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Interview: Sandra Velvel: Lawyer Turned Interior Design Retailer

Sandra Velvel entered law because a number of her family members were lawyers, and because she felt that law would be a good background for whatever she chose to do in life. However, after practicing for a short time with a firm in New York, she soon realized that the law didn't provide the opportunities for creative expression that she was looking for.

Sandra's theater and history background initially led her to public affairs programming and then independent documentary film making, including work on Watergate Plus 30: Shadow of History, which won a News and Documentary Emmy Award earlier this year for “Outstanding Long Form Informational Programming.”

However, only when renovating her apartment did she rediscover an old passion: interior design. With the encouragement of her husband, she spent several months writing a business plan and plugging numbers into a P&L spreadsheet. That effort paid off when, in 2004, Sandra finally opened Vivi (www.vivionline.com), her 1,500 square foot interior design shop in Washington, D.C.

Sandra's advice to lawyers seeking a new direction: "If you went to law school, you’re by definition a bright, accomplished, confident individual. That’s a solid foundation for following your heart and deciding to do what you really want to do, no matter how hard it is to do it, because by becoming a lawyer you’ve already shown that you have the energy and perseverance to succeed."

Click below for our interview with Sandra.

Continue reading "Interview: Sandra Velvel: Lawyer Turned Interior Design Retailer" »

Laptop Desk: Comfortable Computing for Lawyers on the Road

For lawyers who travel on business, getting work done in airports and hotel lounges is frequently complicated by the difficult trick of balancing your laptop on your lap.

Enter the Laptop Lap Desk from the Sharper Image designed for stable, comfortable use of your laptop in airports, lobbies or anytime you're away from your home or office desk.

A soft rubberized underside keeps the desk from slipping off of your lap, and dual risers elevate your laptop so your computer's cooling fans work to keep the computer — and your lap — from getting too warm.

LaptopdeskAlso features a detachable mouse platform and convenient built-in handle. Sized to fit most laptop carry cases.

Cost: $39.95

For further details and to purchase, visit the Sharper Image website

Monster Study Finds: 40% Of Employed Men Feel Their Employer Is Not Flexible Enough In Terms Of Work Life Balance

Monster_1As further proof that "work life balance" is not just an issue for women, comes a recent online research study involving 1,859 employed adult Americans (801 men, 1058 women) conducted by Monster (the leading online job search portal) that found as follows (emphasis is ours):

Women tend to place a higher value on work-life balance than men do when considering a new job. Forty-one percent of women compared to just 26 percent of men believe having no flexibility with regard to work hours is a reason to not accept a new position. However, 40 percent of men indicate their current employer is not flexible enough in terms of allowing them to balance their professional and personal lives, compared to just 28 percent of women.

Based on the above results, researchers concluded that while more women than men are looking for benefits like telecommuting and flexible work days during the job selection process, when considering the reasons why employees leave a job, work-life balance is a bigger area of contention among men.

The bottom line for law firms is that when recruiting new attorneys, women may place a higher value on flex-time options than men. However, in terms of retaining the attorneys already working at a firm, promoting work-life balance is equally, if not more important to male attorneys. Men may not just be as "vocal" about the issue as women due to the stigma often attached to seeking reduced hours. Instead, the men just "vote with their feet."

The study also addressed the impact of age and ethnicity on career decisions. See further details here.

Monster will conduct a Webcast on October 30th at 1:00 p.m. ET during which the studys complete findings will be discussed. Registration may be found at: http://monster.edatab2b.com/webinar1030.aspx

Success Stories: Daniel P. Hunsberger and Lindsay Lambert: Lawyer Firefighters

FiretruckAsk any 6-year old boy what he wants to be when he grows up, and we'll bet the ranch that far more will choose "fireman" than "lawyer." Well, kids, you can have your cake and eat it too.

Exemplars of civic duty, Connecticut attorney Daniel P. Hunsberger, a partner at Maurer & Associates, and Houston attorney Lindsay Lambert, a partner at Hughes Watters Askanase, both serve as volunteer firefighters.

For details about Hunsberger career as a firefighter, visit the website of the Uniformed Professional Firefighters Association of Connecticut where Hunsberger is Vice President (scroll down a bit from the top of the page to read Hunsberger's bio).

Since 2005, Lambert has been one of 18 trained volunteer men and women who are part of the Fire Department in Bellaire, Texas, and who assist the department's full-time professional firefighters by covering calls and operating equipment as needed. Lambert has trained in such techniques as navigating in extremely smoky situations, and searching for adults or children who may be inside a burning structure. The commitment for volunteers such as Lambert is 24/7/365 -- to drop everything and go immediately to the fire station (or wherever they are dispatched) and be prepared to do whatever they are directed to do.

For further details about Lambert's work as a firefighter, see here (in The Houston Lawyer's Off the Record column).

Yahoo Group For Lawyers in Transition: LifeAfterLaw

For those lawyers who have transitioned from law to an alternative career, you can network and share "war" stories with like-minded peers through a Yahoo Group called LifeAfterLaw, which bills itself as a "discussion group for people who are in business (whether self-employed, employed by another, artist, writer, et cetera) after practicing law." The moderator is Stephanie West Allen (see earlier post here)

Join the group here.

Book Success Story: Lawyer Writer Brad Snyder's Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports

Bradsnyder We previously published an interview with Talmage Boston, a litigator with a passion for baseball history and author of 1939: Baseball's Tipping Point, which chronicles the pivotal 1939 season.

