Tag Archives: hiring

10 Behaviors By Summer Associates That Should Make Your Firm Think Twice Before Hiring

Congratulations, you’re a summer associate. With the right attitude and work ethic, you may become a salaried lawyer one day!

Condolences to law firm managers. You have to deal with a bunch of 20-something interns who haven’t a clue (but think they do).

There’s a time for forgive and forget and there’s a time for strict standards. When it comes to your summer associates, pay close attention. With so much competition these days, there’s nor reason your firm shouldn’t have the best that law schools have to offer. The following 10 behaviors by summer associates should make firm partners think twice about hiring:

1. Makes a bad first impression

Some people make bad first impressions. That’s understandable for a cocktail party or date, but not a professional event. If your summer associate can’t make eye contact, circulate the office and shake hands with everybody, or shows up to work in wrinkly or inappropriate attire, imagine the first impression they’ll leave on a judge or jury. The air of incompetence is not in-style this summer.

2. Avoids social events

Most summer interns are afraid of drinking too much and making idiots of themselves in front to firm partners, but that’s no excuse to eschew work events. If your summer associates can’t even attend events mostly designed to make them feel welcome, what are they going to do when you ask them to attend important after-hours events with potential clients, or professional galas that look well on the firm? Avoiding social events may be a sign your intern has no room in his or her priorities for the firm.

3. Is slow to answer your emails or calls

This is a no-brainer. You need associates who are serious, hardworking, creative, and—well—constantly available. That’s the nature of the law, it never sleeps, and your inters (for the first few years, naturally) shouldn’t either.

4. Doesn’t get along with other associates or summer interns

Yes, it is a cut-throat process, getting a job offer. But, it’s probably a bad sign if one summer associate doesn’t seem to get along with all the rest. Sure, the group may have disparate personalities or work styles, but so does the firm. You need a team player, not a lone-wolf in this business.

5. Name’s unknown to the partner

There’s flying under the radar and not getting noticed at all. If none of the partners ever know a summer associate’s name, it’s likely this person either (a) didn’t have any noticeable achievements or accolades from colleagues, or (b) doesn’t know how to network. Either way, it’s not the type of lawyer your firm needs in this do-or-die industry.

6. Doesn’t respect the support staff

Associates shouldn’t just be known by partners, they should be liked by support staff, too. A summer associate is lower on the food chain than support staff. They’ve not been hired, they’re here on trial, and they haven’t earned their place at the firm. Any associate who treats support staff like subordinates has no respect for the food chain—which sometimes means doing nitty-gritty and menial work and certainty not scapegoating support staff.

7. Makes too many mistakes on documents

There should be a learning curve in legal work, especially for summer associates. But, you should start to be concerned when an associate shows too many mistakes. Already, summer interns are given the lowliest jobs, which means it shouldn’t be too difficult to handle. And, mistakes are a sign that an inter was too afraid (or too arrogant) to ask questions of a colleague or classmate. Simple spelling mistakes reflect a carelessness (or lack of technical skills) that your firm just can’t afford. Another thing that’s costly? Constantly re-checking the work of one of your lawyers. You’ve got to have faith that your associates know the answer, know where to look for the answer, or know the right questions to ask to get it from somebody else.

8. Constantly appears frazzled

This is a difficult job. There are long hours. If your associate already feels overwhelmed after a summer, you should question their stamina for the “real world” of the law.

9. Says “no” too often

There is a time and a place to say “no” to work. But, your summer internship is not one of them. Saying “no” too often may be a signal that an associate has eyed another senior attorney or partner and plans on exclusively working for them, which means when hired, it will be more of the same. Or, saying “no” might signal poor organizational skills, where the associate is incapable of multitasking or managing his or her workload. Either way, take note of the person who says “no” too often.

10. Lacks social media or technical skills

Today there’s no excuse for poor PowerPoint skills or lack of Excel knowledge. Even law firms can’t get far without a website or social media presence. These are not skills left to the support staff. Rather, they represent the general willingness to progress and grow with the speed of new technology and a desire, on the part of an associate, to become more efficient and productive at what he or she does. You’d really have to go out of your way these days to lack such technical skills. And, as clients demand more innovative law firms, you can’t afford to hire one more traditionalist who favors to the yellow legal pad to an iPad.

