to do outside of a big firm.

August 7, 2009

Going Solo?

The theme of the July issue of Law Practice Today is "Suddenly Solo." Offering information for those who choose to open a practice and those who may be suddenly thrust into that arena, the issue is available free at

July 29, 2009

Navigating the Career Development Process

Are you wondering how to begin your job search? Check out this article in the July issue of Hennepin Lawyer, by two of our very own, Dana Bartocci and Vic Massaglia.

July 22, 2009

Law School Announces Judicial Law Clerk Post-Graduate Fellowship for 2009 Grads!

The University of Minnesota Law School is proud to introduce the Fourth Judicial District Law Clerk Post-Graduate Fellowship. The Law School will award up to five Judicial Law Clerk Post-Graduate Fellowships. Fellows are required to work a total of 400 hours and will receive an award of $5,000.

Applications are open to 2009 graduates of the University of Minnesota Law School who have taken the bar exam or will take it in July 2009. Graduates are not eligible if they have secured another permanent law or law clerk position, regardless of the start date of that employment.

Placement in the top 50% of the Law School class is preferred. Successful applicants will have knowledge of general law, state law, established precedent, sources of legal reference, court practices and procedures, and legal terminology and concepts. They will be able to communicate clearly and concisely in both oral and written forms with diverse audiences, research complex legal questions and apply legal principles, represent the court in a respectful manner, establish and maintain effective working relationships, and skillfully use word processing and legal research software.

Fellows will perform professional legal work under general supervision of a justice, judge, or other legal officials in the Fourth Judicial District. Duties involve legal research and other related clerical or administrative work in preparation of memoranda, opinions, or orders for judges or court officials concerning the cases before them. Fellows' work is reviewed through conferences and written reports.

Some examples of a Judicial Law Clerk's responsibilities may include review, research, and annotation of laws, court decisions, documents, opinions, and briefs; preparation of briefs, legal memoranda, statements of issues, and appropriate suggestions or recommendations; compilation of references on laws and decisions necessary for legal determinations; conferring with justice, judge, or court official on legal questions, construction of documents, and granting of orders; attendance at oral arguments to record necessary case information; maintenance of records attendant to court proceedings; and performance of such courtroom duties as calling the calendar, swearing in jury panels and witnesses, taking court minutes, and assisting in arraignments, motions, hearings, pre-trial conferences, and trials.

Fellows are required to work a total of 400 hours, at 30 hours per week. Fellows are paid as employees of the Fourth Judicial District and receive paychecks, with proper withholding, according to the Judicial District's regularly scheduled payroll process.

Applicants are required to prepare the following supplemental material:

•Rank in order of interest the following types of law: family, civil, criminal, and juvenile.
•Describe what would make you a successful clerk in each area.
To apply for a Fellowship, upload your resume, cover letter, supplemental material, and a short writing sample into Symplicity. The deadline is 5:00 p.m. on Friday, August 14. The Fourth Judicial District will notify applicants who receive an interview.

For additional information about the Post-Graduate Fellowship Program, please contact Dana Bartocci, Employer Relations Coordinator, Career and Professional Development Center, University of Minnesota Law School, at or 612-625-4694.

January 25, 2009

Career Management in Troubled Times

Much excellent advice has come from career development offices, expensive career consultants, Wise Trusted Advisers, blogs with information and blogs with no supporting data whatsoever. There is no magic bullet for survival in troubled times, and the old advice remains the best -- with one new addition (see #3):

1. SELF ASSESSMENT: understand your goals; identify your skills; tally your interests; assess your financial situation.

a. Create Plans A, B & C with supporting documents for each plan. Your plans must connect to practice areas that are viable in this economy and be vectored toward employers whose hiring criteria match your credentials. Do not imagine that employers who would not have interviewed you as a 2L will have radically altered their hiring criteria. Work related to the troubled economy is expanding (bankruptcy, employment), and now is a good time to consider the work that gets done regardless of the state of the economy. Wills & trusts, workers' compensation, general civil litigation and personal injury practices come to mind.