In the same vein is Brad Snyder, a 1999 graduate of Yale Law School and former law clerk for the Honorable Dorothy W. Nelson on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, who left his associate position at the law firm of Williams and Connolly of Washington, D.C. law firm, to write full time about baseball.

Snyder's most recent effort is the recently published Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports (Viking Oct. 2006). The book chronicles the legal crusade of Curt Flood, an all-star centerfielder with the St. Louis Cardinals, who rejected a trade to the Philadelphia Phillies after the 1969 season, and challenged baseball's "reserve" clause – a standard contractual provision that bound professional baseball players to their teams for life – all the way to the Supreme Court (see Kuhn v. Flood). While Flood lost the case, his legal battle paved the way for today's free agency system that enables players to receive fair market value for their services.

Read Snyder's full bio here.

Credit to the Wall Street Journal Law blog for a post on Snyder's book.

New Daily Lawyer Cartoon

Always eager to explore the lighter side of law, we respectfully roll out a new feature - a daily cartoon about lawyers from Andertoons. Check out today's toon below (note: to view enlarged cartoons, your browser must support javascript popups). In the future, the daily cartoon will display in the left sidebar over the "Category" links.

Success Story: David Lat: Former Federal Prosecutor and Wachtell Lipton Associate Turned Celebrity Blogger

Abovethelaw Came across a very engaging profile on Law.com (see link at bottom)tracing the fascinating career trajectory of David Lat from Yale Law School to U.S. Supreme Court clerk applicant (and a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals clerkship) to associate at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (billing 2,700 hours/year) to federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark, N.J., and (simultaneously) anonymous publisher of Underneath Their Robes - a gossipy blog exploring the personal lives (including sartorial preferences) of well known jurists - to his current position as editor of Above the Law - a blog dishing up a "behind-the-scenes look at the world of law [that] . . . provides news and gossip about the profession’s most colorful personalities and powerful institutions, as well as original commentary on breaking legal developments."

For those familiar with the blogosphere, the anonymously penned Underneath Their Robes created quite a stir for 18 months with its "irreverent dishing about the personal idiosyncrasies" of judges ranging from Chief Justice William Rehnquist to Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (who endorsed the blog as demonstrating that jurists "know how to poke fun at [themselves]." At its height, the blog received 2,000 visitors a day. Lat did not reveal his identity though, and tried to throw would-be gumshoes off his trail by suggesting he was female.

Eventually, Lat "outed himself" by disclosing his identity to New Yorker staff writer Jeffrey Toobin. Though the U.S. Attorney's office says Lat was a "gifted lawyer" for whom a position remains open if he ever wants to return to law, Lat resigned from his job as a federal prosecutor and accepted an offer from blogger mogul Nick Denton to join Wonkette (a popular political blog) as co-editor. He was later recruited by Elizabeth Spiers, founding editor of Gawker.com, to run the niche legal blog, Above the Law.

Lat says the reaction of most lawyers upon hearing of his departure from law to become a full time blogger is: "congrats, good for you, I'm jealous."

Read the full Law.com article here.

We think Lat would make a compelling interview for our "Success Stories" category (we've already spoken with some other well-known lawyers-turned-bloggers, including Dennis Kennedy, Carol Elefant, Bruce MacEwen, and Ernie the Attorney). We'll ask Lat if he's willing.

Success Stories: Jackie Benson and Dan Downey: Mixing Law and Competitive Ice Hockey

HockeyskatesFrom the Off the Record column in The Houston Lawyer comes a short vignette of Jackie Benson, a securities and business litigator with Howrey, and Dan Downey, former judge of the 295th Harris County District Court, litigator, and adjunct professor of law at South Texas College of Law, who, in addition to their legal practices, both play competitive hockey.

Benson plays three to four times per week, covering various positions, including goalie, winger and defense. Incredibly, Benson, notwithstanding his Colorado roots, learned to skate only 3 1/2 years ago after watching an amateur hockey game with a friend.

In contrast, Downey grew up playing hockey. He now plays strictly defense in a league for players over the age of 40, and treasures the game as a good way to develop both group and self-discipline.

Click here for the full article in The Houston Lawyer.

Webinar: Programs to Help Lawyers Who Are Caring For Elders

More than 29 million employed Americans are involved in caring for an aging relative or friend. The number of employed caregivers will only increase as the population continues to age - people over 85 are the largest growing sector of the population.

Thirty-seven percent of executive and professional women who are caregivers voluntarily leave their careers for some period of time to care for elders.

Given these trends, law firms need to develop programs to manage the impact of an aging population on their workforce -- or risk losing valued professionals as an increasing number of attorneys struggle to balance work and caregiver responsibilities.

In this 60-minute webcast scheduled for Thursday, November 16, 2006 at 12:30 PM EST, eldercare expert and author Dr. Roberta Satow will review the issues confronting attorney caregivers and identify programs that law firms can implement to provide support to these attorneys, including:

  • Workshops and seminars
  • Counseling
  • Advocacy resources
  • Flexible work options

Click here to register now!

Registration Fee:

"Early Bird" Registration: $125 USD per location (for registrations on or before November 10, 2006)
Regular Registration: $250 USD per location (for registrations after November 10, 2006)

Click here to register.