As a manager you face unimaginable pressure to streamline costs, improve profitability, and do more work with fewer employees. In order to be successful in today’s harried corporate culture, you need to master the critical skills and competencies required for building and maintaining a productive and profitable workplace.

Take advantage of The Center for Competitive Management (C4CM)’s course on Friday, August 1, 2014, 11:00 EST to 12:15 EST, Smart Manager’s Guide to Building a Productive Workplace: 10 Proven Strategies to Boost Personal and Employee Productivity.

This interactive, practical and effective event, explores 10 proven tips to boost personal and employee productivity. During this information-packed session, you will learn how to:

  1. Build a workplace atmosphere that encourages cooperation, productivity,
  2. Better enable employees to do their work, without excessive oversight, and
  3. Remove common obstacles that prevent productivity.

Whether you’re a new manager, or have been in the trenches for years, this event will get you up to date on the latest productivity enhancement techniques for:

  1. Reaching quick and innovative decisions
  2. Reducing decision-making anxiety for you and your employees
  3. Holding timely meetings that remain true to a core purpose
  4. Making intelligent decisions by battling groupthink
  5. Brainstorming effectively

Plus, you’ll also learn which workplace productivity apps really work and how to get started using them today!

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Hiring At Law Firms: Do’s & Don’ts For Finding The Right Fit

Despite the seemingly low employment rate for lawyers, law firms do a lot of hiring. From expert witnesses to consultants to legal interns, there are quite a few positions to fill at law firms. And, it’s not always easy—amid the myriad of candidates—to weed out superb from scallywag.

Here are a few tips for finding the right applicant for the job.

1. Conduct blind CV reviews

On paper, it’s hard not to be biased by certain traits. Sometimes firms are biased toward certain institutions—a local university or an Ivy League one. Or, as a reviewer, you may not realize you favor candidates with certain extracurricular traits.

It’s even possible to cross-off a qualified candidate for, say, an expert witness because of an idiosyncrasy that happens to bother you (but not the rest of the firm!).

During the preliminary stages of hiring, one way to avoid these prejudices is to conduct blind reviews of CVs. In fact, one of the UK’s leading law firms, Clifford Chance, has done just that.

Clifford Chance, in an effort to stop hiring biases toward Oxbridge and other leading independent schools, is adopting “CV blind” policies for hiring. The overall object is to make sure we never lose out on talent, wherever it comes from,” said explains Laura Yeates, graduate recruitment and development manager at the firm, to the Independent.

“We need to make sure we have the very best people spread out across the whole of the UK in terms of institutions.”

Another way to identify the best candidate for the position is through additional written assignments outside a typical CV and cover letter.

Ask the candidtes to write a 250 to 500-word essay on a topic important to the firm. You’ll be surprised how many candidates won’t bother with the extra work, which is a great way to weed out non-serious applications. In addition, it will give a glimpse at their writing style as well as beliefs regarding the law, which may help identify those candidates who fit in with your current corporate culture.

2. Skip the phone interview

Lawyers often live on the phone. Whether it’s phone calls to clients or the courthouse, you’ll often find a lawyer’s life tied to his or her cell.

Telephones are certainly an efficient tool to conduct business, but interviewing candidates is probably not among its best applications. It’s difficult for both parties—the interviewer and interviewee—to really sound energized oor engaged over the phone.

How many times have you answered the phone at home in the middle of your morning routine and the voice on the other line asks you, “did you just wake up?” In most of these instances it’s embarrassing to admit, no, you haven’t. Your voice just doesn’t have the same tone as it does in person.

If you must interview over the phone, The Muse offers some advice to keep up your enthusiasm for the job. Although geared toward the candidate, the advice holds true for law firm managers interviewing candidates. For example, don’t forget to smile. Smiling can actually alter your voice to sound more enthusiastic.

In addition, try standing up as if you were speaking at a conference during your call. It will keep you “on your toes” in more way than one.

For more tips on phone interviews, read here.

3. Conduct 2 rounds of in-person interviews

Finally, consider shortening your interviews but offering two different ones. Most interviewees will make their mind up about a candidate within 15 minutes of talking. So, why bother going further?

Instead of conducting one hour-long interview, schedule each candidate with two hiring managers or lawyers for 15-20 minutes each. Take only those candidates with unanimous approval.

Try getting two interviewees with different interviewing styles—maybe one who is formal and the other more relaxed. Make sure at least one of them will ask questions that address whether or not the candidate shares corporate culture values with your firm.

