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Matt Homann Shares His "Ten Rules About Hourly Billing"

Last week, we looked at the billable hour in light of current economic conditions.  Economic factors provide a context in which to reevaluate hourly billing, but it is also useful to continue to explore more generally the merits and potential problems of billing our services by the hour.

Some questions we can ask about the billable hour include:

  • Why do we bill hourly?
  • Does hourly billing represent the true value of what we provide to our clients?
  • Does billing by the hour provide the best assurance that we will be paid for our services, without any client disputes or hassles?

These are just a few basic, preliminary questions.  At the [non]billable hour, Matt Homann, a lawyer, mediator, and entrepreneur, offers his Ten Rules About Hourly Billing.  Each of his "rules" provides an important point to ponder about how we bill for our work and invites us to consider whether we want to bill by the hour or according to some other fee-calculating method.  It is helpful to consider each of the "rules" in relation to our practices and our clients.  Doing so will help us make informed decisions about whether to keep hourly billing or to adopt some other billing model.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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Susan Cartier Liebel Explains Why Now is a Perfect Time to Go Solo

Gloom.  Plunging stock prices.  Layoffs.  "Negative growth."  Does any of that sound familiar?  It does, if you've been following mainstream news and blog coverage of the current global economy.

In these tumultuous times, law firms are laying off lawyers and lateral positions and first jobs are increasingly difficult to find.  So, what can you do?  You can keep looking for employment.  You can lie awake at night and beweep your adverse state.  Or you can hire yourself.

Continue reading "Susan Cartier Liebel Explains Why Now is a Perfect Time to Go Solo" »

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Today's Economy Prompts Rethinking the Billable Hour

We've written a lot about the billable hour from various perspectives, and have considered some alternative billing arrangements available to lawyers and clients.  Lately, the health of the global economy has been making news headlines daily and, as a recent article in the Washington Post observes, the larger and more intense economic pressures are forcing many clients and lawyers to seriously reconsider how fees for legal services are billed.

In-house lawyers are leading the efforts to question, and perhaps abandon, hourly billing by the law firms that represent their companies.  Today's economic challenges are compelling in-house attorneys to significantly reduce their own costs, while fees paid to outside law firms have tended to increase at rates higher than employee salaries, energy costs, and other business expenses.

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"Alternative Lawyer Jobs" Site Helps Attorneys Find Alternative Careers

Earlier this year, we featured several law school graduates who are pursuing career alternatives to the private practice of law. Now, there is a Web site dedicated to the quest for such work.  Alternative Lawyer Jobs, subtitled as "Careers for Lawyers Who Want Something More," says it will help those attorneys who are "[t]ired of traditional law practice" to find their "jobs."  In fact, the site's FAQs page points out that Alternative Lawyer Jobs posts "just about every other job opportunity" that would interest individuals with law degrees, except for private practice jobs.

At the time of this writing, the site lists 312 different jobs in a variety of cities throughout the United States and Canada, and allows employers to post job descriptions or links to descriptions on other Web sites at no charge.  The site itself has a number of interesting features including a "Job Alerts" e-mail system to notify subscribers of new job listings, and a Career Blog that features stories about alternative forms of employment for lawyers.

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Does Work-life Balance Help Lawyers Serve their Clients Better?

Reading a recent essay in the Bermuda Sun got me thinking about the importance of work-life balance not just for lawyers, but for clients.  Let me explain.

In this deeply personal account of her successes and failures in living a balanced life, Joy Pimental, executive vice president of marketing with the Argus Group, tells how she has tried to balance the time she spends on career and volunteer work with the time she gives to her family and friends.  Often, however, Pimental seemed to be forgetting to care for herself, always focusing on others' needs.  She recalls, "I never put myself first; I would have felt selfish if I did."

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Sumpter & Gonzalez Practices Criminal Defense by Treating the Client as a Whole Person

The problems that lead a person to be charged with a crime, convicted, and sentenced are often complex and numerous.  For instance, an accused person may have a history of substance abuse or mental illness, or may have recently experienced an unusually stressful event such as a divorce.  The attorneys at Sumpter & Gonzalez, a seven-lawyer criminal defense firm in Austin, Texas, understand that the criminal offenses with which their clients are charged do not happen in isolation from other events in the clients' lives.  For that reason, they take a holistic approach to criminal defense that starts when the client first arrives at their office and continues after the court case concludes.

Corrine Sumpter and David Gonzalez, who are married to one another, head this innovative operation.  For each of its clients, the firm obtains a full social history and starts looking for mitigating events in the client's case right at the start of the representation.  Sumpter & Gonzalez also uses a social worker and interns in criminal justice and social work to gather and present evidence in court on the client's behalf.

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Losing Lawyers to Lack of Work-life Balance

What happens when lawyers cannot achieve a healthy work-life balance at their firms?  Individual lawyers will find varying solutions to the problem, but some of them will leave.  So reports the London Times about new research presented by Baroness Scotland of Asthal, the Attorney-General of the United Kingdom, that indicates some law firms remain "suspicious of [their lawyers working at home] and of employees who want a healthy 'work-life balance'."

The study identified several barriers to more flexible work arrangements, including these:

  • a prevalent "long-hours" culture;
  • the need for lawyers to be seen working in the office;
  • billable-hour quotas of 1,800 hours per year or more;
  • 50- to 60-hour work weeks;
  • a suspicion that working from home is a "soft" option that involves shorter work hours;
  • an erroneous belief that clients expect their lawyers to be available 24x7; and
  • the current economic climate that will likely cause firms to be even more resistant to having associates and partners work from home or part-time.

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Gravett & Gravett: Divorce Attorneys Who Help Couples Save Their Marriages

When most people think of divorce attorneys, they imagine lawyers who work with people to dissolve their marriages. However, a law firm in New York state, Gravett & Gravett, goes a step further: they help troubled couples to try to save their marriages.

The firm takes a high-tech approach to saving marriages: it recently launched to provide visitors with free information they can use to preserve their marriages. The site contains

  • a directory of marriage counselors and mental health professionals in Westchester County, New York,
  • articles about the realities of divorce and how to deal with marital conflict effectively,
  • a collection of books with links to them on, and
  • a library of links to Web sites that offer information and help to struggling couples.

Continue reading "Gravett & Gravett: Divorce Attorneys Who Help Couples Save Their Marriages" »

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Attorney John Rittelmeyer Champions Disability Rights

John Rittelmeyer seriously explored several occupations, including retail sales and computer programming, before deciding on a career in the law.  Even after becoming a lawyer, Rittelmeyer, of Cary, North Carolina, remained open to career change.  After many years in the private practice of law, in 2007, Rittelmeyer changed jobs to become the director of legal services for Disability Rights North Carolina, an organization on whose board he had been serving since the mid-1990s.

These days, Rittelmeyer spends his work time advocating for people with disabilities who might otherwise lack meaningful access to the legal system.  He earns only about half of what he was making in private practice, but he finds his work for Disability Rights North Carolina much more satisfying.

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Stephanie West Allen Shares Mindfulness Resources for Lawyers

For nearly 10 years, I have been practicing mindfulness mediation. While I still have much to learn about mindfulness, the practice has already enriched my personal and professional lives immensely.