Leading British Firm Implements Retention Strategy

British_1Leading British law firm, Allen & Overy, has implemented a slew of initiatives designed to improve attorney retention. Bonuses will now be tied to individual contributions to firm profitability. The firm also recently held its first annual senior associate conference. Career management innovations include accommodating associates who want to experience other practice areas, and providing training to partners on how to conduct performance appraisals.

These are innovations that leading U.S. law firms should consider as well.

See the full story here.

Success Story: Stephanie West Allen: Lawyer Turned Coach and Trainer

Allen After practicing law in California for several years, Stephanie West Allen changed careers and became a speaker, writer, and trainer addressing workplace issues. Together with Edd Nichols, she is the principal of Allen-Nichols Productions, a Denver-based firm that conducts workplace training programs at law firms and in other corporate settings that use humor and fun to make learning easy, long-lasting and applicable to daily life.

Stephanie is also the author of several books and publishes a blog called Idealawg, which covers trends and innovations in the law firm practice management arena as well as the career transitions of individual lawyers. In the past, she has referred us here at JD Bliss to interesting stories of lawyers finding their "bliss" in alternative careers or balancing law with offbeat hobbies - we hope to publish some more of those stories soon.

Lawyer Performance Evaluations: The Top 10 Mistakes (from Judi Craig, Ph.D., MCC in The Complete Lawyer)

Craig Earlier posts have discussed how law firms are falling short when it comes to implementing effective mentoring programs for their young attorneys and how this problem impacts attorney retention (see here).  A related topic is that of performance evaluations. Many associates complain that their firms fail to provide with them with adequate and timely feedback about their job performance and so they don't know if they are successfully meeting the firm’s expectations. The problem is that most partners and other senior attorneys are not trained in providing effective performance evaluations.

Enter Judi Craig, Ph.D., a Master Certified Coach who, among other things, advises law firms on practice management issues and coaches individual lawyers. In a recent article in The Complete Lawyer, she outlines the top 10 mistakes that law firms make with respect to performance evaluations. We recommend firms study Dr. Craig's list and then implement her suggestions since effective performance evaluations are a step in the right direction towards reducing associate attrition.

The ten mistakes are:

  • Mistake #1: Not Doing The Evaluations In The First Place
  • Mistake #2: Not Giving Employees An Opportunity To Rate Themselves
  • Mistake #3: Winging It
  • Mistake #4: Not Telling The Truth
  • Mistake #5: Making The Employee Wrong
  • Mistake #6: Delivering A Bomb
  • Mistake #7: Not Arranging A Confidential, Private, Uninterrupted Space
  • Mistake #8: Not Evaluating Associates And Junior Partners
  • Mistake #9: No Action Plan
  • Mistake #10: No Accountability

For a more detailed discussion of each of these mistakes, read Dr. Craig's full article here.

Success Stories: Lawyer Equestrians Tackle English Riding

Lawyer EquestriansThe Houston Lawyer, a magazine published 6 times a year, periodically publishes a column called Off the Record, which profiles the interesting, offbeat hobbies of individual Houston attorneys. The angle is consistent with the kind of stories we publish on JD Bliss so we thought we'd bring some of these stories to the attention of our readers.

Stepping back two years, in the September/October 2004 issue, the column featured Diane McManus, a supervising attorney at Lone Star Legal Aid, and Ceil Price, an in-house consulting environmental lawyer with Shell Oil Products US, both of Houston, who participate in English riding - an equestrian sport in which a judge scores the rider’s control of the horse in various intricate patterns of walk/ trot/canter in specific measured patterns.

"Lawyers live in their heads," says Diane. "Riding dressage is very physical, very outside yourself. It also focuses on detail and precision, like lawyering."

Read the full column here.

Interview: Drew Oliver: From Law to Stuffed Microbes

MicrobeDespite following his father into the law, Drew Oliver had always harbored an entrepreneurial streak. During his second year of law school, Oliver hit upon the idea of manufacturing plush dolls that look like real germs and viruses, only a million times their actual size. He decided to research whether he could launch a company around the concept.

Putting his legal sleuthing skills to the test, Oliver used online resources like Google and offline organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to research sourcing products in Asia, warehousing and distribution, and regulations governing the fireproofing and chemical content of stuffed dolls.

By the time he graduated from law school in 2002 and had started work as an associate at Kirkland & Ellis, Oliver had already placed his first order for 10,000 stuffed microbes from a factory in Asia. Fast forward to the present, and the product line of Oliver's company has grown to include common microbes like the kind that cause the common cold and the flu to more exotic germs such as those responsible for black death and ebola. Distribution has likewise expanded to hundreds of retailers, including drug stores, hospital gift shops, science museums and educational catalogs. The company also sells directly through its website at http://www.giantmicrobes.com.

As to why he switched from law to business, Oliver says "Being a service provider is not really what I enjoy personally – my real interest is in making tangible products. And I just like being my own boss. If you are interested in creating a business of your own, your skills as a lawyer are an excellent tool, since research is key – and most of the lawyers I know are terrific at research! If you work on your idea as hard as you do at being a good lawyer, you will almost certainly succeed."

Click below for our interview with Oliver.

Continue reading "Interview: Drew Oliver: From Law to Stuffed Microbes" »

1st Annual Fordham Law Film Festival

Fordham After launching a blog category on lawyer movies, we were pleased to learn that the Forum on Law, Culture, & Society is hosting Fordham Law School's First Annual Law Film Festival on October 20-26, 2006, as a forum to discuss the way legal issues are examined and illuminated in art and popular culture.