In the end, the best candidate for a job fills the requirements of a position, not preconceptions about the requirements of a CV.

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How To Achieve Walmart-sized Success: Boost Your Firm’s Benefits Package

On April 15, the day Americans dread, a number of news sources focused on taxpayers’ dollars in public assistance. Specifically, they highlighted the fact that Walmart workers cost taxpayers $6.2 billion in public assistance aid.

Although this number may sound enormous, it’s nothing compared to the entire public assistance bill that Americans foot each year, approximately 131.9 billion, according to welfare statistics.

It’s not surprising, then, that employees of this supergiant Walmart make up 4.7 percent of this welfare-seeking population, seeing as Walmart aims to hire low-wage workers and targets the unemployed for its job positions.

In fact, President Obama recently told Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper, “What we have done is to gather together 300 companies, just to start with, including, some of the top 50 companies in the country, companies like Walmart, and Apple, Ford and others, to say let’s establish best practices,” which includes not screening out people from the hiring process just because they’ve been unemployed for a long time.

Although Walmart denies this figure, calling it “inaccurate and misleading,” its spokeperson Randy Hargrove does stick by Walmart’s policies, stating, “The bottom line is Walmart provides associates with more opportunities for career growth and greater economic security for their families than other companies in America.”

“Our full and part-time workers get bonuses for store performance, access to a 401K-retirement plan, education and health benefits.”

For many Americans, the retirement, education, performance-based, or health benefits of a job are as or more important than the wage. So, for law firm professionals, boasting your benefits plan can be invaluable in hiring employees or retaining high-performing ones currently on payroll.

To find out exactly where the value-add of your benefits program lays, send out an anonymous survey among your employees. Ask them if there’s a health benefit, i.e., low premiums or mental health coverage, that they value over others. Ask employees what benefit is not covered that would make a difference in their day-to-day job satisfaction.

These benefits may include health benefits, discounts to gyms or spa services, professional fees and expenses, moving expenses, income security and retirement, flexibility and alternative working arrangements, parking or transportation, counseling and employee assistance programs, tuition reimbursement, or extended associate training and mentorship.

Finally, investigate your internal HR compliance requirements, from Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to Workers’ Compensation. That way, you are aware of what your firm is required by law to provide, and which among your benefits make your firm go above and beyond.

It’s only what your firm can offer employees that others are unwilling to that, in the end, will transform your small legal storefront into a giant success story, like Walmart.

If you need advice, attend C4CM’s online event, geared specifically toward HR needs of law firms, “Leave Law Intersection: Avoid Dangerous Detours on the Road to FMLA, ADA and Workers’ Compensation Compliance,” on Wednesday, May 7, 2014, from 2pm to 3:15pm EST. The event will be held by Tracy M. Billows, Partner, Seyfarth Shaw LLP.

Ms. Billows is a partner in the Chicago office of Seyfarth Shaw LLP concentrating her practice on representing and counseling employers throughout the country in the entire range of employment law matters. Her work has included the representation of Fortune 500 companies, as well as medium and small sized employers. Ms. Billows represents employers in single plaintiff, multi-plaintiff, and class action litigation matters related to employment discrimination claims under Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), and similar state discrimination laws.

Prior to her legal career, Ms. Billows was a human resources executive in the corporate community. With first-hand knowledge of the challenges faced by her clients, Ms. Billows is able to advise them in all areas of labor and employment law including employment policies and employee handbooks, training programs, and the application of federal, state and local employment laws, and various other compliance issues.

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Are Machines Replacing Man? How To Put Law Firm Professionals & Technology In Sync

This is no longer a question limited to science fiction novels or Hollywood films. Instead, real-life economists and statisticians are debating a larger-than-life issue: are machines replacing man in the labor market?

Stenographers in court cases have already butted head-to-head, so to speak, with their digital technology counterparts. New Jersey recently transitioned to high-tech digital recordings to track legal proceedings, replacing salaried stenographers.

Man vs. machine, is one becoming obsolete in law?

Apparently, according to a Bloomberg BusinessWeek article (online, of course), robots are getting all the good jobs.

“’What’s different now is the speed and scale of what’s happening,’ says Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Center for Digital Business. Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, co-authors of the recently published book Race Against the Machine, argue that the economy is in the early stages of a ‘Great Restructuring’ that is hollowing out the labor market and exacerbating inequality,” reports David Lynch from his computer.