What is mindfulness? The word "mindfulness" is at once simple in its meaning, and rich in its power and profound implications for our world. Mindfulness is the quality and the practice of being awake and fully aware of what is happening in each moment of our lives. When we are mindful, we experience reality exactly as it is, without supplementing reality with any concepts or notions about our experience. Mindfulness is a state of alertness, of openness, and an attitude of willingness to encounter whatever the present moment reveals to us.

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Ford & Harrison Sees Good Results from Eliminating Billable Hour Quota for First-Years

Last year, we blogged about Ford & Harrison, an Atlanta-headquartered labor and employment law firm that had eliminated billable hour requirements for its first-year associates under an innovative program called "Year One."  A year later, we're happy to learn that this program is proving to be a success.  The Wall Street Journal's Law Blog reported that Year One is being well received by the firm's clients, associates, and partners alike.  Under the program, first-year associates get to work directly with clients, and those clients are generally pleased to see a second lawyer working on their cases--at no extra charge.  The associates enjoy the chance to work on depositions, negotiations, mediations, and arbitrations while first-year associates at other firms often spend their time on research projects and document review.  Partners like the program because, to their surprise, it is helping the new associates become proficient and productive in a short amount of time; the reduced pressure seems to yield greater productivity, earlier.

The new attorneys must still meet one quota.  They must account for 1,900 hours of work, but that work can be either billable to clients or time defined as training, such as working with partners on depositions, meeting with clients, and preparing cases for trial. 

The early success of its Year One program qualifies Ford & Harrison as a continuing "Work Life Balance Winner."  Congratulations to this firm for finding an innovative way to increase client, associate, and partner satisfaction, and for developing a creative and successful alternative to the billable hour.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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Lawyer Louis J. Farrah II Helps Save Baby Born with Heart Defect

For this day on which we remember the great loss of life on September 11, 2001, we offer you an inspiring story about a lawyer who has materially helped to save life, specifically the life of an infant in the Dominican Republic who needed surgery to correct a congenital heart defect.

At Legal Blog Watch, Robert Ambrogi reports on Louis J. Farrah II, a lawyer in Lawrence, Massachusetts, who has been staging a campaign to raise money to bring ten-month-old Frank Matos Lopez to the United States for surgery to treat a condition called "blue baby syndrome," in which the flow of oxygen to the organs and skin is restricted.  As a result of Farrah's tireless efforts, the boy, also known as "Baby Frank," has been admitted to Children's Hospital Boston for the life-saving surgery.

Continue reading "Lawyer Louis J. Farrah II Helps Save Baby Born with Heart Defect" »

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The Economist Ponders the Fate of the Billable Hour

The billable hour is currently a hot topic of discussion among lawyers.  In its cleverly titled "Killable hour,"  The Economist calls time-recording "perhaps the most deadly" of lawyers' "tedious tasks."  The short essay points out that clients and their need to contain costs are the driving force behind the search for alternatives to the venerable time-based fee structure.

The Economist mentions several alternative billing arrangements that are receiving greater use, including:

  • fixed fees, with a "performance bonus" that is tied to achieving favorable results;
  • fixed fees for high-volume legal maters such as commercial contracts, filing trademark applications, and some personal injury cases;
  • "blended fees" which are a hybrid of hourly and fixed fees; and
  • contingency fees, in which the lawyer or law firm takes a percentage of a judgment award or settlement.

Despite the existence of these options, it's not easy to replace the billable hour.  It can be difficult to quantify the importance of a given legal matter to a business, and no easier to quantify a lawyer's ability, knowledge, and experience.  Nevertheless, economic pressures continue to prompt law firms and their clients to seek some different arrangements that balance a client's need for predictability and control of legal fees with a law firm's need to generate profits.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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Working Mother Magazine and Flex-Time Lawyers Announce Their 2008 List of the "50 Best Law Firms for Women"

Working Mother magazine, a major publication dedicated to serving and supporting all mothers who are committed to their careers, and Flex-Time Lawyers, a national consulting firm that advises corporations, law firms, and individual lawyers about work-life balance and the promotion and retention of female attorneys, have announced their 2008 list of the "50 Best Law Firms for Women."  The law firms honored in the list help women lawyers balance their professional and personal lives with flexible work arrangements, and help more women attorneys become partners through sponsoring women's networking groups, mentorship programs, and management training.

Applications for the 2009 list are now being accepted here.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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Tools to Help You Be Happy and Successful as a Lawyer

We all want to be happy.  It is possible to find happiness in the practice of law.  A successful work-life balance involves being content in the professional and personal areas of our lives.

That's the idea.  Making that idea a reality, however, can be challenging.  Happily, Laura Milligan at Job Profiles has compiled a list of "100 Tips and Resources to Be a Happy, Successful Lawyer."

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Dr. Paul Lanthois Advises Busy Professionals to Achieve "Work-Wife" (or "Work-Husband") Balance

In a recent article in the American Chronicle, Dr. Paul Lanthois, a successful chiropractor and kinesiologist and Director of the Work Life Balance foundation, offers solutions for dealing with the stresses that arise in a marriage when a spouse in a demanding occupation (e.g. law) spends too much time and energy at work and not enough time and energy at home. In a play on words, Dr. Lanthois describes this phenomenon as a lack of "work-wife balance" (obviously when it's the husband who is spending too much time at work and the wife is at home full time taking care of kids and running the household).  Dr. Lanthois opines that the way in which a couple deals with the imbalance between "work" and "wife" will determine whether their relationship survives or ends in divorce.

As a starting point, based on his observations of successful and unsuccessful relationships involving couples in demanding occupations, Lanthois suggests "bringing some gratitude and praise back into the relationship."  He has some specific recommendations for both the partner who works outside the home and the stay-at-home (SAH) partner.

Lanthois advises the partner working outside the home to appreciate the SAH partner's work and to communicate that gratitude clearly and regularly.  Some things to be grateful for include a safe environment for the children, a clean home, a cooked meal, and having your family home when you get there.  It's easy to take such simple pleasures for granted, but sincerely thanking your spouse for making them possible can help deepen your relationship.

Continue reading "Dr. Paul Lanthois Advises Busy Professionals to Achieve "Work-Wife" (or "Work-Husband") Balance" »

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Lack of Work-life Balance Can Be Fatal

Karoshi.  Have you seen that word before?  Karoshi is a Japanese word that describes sudden death from overworking.  Recently, The Juggle reported the sad story of a 45-year-old Toyota engineer who died in 2006 from heart disease.  The man "had been traveling and working extremely long hours, including an average of 80 hours of overtime a month in the months before his death."  The deceased engineer's family had sought to collect benefits from his insurance, and a Japanese labor board ruled last month that the engineer had worked himself to death.

