How To Choose A Writing Sample

How To Choose A Writing Sample

During the interview process many law firms will ask candidates to provide a writing sample. This is especially true of junior to mid-level associate positions. Undoubtedly, this has caused angst for many a candidate. Not only can it be a matter of selecting the correct type of writing sample, but also trying to figure what style of writing is preferred by the potential employer.

If you have practiced as an associate at a law firm, you are likely aware that partners have different preferences when it comes to writing and you learn to adapt to their individual style. So how do you know what type of writing style a potential employer seeks? The key is to not make assumptions and just stick with a sample that best suits your style. Presumably, this is the style that you are most comfortable with and are likely to choose when drafting initial assignments at the new firm. Of course, if your default style is too far afield then gravitate towards a sample that reflects more traditional legal writing if are comfortable with such style going forward.

Obviously, you should take the time to read through the document you are going to submit to be sure it is fair representation of your writing style. You also will want to review for spelling and grammatical mistakes. Yes, it may be challenge to find a document completely free of mistakes but at least make sure they are not excessive.

It often happens that associates have few examples of written works that reflect their true style. Many assignments begin with an existing document that was prepared by someone else, which is then tweaked for that particular assignment. It may also be the case that another attorney either co-writes or has significant input on the document that might otherwise be used a sample. If either case applies to you, and you have no other sample that would be appropriate, then submit one that you worked on with assistance (with full disclosure) and submit another sample (even if slightly off the mark) reflecting your true writing style.

Selecting the correct writing sample can be a determining factor in whether you get a job or not. Spend the time to review multiple examples of your work with a critical eye towards style and spelling or grammatical errors. While it is possible your best work may not be good enough but at least you know is was the best you could offer.

Make The Business Case For A Firm To Hire You.

Make The Business Case For A Firm To Hire You.

The single most important thing to keep in mind when interviewing at a law firm is to understand how the law firm will make money when they hire you.

It sounds shallow, but law firms exist to make money. Hiring you to sit in an office and wait for work to land on your desk is a horrible strategy. Make the decision to hire you an easy one for the firm.

Will you bring clients? Will you solve a problem (i.e., handle existing work that is not being done)? Will you fill some internal hole in the law firm’s legal team that will assist the firm attract or support clients? Whatever it is, being able to understand and articulate the business case for hiring you is the first step.

The next step is to be able to articulate why YOUR solution is better than all other solutions.

Playing the Field

Playing the Field

Okay, so you have decided to test the market to see if there is a better job option for you. Maybe you can’t tolerate your boss or coworkers; or perhaps you have reached your professional limit at your current job and need a new platform to grow. Whatever your reason, since you have committed to exploring other jobs, why not make the most of it by considering multiple opportunities.

I understand that the market is still tight but some people will have the opportunity to weigh multiple options if they so choose. Having options is important because you are more likely to find the right fit and get the most from an offer.

For some people, their only basis of comparison is the job they are departing when considering another employer. Yes, even having a limited comparison is helpful, but think how much more effective that becomes when you add a few more opportunities to consider. The one place you are considering may be an improvement, but you should make sure that it is truly the best option for you – not just better than your current job.

The other reason it can be beneficial to consider multiple job opportunities is leverage. While the threat of staying at your current job can be used, there is obviously a reason you are looking and most people (including potential employers) know that accepting a counteroffer is often a recipe for disaster. Whereas employers are more likely to put forth their best possible offer when they know there is competition for your services. In fact, some employers are so competitive (can’t stand the thought of losing to a rival firm, etc.) that they might even pay above market if necessary.

So if you are truly ready to take the plunge in the job market, do yourself a favor by considering multiple job opportunities to make the most of situation.

Cover Letter Mistakes

I wanted to pass along a couple of thoughts on cover letters. Maybe the most common error that I see on cover letters is that they simply rehash the details on the resume. If you are simply going to walk me through the resume, then please don’t send a cover letter. It’s not necessary.

Use the cover letter to EXPLAIN how your experience relates to a specific position. ARTICULATE in a brief statement or two how your particular experience can immediately assist an employer. Simply telling me where you worked and what skills you gleaned from the position (repeated for each position) is not helpful.

Also, like resumes, these documents should be sent in PDF format for two reasons. First, sending them in any other format invites formatting errors. Secondly, and maybe more importantly, sending the cover letter in a format other than a PDF allows the recipient to see how you’ve modified the document (and with a simple control-Z command they can see where else you have applied).

