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New Community-Service Trend Coming Out of NYC Law School.

“At a time when job opportunities are dismal, incubators offer a chance to create jobs for new lawyers,” says Fred Rooney,  Director of a newly formed, solo-based Community Legal Resource Network at The City University of New York (CUNY).  The concept of incubators is being taken up within certain law schools in an effort to fill the recent graduate job-less gap…and to meet the needs of the local community, to boot.

According to Law.com, the participating law schools teach an alumnus or alumnae to go directly into a solo practice. They do not pass go, and they do not collect $200.00*.  (The collecting of fees will likely come around at some point, which is the whole idea.)

Incubators also encourage the recent grad to work for underserved communities, for little or no cost.

For example, CUNY offered a spot in its incubator program to Yogi Patel (pictured here), who’d received his J.D. five years earlier.  Patel didn’t jump at the chance right away. He was “thinking of the logistics”.  He’d tried his hand at a law firm and at the legal department of a small construction firm.

Working for employers had its up side. They’d always had the logistics pretty much buttoned up.    “…I never had to think about that,” Patel explained. “Not having clients and managing the overhead were my biggest fears.” Still, he took a huge leap of faith and took CUNY up on their offer.

So what was it like?   Well, remember the logistics concern?  CUNY took care of at least one part of it: an  office.  It provided low-cost space in midtown Manhattan.

Oh, and it also provided office support.  (These perks can be had by selected graduates for at least two years.) So that’s another huge concern down. How many concerns to go?

What about the lack of support? And the well-documented need in law for some sort of mentor to oversee your efforts?  Not a problem.

“Participants have access to a large network of experienced solo practitioners who function as mentors, and [participants also] enjoy an internal support network among their colleagues in the incubator, which helps to reduce the isolation many solo practitioners [would otherwise] experience.”

CUNY was the first to launch an incubator in 2007, and now other schools are considering setting up incubators. “The Charlotte School of Law plans to have its Small Practice Center up and running next summer. Faculty and administrators at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Georgia State University College of Law and the University of Dayton School of Law are among those considering adding similar programs,” we read.

Too, Bar Associations like the idea. ” The Columbus Bar Association in Ohio began a year-long incubator in April with eight young attorneys,” notes Law.com.  More are on the way.

Quite a few law school administrators have come to New York to see the project at work, first-hand.

Additionally, the CUNY Director travels all over the country talking about the program.  Rooney has also “visited law schools in Europe, Central America and India to share his experience.”

As for the community service—what Rooney refers to as “low bono” work, although the spots do pay in the area of $75 per hour—CUNY incubators provide legal representation to clients who would otherwise not be able to afford a lawyer. Their fees are paid for by contracts with New York City.

It seems like quite a few legitimate concerns of recent grads who aim to start a solo or small firm can be addressed with incubators–and finding meaningful work would be one of them.  To learn more, go here: http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202513353708

*Words courtesy of Monopoly board game (Parker Brothers).

-ERM

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Does Your Firm Need Change? Seeding a Good Culture Will Reap Bountiful Rewards

Before a law firm can start to think about changing anything major–such as how it markets its services–administrators and senior partners have got to have a good overall idea of the culture that exists in that firm.

For instance, are you, as “management”, absolutely sure of what junior associates think of senior associates and of partners?  Is there an open ambiance, or do grumbling and innuendos take the place of direct resolutionary confrontation?   Does the more recent hiree feel she or he can take grievances to a managing partner, without fear of reprisal?  Does the associate have a firm idea of which partner handles what area in the firm’s management?

In other words, if you wanted to make a few impactful changes—and which firm doesn’t?—would you have a firm enough foundation, a solid and healthy soil for the seeding of ideas, so that the changes will root and sprout forth with desired behavior?   “A Recipe for Cultural Change” tackles this concept.