While lawyers in English-speaking lands may seem half a world away from the intense pressures of the automobile manufacturing industry in a country known for its intense dedication to company loyalty and working long hours, attorneys face comparable pressures dressed in different disguises.  For example, The Juggle's blog entry points out that:

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Professional Coach James Dolan Advises Lawyers to Work--and Live--in the Present Moment

It's a busy, demanding world for today's lawyers.  Like a swift, strong current at sea, various time pressures can sweep our minds far out into the future--a future filled with anxiety about how we can meet our quota for billable hours, get a favorable result for our client in court, or finally close a deal after months of negotiation.  Similarly, the past haunts us with its doubts and second-guessing--the seemingly endless parade of "what if?" questions that marches through our minds.

In a thoughtful article in Texas Lawyer, James Dolan, a Dallas-based professional coach and psychotherapist, warns attorneys about losing themselves in the past or the future--what he calls the "Preparing to Live Syndrome" or "PtLS".  Dolan describes PtLS as an extreme form of deferred gratification in which the sufferer endures a lot of unpleasant experiences today, hoping that those experiences will somehow lead to a better life tomorrow.

Continue reading "Professional Coach James Dolan Advises Lawyers to Work--and Live--in the Present Moment" »

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Want to Retain Your Attorneys? Try Mentoring

Mentoring is an important element of life at companies like Xerox, IBM, KPMG, and Deloitte.  A recent article in the New York Post explains how these companies are using mentoring effectively to develop the careers of women and minorities, as well as to retain those employees.  Through a combination of affinity groups and networks, as well as formally structured and informal mentoring relationships, these business giants help employees understand better how their business operates and give them an opportunity to talk with their mentors about a range of topics including career advancement and work-life balance issues.  Mentoring is becoming increasingly popular as a way to retain employees.

But mentoring isn't just for technology and accounting powerhouses.  Law firms can benefit from mentoring, too.  Attorneys benefit from having personal relationships with more experienced lawyers in the firm.  Ari Kaplan, the author of The Opportunity Maker: Strategies for Inspiring Your Legal Career Through Creative Networking and Business Development, says, "Most employees want two things: someone to emulate and someone to inspire them.  Seeing someone like you that has achieved a certain level of success can be truly inspiring."

Continue reading "Want to Retain Your Attorneys? Try Mentoring" »

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Stephen Ellis Offers Seven Simple Suggestions for Success and Happiness in the Law

Who says lawyers can't be happy?  Certainly not Stephen Ellis, a partner at the Cleveland office of Tucker, Ellis & West, a 150-lawyer full-service firm.  A happy--and successful--lawyer who has spent 36 years in the profession, Ellis challenges the ideas that the number of hours billed determines a lawyer's worth, and that making more money makes lawyers more happy.

In a time when there are many news reports about lawyers' unhappiness, depression, lack of civility, and poor work-life balance, Ellis offers a refreshing viewpoint.  While he doesn't ignore the problems lawyers face, he focuses on the positive aspects of the practice of law.  He observes that when we lawyers move away from an emphasis on billable hours as the basis of generating revenue and, even more problematically, our own worth, we can turn our attention to helping clients solve problems and even rediscover what he calls "the endlessly fascinating puzzles that make being a lawyer fulfilling."

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Axiom Global Inc. Offers New Model for Delivering Corporate Legal Services

Despite earning large incomes at large law firms, some attorneys are unhappy with their overall quality of life.  Some corporate clients need legal services from Big Law attorneys, but are unhappy with the high fees that large firms must charge to cover their operating expenses.  Many of those clients cannot justify the expense of full-time, permanent in-house counsel.  Is there an alternative that addresses these concerns?

Yes.  Axiom Global Inc. and other firms like Outside GC, LLC, in Boston and Phillips & Reiter, PLLC, in Houston offer a new type of service model that meets more of the needs of the lawyers and clients who seek something different.

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Law Society of Upper Canada Seeks to Retain Women Lawyers

Like its counterpart in the USA, the Canadian bar is trying to keep women from leaving the private practice of law.  While the percentage of female attorneys working in private practice in Canada has averaged about 42 percent (compared with 60 percent of male lawyers) over the last five years, female attorneys have been leaving private practice at about two to three times the rate of their male colleagues.  That's very expensive for law firms, since the cost of turnover for a four-year associate is $315,000.

To stem this flow of legal talent out of private practice, the Law Society of Upper Canada, which regulates Ontario's legal profession, has issued a number of recommendations and started the following three major initiatives that LSUC hopes will serve as a model for other jurisdictions in Canada:

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Article Emphasizes the Importance of Attorney Cover Letters

When you're applying for a job as a lawyer, how important is your cover letter?  Very important, according to this article by Stony Olsen at Law Crossing(tm).   Olsen calls the cover letter the lawyer-applicant's "personal marketing tool," and explains,

"A good cover letter grabs the reader's attention and motivates him or her to read the resume and set up an interview. Your resume and cover letter together determine whether you get an interview with a particular employer."

Moreover, Olsen cautions, "Many employers read cover letters first, and if they do not like them, they read no further."

Although your cover letter works alongside your resume, it differs from the resume in several respects.  Specifically, the cover letter can be more flexible in content and structure than the resume.  Also, the letter can be more personal and can include some of your interests, abilities, and other personal qualities that your resume may omit.  Perhaps most importantly, you can use the cover letter to zero in on the particular skills and experiences that make you the candidate that the employer simply must invite for an interview.

Olsen offers a clean, three-paragraph structure for an attorney's cover letter and helpful pointers for the letter's content and tone.  Following that advice should get you closer to an interview so that you can explain to the employer why you're the ideal candidate for the job.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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ABA to Honor Women Lawyers at Margaret Brent Awards on August 10

During the American Bar Association's upcoming Annual Meeting in New York City, the ABA's Commission on Women in the Profession will present its 18th annual Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award.

The awards luncheon will be held Sunday, August 10, 2008, from 11:30 am until 1:30 pm at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers, and will recognize and celebrate "the accomplishments of women lawyers who have excelled in their field and have paved the way to success for other women lawyers."  Full event details are available here, and please visit this page to order tickets.

Please note that reservations for tables must be made by July 8, 2008 and advance tickets for individuals (at $100 each) must be purchased on or before July 8.  After July 8, individual tickets may be purchased for $125 each.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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Lawyers Look Past Perception Problems to Find Post-retirement Careers in Business

Can lawyers succeed in business careers after they retire from the law?  Yes, but they may have to overcome certain perceptions about lawyers.  Legal Week reports on its survey that found that 94% of law firm partners believe that "commercial lawyers have some level of image problem within the business community."  A third of the survey's respondents deem lawyers' image to be a "considerable" problem.

While nearly 60% of the partners expect to have a career in business after they retire from law practice, approximately the same number complained that the business community does not perceive that lawyers have become more commercial or business-literate during recent years.  Even law partners themselves can find themselves agreeing with that negative perception.  Legal Week quotes one senior finance partner at a United States law firm as saying, “Lawyers do not make good managers—it is quite unsuitable for lawyers to move into business.”