Instead of a human resources department, your law firm uses Google Analytics and LinkedIn.

Instead of a public relations department, you have first-year associate updating Twitter feeds and posting to the firm blog.

Instead of masses of associates filtering through discovery, you’ve outsourced doc review to India.

Instead of rooms full of documents and binders, lawyers talk about accessing servers and storing to the cloud.

Who or what really make up your law firm staff?

On the other hand, some aren’t buying into the debate.

James D. Hamilton of the University of California at San Diego reminds us that technology constantly ruffles—not replaces—the labor force.

For example, today, only 2 percent of Americans work on farms. However, in 1900, 41 percent of Americans toiled the Terre. This doesn’t mean 39 percent of ex-farms were forced into unemployment. Nope, they found new jobs.

“In 2005 the average U.S. worker could produce what would have required two people to do in 1970, what would have required four people in 1940, and would have required six people in 1910,” Hamilton writes in an e-mail correspondence with Lunch for BusinessWeek.

“The result of this technological progress was not higher unemployment but instead rising real wages. The evidence from the last two centuries is unambiguous—productivity gains lead to more wealth, not poverty.”

Nevertheless, this month’s issue of The Atlantic and Forbes magazine unearths this question once more. Should you use Big Data to hire, fire, or promote employees?

Grant Gordon for Forbes advises companies to take advantage of both works. Target undervalued or unemployed workers via technology, but the rely on human instinct and in-person interviews to finish the job.

Who or what most efficiently gets the job done? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Only your managers can evaluate that. So, get together with your IT department and weigh the pros and cons of man vs. machine.

Certainly there will be advantages to both. But, the real value add is when man understands machine, and in tandem, these productivity gins lead to more wealth for your firm.

In the end, don’t blame technology for the recession. Embrace digital systems within the walls of your office, and you may soon find the ensuing growth of your firm leads to a need for more professionals—the ebb and flow of an industry lies in our continuing to advance with it, not against it.

Take, for example, these C4CM analytics of alternative billing trends. According to the 2010 Alternative Billing Benchmarking Study, more than 87 percent of practitioners have some sort of alternative billing arrangement available to clients. Find out what billing arrangements you can offer clients in this training resource here.

-WB

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Why Job Descriptions Matter & How To Write The “Right” One

Just because your firm’s advertisement resulted in thousands of applicants, this doesn’t mean the candidates are right for the job.

Job descriptions are exceedingly important these days. More unemployed workers means more responses to every job post. For the firm, this means filtering through resume after resume.

For the candidate, there’s no love lost by applying to every job that looks like a close fit. However, for the firm, the hours it takes to narrow down a pool of applicants and then interview them can cost a pretty penny.

Furthermore, hiring an individual who is under-qualified becomes a drain on firm resources. Hiring an individual who is overqualified may create employee retention issues. This, too, results in sunk costs, as the whole hiring process must start over again.

Even if the wrong job description happened to nab the right canddiate, the new employee and his employer may not be on the same page in terms of the scope his role. Effective job descriptions will guide employees’ expectations for their position, including what they will (or will not) do for your firm in the future.

Where should your firm begin?

1. Start with an Elevator Pitch. You may think the elevator pitch exercise is just for job candidates. Not so. Job descriptions should begin with a short, one-sentence summary of the position.

Consider writing a one-statement elevator pitch for your ideal candidate. Then, explain further down why this summary statement would get a person hired at your firm.

2. Describe job functions. Most job descriptions use lists: first, a list of day-to-day job functions and activities, then ideal attributes of the candidate, and final other requirements of the position (education minimums and salary maximums, for example).

Don’t be afraid of full sentences. Few people craft lists with the attention to detail needed on job descriptions. Often, for the sake of brevity, employers become vague and repetitive with their requirements.

Write a paragraph for the functions of the position. So, for example, “legal assistants are expected to greet all guests and employees with an upbeat, yet professional demeanor at all times. Legal assistants will be responsible for briefing firm partners every morning on messages and upcoming meetings. Legal assistants are often asked to fetch lunch for the firm partners or other employees and are expected to keep regular and balanced expenses for such errands…”

Lists are terrific functional tools. But, to make sure future employees are fully aware of the functions of the job, stick to easy-to-read paragraphs.