b. Volunteer in settings where you might make vocationally useful connections -- this should connect you to organizations and causes for which you have genuine feeling. Soulless volunteering is the epitome of "cheesy," and you will have taken valuable time to put yourself in a bad light;

c. Write something that is vocationally useful and send it to practitioners who can use the information. Either dust off and revise classwork, write something new or take non-confidential material from your employment and rework it. Create a document from which you can extract three or four Useful Bullet Points for a busy practitioner. Send email with a compelling subject line and a message that shows that you know what the lawyer does and that you hope that the Four Useful Bullet points and the doc might be of interest. Note that you would be delighted to discuss the topic. To whom do you send this? Lawyers and other professionals who are engaged in work that is interesting to you and who might benefit from your writing are your legitimate targets.

3. FIND OR CREATE A JOB SEARCH STRATEGY GROUP: Some folks can dutifully manage a job search on their own, diligently sending out resumes, scheduling networking meetings and following up every lead, but most people need some support. A weekly meeting in which you and your colleagues report in, share your experiences and hold yourselves accountable can be very useful. In a troubled economy, there is no shame in unemployment, and committing time to share information and encouragement is smart. The CPDC will launch a drop-in evening alumni group in February.

4. PERSONAL PROTECTION FOR THE UNHAPPY-BUT-EMPLOYED: Under no circumstances should you share your unhappiness, disgruntlement, distaste or distress with anyone with whom you work. If a layoff is to come, the first to go are the ones who are understood to be eager to leave. Use your out-of-office contacts to develop a departure strategy: your career or alumni office, professional contacts, personal contacts, your Trusted Advisers from your life. While your assistant may be a sterling individual and a Gem in the Tiara of Your Professional Life, remember that she needs her job at least as much as you need yours. Don't do anything to damage her job or job prospects.

December 10, 2008

Working with search firms

Q from email: I was contacted by a representative of A SEARCH FIRM. They help laterals/clerks apply to certain firms. The service is free for me. If I end up obtaining a job through the service, the firm has to pay SEARCH FIRM. Notably, if the company applies for me, I do not write my own cover letter. The cover letter is instead written by my representative, which is akin to a letter of recommendation.

Always the skeptic, I was wondering what you thought of such an arrangement? Can my use of such a placement service negatively reflect on my application? Can it positively reflect on my application?

A: As a former headhunter for lawyers (6+ years before joining the Law School), I have the following advice for you:

1. Remember that a search firm fee adds between 20 and 35% of your first year salary to your first year cost to the employer; AND
2. This economy is a tough one, and grads at your level (some practice and some clerking) are not necessarily in premium demand.

Should you use a search firm:

1. Make sure that you have absolute moral certainty about where your resume is being sent BECAUSE YOU HAVE GIVEN WRITTEN permission for your credentials to be presented;

2. Review the documents sent on your behalf. The search firm will, indeed, write the presentation memo, which is not your own cover letter. In the best of all possible worlds, the presentation memo reflects that the search consultant has gotten to know you on a more than superficial level and is able to present more about you THAT IS RELEVANT to the firm and to the practice group for which you may be considered. When I say “more about you,? I mean more than your GPA, clerkship and law review status.

3. The best search consultants present a very small number of candidates for each opening because they know their clients well and they have gotten to know a great deal about their candidates. It is folly to prevaricate or gild the lily when working with a search firm because the consultant’s representation of you needs to be in sync with who you really are. [This does not mean that you are completely frank about your interest in working for a firm long enough to pay off your loans before you go to something altogether different from law.] The candidate who shows up and demonstrates that he or she is entirely different from the persona presented to the search consultant will be dropped like a hot potato by the search firm, and may not be well-received by the employer.

4. Should you be presented by a search firm (with your permission), the referral by contract may last between six months and a year. Any other route into the firm will not work for you because the search firm’s referral takes priority over a pal or networking contact having passed on your resume. Firms would prefer not to pay these fees and they really, really hate headhunter fights. When working with more than one search firm, should your docs be sent by both, most of the time neither will make the placement because the firm will say “A pox on both of your exorbitant bills!? and hire someone else.