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Venture Capital Firms Like Sonfinnova Ventures Offer New Career Opportunities for Corporate Attorneys

Viewing them as an unnecessary expense, venture capital firms have been reluctant to hire in-house attorneys.  However, that's starting to change as more venture funds are hiring their first general counsel.  While some of the larger venture firms began hiring in-house counsel at the start of the decade, as funds grow in size and geographic area, more firms are hiring in-house attorneys.  The venture capitalists appear to be pleased with their decision to hire a general counsel.  For example, Mike Powell, a busy deal-maker and general partner at Sofinnova Ventures, says of his firm's GC, Hooman Shahlavi, "He knows exactly what we want in every document.  [Having Shahlavi at the firm] literally saves me one day a week."  Powell is so pleased with Shahlavi's work that he wishes Sofinnova had hired an in-house attorney years ago.

But what is the role of this new "VC GC"?  Rodi Guidero, the chief counsel at Velocity Interactive Group opines, "The idea with someone like a GC is to let the investment professionals source deals and let those that can execute them go get 'em done."  Moreover, the lawyers who take these new jobs are defining their new roles.  A complete list of the duties would probably be impossible, since the position of VC GC is so new and still evolving, but here are some of the highlights:

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Rhonda Joy McLean Uses Diverse Talents and Experiences in Law Practice and Life

Ask Rhonda Joy McLean, Associate General Counsel at Time Inc., how her personal and professional backgrounds have prepared her for her in-house position at Time Inc., and she's likely to say, "I feel like everything I’ve ever done in my life has prepared me for this job, including the music."  She also credits her family's support and nurturing for her ability to succeed in her career.

Growing up in the small town of Smithfield, North Carolina, McLean took a somewhat circuitous route to reach her legal career.  Since the time she was a child, the daughter of two public music school teachers had considered becoming a music therapist, having performed in her church, school, and community.

With the support of her family and moved by the litigation resulting locally from the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark school-desegregation decision of Brown v. Board of Education, McLean and two of her friends became the first African-American students to integrate the high school in her town.  McLean calls her high school experience "amazing" and notes that the great challenges and the rewards of those years helped to shape the person she is today.

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NYC Bar Association Issues "Parental Leave Policies and Practices Report"

When a child is born to or adopted by a parent who is a lawyer, that lawyer's life undergoes profound changes. To be effective, parental leave policies must balance an attorney's family needs upon the birth or adoption of a child with the employer's business needs.

The New York City Bar's Committee on Women in the Profession studied this issue and recently released a report about parental leave policies and practices for attorneys.  The report was published in the Record of the New York City Bar Association, 2008 Vol. 63, No. 1.

First, the Committee prepared and disseminated a survey to legal employers in the New York City area about their parental leave policies and practices for attorneys and then analyzed the results of the survey.  Beginning in the summer of 2005 and continuing through January 2006, the Committee sent out the surveys to the following organizations:

  • 118 law firms and corporate law departments that then were signatories to the New York City Bar's Statement of Diversity Principles;
  • approximately 49 other New York City-based law firms;
  • 44 New York City corporate law departments;
  • 10 area law schools;
  • 20 government legal employers in New York City; and
  • 10 legal not-for-profit corporations in New York City.

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Being Truthful: Stephen E. Seckler Explains the Importance of Honesty During Job Interviews

Lawyers understand the importance of being truthful.  However, in some situations, it is not always clear how many or precisely which truthful statements we ought to make.  An example of such a problematic setting is an employment interview.  When we are interviewing for a new legal job, just how much information must we disclose?

Stephen E. Seckler, the managing director of the Boston Office of BCG Attorney Search, a national legal recruiting firm, offers some guidance in this article in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.  Seckler notes that a job candidate must tell the truth about material facts, and that candidates "also have an obligation not to mislead an interviewer through omission."  At the same time, he explains, telling the truth does not necessarily mean mentioning all the unfavorable details of every situation.

Seckler emphasizes the importance of preparing thoroughly for interviews, anticipating the interviewer's questions, and choosing the right words to explain difficult situations truthfully, while avoiding excessive elaboration that can weaken a candidate's chances of being hired.  He also explains that some situations call for providing the "whole truth," in order to prevent the interviewer from drawing negative inferences about the information a candidate fails to mention.

Often, the appropriate answer to an interviewer's question depends on the nature of the question itself and the context in which it is being asked.  Seckler's helpful article provides several examples of how to assess questions and determine the amount of information to disclose.  He offers suggestions for even the most difficult problems involving matters like substance abuse, personality conflicts, poor performance reviews, and preferences for relocation and job responsibilities.  Following his recommendations will help the lawyer seeking employment to provide enough information to be truthful, without offering excessive, unnecessary, and possibly disadvantageous details.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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Jack Marshall Makes Legal Ethics Entertaining

Jackmarshall Few subjects seem as humorless as legal ethics, right?  Wrong, according to Jack Marshall, a former practicing attorney who left his legal career to launch ProEthics, Ltd., an Alexandria, Virginia-based training and consulting firm that uses drama and humor to make learning legal ethics entertaining and engaging. In a Washington Post profile, Marshall explained his approach: "The whole point is to put people at ease, so they're not just sitting back and falling asleep."

What started as a side job for Marshall about 15 years ago, writing sketches for another training business, has bloomed into ProEthics, which Marshall has been operating full time since 2002. ProEthics conducts entertaining CLE courses, as well as programs on business ethics and sexual harassment issues, for law firms, private companies, government agencies, and bar associations all over the United States.  Drawing upon his legal experience and his longtime interest in the theater, Marshall uses music, humor, history, drama, and popular culture to make the study of ethics more enjoyable.  He conducts the seminars himself and hires local actors and singers to help present the programs.  His courses have earned the praise of Lalla Shishkevish, the D.C. Bar's director of continuing legal education, who remarked, "He makes people have to think and participate, but always in a way that's entertaining." (Marshall also publishes the Ethics Scoreboard - an entertaining analysis of ethical gaffes in the public domain). 

Marshall says the full time business has generated enough profit "to support him, his wife, Grace, and their 13-year-old son, Grant."  That's great news for a lawyer who makes his living making ethics more entertaining for the rest of us.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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Webinar with Carolyn Elefant: From BigLaw to YourLaw: The Secrets of Starting and Growing a Successful Solo Law Practice

JD Bliss is proud to announce a new webinar on Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 12:30 PM EST:

From BigLaw to YourLaw: The Secrets of Starting and Growing a Successful Solo Law Practice


Carolyn Elefant, Esq.
Attorney, Author, Blogger and Consultant

During this 60-minute webinar, Carolyn Elefant, Esq., successful solo attorney, author of Solo by Choice, and publisher of the popular MyShingle blog for solo lawyers, will cover the nuts and bolts of starting up and growing your own successful solo law practice.

Attendees will learn:

  • The 9 reasons lawyers leave law firms to start their own practices
  • How to evaluate whether starting your own law firm is the right choice for you
  • How to write a business plan for your new firm
  • Techniques to identify potential clients and markets
  • 3 easy marketing tools to help build your reputation
  • How to negotiate an amicable departure from your current firm without "burning bridges" 
  • And much more. . . . . .

Date: Tuesday, June 3, 2008 at 12:30 pm EST

Location: Participate remotely from the comfort of your own office or conference room via a webex connection!

Register for the Webinar

We look forward to greeting you!