The festival will feature famous films involving the legal system such as A Civil Action, A Time to Kill, and 12 Angry Men. After each film, well-known lawyers such as Ben Brafman and jurists such as the Honorable Denny Chin (United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York) will lead discussions about the issues raised in the movie.

For further details about times and locations, visit here.

Introducing the Adventures of . . . Attorney Man

Attorneyman Seeking to jazz up the often staid task of teaching lawyers business development skills, consultant Karen Katz has created "Attorney Man," a comic book superhero who teaches trainees how to become super rainmakers.

The storyline revolves around Tim Silver, an attorney at the fictional law firm Cha Chingi Changa LLP, who, after nine years and 23,000 billable hours, finally makes senior partner, but soon realizes that the firm's other partners no longer give him work, that he has no clients of his own, and that he lacks the marketing skills to develop business. Enter Dr. Development, who gives Tim a magic elixir that transforms him into Attorney Man, an uberlawyer who masters the art of sales and develops a roster of supersatisfied clients to die for.

Corny? We agree with Katz's strategy: "sometimes when people get a chuckle out of something, they're more inclined to think differently about it."

To buy the Attorney Man comic, visit here.

Read the full story behind the caped legal crusader in the Boston Globe.

And thank you to the WSJ Law Blog for its post tipping us off to the arrival of our new hero (the real question now is whether Attorney Man has adequate credentials to gain admission to the Justice League - if turned down, there's always Plan B - sue Time Warner (parent of DC Comics) for discrimination!)

Insights into the Leadership Value of Work Life Balance

CashmanKevin Cashman is founder and CEO of LeaderSource, a global leadership development, executive coaching and team effectiveness consultancy headquartered in Minneapolis. His article yesterday in the Executive Health column on Forbes.com offered some helpful insights for senior lawyers struggling with work life balance.

Cashman cites a survey of CEO's in which 92% revealed that finding some measure of work/life balance was the single toughest developmental challenge they faced. As Cashman sees it, grueling schedules that leave no time for family or recreation damage leadership potential. His reasoning is that leadership requires vision, but "vision cannot come without reflection, and reflection doesn’t happen without pause." He therefore advises executives to build time into their schedule for rejuvenating activities outside work that nurture the kind of mental acuity and physical vigor that leaders need for high performance.

See the full article here.

Success Story: Mississippi Lawyer Nominated Cook of the Week Balances Family and a Budding Legal Practice

BakingJenifer Branning, a 2004 graduate of the Mississippi College School of Law, has set her sights on the challenging task of building her own law practice. But her family won't take a backseat to her ambition - "the kids (3 and 1) come first," she says.

As per a recent portrait in the Neshoba Democrat where she was nominated "Cook of the Week," Jennifer works hard at balancing career and family, including time devoted to personal interests such as reading, writing and antiques, travel with her family, religious activites, and preparing feasts for friends in her home together with her husband.

In fact, you can check out some of Jennifer's favorite recipes right here.

Report from the Center for WorkLife Law: The Untold Story of Why Women Leave the Workforce

The prevailing view in the media is that women leave the workforce primarily due to the pull of family life. In a just published report entitled “Opt Out” or Pushed Out?: How the Press Covers Work/Family Conflict: The Untold Story of Why Women Leave the Workforce, Joan Williams and her colleagues at the Center for WorkLife Law challenge the conventional wisdom and argue that women are pushed out by inflexible workplace environments designed around the image of the ideal worker as someone who is available 24/7 (one study cited in the report found that work-related reasons were key considerations in the decision to quit for 86% of the mothers surveyed, who cited such "pushes" as the "amount, pace and inflexibility of work.").

The report does not focus on lawyers, but they are mentioned and used as examples.

For those interested in reading a thought-provoking, well-researched viewpoint, click here for the full report on the website of the Project for Attorney Retention (note: the report is 1.25 MB in PDF format - allow time for download).

Work Life Balance and Attorney Retention Also Issues at British Law Firms

BritishAmerican law firms are not the only ones experiencing attorney retention problems due to work life balance issues. A recent article in Legal Week (a publisher of news and analysis for lawyers in the UK) references a recent survey of 2,500 lawyers in which work/life balance was voted as the most important factor in their working lives — coming above salary, billable hours targets and part-nership prospects.  The survey also found that only half of respondents cited partnership at their current firm as an aspiration, with that figure falling further for the most junior solicitors and for female lawyers.

To address such trends, several major British law firms have implemented various work life balance initiatives such as sabbaticals, job sharing and flex time schedules. New alternatives to partnership are also being created to accommodate lawyers working part-time schedules. American law firms - take notice!

See further details here.

Advice to Young Associates on Navigating the Wave of Law Firm Mergers

MergerThe relentless pace of law firm mergers is having a major impact on the careers of young attorneys who are often caught in the middle. For those seeking guidance on preparing for or navigating a law firm merger, this article by Gail Cutter, a former attorney and presently a legal search consultant, provides some helpful tips.  Cutter advises associates to cultivate relationships with select partners who will become familiar with your work, talents and contributions. In the event of a merger, these partners will become your greatest ambassadors and champions in the event of merger-related layoffs.  Further, after a merger is announced, Cutter advises associates to become involved in the integration process as a way to distinguish yourself in the new entity.