5. Having said that, search firm fees are a fact of life. Depending on the city or cities in which you have interest, your credentials and genuine interest in the city may make the fee more palatable to the Executive committee.

September 1, 2008

Keeping a Job Search Under the Radar

The most difficult time to look for a full time job is when you have one...How do you conduct a job search and keep it under the radar? Marci Alboher from the NY Times has some answers.

June 4, 2008

Trial Court Clerkship Applications -- a tip from a former clerk

FROM A FORMER MINNESOTA TRIAL COURT CLERK ... As we have been sorting through piles and piles of resumes here in chambers, I have noticed that many people either fail to include their bar admission in their cover letter and resume, or bar admission is buried deep in the resume. (It appears to me that many people are still using the same cover letter and resume they prepared immediately after graduation.)

Even though bar admission is not required for most judicial clerkships, judges are interested in whether an applicant is already admitted to the bar or whether that applicant plans to work and study for the bar at the same time.

The first three things I look for in the cover letter and resume are:

1) where the applicant went to law school;
2) when the applicant graduated from law school; and
3) whether the applicant has passed the bar.

June 3, 2008

When may I apply for jobs requiring more experience than I have right now?


It depends. When applying for a job for which you lack the precise qualifications, do two things:

1. Acknowledge what you lack and point out skills and experience that might substitute for what the employer is seeking. Use the precise language in the posting, because the first "screener" might be an electronic scanner searching for key words.

2. Be reasonable. You should always apply for jobs asking for 0-3 or 1-3 years of experience. Beyond that, what you really want to develop is a networking connection to the person who gets hired into the job that you want.

Why apply if you don't have the precise qualifications? From the employer's perspectve a job posting from is a search for the "perfect candidate" who isn't always available. You, on the other hand, are available.

June 2, 2008

Annual career check-up?

Every year you change your car's oil, visit the dentist, clean the chimney flu, and get a flu shot. Add an Annual Career Check-up to your list.

1. Revise your resume to reflect new skills, accomplishments, professional memberships, and board or other public service.

2. Review your work with professional organizations and make sure that you are connected to the most sophisticated and current sources of information about business and practice trends, including compensation and training.

3. Review your compensation and benefits with information gleaned from professional publications and members of professional organizations. Gather the information that will help you make a persuasive case with your employer for a change in your pay and benefits.

4. Call the CPDC for the most current compensation and training information from NALP.

5. If you want or need a change in your work arrangements (i.e. reduced hours, work from home, change in duties), gather the information that will help you make a persuasive and culturally appropriate case with your employer.

6. Connect with close law school classmates by phone, e-mail, holiday letter, linkedIn or Have breakfast, lunch or drinks with them when you can.

7. Make it a point to attend holiday gatherings of your professional colleagues from outside your office. Do not waste these events by spending 95% of the time with people you see every day. Use the time to re-connect with people outside of your daily circle.

8. Stay connected to high school and college pals, supporting their lives and career moves. Why? While it is disingenuous to call and ask for favors 15 years after high school when you haven't spoken a word to someone, it is good to be able to call your pals and say:

Hi! I'm about to be a law firm partner and I'd like to continue to be your lawyer;
Hi! I'm running for office and I'd like your money and your vote; and/or
I remember that you liked theater in high school and now that I'm on the Board of A Local Theater Company, I'd like your contribution.

May 29, 2008

The Confidential Job Search: Apply for a job without blowing your cover

Because some employers will fire you on the spot if word gets out that you are job hunting, you need to know how to conduct a covert and quiet job search.

COVER LETTERS Your cover letters should begin: “I am applying in confidence for …?