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In this Corner...Preston Halliburton Balances Careers as Lawyer and Professional Boxer

When attorney Preston Halliburton of Buckhead, Georgia is not operating his growing law practice, he might be working as a lobbyist at the state capitol for Preston Group Inc., the government relations firm his mother, Julianna McConnell, founded.  Or he might be training with his father, Richard Halliburton, at the Atlanta Art of Boxing Center on Spring Street, as he pursues his career as an undefeated professional boxer.  In his spare time (what spare time?),  Halliburton does some acting, having played a small role in the film We Are Marshall, and promotes some boxing events. 

Halliburton grew up learning boxing from his dad, and politics from his mom.  He was raised around the gym where his father trained boxers and, as his dad observed, "little kids naturally want to imitate the older boys."  Similarly, he grew up in the district of former Georgia House Speaker Tom Murphy, and worked on Murphy's final campaign in 2002.  Halliburton's ability to combine his interests into successful professional careers has impressed former state representative and current DeKalb County CEO, Veron Jones.  Jones recently complimented Halliburton, saying, "He hasn't forgotten his roots. He got an education and is a great legal mind, but he always shoots straight with you."

Despite the successes, sometimes juggling his diverse interests is a challenge for Halliburton.  He is considering eventually moving his law practice and boxing career to California, and he would like to do some more acting.  He has also considered running for a national political office someday.  His dad, Richard, occasionally encourages Preston to narrow his focus a little, but recognizes his son's need for diverse interests, remarking that Preston "doesn't want to put all his eggs in one basket," and speculating that his son might be waiting for "that great case, that great part in a movie or that great fight.'"  Here's hoping he gets all of them for his highest benefit.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger and another lawyer-boxer who has too many interests to pursue in one lifetime

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Justice Scalia Offers Different Perspective on Balancing Work and Family

United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and his wife, Maureen, have nine children.  However, in interview excerpts posted to The Juggle blog, Justice Scalia reveals that he did not actively participate in his children's activities while they were growing up.  Reporting on Justice Scalia's interview with Leslie Stahl on CBS' 60 minutes last Sunday, blogger Jamie Heller quotes Justice Scalia as saying:

“You know, my parents never did it for me,” Scalia said. “And I didn’t take it personally. ‘Oh Daddy, come to my softball game.’ No, I mean, it’s my softball game. He has his work. I got my softball game. Of course, [Maureen] was very loyal. She went to all the games.”

Heller's blog entry links to a transcript of Stahl's riveting interview with Justice Scalia, which covers much more ground than work-life balance.  Scalia's comment, though, raises some interesting questions about work-life balance.  Does Justice Scalia consider work-life and work-family balance important?  Are work-life balance and significant family time attainable for high-powered lawyers and Supreme Court justices who have children?  Does the spouse who does not work outside the home have a greater responsibility to participate in the children's events?

Perhaps the strongest conclusion we can draw from Justice Scalia's remarks is that work-life/work-family balance means different things to different lawyers and that each of us has to arrange the balance that works best for us, our spouses, and our children.  This is just one man's opinion, of course, but even allowing for such diverse viewpoints, I'd like to attend as many of my children's sports and school activities as possible.  Kids grow up so quickly.  Work will always be there, but childhood's days are fleeting.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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Four Successful Attorneys Who Pursue Their Personal Passions in Their Professional Practices

It's inspiring, perhaps even thrilling, to see other lawyers who love the work they're doing.  Whether it be professional sports, television show business, video games, or the restaurant business, some lawyers are fortunate enough to blend their personal passions with their law practices.  Chicago Lawyer magazine recently published an article featuring four Chicago lawyers who manage to combine their personal and professional interests in interesting and rewarding careers.

In the article, you'll meet:

  • Irwin Mandel, the lifelong sports fan who, as senior vice president of financial and legal operations for the Chicago Bulls, indulges his competitive spirit as he interprets and applies the National Basketball Association's complex rules about player acquisitions and the maximum amount teams can spend on layer salaries each season.  Being very competitive himself, he looks for ways to use the rules as an advantage for his team.  Mandel grew up wanting to be a professional athlete and calls his job with the Bulls the next best thing to playing the game on the court.
  • William L. Becker, the general counsel for Harpo Inc., the company that manages the various entertainment projects of television superstar Oprah Winfrey.  Originally hired because of his background in employment and entertainment law, Becker now enjoys an in-house practice that involves dealing with a wide variety of legal issues, the mixed bag due in large part to Oprah's creativity and her ongoing flow of new ideas.  Of his dynamic work environment, Becker observed, "I can’t think of a legal issue that hasn’t come across my desk."
  • Deborah K. Fulton, who developed an enduring passion for playing video games when she was a young girl, and who now serves as general counsel, senior vice president, and secretary for Midway Games.  Fulton heads a busy legal department that deals with a variety of matters, ranging from the traditional securities law issues facing a publicly-traded company to the intellectual property questions that arise in an evolving video game industry that merges entertainment and complex technology.  Fulton's job has some interesting perks; for example, she once made a voice recording on one of the company's games.
  • Jay L. Stieber, the general counsel and CFO for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises Inc., a group of about 72 restaurants serving diverse fare at eateries that feature themes around which menus are presented.  Stieber, a lawyer and accountant who makes himself accessible to the 53 equity partners who own the restaurant group, stays busy handling legal issues that range from negotiating real estate leases to securing financing for new projects.  Although he probably won't leave his legal and financial work to wait tables anytime soon, Stieber has said he could run a restaurant for a few days and apply the skills he acquired during his 14 weeks of on-the-job training at one of Lettuce Entertain You's restaurants.  He enjoyed every minute of that experience and learned the work quickly.

Read the full stories about these interesting attorneys and their interesting work here.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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Ex-"Big Law" Attorneys From Wilson Elser and Other Firms Overcome Obstacles and Start Their Own Practices

Starting up a new law firm is not for the faint-hearted.  For most lawyers leaving large firms to begin new small firms, the major challenge is covering high startup costs such as rents, employee salaries, insurance, and office supplies until the first clients are billed and start sending in checks. The lucky lawyers are those who have already built up a portfolio of clients who are willing to move their business to the new firm.

Often, lawyers striking out on their own need to get up and running under tight time constraints if their firms ask them to leave immediately once they announce their decision to leave.  The current economy creates some challenges, too.  Depending on the nature of a small firm's practice, it may have more or less business during a slower economic time.  Some areas of practice, such as commercial litigation and immigration, will remain strong during an economic downturn. 

Despite the challenges, Jim Kaplan and Bill Zeena, formerly of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, report that their move to "small law" has been "rewarding" and is "working out very well". Specifically, the repositioned attorneys are enjoying the ability to grow their practices the way they want and to have more influence over which clients to represent and the areas of law in which to concentrate their practices, as well as the billing structures they use with their clients.  Their new firm's smaller size allows them to avoid many of the client conflicts of interests that were common during their large firm days.  However, along with the greater flexibility has come more management and administrative work.

Back at Wilson Elser, the managing partners said they were happy about how the transitions worked.  They said they wished their former partners well and understood why they left.  One partner emphasized that the departures had been amicable and that his firm continues to work with the new, smaller firm on various matters.

Other lawyer transition stories can be read in an article recently appearing on Lawyers contemplating starting up on their own should read the article to learn more about the potential pitfalls and rewards.