3. Describe candidate requirements.

If the requirements for candidates are easy—diplomas required or technical skills—than a list can be efficient. However, avoid ambiguity by writing full sentences, in the least, to describe your future employee.

4. Be specific about non-negotiable details.

If the salary is non-negotiable, be clear about it. These days, most candidates believe salaries represent some sort of median price a firm is willing to pay. However, this is not always the case.

In the same way, be clear about any other non-negotiable aspects, such as benefits or language skills.

Otherwise, any person who ever took Spanish 1 in college will consider themselves “optionally” fluent.

5. Be clear about the organizational hierarchy.

Job descriptions vary in purpose. Some describe contractual work, others salaried positions. Some, however, describe careers. In all of these cases, it’s important that a job description explain the reporting scheme of the particular position, and any future opportunity for promotion.

If there’s no room for movement, i.e., there’s no position above paralegal (e.g., junior vs. senior), then make this clear at the outset.

6. Describe the office space.

It may seem petty, but describe the office space. This is your firm’s chance to hint about the office culture. Is it open-plan or offices? How many floors?  Does every employee get an office? What are the perks—free soda, coffee, pastries?

You’ll be surprised to find how seemingly superficial additions to the job description soon become its main attraction.

7. Detail application procedures.

In the end, many candidates may still apply. But, being specific about the application process—when applicants will get notice about the position and from whom—will keep many individuals from checking back or clogging your inbox with follow-up emails.

Let individuals self-select for legal positions. With a detailed enough job description, your firm won’t need to put as much effort or expenses in the process of hiring.

Once you hire the right candidate, the job description should become a part of this individual’s hiring packet. There should be no surprise responsibilities or expectations excluded from the original job description.

If that wasn’t enough pressure, the perfect job description must also think about legal compliance. Just one poorly written job description could leave you exposed to devastating liabilities. Job descriptions are often the first document looked at in legal disputes or during a regulatory agency’s inquiry.

Recent changes to the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) and the tricky rules surrounding the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) add another level of complexity you just can’t overlook.

So, read The Center For Competitive Management’s guide, “Crafting Legally Compliant Job Descriptions,” a no-fluff, plain-English report you can use to create or update your job descriptions.

You can’t afford to run the wrong job description. Find the right candidate today by using a few of these simple steps.

And, happy head hunting!

-WB

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The Importance Of Being First & Magellan’s Lesson To Law Firms

Ferdinand Magellan was the first explorer to circumnavigate the globe. During his expedition from 1519–1522, Magellan sailed from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean via the Strait of Magellan, named in his honor.

Magellan was the first European to discover the Magellanic Penguin and Magellanic Woodpecker. He was the first to take note of Magellanic clouds (now known to be dwarf galaxies).

Later, astronomers honored the seaman’s other skyward discoveries by naming twin lunar craters Magelhaens and Magelhaens A.

The second European to circumnavigate the globe was Sir Francis Drake. Who, other than earning the pejorative name El Draque by the Spaniards, left no other lasting legacy than piracy.

See, sometimes being first means everything.

In the modern world, being first in business also leads to a lasting legacy. Scotch tape, Kleenex, Xerox, Slinky, the names of these brands are synonymous with their function. Read Forbes’ article “The Importance of Being First,” and you’ll find that this is no accident.

A company’s reputation—as often reflected through its brand name—is the key to attracting new clients and boosting your firm’s bottom line. So, to corner the market on your niche legal service, think about what your law firm can do to be first.

Be the first in a legal niche.

Although a recession increase unemployment, it also increases opportunities. Think about what niche technological or policy areas your law firm can reach.

For example, the new patent law provides an opportunity for law firms to become experts in their field.  Why should this client hire you? Because your firm knows the most about what changes in patent law means for corporate clients—from large engineering business to the small entrepreneur.

Be the first in a technical expertise.

Technology provides firm with a competitive edge. Electronic filing and the latest legal software make your firm most efficient at what it does. That translates into lower billable hours for the client.

It’s not enough to purchase the newest technology, make sure your employees know how to implement it their daily tasks. Prove to your clients why your firm is the most productive, and how technology translates into better strategies, more filtered information, and higher rates of courtroom wins.

Be the first in alternative fee arrangements.

Most firms advertise alternative fee arrangements, but few actually employee them. Customize your services and your service fees to clients.

Be the first to offer contingency fees on all types of cases for all types of clients. Differentiate your firm by being the first to use creative billing methods that benefit the client and boosts your visibility in the region.

