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A conversation with two lawyers - one who represents employers and one who represents employees - about the conflicts they expect to see from the layoffs on Wall Street.

Law Firms Get Rated on Female Friendliness

A celebration in honor of the second annual survey of the country's best law firms for women highlights progress, as well as trouble spots.

Why I left the law — short answer

I recently got a two-part question from a second year law student in Florida. Taking a page from Jeremy Blachman, one of may favorite bloggers, who likes to post his answers to such questions on his blog, I’m going to start to do the same whenever it makes sense. I’ve started to get a lot of questions from readers, and I’m guessing that if one person has a question, might have a similar one. Plus, it will share more of my back-story, something I want to do in this blog. And it should give readers an idea of how I feel about the questions I get.

The question was: What prompted you to leave the law after 10 years? I inquire because I am a 2L and would appreciate some candid insight into what I can expect from a career in law. Thank you in advance for your response.

Here’s what I wrote:

What you can expect from a career in the law is an awfully big question and the answer is completely different if you end up working for the A.C.L.U., a small law firm in Iowa, a big firm in L.A., or the federal trade commission in DC. That question is a bit like asking what you can expect from a career in business.

If you tell me a bit more about what you want to do in the law or the kinds of opportunities you’re choosing between, I might be able to shed more light.

As to why I left the law, that’s also not a short answer kind of question. But here are a few reasons.

1. I ended up doing very specialized work that I wasn’t passionate about and after some searching around didn’t feel like there was another practice area that jazzed me enough to try to figure out how to move in that direction.

2. At the same time, I was becoming increasingly drawn to writing. I was reading a lot, taking classes, and the urge to get published was really nagging at me.

When you combine #1 and #2 it was a bit like feeling like your marriage is starting to fracture and then noticing that rather conveniently you were starting to find yourself attracted to an available and willing partner.


Smart "Slash" Thinking (by a reader)

Pre blog-launch, I was communicating with readers mostly by email. Last week, I got this insightful note from a lawyer/educator/writer-editor in North Carolina. With his permission, I’m posting the relevant parts of his note here (he asked for his name to be withheld). Couldn’t have said it better myself:

. . . that thing that made all the difference in this road less traveled (to badly misquote Whitman) was finding ways for each sub-career to “touch” the other. For example, the magazine I edit is a management journal serving the hospitality industry. I teach hospitality law and ethics in the school of business. I practice
business law, and often represent companies in the hospitality industry. I write articles on law and finance for a business audience. The dots connect. All require oral and written expression, organization of ideas, and analysis and research. Advising business owners and managers,particularly those in the hospitality industry, is also a common nucleus.

Upshot: Each activity supports and lends credibility to the other. In total, they provide a livelihood on which I can support a wife, two children in a comfortable middle-class existence.

On the other hand, if the magazine was, let’s say, about wood working, and if I was teaching marketing, practicing domestic law, and writing software technical manuals, I believe my professional life would feel a little disjointed and unfocused most of the time, and my performance in all the aforementioned areas would suffer.

That said, I think synergy is where you find it. I have a friend who is a plastic surgeon and an accomplished fine artist. In my mind, these things cross over in that they share in common the requirements of dexterity and a sense of aesthetics (not bad qualities to have in doctor who redesigns faces).. . .


Good news for mom/lawyers

Looks like yet another program — this one at Pace University’s law school — has been born to help mom/lawyers get back to work. A move in the right direction, and no surprise that Deborah Henry of Flex-Time Lawyers (whose story is told in my book) is involved. Here’s the article from NY Lawyer (registration might be required.)

* For those not bothering to register, the program is called “New Directions” and is set to launch in May, 2007.


Lawyers: What Goes Wrong?

Lawyers start off so right. They tend to be curious, open, and engaged with the world around them. And a disproportionate number of them want to do something good for the world, which seems like a real possibility during law school. So, why, just a few years after law school, are so many of them disenchanted with their career prospects?

I participated in two lawyer-related events this week that brought all of this home. On Wednesday, I moderated a panel discussion about lawyer/writers for a group called Law: The Afterlife (the name says it all). The happiest folks in the room, it seemed, were those of us on the panel, who had found a way out of the law. (In all fairness, this group is completely self-selecting; the human rights lawyers and law professors who love their jobs don’t need a support group).

The next night, I participated in a career symposium for students at Cardozo Law School. I was placed at the “Alternative Careers” table along with a really nice guy who does recruiting for Shearman and Sterling. The students were terrific, and diverse, and many of them had interesting prior careers before attending law school. But there was an overriding sense of preparing-to-be-jaded that had already set in. A feeling that they knew these years of soaking in the good learning were the best it was going to get. “Alternative Careers” was quite popular, with folks standing around to get a seat at our table.

We’ve got to start getting at kids while they’re still in college, helping them to realize that going to law school isn’t necessarily the career path for you if you’re really interested in being someone other than a lawyer. Sure, you’ll turn it into a path — as is the case with so many of us who have proven that the law is a handy springboard to so many other careers. But that springboard is awfully expensive if you’re just there because you don’t know how to make a career out of what really jazzes you.

At the risk of complaining without offering some solutions, here’s some of what I’d like to see (or would have liked to see while I was a floundering undergraduate, in love with education but mystified about baking that education into a career.)

Some ideas:
1) Liberal arts programs should take a page from the trade schools (and business schools) and offer some classes or workshops on career skills and paths. These programs could do more than the overburdened (and often underutilized) career office can manage. Some things these workshops should touch on: building a professional network, how to build careers that match your values and capitalize on your aptitudes, how to be a lifelong learner, the importance of finding and becoming mentors. They could also invite alumni guest speakers from various fields to tell their own “how I got here” stories. Often. Classes like the introductory positive psychology class at Harvard taught by Tal Ben-Shahar at Harvard and Creativity and Personal Mastery, taught by Srikumar Rao at Columbia Business School are on the right track, and it’s no wonder they are often oversubscribed. An excellent New York Times Magazine article from January 7, (“Happiness 101,” by D.T. Max) takes a look at a few others.

3) Build communities around common interests and areas of study, and invite into those communities people outside the academy so that students get a chance to form real bonds with potential mentors. For a brilliant model of how this works, take a look at the Kelly Writers House at University of Pennsylvania, my alma mater.

3) Incentivize professors to spend time mentoring students about their lives and options post-graduation. If acadmics continue to be rewarded and promoted primarly based on their publishing efforts, they might help their institution’s standing, but are they really helping their students? Sree Sreenivasan, at Columbia University’s Journalism school, is an example of one such student advocate. He’s now officially Dean of Students, but as a professor and founder of SAJA, a journalism trade association, Sree was best known for the way he never tired of mentoring, connecting, and making himself available to students, SAJA members (not to mention countless others, including yours truly.)

Please send me your ideas on this; I’d love to hear more opinions on the topic.
And I don’t think this is just an issue for lawyers.

Once I finished this, I noticed a great post by one of the smartest thinkers on careers today, Penelope Trunk. Read what she has to say about both happiness and law school. {Scroll down to the Sept. 6 entry “20 to-dos now to get a good job later,” paying special attention to No. 6, No. 12. Penelope takes a position a bit more extreme than mine.}


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