As we recently observed, leaving a large law firm to start a small one is not for everyone.  However, while lawyers departing from large firms to start smaller firms will certainly face challenges, they can also find great rewards in the small firm setting and make a successful transition, even in a relatively slow economy.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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New York State Bar Report Finds Work-life Balance Still Eludes Most Attorneys

No, it isn't just you.  Balancing a professional and personal life is very difficult for most lawyers, regardless of the number of years they have been in practice, the size of their law firms, or their practice settings.  Indeed, a report by the New York State Bar Association recently concluded that the law is an ever-more demanding profession and that lawyers are finding less time to spend with their families or for citizenship activities in which lawyers have traditionally engaged.  The committee that drafted the report gathered information from lawyers at several forums held throughout the state.

For the committee's chairwoman, M. Catherine Richardson, her own life experience underscores the importance of effective work-life balance.  Attorney Richardson's father, himself a lawyer, passed away when she was only 15 years old.  She cherished the time she had with her father, made possible because her dad's commitment to work-life balance, along with some prompting by Richardson's mother, led him to keep weekends open for his family.  She pointed out that young lawyers really cannot spare the family time they lose by working at their offices on weekends.

Although the lawyers surveyed "overwhelmingly told the committee that they like practicing law and would enter the profession if they had it to do over again," they bemoaned the lack of flexible work schedules and options to work fewer hours.  Interestingly, technology is contributing to the attorneys' distress.  While e-mail and Internet-enabled wireless devices allow lawyers to work more efficiently and conveniently, they also keep lawyers on call to their firms and clients 24x7, 365 days a year.

The extensive report offered several recommendations, including that: 

  • law firms allow reduced hours or flex-time, and make them easier for attorneys to use; 
  • law schools do a better job of describing to students what to expect when they become attorneys, to address the committee's observation that most lawyers did not appreciate how demanding their jobs would be and the amount of stress the practice of law would cause for them; 
  • bar associations offer programs on time management and stress management; and 
  • law firms establish "boundaries" about when attorneys should be contacted for work.

Ms. Richardson said the committee wants to study the work-life balance issue further, to explore two additional questions:

  • what solo lawyers can do to manage achieve work-life balance with little or no support staff, and
  • how courts can adjust their schedules to accommodate attorneys better.

Read the entire report here as a PDF file.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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Commercial Law League of America to Sponsor May 1 CLE Event in Chicago That Will Address the Billable Hour, Transitioning Between Firms, and Ethical Issues for Attorneys

On May 1, 2008, the DePaul Business & Commercial Law Journal will hold its sixth annual symposium.  This year's event is called, "Lawyers, Law Firms & the Legal Profession: An Ethical View of the Business of Law," and will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Westin Michigan Avenue hotel.  At the symposium, you can learn more about some of the issues we cover here at the JD Bliss Blog.

The symposium will feature panel discussions about the following topics:

  • "Lawyers in a Fee Quandary: Must the Billable Hour Die?"
  • "Lawyers in the Hot Seat: The State of Ethics & Professionalism"
  • "Lawyers in Transition: Ghosts from the Old Firm Haunting the New Firm"

A luncheon panel will explore the Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts and will consider the impact that the 2008 elections will have on federal jurisprudence.

Tickets for the symposium are $90.00 and the price includes the luncheon and written materials. Judges and students can attend for free.  Here is an online brochure for the event.  Up to 4.5 hours of CLE credit are offered.  You can register online at through the "Chicago/Spring meeting link." For more information, contact Don Carrillo at (312) 362-6178 or [email protected].

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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Nathan Sawaya: Lawyer's Love of LEGO® Blocks Leads to a Life Outside Law Practice

We previously blogged about Nathan Sawaya in December 2006. Sawaya left his job as a practicing lawyer to become a sculptor.  What makes Sawaya's sculptures so unique is his choce of material: LEGO blocks. 

In this update, we're happy to report that Sawaya's fame is spreading. The innovative lawyer-artist recently appeared on ABC television's Good Morning America program to tell how what started as an after-work hobby bloomed into a full-time career. (Link to video is here.)  Like many children around the world, Sawaya had played with LEGO bricks when he was a boy.  In his Good Morning America interview, he explained how he now takes those toy bricks and transforms them into works of fine art.

Nathan Sawaya's LEGO sculptures regularly appear in exhibits at major art museums, and ABC News has published an online photo gallery of some of his work.  Check it out (and show your kids). The "brick artist" himself provides more information about his work at his Web site.  Congratulations, Mr. Sawaya, on your successful and apparently fun career change.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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The Complete Lawyer Explores What Do Women Lawyers Really Want

The most recent issue of The Complete Lawyer offers a collection of compelling essays authored by various well-known women attorneys and other professionals exploring the question of what women lawyers are looking for in terms of professional success and personal fulfillment. Authors include:


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Back to "Big Law": John Liu and In Lee Move From Two-Lawyer Practice Back to Fenwick & West

In discussions about career satisfaction for attorneys, it's sometimes easy to think that the road to a rewarding, balanced career is one that leads from "Big Law" to some other work setting.  That may be true for some lawyers, but it's certainly not for all of us.  For instance, we recently featured the importance of considering carefully the move from a large law firm to a position as an in-house lawyer.

For another pair of attorneys, it became important to move back to "Big Law" after spending five years in a firm having at most four lawyers.  John Liu and his partner, In Lee, had left Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati to found the Charter Law Group in Menlo Park, California.  Now, the two men are leaving their boutique corporate firm and joining the 250-attorney firm Fenwick & West at its headquarters in Mountain View, where they will be of counsel in the firm's startups and venture capital group.

At Charter Law Group, Liu and Lee operated a successful firm practicing in corporate and intellectual property law.  So why are these successful small firm lawyers returning to a big firm?  Their reason is practical and due to their clients' success: "they were tired of losing their startup clients after they grew up."  By joining Fenwick & West, they will be able to keep those clients.

The Charter Law Group is now winding down its practice, and John Liu remarked that he will miss the firm's Menlo Park office, even though he is happy to be at Fenwick & West.  The experience of Liu and Lee reminds us that there are multiple paths to professional satisfaction in the law; any given route is not necessarily right for everyone.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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Reality Check: Gloria Noh Cannon Counsels Caution on Moving to an In-house Job

In their search for career satisfaction and work-life balance, some law firm attorneys consider moving to in-house counsel positions.  Those lawyers are often seeking fewer work hours, more interesting work, and greater job security.  For some attorneys, becoming an in-house lawyer may be the right move.  However, as Gloria Noh Cannon explains, before making such a move, "it is very important to fully understand the advantages and disadvantages of being an in-house attorney because the decision to go in-house is a very serious one that could greatly affect your long-term career."

Cannon is the Managing Director of the Los Angeles office of BCG Attorney Search.  Before entering legal recruiting, she divided her experience practicing law roughly evenly between working as an associate in a major law firm and as an in-house attorney for a prestigious private equity/investment management company that she had served while working for the law firm.  While she describes her in-house experience as "generally very positive," she encourages lawyers considering such a move to think about five realities that counter the conventional attitude about the shift from law firm to in-house work.