Another thing to keep in mind is that in today’s digital age, it shouldn’t be hard to figure out who is seeing a cover letter. At our company, there are only two people and they are both guys, so I often wonder how much homework someone has done when they address a cover letter to “Sir/Madame”. Although opinions differ on this, I believe that if you don’t know who you are sending your cover letter and resume to then you should not address it to anyone, but instead jump right into the body of the letter without the formality of “Dear Hiring Partner” or “Dear Sir/Madame.”

Finally, please keep the cover letter short. You need to sell yourself, but if the letter is text-dense and long, it’s a daunting task to read the entire letter (when there are 19 other letters/resumes on my desk). Please be concise and summarize why you are a good fit for the position in a couple of paragraphs.

Generating Business Is More Critical Than Ever

Are you beholden to other attorneys for supplying your work? Do you wish that you had more control over your practice? Would you like more options for a change in employment? Not surprisingly, the key is building your own client base.

Now more than ever business generation is critical to building a successful law practice. The times of inheriting institutional clients are fading as businesses are charged with finding quality legal services at a competitive price. Attorneys are forced to adjust their approach the practice of law accordingly with an emphasis on generating business and keeping that business.

Yes, this is no small endeavor but like many things in life, the fear or anticipation of business generation is much worse than the actual effort. You may not consider yourself an outgoing person but keep in mind that many of the people that you will be connecting with are not either. Often times it is more a matter of letting someone get to know you versus hard-selling them on your skills as an attorney. The key is to take it one relationship at time and stick with it. It may take time for your efforts to bear fruit but the more relationships you cultivate the more the work will come in on a steady basis.

When It All Goes Wrong.

I received a call from a good friend who has his own law firm. His firm has several partners and a couple of associates. He let me know that he just let one of his associates go, and in the course of telling the story, I quickly realized what was wrong with their employment relationship (spoiler: everything was wrong).

The associate apparently wasn’t happy. When he was approached and told that he was being let go, the associate quipped that the appellate brief he was “working on” hadn’t been touched because he expected to be fired. Further, he complained that there wasn’t a mentoring system in place and that was why the relationship hadn’t worked. (An important piece of information is that this associate had NEVER asked a single question during his tenure at the firm). Next, the attorney said that he had billed significant time to some of his files and therefore he knew he was being underpaid by the firm. He concluded by stating that if he were replaced, no new associate would be able to last at the firm. With that, he packed up his desk and walked out the door.

When I asked my friend about the associate’s billings, he said the associate was a very heavy biller to flat-fee criminal files, billing incredible time to files where most of the time needed to be written off.

While there are always two sides to every story, it appears that there are a few lessons we can glean from the associate’s behavior.

  1. If things aren’t going well, DO SOMETHING.

Apparently this associate knew things weren’t going well. The important brief that is due next week has languished on his desk and remained undone because he assumed he would be fired before it was due. Besides showing an incredible lack of initiative, this associate really needed to do something to improve the employment relationship. In my experience, if you think you are going to get fired, you probably are going to get fired. Before things get that bad, do something to improve the relationship. Ask the partners how to improve. Ask for help if you need it (more on that below). Get started on big projects before they become an overwhelming time crunch.

  1. If you don’t know how to do something, SAY SOMETHING.

Mentoring programs are great, but are rarely available at any firm besides the largest firms in town. While an associate is expected to work to figure out issues before asking questions, there are times that asking questions is your best course. Rather than spinning wheels on a procedural matter, asking how to do something is the best course. If you need help, ask for it.

  1. Think like an owner – try to understand your value to the firm.

The associate had a fundamentally different view about what his value was (and what his hours spent on files were worth) to the firm – he failed to think like a partner/owner. To me, this is the most egregious error the associate made. He never thought about how he “earned” his salary. He never took a step back and thought about whether his billings actually brought money in the door. He never thought about how, at the end of the month, this attorney had brought so little into the firm coffers.

In the end, this associate probably is better off not being at the firm, but he will have an incredibly hard time finding a new job. Most legal communities are small, so his reputation might precede him when he seeks another position. This attorney should have been focusing on doing good work AND been looking for a job. It is far easier to find a job when you are employed and can get a good reference than when you are unemployed and will not be able to use your past employer as a reference (a serious red flag for all future employers).

Keep It Classy When Giving Your Notice

Keep It Classy When Giving Your Notice

Resigning from a job is awkward at best and can get downright ugly in some situations. Whether you are leaving for money, career advancement or personality differences – offering a polite, professional resignation is always the best course of action.