Book: Don't Waste Your Talent: The 8 Critical Steps To Discovering What You Do Best

Every one of us is born with the ability to be great at something. The secret lies in identifying that ability and using it.  Indeed, the sense that they are not engaged in a career that is well suited to their personality, talents or interests is a major reason why many lawyers feel unfulfilled and burned out after a few years of practice. Maybe they are collaborative by nature, but are stuck practicing in a confrontational specialty such as litigation. Or maybe they are entrepreneurial and feel stifled by the rigid hierarchy of a large law firm.

Lawyers seeking to identify their natural talents may want to read Don't Waste Your Talent: The 8 Critical Steps To Discovering What You Do Best, by Bob McDonald, Ph.D., and Don Hutcheson.  McDonald and Hutcheson asked hundreds of successful people: what made you successful? Everyone's story was different, but each shared a common denominator - all successful people create and are guided by a clear personal vision - an accurate and precise picture of the work that expresses their talents best.

Thank you to career coach Monica Parker for recommending this book.

Life Imitating Art: Private Practice Attorneys Who Switch Sides to the Government's Team

CBS's new show Shark, chronicles the legal crusades of Sebastian Stark (played by James Wood), a celebrity criminal defense lawyer who switches sides and joins the D.A.'s office.

In a case of life imitating art, 60-year old Garland McInnis recently went to work for the Harris County Attorney's Office (in Texas) after a 31-year career spent defending individuals wrongfully accused of child abuse. He now represents Child Protective Services in its efforts to terminate the parental rights of wayward caregivers.

Another lawyers who switched sides is Robert Soard, who for years represented homeowners associations and real estate investors, but now heads the county attorney's real property division and oversees eminent domain cases.

For lawyers who feel burned out by the long hours of private practice, a switch to public service could be the answer.

Read more

Work Life Balance Lessons from Jefferson Wells

LogoNancy McNelis is an accountant by training who is a regional director with Jefferson Wells, a financial services firm that provides audit and other accounting services to clients nationwide. Before joining Jefferson Wells, McNelis routinely worked 60 to 70 hours a week plus weekends, with especially late nights to get out financial statements. Now she averages about 45 to 55 work hours a week.

McNelis explained that Jefferson Wells encourages work life balance in several ways. Consultants who work a long day, can leave early the next. About 30 percent of the consultants are part-time who take summers off, may be gone for a month or otherwise work a flexible schedule that allows them to accept assignments that fit their needs.  Such policies haven't slowed Jefferson Wells' growth - founded in 1995, the company now has nearly 50 offices located around the United States and Europe (see here for more information about the company).

On an individual level, McNelis has this advice for those seeking better balance: "don't sweat the small stuff. Don't let e-mail control you. Pick times of day to sort through it. Realize that everything is not a crisis and priority. Don't try to control it all. Trust that the people you hire can work things out themselves."

See the full interview with McNelis here. The insights will be helpful to individual lawyers seeking greater balance and law firms exploring ideas to improve their attorneys' work life balance.

Success Story: Jessica Hirsch Biales: Lawyer Invents "Octopus" Strap to Carry Files

Octopus Strap Jessica Hirsch was once your average New York City lawyer running to court lugging files - typically along with a newspaper and a hot cup of cappucino. One day, on the subway platform, waiting for the train, it occurred to her that if her files had a strap or handle, her life would be much easier. Back at the office after a court appearance, she discussed the idea of a file carrying strap with her colleagues, Michael and Adam Schlesinger. The three agreed that a strap for the file was a great idea for a new product. Michael, Adam and Jessica designed and developed the strap, which they dubbed "octopus."

See the picture to the right? Want an octopus of your own? Click here to order from the company's website.

Truly an invention born of necessity.

Success Story: Beth Orsoff: Lawyer Turned Novelist

We're happy to highlight the success stories of our readers. We recently heard from Beth Orsoff who earned her JD from USC Law School and then worked as an entertainment lawyer at Warner Bros. But Beth's true passion remained writing - as she shares on her website - "the first book I purchased after finishing the torturous three-day-long California Bar Exam was entitled "How to Write a Novel."

Happily, Beth achieved her dream this year when she published her first novel - Romantically Challenged - the tale of an L.A. entertainment lawyer seeking romantic love. The book is available for sale on Amazon (see right)

Congratulations, Beth.

Lawyer Assistance Programs

PencilSometimes the stresses of practicing law can lead to serious mental health or behavioral conditions that require professional help. Sadly, statistics show that as many as one of every four lawyers suffers from stress; out of 105 occupations, lawyers rank first in depression; and a disproportionate number of lawyers commit suicide.

Lawyer Assistance Programs (a/k/a "LAP's") are programs, usually supported by a state bar association or related agency, consisting of trained professionals or volunteers ready to assist members of the legal community -- whether they be attorneys, judges, or even law students -- who are suffering from mental or physical conditions that may impair their ability to practice law.

The ABA offers a list of LAP-related publications here, including a directory of state and local bar association programs addressing a range of personal problems experienced by lawyers.

While dated, the November 2004 issue of ABA’s GP/Solo Magazine, entitled “More Bumps in the Road,” answers common questions about LAP's, and includes other helpful articles on mental health issues.

The Best Way to Catch New Clients

Legal marketing may fall a bit outside the scope of our mandate here at JD Bliss, but at a time when advancement at so many firms depends on a lawyer's ability to develop new business, and to the extent so many lawyers find business development to be a frustrating experience that involves alot of time and effort with uncertain payoffs, we're happy to share compelling business development tips that come across our desk.