When clients need flexibility in fees, aim to be the first name that comes to mind.

Be the first in employee services.

Internally, differentiate your firm to attract employees. Whether it’s flexible schedules, paternal/maternal leave policy, or faster partnership tracks, decide what sets apart your firm from the rest.

Then, make sure you communicate this competitive advantage to potential candidates. You’d be surprised at how seemingly small but undeniably unique benefits for employees will attract the market’s best candidates.

Magellan gets credit for being the first to circumnavigate the globe even though technically, technically he didn’t complete the journey. In a way, Magellan receives credit for being the first simply because of the exploration effort he initiated.

In the end, sometimes just the attempt to be first gives way to the position.

-WB

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Why Law Firms Should Hire Veterans (Or At Least People Like Them)

For the U.S. government, jobs were the first docket item of the new year.

The U.S. Senate voted on a bill to help veterans find jobs. More specifically, the Reid bill:

  1. Provides $250,000 to be used for grants to hire veterans as law enforcement officers and for priority hiring for federal law enforcement jobs.
  2. Requires every federal agency to consider giving preferential treatment to federal contractors who have workforces made up of at least 5 percent veterans. This would apply to all contracts valued at $25 million or greater.
  3. Strengthens federal enforcement of employment and reemployment rights for veterans, including more oversight to determine when employers have a pattern of resisting full compliance with the law. Repeat violators would be barred from receiving federal contracts. [via New York Times]

Veterans are appreciated by the U.S. government for their service to the nation. Veterans strengthened the economy by leading to fuller employment. And, veterans remind businesses the value of experience.

In fact, Veterans have so much to offer the market, they are eschewing big business in favor of opening shop on their own.

Veterans are at least 45 percent more likely to dive into entrepreneurship than people with no active-duty military experience, reports a May 2011 study from the SBA Office of Advocacy, according to Entrepreneur Magazine.

Their unique vision, employment position, and resourceful attitude are some of the reasons why Veterans are idea-generators and great businessmen.

“This could be because military training develops organizational skills and risk-tolerance, says Thomas J. Leney, executive director for Small and Veteran Business Programs at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,” writes Entrepreneur Magazine.

The dichotomy of new ideas generated from previous experience is a valuable one. In fact, the legal services market is the perfect environment where old and new can collide in a positive way.

Experienced lawyers have plenty to bring to the table. As do their young associates. When it comes to hiring employees—who do you choose?

In a study about innovation and knowledge-diffusion, research found that firms who hired inventors tended to use their new recruit’s prior ideas significantly: by approximately 219% on average.

Essentially, when firms recruit inventors, these businesses acquire the inventor’s skill. However, talent is not the only value add. It turns out, according to Singh and Agrawal’s 2011 study, “Recruiting for Ideas: How Firms Exploit the Prior Inventions of New Hires,” firms also access a new hire’s stock of ideas and inventions.

What does this mean for law firms?

New recruits and associates bring baggage with them—the good kind. When debating between two possible candidates, it’s important to look beyond their intrinsic value—intelligence, ambition, or specialized knowledge.

As a firm, it’s possible to gain access to physical assets from this recruit as well: inventions, patents, training manuals, datasets, previous research, or software, for example.

However, take stock of these things without actually taking stock. Don’t objectivize employees, but do decide whether or not your recruit is a “producer” or a “dreamer”. It’s wonderful if your attorneys are looking to make life-changing policy change. But, for every other day, hire those people who are industrious.

Law firms, like Veterans, need staff who can get the job done.

-WB

Reference: Singh, Jasjit and Ajay Agrawal (2011). “Recruiting for Ideas: How Firms Exploit the Prior Inventions of New Hires.” Management Science, Vol. 57, No.1, pp..129-150.

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Why Your Firm Should Hire Lawyers Who Are Also CPAs

What’s stickier than the law these days? The U.S. tax code.

That’s why choosing an accountant for your law firm might be as important as practicing the law itself.

But, before you start flipping through a directory of qualified CPAs, you might try flipping through bar cards instead.

Today, as professional vacancies wane, education has been steadily increasing. As a result, there are more and more lawyers going back to school for an accounting degree.

And, when hired, these dual-degree dynasts count in the column of “most valuable assets” on the books for your firm.