So you have gone through the long process of applying for jobs, interviewing, perhaps facing rejection multiple times along the way, and you finally have landed your dream job. Now you are faced with the inevitable task of telling your current employer that you are leaving. There is no “right” way to give notice because it will often depend on the circumstances. If you have a close, personal relationship with your boss then an in-person meeting is probably the best way to break the news. In such a situation, it is also advisable to have a written letter prepared so the employer can actually have a notice of resignation for your employment file. If you have a poor relationship with your boss and cannot stomach the idea of confronting that person directly then simply providing a letter of resignation (whether by person, mail or email attachment) is probably the best route in order to avoid any heated personal encounters.

Even in situations where animosity is almost unavoidable (taking business from your firm to a competitor), you should act with civility and professionalism. If your employer accuses you of being a cheat, traitor, etc. – just do what you came to do and make a quick exit. Not only will it help down the road if you encounter that person (legal markets can be fairly small) but it also can work to your advantage if you still need something from your former employer (client file transfers, personal items, etc).

Just remember, you cannot lose by taking the high-road when resigning but it is very easy to torch some bridges if you treat it as an opportunity to get in some parting shots.

Recruiters Understand Fit

You can learn a lot from a resume. You can learn more from a recruiter.

Getting to know a recruiter can help you if you are a candidate or a hiring entity. A good recruiter goes beyond the resume and can advocate for a candidate and understand the subtle nuances of “fit” for a firm or legal department.

If you are a candidate, a good recruiter will advocate for you when it is appropriate. They can call out characteristics that are not readily apparent on your resume. In short, a good recruiter takes you from a piece of paper (your resume) to a person. The reciprocal is also true. A good recruiter will be able to assess your personality and know when a fit isn’t there, even if the skillset on paper is possibly a match. This is invaluable, as you don’t want to waste your time on job searching that will be fruitless.

If you are a firm, a good recruiter will learn a bit about your culture and work environment before submitting candidates. They will understand what makes a candidate successful and use that measure to screen potential candidates for fit before sending information to the hiring authority. They won’t waste your valuable time with candidates who won’t work. Candidates that mesh with your culture are more likely to stick around, are more productive and cause less disruption to other employees.

Ultimately, an attorney needs the appropriate skills to do their job well, but overlooking fit is a mistake and one that can be mitigated when using a recruiter.

How to Nail that Next Interview

Is there an interview on your horizon? If so, make sure take a common sense approach to making a good impression by utilizing three essential P’s: preparedness, positive attitude and professionalism. There won’t be much you can add to your skills and experience prior to the interview but you can control how prepared you are coming into the interview, the attitude you convey, and your appearance and demeanor.

First, spend as much time as you can to not only learn about the organization but also the people conducting the interviews. Most companies have their own websites that provide a wealth of information but you can also use resources such as Linkedin, Facebook, Hoovers, Yahoo Finance, etc.

I am always amazed to hear feedback from employers that a candidate appeared aloof or even negative during an interview. Keep in mind, you are going to work with these people and they do not want someone who is going to bring down the office moral. It is okay to show some excitement and genuine interest in the opportunity. Everyone has negative work experiences in their past but if you are forced to talk about it, then try your best to put a positive spin on the event – you can always chalk it up to a learning experience.

Finally, everyone has the ability to convey a sense of professionalism. It starts with your dress and grooming (always error on the side of being too formal) and continues with good manners (sit up straight, look the person in eyes, etc) and proper speech/conversation (don’t get too comfortable). Not talking back seems obvious but can be an easy trap if the interviewer is questioning your experience, etc. If this happens to you, then politely address their concern the best you can and then move on. Your tone can end up being more of an issue in the end than the concern called into question.

Some things will be beyond your control during an interview so why not give yourself the best opportunity to make a good experience employing the three P’s – all of which are within your control.

Are You Hiring or Recruiting? There Is A Difference.

Are You Hiring or Recruiting? There Is A Difference.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record by quoting from my favorite business author/philosopher Seth Godin yet again, here is what Seth has to say about the difference between recruiting and simply hiring:

Hiring is what you do when you let the world know that you’re accepting applications from people looking for a job.

Recruiting is the act of finding the very best person for a job and persuading them to stop doing what they’re doing and come join you.

If you take only one thing away from that quote, it’s that there is a BIG difference between hiring and recruiting. I think that this distinction may be the most important reason that employers and savvy job seekers reach out to recruiters as a component of their job search.