In this case, we found what we consider a gem of an article written by John Remsen of the Remsen Group, a marketing consulting firm that works exclusively with law firms to help them attract and retain the clients. Entitled The Best Way to Catch New Clients? Find Their Associations and Get Actively Involved, the article explains step-by-step how active participation in an industry trade associations can help lawyers find new clients. Briefly, the article recommends targeting an industry (e.g., banking), and then locating a trade association that will help you meet and network with senior executives in that industry.

Sounds simple, but the article concedes that the process requires alot of time and effort.

Read the full article here.

Interview: Ted Mills: From Law to Nonprofit Fundraising and Development

Ted MillsAfter just a few years working long hours as a lawyer, Ted Mills knew that he wanted to leave the law -- but wasn’t sure what he wanted to do next. With help from New York-based career coaches and counselors Celia Paul & Associates, Ted discovered his interest in non-profit fundraising and development, made connections…and has never regretted his successful career change. With positions at John Hopkins University, Swarthmore College and the Philadelphia Museum of Art under his belt, Ted feels he’s finally found a professional calling at which he is skilled and for which he has a passion.

Click below to read our interview with Ted.

Continue reading "Interview: Ted Mills: From Law to Nonprofit Fundraising and Development" »

Tony La Russa: Lawyer Manager

St. Louis Cardinals Those following the Major League Baseball playoffs know that the New York Mets will be facing off tonight against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first game of the National League Championships Series. But did you know that before becoming a manager, St. Louis skipper Tony La Russa earned a JD degree from Florida State University? Despite the credential, La Russa never practiced law, stating, "I decided I'd rather ride the buses in the minor leagues than practice law for a living."

La Russa is the seventh MLB manager to have earned a law degree. Can you name the other six?

Success Story: Laurie Warshawsky: Mixing Law and Jewelry Design

Lauriepicture3Since our post last week about Denise Couling, stories of other lawyers mixing law and jewelry design have come to our attention.

One example is Laurie Warshawsky who received her law degree from the Cleveland Marshall College of Law in 1996. Laurie now works as an attorney and law clerk for the 8th District Court of Appeals of Ohio. However, she also has an impressive artistic sense and flair for fashion as is evident from the distinctive and elegant necklaces, earrings and other jewely she designs on the side using using various precious and semi-precious gemstones.

You can read more about Laurie's background and view her complete line of jewelry on her website - Elle-a-Belle Designs.

Laurie also blogs about emerging designers and fashion trends on her blog - the Blooming Lily.

We wish Laurie much success with her venture.

"I Want To Wake Up Every Morning For Work And Be Excited"

The title for this post was pulled from an essay by Katherine Hillier, a senior majoring in journalism at the University of La Verne (in, you guessed it, La Verne, California), and editorial director of The Campus Times, a student newspaper.

While Hillier's essay explored her own difficulties choosing a career, there are nuggets of wisdom therein worthy of contemplation by any lawyer unhappy with his or her career. Consider:

Choosing a career shouldn't be about finding something that makes alot of money or that sounds great on a resume. It's about finding what makes you truly happy even if that means venturing out in different directions.

Or:

I want to find something that I will enjoy doing every day. I want to wake up in the morning for work and be excited. I want a happy life and that means I need to follow my bliss....

Isn't this what we all strive for? Isn't this what life is all about? We hope our lawyer readers take Hillier's words to heart and find their own personal "JD Bliss" (pun intended : - ).

Read the full essay here.

Helping Women Return to the Law - Program Starts This Friday at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco

We recently wrote about a new program at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco designed to help mothers return to law practice after leaving the field to care for their families (see post here).  The program starts this Friday, October 13th. Details concerning location, program format and registration have been posted to the website of the Project for Attorney Retention - see here.

Success Story: Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini: "I'm a Mum First, a Lawyer Second"

Scottishflag Elish Angiolini was recently appointed to serve as the Lord Advocate, Scotland's top law officer - she is the first woman in more than 500 years to hold the job - a "cause for celebration," she says. But in a recent interview, she made clear that her first and most important job is to be a mum to her two kids - ages nine and six.  As Angiolini elaborated, "Harry Potter, Lord Of The Rings, Disney, are the things I do outside work because I can do them with my children. They are the most important thing in my life."

We applaud Angiolini's candor about her priorities. Read the full story behind her appointment here in the Sunday Mail.

Interview: Denise Couling: From Law to Jewelry Design

Denise_couling2Denise Couling followed in her father's footsteps by joining up with his firm after graduating law school. However, from an early age, Couling also enjoyed tinkering with jewelry.

After the birth of her second child, Couling began developing a system of interchangeable jewelry pieces that would go from dressy to work to casual. Friends, clients and other lawyers who saw her pieces started asking for them, and she started selling small batches; sometimes out of her conference room.

After reading Po Bronson's "What Should I Do With My Life?", and watching a taped episode of "Oprah" about a federal lawyer, Warren Brown, who had chucked his Washington legal career to open up a cake bakery (see Success Story), Couling decided to ease out of law and begin selling jewelry. From trunk sales, Couling has graduated to a website, 50-page catalog, and her own physical retail store location.

Click below for our interview with Denise (we hope Denise's story will inspire some of our readers out there to pursue their dreams much as Warren Brown's story inspired Denise).