RESUMES Only when a candidate is particularly concerned about secrecy, should the word “resume? appear on a legal resume. Now is the time to add “Confidential Resume? over your name, like this:

Jane Smith
10 South Maine Street, N.W.
Anytown, MN 55555

EMAIL and PHONE NUMBER Under no circumstance should you undertake a confidential job search using your employer’s email or your work phone number. Work email can be monitored (and spam-blocked), and your phone really does belong to your employer.

During the work day Now. Right now. Ramp up your networking with professional organizations and people within your targeted professional group or practice area. While your boss may become suspicious if you take a lot of time to meet with people whose work is wholly unrelated to your current practice, he should not be grumpy if you are meeting with people who do the work that you do. Sometimes you may be able to explain networking and attending CLEs with professionals in other practices if your target practice is related to your current work, or if it is related to one of your employer’s stated expansion areas.

On your own time (including breakfast and after work) If you are trying to change careers or leave your current practice area, meet with these professionals either before or after work. If your boss is particularly prone to paranoid fantasies about departing staff, do all of your networking before or after work.

Early in the interview process When you are asked for references, explain that you are applying in confidence and that you would prefer that a reference checker call the people who are on your list, and not at your current employer. Call the CPDC for help if you are asked to blow your cover with a reference check before there is an offer on the table.

Offer contingent on a reference When the prospective employer has settled on you, and only a bad reference from your current employer will tank the offer, that offer is “contingent on a reference.? This is the time to provide contact information for your current employer. This is also the time to face the music, face your employer, thank her for all of the amazing experience that you have had (with a straight face, please), to let him know that you are about to receive an offer for a position that suits your long-term career goals; and that you hope to receive an excellent reference for the work that you have done. Finally, give this required recommender a list of useful things to say about work that you have done.

What about a bad reference? Protect yourself by inoculation and prepare the interviewer for a less than stellar reference.

May 14, 2008

Working with search firms (headhunters)

Junior lawyers in large firms and at some public agencies begin to get calls from headhunters within the first year of practice. How should you react?

1. Be polite. Even if you aren't interested today, you may need these people next week.

2. If you are interested in seriously exploring a change, try to meet the search firm reps. You want to work with people who you can trust with this part of your career development. At the outset, don't expect more than a few minutes of a search consultant's time, and don't expect career counseling.

3. Pay attention to the experiences of your friends and colleagues and ask for referrals. It's easy enough to get into this business with a cell phone, a basic website and a subscription to, which is vastly superior for search-firm purposes than the free web version. Established firms with strong connections to decision-makers are worth seeking out.

4. Get a clear description of the position for which you are being presented. Why is the employer adding someone at your level? How much does the headhunter know about the firm and the department? Consider these two calls:

a. "Hi George. My client is looking for a second year associate who knows about government contracts. Are you interested?"

b. "Hi Jane. I have a client with a 300-person office of a New York firm here in Washington DC. The firm just acquired a new partner in its government contracts group who came with two mid-level associates. This partner wants to add a junior associate to her sub-group, and the need is for someone who has exposure to the FARs and the DARs and to export controls. Would you like to know more about this position?"

5. Do not allow a search firm to release your resume without your prior written (or email) permission. This keeps potential headhunter fights to a minimum. What is a headhunter fight? If employers get your resume from two search firms, many will simply decline to interview you because they don't want to get into a "who referred you and who should get paid" conflagration. Your search consultant should know the time limits on her referrals. Some firms consider a referral live for a year, others limit it to six months.

6. The search firm works for the employer, not for you. So, while headhunters may not drop everything to meet you, they will go to the ends of the earth to find you when their clients need someone with your credentials and experience level.

7. One more reason to keep track of the travels of your resume: if the employer receives your credentials from one of its attorneys, search firms are out of the deal. While this may mean that you get hired without a search fee (25-30% of your first year salary), because the firm's recruiters must take time to document the timing and the source of the referral, it will certainly create more work and require awkward and, perhaps unpleasant conversations for the firm's recruiting staff.

Other considerations about lateral moves:
* credit for clerkships (you may received time-to-partnership and/or $ credit)
* expedited evaluation and review (you want to know how you are progressing in 6 months)
* "catch-up" in the firm's training programs

March 14, 2007

When Should Judicial Clerks Apply for Jobs? Late Spring? Early Summer?