Law firms and in-house legal departments realize that the job market is significantly better than it was even last year, and to see the very best candidates for a position, they need to utilize a recruiter to expand their candidate pool.

Placing an ad simply lets the world know you are accepting applications. You need to PERSUADE someone to join you. That ability to position your opportunity vis-a-vis a candidate’s currently job is a key role of the recruiter. They need to be able to make the case to the candidate why they might be better off leaving their job for a new opportunity, and that ix oftentimes a very tough thing to do.

Ads, website postings, tweets and other traditional ways of announcing openings rarely have the ability to persuasively “sell” an opportunity. That’s what top recruiters do every day.

In short, if you are an employer looking to fill a position and you can’t show that your job is one worth quitting for, you will never have the deepest candidate pool to choose from until you are able to reach candidates and EXPLAIN why your position is such a great opportunity.

Time to Consider a New Law Firm?

When is the best time to switch firms if you are a practicing attorney considering a move? Although there is no hard and fast rule, the window of opportunity for associates to move typically falls in the range of 3-6 years of practice. The window for partners is usually need-driven for those without business, but virtually limitless for those who have their own business.

Most employers would like someone to have a few years of experience under their belt before considering a lateral move. When an associate gets past six years of experience they are often being considered for partnership and, assuming they are on track, will wait to see what happens with their current firm. Of course, this expectation goes both ways because other firms might question why someone with more than six years of experience would leave their firm so close to partnership. Although it may have nothing to do with the associate (especially over the difficult financial times we faced the past few years), a prospective firm might think the associate did not satisfy the partnership objectives and were deliberately passed over. The key for associates is to take a realistic assessment by years 4-5 of whether they want to be a partner at their current firm and, even if they do, whether they think partnership will be offered to them.

Of course partnership is not always the answer. We hear from partners all of the time who are unsatisfied in their current firm for one reason or another. At this level for those without business, the opportunities to lateral tend to be limited to need-based positions at another firm. An example is a firm that just lost a senior securities attorney and the work stayed with the firm. The firm might find the only way their clients will stay is if someone equally skilled fills the void. The situation can also apply to experienced litigators with trial experience, etc. Those that have managed to build a client base obviously have many more options. Sure the amount of business will dictate the possibilities to some extent, as will the work, bill rate, etc., but the bottom line is these people will have options.

Times have definitely changed from the days when an attorney could comfortably work at one firm their entire career. Changes in the economy, local legal landscape, and the practice of law in general have or should force attorneys to regularly contemplate the long-term viability of their current job and consider what other opportunities exist.

Marketing Yourself As An Attorney – Hilarious Attorney Ads (That Won’t Help You Get Hired)

Marketing Yourself As An Attorney – Hilarious Attorney Ads (That Won’t Help You Get Hired)

Here on the Sand Search blog, we’ve given you a lot of tips on how to market yourself. We always suggest marketing yourself in a professional manner. That said, you can’t be serious all of the time. Here is a link to some pretty hilarious attorney ads.

While these links should make you laugh, (“due process?!….do wheelies!” as told by the Texas Law Hawk on a motorbike) they may also remind you that being “known” may not help you when you need to move your practice.

At the very least, watching these videos should make you smile. Have a great 2017!

Explore Multiple Options in the Job Market

Explore Multiple Options in the Job Market

Okay, so you have decided to test the market to see if there is a better job option for you. Maybe you can’t tolerate your boss or coworkers; or perhaps you have reached your professional limit at your current job and need a new platform to grow. Whatever your reason, since you have committed to exploring other jobs, why not make the most of it by considering multiple opportunities.

Having options is important because you are more likely to find the right fit and get the most from an offer.For some people, their only basis of comparison is the job they are departing when considering another employer. Yes, even having a limited comparison is helpful, but think how much more effective that becomes when you add a few more opportunities to consider. The one place you are considering may be an improvement, but you should make sure that it is truly the best option for you – not just better than your current job.

The other reason it can be beneficial to consider multiple job opportunities is leverage. While the threat of staying at your current job can be used, there is obviously a reason you are looking and most people (including potential employers) know that accepting a counteroffer is often a recipe for disaster. Whereas employers are more likely to put forth their best possible offer when they know there is competition for your services. In fact, some employers are so competitive (can’t stand the thought of losing to a rival firm, etc.) that they might even pay above market if necessary.

So if you are truly ready to take the plunge in the job market, do yourself a favor by considering multiple job opportunities to make the most of situation.