  • Going in-house does not necessarily mean that you will work fewer hours or have a better lifestyle than you do at a firm.  Cannon found herself working long hours and racing through days packed with activity, while she had no support staff to help with the more mundane tasks involved in her work.  Although the hours were more predictable in-house, and Cannon was usually able to leave the office at a reasonable hour and avoid working on weekends, she remarks that her in-house job "definitely was not the easier, laid-back, stress-free practice that associates envision to be the case for in-house lawyers."

Continue reading "Reality Check: Gloria Noh Cannon Counsels Caution on Moving to an In-house Job" »

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Eversheds Report Discusses Work-life Balance and Other Trends Affecting Law Firms in the 21st Century

How will the law firm of the 21st century look?  What challenges will it face?  Will work-life balance continue to be important to lawyers?  What will happen to the billable hour?  How can law firms improve their commitment to diversity?

Eversheds, one of the largest full-service law firms in the world, wanted answers to such questions, so it hired RSG Consulting, a specialty consultant that serves international law firms, to survey the legal landscape and present a vision of the profession ten years from now.  RSG surveyed 50 top partners of the leading law firms in the United Kingdom and 50 general counsels, legal directors, and finance directors of some of "the world's most prominent companies and investment banks."

The product of these 100 interviews is a provocative report called Law firm of the 21st century. The report is particularly interesting because it interweaves the perspectives of law firm partners and clients, showing where those perspectives agree and where they diverge from one another. 

Continue reading "Eversheds Report Discusses Work-life Balance and Other Trends Affecting Law Firms in the 21st Century" »

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Turning Experience into an Asset: One Lawyer's Transition from Jurist to Private Attorney

Is there life after the bench?  Yes, according to former Judge John S. Holston, Jr. who wrote in the New Jersey Law Journal, "In my view, there clearly is a stimulating professional life in the law awaiting a judge after a career on the bench."  Although he had some concerns about returning to the practice after more than two decades on the bench, Judge Holston has found the transition to be challenging, but manageable, as well as pleasant and enlightening.

Last year, Judge Holston retired from the bench of the Superior Court in New Jersey.  The former judge served nearly 23 years at the trial court level and in the appellate division.  Upon retirement, he returned to be of counsel to Holston, MacDonald, Uzdavinis, Eastlack, Ziegler & Lodge, the law firm he and his brother had founded 36 years ago.  At the firm, Judge Holston is focusing his work in two main areas of the law: litigation and developing a private arbitration and mediation practice.  In litigation, he finds that the knowledge of the substantive law he gained as an appellate judge has served him well, particularly as he consults on legal issues with other lawyers in his firm, writes and edits court briefs, and performs original research for cases.

Also, like many other retired judges, Holston is developing a private arbitration and mediation practice.  Particularly useful to him as a mediator have been the skills he developed while conducting settlement conferences as a trial judge.  He is now helping parties to a dispute reach settlements of their cases.  He looks forward to serving as an arbitrator, too.

Interestingly, Judge Holston has discovered that some of his work as a private lawyer can be more difficult than some of the work he did as a judge.  For example, he has to do all the original legal research himself; there are no comprehensive trial briefs from opposing counsel to guide him like the ones he enjoyed when he sat as a trial judge deciding motions for summary judgment.  Similarly, he has no law clerk to check citations or search for the subsequent history of cases and statutes.  Nor does he have colleagues on an appellate panel who can edit his drafts of judicial opinions and offer their guidance.  No longer does he serve as a neutral finder of law and fact; instead, he must advocate for his clients' interests.

At the same time, attorney Holston remembers well his perspective as Judge Holston, so he can anticipate accurately how other judges will see the cases he presents to them.  In fact, he can likely be a much more effective advocate because of his years on the bench: he knows from first-hand experience what judges will find helpful as they make decisions.

The former judge readily admits that he needs continuing legal education in the transactional areas of law practice.  While he doesn't say so in his essay, Judge Holston will likely be a more effective lawyer as he prepares wills, trusts, contracts, and other business documents because he understands very well how a judge looking at those documents will view them in the event a dispute concerning them lands in court.  John Holston's story provides a great example of the kind of success judges can enjoy in the practice of law after they conclude their service on the bench.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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Above the Law Blog Tracks Paternity and Maternity Leave Policies at Major Law Firms

The Above the Law blog recently published tables of the maternity leave and paternity leave policies at major law firms. Helpful for attorneys considering work-life balance benefits as a criteria when evaluating offers between different firms.

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Building a Better Legal Profession: Grassroots Group of Law Students Demands Commitment from Law Firms to Work-life Balance, Mentoring, Diversity, and Pro Bono Work

Andrew Bruck is a 3L at Stanford Law School, one of the nation's best where graduates are recruited aggressively by law firms with high starting salaries. However, Bruck was disturbed by the stories he heard from lawyer friends about 60-hour weeks poring over mind-numbing documents, young associates getting little feedback on their performance, and the small percentage of associates who made partner after years of toil.

Rather than passively accept the status quo, Andrew Bruck and 25 of his classmates at Stanford Law School founded Building a Better Legal Profession, a national grassroots organization that, according to its Web site, "seeks market-based workplace reforms in large private law firms."  This change-minded group is working to influence the employment practices of law firms by highlighting firms' commitment to their lawyers' work-life balance, to diversity, and to professional development during the lawyers' careers.  The organization uses the market power of law students as eventual workforce recruits to influence firms' hiring and retention practices, and the group has already enjoyed some successes, including extensive coverage in the media (see, e.g., this recent article in the L.A. Times). Among the resources it has made available are rankings of large firms in six major markets in the areas of diversity, billable hour requirements, and pro bono participation.

During the last year, BBLP has expanded to other law schools and it now operates a group on Facebook that counts more than 1,000 students throughout the United States as members.  The organization is starting to see results in several areas, as firms

  • provide more flexibility for lawyers who are parents,
  • offer mentorship programs for newer attorneys,
  • change or eliminate the billable hour in favor of fee and compensation arrangements that reduce pressures on associates,
  • evaluate newer lawyers based on the skills they have developed rather than their longevity at the firm, and
  • give employees credit for pro bono service and other firm-related work such as recruiting.

BBLP is a new organization.  It won't reform the work practices of our profession overnight, but its early successes are encouraging.  As more students and lawyers recognize that work is just one component of their lives, we can reduce the amount of stress the practice inflicts upon us and, consequently, do a better job for our clients and live happier, more fulfilling lives.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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Why Today's Technologies Make Telecommuting a Viable Arrangement for Law Firms to Offer to Their Attorneys

Telecommuting is an arrangement law firms should strongly consider as a tool to improve the work life balance of their attorneys. A simply fabulous article on the subject -- How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Telecommuting -- authored by John Halamka, the CIO of CareGroup (which operates the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts), appeared two days ago in the online version of CIO Magazine. The article takes an in-depth look at the policies and technologies necessary for supporting telecommuting arrangements.  While the article doesn't specifically address telecommuting at law firms, the issues tackled by Halamka -- the necessity of face-to-face meetings; productivity issues; infrastructure and technologies necessary to support remote workers; security and confidentiality; etc. -- are the same issues relevant to a law firm's evaluation of telecommuting.