It depends on your target employers...

If you want to do county attorney, public defender or legal services work, you can't get on those offices' radar screens soon enough. In addition to genuine commitment to the work, getting hired by those offices requires persistence, patience, people to go to bat for you, people in the offices who you've gotten to know by having worked in their offices or with trusted friends and colleagues; by networking through the relevant bar sections or separate bar associations; or any other way that you can make yourself into a three-dimensional candidate rather than a one dimensional guy-on-a-resume, and great timing, over which you have absolutely no control.

For private practice -- it's trickier, or at least less direct. If you know, for example, that you want to do Workers Comp, you can go to CLEs and meet people there. Also, there are a relatively limited number of comp lawyers (many are our grads), they are easy to identify, and it is relatively easy to identify the really good ones. More or less the same model applies for any clearly defined practice area, once you've focused: CLE to show that you are serious, alumni networking, networking with strangers, applying for posted jobs, applying to employers that interest you.

If, on the other hand, your interest is less tightly defined and you want to do general litigation or general practice, your strategies might include attending Litigation CLE, conducting focused chats with your classmates and friends who are working to get their impressions of their firms and the lawyers for whom they work; guidance from your judge who knows of lots of lawyers; and connections through alumni, many of whom are eager to assist new lawyers.

If your target is large firms, early spring is a fine time to get onto their radar screens for a September hire. They might not call you until the end of the summer, but with business growing, they may be hiring in late summer for the fall.

It depends on your judge...

While it is fine to apply for jobs in the spring, would it be fine with your judge if you got one? Outside of the universe of large law firms and agencies which hire a year ahead, most employers advertising for positions want someone on board now or yesterday because they operate like small firms everywhere: when you interview at a restaurant this afternoon, you're not interviewing for September, you are interviewing for Monday. If your judge wants you to stay for a whole year, begin to look seriously in late spring or early summer.

January 9, 2007

Better Memos -- crucial for new attorneys

The consistent message from the 2006 NALP-ALI-ABA Professional Development Institute is that your legal writing and analysis can make you a Star or make you the Opposite of Star, and that you have one or two opportunities as a new lawyer to make your mark.

Once tagged as a poor writer, all but one of the Professional Development Professionals agreed that either no one would want to give you work, or that you would be assigned document review. The lone dissenter said that her firm would assign a writing mentor.

Help is on the way. Here is a quick guide:

November 30, 2006

In-House Counsel Must Be Licensed in Minnesota

In case you had question about this, find the rule at

and a link to In House-Counsel and Unauthorized Practice from Bench & Bar at

November 14, 2006

Performance Matters: Prepping for Performance Reviews

Mary Crane is a consultant who is well known to NALP professionals. She urges everyone to be prepared. Read her take on performance reviews at:

November 13, 2006

Teaching fellowships as entry to law teaching

Here is a short list of teaching fellowships that may be of interest to grads considering a career change:

October 31, 2006

A "writing test" may be part of your job application

FROM NALP EMAIL -- We recently asked finalists for one of our divisions to turn around a writing exercise in 48 hours, which we found extremely helpful in distinguishing between several excellent candidates. Having the opportunity to compare and contrast the writing samples knowing that our candidates all had the same timeframe within which to do the work was extraordinarily valuable.


This is part of a (mini) tidal wave from employers who are trying to discover what kind of skills their candidates have before wasting valuable time in interviews. I have heard of this with both law firms and judges.

Law Firms The first law firm to do it was a Chicago litigation boutique which spun out of a Giant Law Firm. The always-helpful-but-extremely-expensive publication OF COUNSEL explained that the firm planned its growth around cherry-picking junior laterals from Giant Law Firm Litigation Departments. The boutique’s managers assumed that laterals with the credentials good enough for Giant Law Firms could actually write. After finding that assumption to be flawed, those managers instituted a writing test before the first face-to-face interview.