One such professional, Stephen Kantor, belongs to this doubly-qualified group of attorneys who also are certified public accountants. Kantor explained to the Portland Business Journal, “I think an accounting background gives somebody the opportunity to take a more global approach to the representation of a business.”

“As a CPA you really learn how to analyze a business from the inside out and I think too often lawyers learn how to analyze a business from the outside in.”

Not only can your accountant balance the budget, but he can also contribute to your other legal departments—tax, estate planning, or litigation, for example. Whether languages, financial experience, or accounting, in an economic recession, lawyers must all have an additional value add to their firm.

“It was a really good opportunity for me, when I switched over to practicing law, to embrace what CPAs can offer my clients,” says Kantor.

CPA-lawyers offer your clients specialized expertise, and they offer your firm the following:

  1. Knowledge of taxes, business budgets, and payroll.
  2. An understanding of the business and daily operations of the field of law
  3. Versatile job function (accountant, attorney, and litigation consultant in one!)
  4. Higher degree, so higher billable hours to clients
  5. Constant and steady stream of work (there will be no lulls for this employee) 

Like the idea, but haven’t found the right candidate? Send one of your attorneys back to school. Executive education or night certification to become a public accountant requires money up front, but the effort to train your most valued associates will certainly pay off in the long-term.

Still, be weary of the ethical concerns with such a position. You can’t build an accounting practice and then use it as advertisement for your legal one.

For Kantor, he has chosen a side. Although he’s a CPA, Kantor works as a lawyer—he’s a partner in the Portland law firm Samuels Yoelin Kantor Seymour & Spinrad LLP.

“I stick to the law, although a lot of what I do involves accounting.”

So why can’t your law firm accounting, involve a little bit of law?

 

-WB

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The New Divorce Court: Where U.S. Laws Meet Foreign Ones?

Family law in the U.S. has never been so interesting.

Notwithstanding changes in the definition of marriage, divorces are currently the subject of debate among state legislatures.

Divorce, and the related legal dissolutions of marriage, provides an excellent example for why Oklahoma and Arizona’s bills to bar the use of foreign (and religious) law—and the several state bills following suit—merit consideration.

Of course, some would argue that these proposals “displace the many subconstitutional rules through which American courts have long tried to accommodate the reality that much commercial and personal life is international.”

This week, an annulment case, Naseer v. Moghal (Va. Ct. App. Aug. 14, 2012), was brought to the public eye.

The facts of the case are complex, so here is a summary by Joe Palazzolo for the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, who also picked up on the case:

“The story begins with a couple, Tahira Naseer and Nasir Mehmood Khan, who married in Pakistan in 2000. The union didn’t last.

The next year, Mr. Khan told his wife three times that he divorced her, under Islamic law. The ‘three times’ rule is considered a religious component to divorce in Pakistan. But the parties still have to obtain a legal divorce. To begin the legal process, Mr. Khan had to give notice to the local government. But he never did.

Ms. Naseer married again in Pakistan in 2003. She and her new husband, Hamid Moghal, moved to Fairfax County, Va., and had a marriage ceremony there in 2004. That union also failed. The couple separated in 2009.

Ms. Naseer had never told Mr. Moghal about her previous marriage to Mr. Khan. But Mr. Moghal found Ms. Naseer’s marriage certificate and took it with him on a trip to Pakistan. When he checked the Pakistani records, Mr. Moghal discovered that Ms. Naseer had never legally divorced Mr. Khan.

Pakistani authorities issued an arrest warrant for her and charged her with bigamy. So she filed a suit in Pakistan to finalize the divorce between her and Mr. Khan. It was done in 2011.

Back in Virginia, Mr. Moghal sought an annulment, arguing that Ms. Naseer had committed bigamy, because she was still married to Mr. Khan when she married Mr. Moghal. Ms. Naseer filed a counterclaim for divorce, in which she argued that the ‘three times’ rule was enough to effect a legal divorce.”

In the end, the trial court sided with Mr. Moghal and the Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed the decision. So, Mr. Moghal was granted an annulment.

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh—the original commenter on this issue—wrote in defense of the ruling:

“And this wouldn’t be because Virginia was being governed by Sharia, or because American Muslims are entitled to have their legal rights adjudicated under Sharia,” Professor Volokh wrote.

“Rather, it’s because Virginia law calls for the application of the law of the jurisdiction where the marriage or divorce took place, whatever the law might be—again, except in rare situations where the law is contrary to Virginia public policy.”