Continue reading "Interview: Denise Couling: From Law to Jewelry Design" »

Success Story: Donatella Arpaia: Attorney Turned Restaurateur

Donatellaportrait_1 For those familiar with the Manhattan restaurant scene, the names Dona (offering Southern European cuisine at 208 East 52nd Street) and davidburke & donatella (trendy eatery at 133 East 61st Street) will undoubtedly ring a bell. Patrons of these two eateries are probably less familiar with the background of its founder - Donatella Arpaia.

A recent Newsday article recounts how Donatella initially steered clear of her family's restaurant business and instead embarked on a career as a corporate lawyer. But after practicing law for seven months, Donatella filled in one day for her brother at one of their father's establishments. The lure of the restaurant business proved too strong, and in 2000 she left law. Within five years, Donatella had opened a string of hot New York City restaurants, including davidburke & donatella, and in March 2006, Dona (her nickname), and was crowned by Zagat’s "The Hostest with the Mostest." Donatella's sauces and oils now also grace the shelves at Whole Foods Markets.

Regarding the motivation for her career change, Donatella explains, "A restaurant is a way of life. It's a culture. A restaurant becomes your family. ... You love it. ... We are so passionate about food, and you have to be to survive in this industry."

Read more about Donatella on her website.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Simulated Lawyering for Your Nintendo DS

Phoenixwright Attorneys can now provide their kids with a taste of what it's like to practice law with a game from CapCom for their Nintendo DS - Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. Players assume the role of a rookie defense lawyer fighting to prove his clients' innocence. Among other things, you can collect evidence, flip through the testimony of the prosecution's witnesses, and expose their lies and omissions through cross-examination.

Click here for further details about the game's characters.

Click here for a review of the game on Wired News (you'll have to scroll down the page a bit for the Phoenix Wright review - first there's a review of another game called Trauma Center: Under the Knife, which puts you in the role of a talented surgeon battling a deadly epidemic - but don't worry, if you mess up, Phoenix will defend the malpractice lawsuit).

Question: First Year Staff Attorney at Large NYC Firm Seeking Advice

Attorney Career Question: I'm a new staff attorney at a large litigation firm in NYC.  Aside from my summer clerkship and some document review jobs after graduation, this is my first firm job. My firm's policies seem shrouded in mystery ex: there is an "unspoken" billable hours requirement, there are no set performance reviews etc.  The associate in charge of my case is overworked and really snappy - and thinks I am the world's biggest idiot.  The other staff attorneys all started a few weeks earlier that I did -so I'm really the newest kid on the block.  Any advice so that I'm not the last one hired and the first one fired???  HELP!!! Thanks so much!

Click here to respond.

Novant Health Legal Department Wins Award for Work Life Balance Initiatives

Novant_logoThe legal department at Novant Health, a North Carolina-based, not-for-profit healthcare system composed of physician medical groups and eight hospitals, recently won the first annual Corporate Counsel Work-Life Balance Award (bestowed by the labor law firm of Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLC) for its work life balance initiatives.

Novant Health's innovations? The first initiative is the Flexible Work Arrangements program, which encourages all lawyers, whether full or part-time, to take time off during the day or to leave early to attend children’s school events, games or other important family activities.  The second initiative is the Approach to Work and Workload Allocation, which allocates work among the department’s lawyers and balances workloads between Novant’s legal staff and outside counsel.

Very sensible policies that surely keep the troops happy and loyal.

See the full story here.

Nassau County DA Forbids Part Time Schedules for Working Lawyer Moms

We know this is probably old news to most readers - Kathleen M. Rice, the new district attorney in Nassau County, N.Y., announced she will not allow part-time work in her office and told the dozen prosecutors or so in the office -- mostly women working a reduced schedule to spend more time with their children -- to either ramp up to full time or leave.

The question is whether Rice is setting up the DA's office for a "work life balance" lawsuit. In a previous post, we reported on the findings of Mary Still, a sociologist, and author of a new study published by the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, that there has been a 400% increase in the last decade in the number of lawsuits filed by workers alleging that they were discriminated against by their employers because of caregiving responsibilities at home for a parent or child.

Joan Williams, executive director of the Center for WorkLife Law, calls policies like that implemented by Rice, "Family Responsibilities Discrimination", or FRD. To illustrate the point that FRD causes of action are being increasingly accepted in court, Williams shared examples such as these:

  • A school psychologist's right to sue was upheld when she accused her district of denying her tenure after telling her it was ''not possible to be a good mother and have this job.''
  • A sales representative for a mattress company was granted $1.1 million in compensatory and punitive damages (later reduced by the court to $301,500 because of a statutory cap) when she was denied a promotion because she had children and her supervisor ''did not think she'd want to relocate her family.''
  • A woman who was being paid less per hour because of a part-time schedule was awarded $500,000.

See further discussion in a recent article on LexisOne.

Question: Support for Telecommuting at Law Firms

Attorney Career Question: My firm is considering a work from home option. Is there any comprehensive article that it can reference that sets forth what other firms are doing in this regard; the success of such programs; and any other hard data from which it can make an informed decision?

Click here to respond

Book: The Likeability Factor

Likeability Last week we suggested in a post that partners at major law firms should undergo "likeability" training as a step towards becoming more effective managers, leaders and supervisors. Given that so many attorneys cite a "difficult" or "overbearing" boss as a primary factor motivating their departure from a firm, "likeability" training should be a component of any attorney retention strategy.