Judges Many judges will put their candidates in a room with some documents and a laptop and ask that they write a bench memo that becomes part of their application package.

The main work of most law-trained people is reading, writing, talking on the phone and going to meetings. Most of the reading and writing is done somewhere between in-a-hurry and shriekingly-close-to-the-statute-of-limitations. Asking students to provide a time-limited writing sample that is unambiguously their own work provides employers with good preview of their candidates' skills and provides those of us in career development an opportunity to remind students and alumni of the primacy of legal writing.

October 30, 2006

Your Privacy and Your Job Search: You're fired!

You think that you have absorbed all of the 21st century Electronic Personna lessons by:

1. Scrubbing your MyElectronicSocialFacebookSpace sites for inappropriate material;

2. Persuading your pals to eliminate your name and face from their sites; and

3. Recording a professional message on all of your phones.

And yet, your electronic calendar at work contains all of the details of your personal life, including your job interview information. What's the problem? It's your personal calendar, after all.

Whatever gave you that idea? Your employer paid for both the hardware and the software, and can "audit" your electronic activity at any time.

After discovering that you are looking for a job, an employer may fire you, so that you may continue to search full time.

Please add the following to your 21st Century Electronic Personna checklist:

4. Keep private information out of your employer's calendar.

July 4, 2006

Scamming your Social Security Number

Never, ever give your Social Security number to anyone while you are job hunting until:

1. You are far enough into the recruiting process that the employer says that your hire is contingent on a satisfactory criminal, credit and other background check. Before you give out the number, you will be asked to sign a document granting permission for the checks; or

2. You have accepted the job and are signing forms that will permit you to be paid.

Beware: a job posting with a salary extremely far above market, and an application that asks for your Social Security number.

Think long and hard before giving your number to a stranger -- and especially a stranger over the internet.

June 7, 2006

True Confessions (or "Do I Really Need to Tell Them About That?")

Bar examiners and prospective employers are increasingly asking for more information about your past as part of their "due diligence" before either certifying you for practice or hiring you as a permanent employee. Recent lapses in background verification, such as one well-publicized event at a local Twin Cities law firm, have raised warning flags for bar examiners and hiring authorities throughout the legal community. In addition, law schools are often asked by bar certification authorities for copies of an applicant's previous application to law school to compare with the paperwork submitted in support of bar admission. Discrepancies can get you in trouble with both the bar and your law school.

What to do? Our blanket advice is simple: "When in doubt, disclose." None of us has a completely pristine past and, for the most part, except for felony convictions, what happened when you were a rambunctious junior in high school won't keep you from the job of your dreams. That said, if there is anything that you think would give a reasonable person pause before allowing you to represent clients and collect a pay check, say so early on. At a minimum, you will be able to begin to address any concerns, apparent or real, that might preclude you from practicing law well in advance. You will also appear responsible, mature and, yes, professional. If you need background documentation, collect it before you disclose so that you can quickly provide answers to requests for more information. If you cannot obtain such documentation, explain as much about the circumstances as possible in detail, as well as why you can't provide paperwork at this time.

Finally, remember that, until you are admitted to the bar or officially hired, you are usually under a continuing duty to disclose information. In other words, if you get arrested the night before the bar exam on a DUI charge, you better let someone at the board of law examiners know, however embarrassing that may seem.

March 24, 2006

Working in the Shadow of a Giant in Your Field...

FOR MID-LEVEL LATERALS If you are being recruited to work for a top-shelf practice with a superb local/regional/national/international reputation, be glad that someone thinks highly of you. Then explore the track record of these Giants in the Field to see whether or how they have helped mid-levels and junior partners develop their own practices. Would this be a career-limiter or a launching pad? Could you spend your professional life working for this firm in the Shadow of the Giant? Could you develop a high-level, marketable expertise that could launch you to the place where you could cast your own Shadow?

What plan does this firm have for generational transfer of culture, clients and cash? As a mid-level associate you should know the questions to ask and have no fear of asking them.