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog called a lawyer for Mr. Moghul, Thomas P. Silis, who restated that the case largely turned on the question of whether a religious divorce could satisfy the legal requirements for divorce in Pakistan.

Clearly, the Virginia court ruled that it could not. And, this decision was based on the expert testimony of a lawyer from Pakistan.

“The concept of marriage and divorce being both religious and legal was interesting,” Mr. Silis said to the WSJ Law Blog. “We’re very happy with the way the court ruled.”

Although a representative for Ms. Naseer could not be reached, it might be assumed that they believe the U.S. courts did not accurately interpret Pakistani law.

Professor Volokh and the WSJ Law Blog appear to be in agreement that it’s sometimes ‘sensible’ for U.S. courts to consider foreign law.

Yet, is this story enough to convince you?

The expert witness in the aforementioned case was a Pakistani lawyer, well versed on Pakistani law. However, he was not a member of the Pakistani court. Although the expert lawyer can argue what he believes to be law in Pakistan, it’s hard to say what a court in Pakistan would actually rule.

In parody, an American attorney in the U.S. can certain tout what he believes to be the law. Nevertheless, it takes going to court to receive a fair and enforceable ruling as confirmation of his opinion. Speaking of, how many times have lawyers disagreed with court opinions? How many times have clients been unhappily surprised by verdicts–especially via jury?

Can U.S. courts truly mimic foreign ones? And, should they try?

The discussion is still open. Surely law firms can use this subject as fodder for a Friday legal symposium (remember how roundtable debates drive a happier, more productive office?).

Between equity partners, this story also points to even more reasons why wide diversity of race, gender, background, and expertise is necessary for the success of your practice.

Law firms—now, not simply corporate or M&A specialties, but family law, too—should look abroad for new associates, litigation consultants, and clients.

As states and legal bodies become increasingly divergent on their opinion the application of foreign law (and foreign accreditation of lawyers), firms should stay up-to-date on pertinent legislation and adapt the composition of their personnel and business strategy accordingly.

-WB

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Legal Competition To Rise After ABA Considers Foreign Accreditation

The economy for job-seeking lawyers is already dire. Now, it’s about to get worse.

Today, at the annual ABA meeting in Chicago, the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar is ready to review whether or not to begin accreditation of overseas law schools, reports the National Law Journal.

A panel of law professors, deans, judges, and attorneys already recommended that the council expand its accreditation power to those foreign schools following the U.S. model.

One such university—the Peking University in China—aims to be the first to seek accreditation by the U.S. The university wrote a letter to the council that read, “The decision the Council will make is of great importance not only to [the Peking University]…”

“It will determine whether American legal education can be a global model or whether other countries will turn elsewhere.”

Peking Law classes are conducted in English and in Chinese, which was part of the university founder’s plan—former University of Michigan Law School dean, Jeffrey Lehman—to bring American-style legal education abroad. And, Peking Law is not alone.

But, these schools seeking accreditation are not alone in the debate, either. In addition to ample support, the idea has garnered much disapproval from U.S. law students, deans, judges, and bar officials.

After the ABA surveyed 645 relevant professionals, it found that most critics worried that (1) the developing accreditation standards and monitoring overseas wouldn’t be stringent or financially possible; (2) foreign legal education would not include the ethical and cultural nuances of the American system necessary for accreditation; and (3) ABA resources would be reallocated away from U.S. law schools.

“In addition, many respondents, primarily students, raised concerns about the impact of expansion of the Accreditation Project would have on the employment opportunities for U.S. law graduates,” wrote an executive summary of the public responses, according to the National Law Journal.

In the past, lawyers only had to compete nationally for jobs. Now, it seems attorneys may need to watch out for overseas resumes bringing tumultuous competition to an already stormy industry market.

The question for law firms is: Will this have an impact on your hiring practices?

Do you consider it an asset to have an American-trained, but native Chinese speaker represent your law firm during our increasingly globalized world of corporate litigation?

The economic recession has already made it clear that the U.S. market for law is supersaturated with qualified attorneys. What happens to the market for post-grads when foreign law schools are accredited?

Luckily for American lawyers, this issue has been debated since 2008 and a council decision twice delayed. So, while it may be a valid issue, it’s just not one that seems to be on the ABA’s priority list…. yet.

-WB

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