It was  posted recently in Leadership for Lawyers, by Mark Beese.  LfC is an affiliate of the Law.com network. By way of qualification, Beese (pictured) was a Chief Marketing Officer for a 450-attorney firm with offices in the Rocky Mountain region.  He  now helps lawyers “become better business developers and leaders.”


“Perhaps the greatest challenge to today’s law firm leaders is how to change a firm’s culture,” Beese notes.   He extrapolates a strategy he likes:  Rutger von Post’s steps that leaders need to take “to effect positive change”.   Number one on the list is to get to know—really know—the local culture.

If there’s a problem, it’s not an isolated issue and it’s not any one person’s interpretation of the firm’s values and belief systems that is causing it. What’s behind the issue is EVERYONE’S interpretation.  Here’s what you need to find out: “In your firm, what are the underlying assumptions, beliefs, values and behaviors that drive (or prevent) desired behavior?”

Is there a lack of trust or connection between partners? Does one partner avoid “cross-marketing” because she or he doesn’t believe that their partners will hold up well?   The only way to find out is to ask.

Second on the list is to share your vision with the entire firm.  You, as a leader, have to stress the fact that certain sought-after goals would be achieved and would benefit everyone if only such-and-such a desired behavior were carried out.

Third on the list is to beta-test first.  If you’ve got an idea for change and you’re not 100% sure of its success ratio, quietly test it, and then build on that success.  “Lawyers are more sceptical than most,”  von Post notes.   Once you beta-test, “refine and build a series of successes before launching a big initiative.”  Then, let ‘er rip!

Fourth is to zero in on the movers and the shakers. Who are the key players, the people who network and who are respected?  There are several of them: the  “keepers of traditions”, authority figures and “pride builders”, or those who have a great deal of influence on their peers.  Meet with them one-on-one and win their support.

Finally, build informal networks, from the top down, as well as those more formal, organizational structures.   It’s just as important to help individuals meet their goals as it is to, say, redesign reporting mechanisms and communicating priorities.

Bottom line:  It’s possible, by “going organic”,  to align the firm’s culture with your goals.  If law firm leaders plant the seeds early, you’ll likely get a bumper crop of successful, motivated employees.   Check out this link for related course information: Change Management: Essentials Skills to Lead and Navigate through a Transition

-EM

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Women Pioneers Teach Us a Thing or Two

If you’re a woman lawyer or administrator—or even if you’re a male attuned to diversity—try for a moment to imagine what life in the law industry was like for a woman two or even three decades ago.  

Several Georgia pioneers, now in their late forties to late-sixties, don’t have to use their imagination, as they were there.  

At that time, the term “diversity” hadn’t even been coined yet.  Support for women now is light years away from what it was then, and back then, there was no one around to tell women how to juggle a family and a career in law.  Yes somehow, these women overcame all the obstacles to make it in what was then a man’s world.

They are all accomplished lawyers now and are understandably serving as role models to younger women.  Several are also real-life mentors to other up-and-coming female attorneys.

The youngest, Jill A. Pryor, has been voted one of Georgia’s top lawyers for 2011.  

And as great as it is that things are different for women lawyers today, a few of these pioneers see some of the same troublesome sets of issues…although the telltale signs are harder to discern.   

The Fulton County Daily Report gave voice to these women who ventured into unknown territory many years ago.  Pryor, 47, a partner at Bondurant Mixson & Elmore, said that one of the things that made it hard for the few women that were around then was that it went against the grain to develop a win/win mentality.  

“We lawyers are so competitive, particularly in a law firm environment, and it goes against human nature to help those whom you perceive to be in competition with you. You see women who are superstars, and then one day they just opt out,” she said. “It’s easy to say that they didn’t really want to practice law, but there are much more subtle and complex factors at work. You have to look beyond the easy answer.”  

Chilton Davis Varner, 68 and a partner at King & Spalding, learned how to be a trial lawyer from male mentors, but would like to see women stepping up to the plate to help fellow women.  She also advises against being too hard on yourself.  “You never stop making mistakes. You just become better at finding and correcting them before others do.”