One interesting sidebar in the article is Halamka's own experimentation with telecommuting and what he learned from the experience (after clicking the hyperlink, scroll down the page to the gray box entitled "My Personal Pilot"). Law firm partners might consider working with their IT departments to set up a similar experiment to see for themselves what is needed to make telecommuting a workable option and how they feel about it.

It's a long article, but we strongly recommend it for law firms looking for solutions to attorney retention issues.

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Above the Law Blog Finds Majority of Lawyers Would Choose to Work Fewer Hours for Less Pay if Given the Option

Read the results of a poll recently conducted by David Lat at the AbovetheLaw blog reporting that 51% of responding lawyers would be willing to work fewer hours for less pay if given the choice.

When asked what they considered a reasonable "work less for less pay" arrangement, attorneys suggested a reduced workload of either 1600 or 1800 billable hours, a nine-to-five job on weekdays without regard to billable hours, or three-day or four-day weeks.

Lat reported that "respondents were willing to cut their salaries dramatically to achieve work-life balance:

  • At the 1600-hour level, most respondents would be willing to accept a salary of $100,000 to $120,000, with a few outliers seeking $160,000 or more.
  • About half of respondents seeking an 1800-hour year were willing to accept a salary of $120,000 to $140,000, with the other half suggesting a range between $140,000 and $180,000.
  • Associates hoping to work nine-to-five without a billable hour requirement suggested salaries ranging from $100,000 to $160,000, with about three-fifths in the $100,000 to $120,000 range."

The results of Lat's survey are consistent with the results of an ABA survey we blogged about last July reporting a willingess on the part of associates to take pay cuts in exchange for reduced hours.

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Lauren Stiller Rikleen Nominated to ABA Board of Governors

Last month, during the ABA's Midyear Meeting in Los Angeles, Massachusetts lawyer Lauren Stiller Rikleen was nominated to serve as a member of the ABA's Board of Governors. The election will be held in August by the policy-making ABA House of Delegates, when it meets at the 2008 ABA Annual Meeting in New York City. If elected, Rikleen will serve as a woman member-at-large, and will be one of 40 representatives who oversee the administration and management of the ABA.

Rikleen is at the forefront of the movement to improve the advancement of women attorneys in the legal profession. To that end, she serves as Executive Director of the Bowditch Institute for Women's Success, which helps law firms create work environments that foster a culture of success for women attorneys.

Rikleen will be presenting a JD Bliss webinar on the Top 5 Attorney Retention Strategies on Wednesday, May 7, 2008. Click here for further details and to register.

Rikleen is the author of Ending the Gauntlet, which analyzes the institutional impediments to women’s success in the practice of law, and details the challenges and roadblocks which underlie the high rates of attrition and low rates of partnership elevation for women lawyers.

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Work Life Winner: Skadden Arps Introduces Sidebar and FRM: Two New Programs Addressing Lawyer Work Life Balance

Skadden Arps recently introduced two new innovative work life balance programs.

According to the firm, the Flexible Return from Maternity ("FRM;" pronounced "firm") program provides greater flexibility to women returning from maternity leave by allowing them to design their own return schedule – either reduced hours or a combination of office and home days – during a defined period of time, not to exceed one year. As a complement to the Firm's reduced-hours policy, which allows attorneys to work a reduced schedule on a long-term basis, FRM provides a gradual progression back to a regular schedule. Although the program is primarily designed to make it more feasible for women to return to work after the birth or adoption of a child, it may also be made available to men.

Through Sidebar, Skadden attorneys in good standing may decide to leave the firm for any number of personal reasons for up to three years (more than the six-month maximum permitted under a leave of absence), with the expectation that they will return to the firm at the end of that period consistent with the needs of the firm and their department. The firm expects and encourages Sidebar participants to remain connected, for example, by attending certain firm-sponsored events and gatherings and continuing legal education programs.

These are only two of among several initiatives at Skadden to help both men and women attorneys better balance their work and personal responsibilities.

Considering that Skadden is one of the largest law firms in the world, and one to which other firms look to for innovation, we're impressed by the extent of the firm's commitment to work life balance. For this reason, we award Skadden our "Work Life Balance Winner" award. The largest firm to receive the designation to date. 

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More Large Law Firms Such as Skadden Arps and Debevoise & Plimpton Seek to Improve Attorney Retention by Letting Lawyers Return to Firms After Extended Leaves of Absence

Sometimes, lawyers need to take extended absences from their law firms.  Can they return and pick up their practices where they left them?  The answer depends, of course, on the particular law firm, but the New York Law Journal reports that more firms are opening up to the idea, including such major powerhouses as Skadden Arps; Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson; and Debevoise & Plimpton.  Perhaps the most common reason for leaves of absence involves female lawyers taking time off to care for newborn or other very young children, Above the Law recently reported the results of a survey of law firms offering paid paternity leave.

While it is increasingly possible to return to work as a midlevel associate after an absence from your firm, it's not necessarily easy.  Although most law firms offer some type maternity leave, either paid or unpaid, lawyers who stay away from their jobs for more than one year frequently sacrifice their job security.  Attorneys who do seek to return after such long absences often face significant challenges, including these:

  • law firms' reluctance to hire them once they have left the traditional legal career path;
  • the need to have up-to-date technology and computer skills;
  • the difficulty of dealing with associates at the same level who are significantly younger, while having bosses who are the same age as the returning attorney; and
  • a need to make up for the lost time and to fill in gaps in their professional experience.

While these challenges may seem formidable, there are ways to meet them successfully.  Planning your approach is especially important.  Deborah Epstein Henry, the founder and president of Flex-Time Lawyers, acknowledges the difficulties, especially of moving to a new law firm if your former firm will not let you return.  If you are returning to the workforce and seeking positions in new firms, Henry suggests you do the following:

  • figure out where you see yourself in your career;
  • make your objectives clear in your cover letters; and
  • describe on your resume the time you spent out of the workforce.

Linda Marks, the director of training and consulting at the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law, offers these additional suggestions:

  • mention on your resume any service you have done for nonprofit organizations and fundraising experiences;
  • reconnect to your contacts and tell them what kind of position you seek; and
  • propose to law firms that you work for them as an independent contract for a short time to allow them to get reacquainted with you and the quality of your work.

The article suggests some additional elements of a strategy for lawyers re-entering the practice of law after an absence:

  • stay in regular contact with partners at your firm and other colleagues;
  • explore law school programs to help you with the transition such as the Center for WorkLife Law, and similar programs sponsored by local bar associations like the New York City Bar;
  • participate in any alumni programs your firm may offer;
  • attend continuing legal education programs and other firm-sponsored events during your absence;
  • meet with partners when you are ready to rejoin the workforce; and
  • after you are hired, seek assignments that will help you fill gaps in your experience so that you can resume your career path as smoothly as possible.

Returning to the practice of law after an absence can be challenging.  However, as more law firms embrace returning attorneys, lawyers can follow some expert recommendations to make their transitions smoother, allowing them to continue on their career paths.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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