For starters, lawyers might consider picking up a copy of The Likeability Factor, authored by Tim Sanders, who has promoted the notion that "likeable" leaders are essential to business success and profitability.

Buy from Amazon.

Did You Know? October is Officially National Work and Family Month

OctoberMany people may not be aware, but on Sept. 5, 2003, the United States Senate passed Resolution 210 designating October as National Work and Family Month. The Senate explained that "supporting a balance between work and personal life is in the best interest of national worker productivity" and that "reducing the conflict between work and family life should be a national priority."

In its proclamation, the Senate also requested that "the President issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to observe 'National Work and Family Month' with appropriate ceremonies and activities."

Sponsored by Senator Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and co-sponsored by 12 of his colleagues, Resolution 210 identifies 11 important issues confronting American workers that are addressed by the adoption of work-life programs and services, including:

  • 85 percent of U.S. wage and salaried workers have immediate, day-to-day family responsibilities off the job
  • 46 percent of wage and salaried workers are parents with children under the age of 18 who live with them at least half time
  • Nearly one out of every four Americans -- over 45 million Americans -- provided or arranged care for a family member or friend in the past year
  • An increasing number of baby boomers reach retirement age in record numbers [and] more and more Americans are faced with the challenge of caring for older parents.

Resolution 210 goes on to say that work-life programs:

  • Are key predictors of job productivity, job satisfaction, commitment to employers, and retention
  • Allow parents to be more involved in their children's lives, and parental involvement is associated with children's higher achievement in language and mathematics, improved behavior, greater academic persistence, and lower dropout rates.

So there you have it - should overworked lawyers ever need to cite authority for work life balance programs at their firms, they've got their legislative source.

Law Firm Mentoring Programs: A Better Approach

Mentor Earlier this month (September 18, 2006 issue), the National Law Journal ran an article entitled: Mentoring plans failing associates. The article noted that while many law firms are seeking to improve attorney retention by implementing mentoring programs for young associates, those programs have had little impact on escalating attrition rates (with 78% of associates leaving their firms by their fifth year according to a 2005 NALP report).

We agree with the observation in the article that structured mentoring programs often fail because they match up associates with partners randomly or based on practice area without any effort to ensure compatibility in terms of a shared background or common interests. The result is mismatches such as that described in the article where an African-American associate at a major Atlanta law firm was paired with a white male partner with whom she felt she had no connection. The associate ultimately left to another Atlanta firm that had African-American partners whom she felt could provide appropriate career guidance.

A better approach is what we call "mentoring circles" under which groups of associates and partners with common interests and backgrounds are matched, and then meet regularly in informal contexts to get to know each other better (e.g., periodic lunches, sporting events, etc.)  Over time, compatible 1-to-1 pairs will generally develop as participants gravitate to attorneys with whom they feel a connection.

To ensure a mentoring program is working, firms also need to solicit regular feedback from associates.

One law firm taking action is New York's Sullivan & Cromwell, which will soon roll out a new mentoring initiative that will feature separate programs for junior and senior associates. Under the supervision of Richard Pollack, co-head of the firm's general practice group, the program for junior lawyers will focus on acclimation and socializing while the plan for more senior attorneys (3-5  years) will focus on skills enhancement. The latter initiative will allow senior associates to select two partners to help them identify strength and weaknesses, and guide their professional growth.

The National Law Journal site can be found here, but you will need to open an account to access the archived article.

Success Story: Len Leeds: From Lawsuits to Love Songs

Leeds2 For two decades, Len Leeds' law firm, Leeds Morelli & Brown, P.C., has distinguished itself as one of the premiere employment, discrimination and civil rights litigation boutiques in the New York metropolitan area. Inspired by the will to survive of a client who was diagnosed with cancer, Len decided to make a difference in cancer awareness through his own long dormant passion - music.

Samples from Leeds' first album - From Lawsuits to Love Songs - are available on his website. Is this crooning counsel the new Frank Sinatra? You be the judge.

Leeds' next performance will be opening for Tony Orlando next Sunday, October 8, 2006 at the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts on the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University in Brookville, Long Island. See further details here (you can also buy tickets online).

33% of Female Pediatricians Work Part-Time

PediatricsAs we've noted in the past, the growing trend towards greater work life balance is common to all professions, not just law. This recent article in the Boston Globe notes that even as women continue to enter the field of medicine in unprecedented numbers, they are refusing to work the same long hours as do many of their male counterparts. As an example, the article cited pediatrics where 33 percent of female pediatricians work part-time, compared with 4 percent of male pediatricians.

Generally, women tend to cluster in specialties that are more accommodating of women and part-time work, notably pediatrics, psychiatry, and dermatology (female OB/GYN's now also outnumber males, despite the frequency of emergency calls).

The Debate Rages: Mobile Technology Good for Work Life Balance or Not?

BlackberryRecent posts (see, e.g., here and here) have presented both sides of the debate on whether mobile technologies improve work life balance or not. Some say the technologies keep employees tethered to the office 24/7, while others argue that the ability to communicate with the office and clients anytime, anywhere is liberating.

In a new survey out of the UK, 73% of respondents said that they have seen an improvement in their work/life balance as a result of using mobile technologies. We note that this survey was commissioned by Damovo UK, which provides mobile communication technologies to businesses. Any bias there?

Readers - what do you have to say? Are mobile computing technologies good or bad for work life balance? Please share your thoughts via the comments link below.

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