Leah Ward Sears, a partner at Schiff Hardin and a former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, tells women to, as she did, learn to find their own way. When push comes to shove, she says, turn to your own gender.  “It was always women,” she says, “who…had my back.”

Carol W. Hunstein, the highest-ranking judge in the state, says another judge, Judge Sara Doyle, heard her speak once, and that was enough to inspire her to run for the Georgia Board of Appeals. “”It really does encourage women and minorities when a woman or minority succeeds,” she says.

“Stick together. Take care of each other.  Become the good old girls network,” said Sara  S.Turnipseed, 63, a mother of three daughters and a partner at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough.  She believes that it’s still all too easy to “ruin a woman’s reputation” in law. To remedy that, when she’s pointing something out to a younger woman who “needs to sharpen her skills”, she won’t announce it in front of others.  Instead, she’ll go into her office with the younger woman, close the door, and talk to her in private.  

One thing all these women agreed on is that women helping women on the way up has enormous trickle-down effects. As Pryor says : “…the more of us there are who are successful, the more everyone – [and] the profession — benefits.”  To read more, go to: http://bit.ly/hmBL60

-EM

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Wireless Security for Firms – Are “Sniffing” Gadgets Worth What They Uncover?

An article in “Technically Speaking” a few years back really hit home for law firm administrators concerned with ethics in the wonderful (but sometimes wacky) world of wireless communications.  Although internet communications have opened up new, valuable networking options, they have raised concerns regarding the openness of the medium.  The article in TS mentions various means of ensuring your data is safe, including encryption.  But there’s always the possibility you might just want to opt out. “For those truly [concerned] about internet security,” reads the piece, “just don’t install a Wi-Fi network.”  

The Association of Legal Administrators acknowledges that Wireless is our friend.  It channels information through to  “clients, other attorneys, staff and friends.” However, it goes on to caution that: “With this…comes inadvertent risks, including significant breaches of confidentiality, lost e-mail devices, unethical network advertising, social networking, and more.”  

The ALA, which is offering a class on this very topic, mentions, among possible ways in which the issue might be addressed, an examination of firewalls, virus protection, metadata scrubbers and possible limits on Reply All and AutoComplete functions.    

The “Technically Speaking” platform raised important concerns about those “sniffing” gadgets which one sees advertised on the Web.  These promise, as does NetStumbler, for instance, to “detect Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN).”  This product’s site specifies that it will zero in on locations in your region with poor coverage; detect other networks which may be interfering…; and detect unauthorized rogue access points in your workplace.” 

(It can also be used “recreationally” for “War Driving”. See below.) 

However, according to the very comprehensive article on TS, “[b]esides compromising your data, these tools can be used to see how secure your wireless network really is.”  (Emphasis added.)  

 

The authors–owners of a computer forensics and legal tech firm– described “War Driving”, whereby one drives around holding a laptop while running any number of “sniffing” programs such as “NetStumbler”, “Ethereal” or “Kismet”. (See TS article for actual URL’s for each program.) In one instance, they were able to discover 99 “hot spots” using this tool.  A “hot spot” is where a company has a wireless access point available for connection to your network. 

And here’s the interesting part:  of the 99 devices which were identified, only 14 of them had any sort of security enabled.  What this means, basically, is that “anyone could sit in the parking lot of the ‘hot spot’ and gather network data.” 

What to do to remedy this?  Generally, most default settings are set to leave a system most vulnerable. So, before anything else, you should change your password and/or ID.  

After that, the authors walk you through a few more values which should be modified or added, including encryption.  The good news is that the authors of the tech-savvy piece have been able to set up entirely foolproof Wi-Fi systems…networks which they couldn’t even break into (and they tried).  

For more information, go to http://www.michbar.org/journal/pdf/pdf4article666.pdf   Or here http://ala.peachnewmedia.com/store/provider/provider09.php#bl   Or here http://netstumbler.findmysoft.com/  

-EM

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