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15 posts from April 2012

April 30, 2012

Fordham Law Offers a Marketing Class—Will Other Schools Follow?

How early in the game should you start marketing and branding yourself as a lawyer? The moment you make partner? When you're a midlevel associate? Or the first day you start practice?

Well, how about when you're still in law school and before you even have a clue what lawyers really do?

SilviaHodges.JPG mediumThat's what some students at Fordham Law School are doing now. Led by professor Silvia Hodges (on right), who holds a Ph.d. in law firm marketing, the class is unapologetically practical. Students are urged to treat every class as a business meeting and are required to develop their own business plan, blog regularly on a practice area, and do practice pitches to hypothetical clients. And instead of listening to lectures by legal scholars, they hear directly from law firm marketing directors and consultants.

The class makes no bones that lawyering is now all about business these days. Having a book of business is a prophylactic that will "protect partners from being deequitized, or worse, squeezed out during the recession," says Hodges.

Talking with the students in the class, I didn't get a sense they were thinking that far into the future. Rather, their reasons for taking the class seem much more immediate, rooted in today's harsh economy. Some acknowledged that it's been tough to get a job for students at this twenty-ninth ranked law school. (In the student presentations I saw, there was a lot of wistful talk about how to network and market yourself should you come face to face with "the managing partner of your dream firm.") For some, there's the real possibility that they will have to hang up their own shingle or join a very small firm, where they will have to drum up clients very quickly.

"Marketing is really important to your career," says second-year student Jordan Franklin. "It shouldn't be a dirty word." Though Franklin has lined up a summer associate position in Florida, he says he eventually will want to start his own firm. Law schools, including Fordham, he says, tend to assume that everyone wants to work for Big Law. "No one says you should start your own firm," says Franklin.

The students seem to love the fact that the class is steeped in reality, but I wondered whether other law schools—especially the top ones—are ready for a course that blatantly acknowledges that salesmanship is critical to success in law.

Hodges admits that teaching anything practical in a law school meets resistance, though she says she had no problem convincing Fordham. "Many schools hesitate offering too [many practical courses], perhaps fearing that might have too much of a vocational touch."

Ah, yes, the myth that people don't attend law school for jobs—which also feeds into the myth that law is not a business.

Gee, didn't we lose our innocence on that score long ago? Didn't anyone tell the law schools?



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April 26, 2012

The Silence of the Lambs—Why Yale Law Women Are So Quiet

© Lev Dolgatsjov - Fotolia.comI'm puzzled by Yale Law Women's exhaustive report (almost 100 pages!) on gender dynamics at the elite law school. The upshot is this: Women at Yale aren't speaking up in class, nor are they interacting with faculty members, as often as male students. In other words, boys rule—and that phenomenon could presage the gender disparity that will follow later in their careers.

Surprised? Well, yes and no. I don't doubt that men in almost all situations tend to have more bravado. I've certainly seen it in virtually every job I've ever had. But what's shocking is the extent of this gender gap—especially at a place at Yale, which has had a fairly progressive reputation.

Here's what the Yale report says:

     - Overall, men participate in class at almost a 60 percent rate.

    - Worse, women seem to be getting more quiet compared to ten years ago. In 2002, men spoke 52.2 percent of the time, based on 23 monitored classes. In 2012, men accounted for 71.4 percent of student participation, based on 21 monitored classes.

    - Outside the classroom, men seek out faculty members more, and collaborate earlier and more often with faculty members on research.

These findings are "significant," says Yale law student Fran Faircloth, one of the project's cochairs, because "when men and women leave law school, men continue to dominate. You see that with law firm partners and federal judges." Even in the short term, the effects are noticeable. "If you look at clerkships, the percentage of men who are Supreme Court clerks from Yale is higher than it was 10 years ago," adds Ruth Anne French-Hodson. the project's other cochair.

Though the report didn't say so explicitly, you can't help but feel there's a correlation between being vocal—maybe even cocky—and success.

Curiously, though, the report suggests that most Yale law students—and even some faculty members—disparage those who regularly participate in class. One 3L in the report says: "Students tend to mock other students who participate. Men, who are more used to being physically rather than verbally bullied, don't respond as sensitively to mocking as do women." Faircloth adds, "Often, it may not be the smartest students who speak out."

I don't know how the psychological makeup of Yale law students compares with that of students at other top law schools, but I wonder if the über-cerebral reputation of the school is making everyone overly self-conscious. When you combine that with women's tendency to be guarded, it's no wonder Yale law women are so quiet.

So where did Yale women find their voices? Ironically, they thrived better under the pressure of the Socratic method. "The cold system provided the least gender-disparate result," says the report.

Which brings me to the report's suggestions. Most of them are perfectly reasonable—like urging female students to be more vocal earlier in the semester and advising faculty to be more mindful of who's speaking. But this suggestion puzzled me: Impose more forms of "nonvoluntary classroom participation" to ensure gender equality.

More Socratic method? Seriously? As anyone who's been though law school can tell you, being cold-called by a law professor is not the most pleasant of memories. If the only way we can get women to speak is to subject them to cold calls, then we've got a longer way to go than I had thought.

Come on now, can't we be a little more proactive?


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April 25, 2012

Munger Tolles Hiring Partner Says Diversity Is Still Elusive

Bart Williams_Munger TollesWe are zipping over to California today to chat with Bart Williams, the hiring partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson. Founded in 1962, the  firm is known as one of the most selective firms in the country.

Munger Tolles is both elitest and progressive. Everyone is supposed to be whip-smart, associates have votes, and the firm even runs a day care center. It sounds like Xanadu, so tell me about the firm's dark side.
We feel we have a special place, but it gets harder and harder to maintain. It used to be that you could be here for four years and make partner. But here and elsewhere, it's gotten longer.

Can we talk about Munger's reputation for diversity? The firm seems to be way ahead of most big firms.
We're better than most firms, but that's sad. The numbers are way up for Asian Americans. Of 88 partners, we have ten Asian Americans; two African Americans; and three Hispanic/Latinos. 

You are African American. Doesn't that help with recuiting other African Americans?
Anytime you feel affinity with someone, it helps, but it doesn't close the deal. It's a complicated process. The number of black students we've recruited has been static or down. At the 11 law schools we recruit at, [the African Americans] are highly coveted and tend to go to New York, and it makes them very hard to recruit.

Let's talk about hiring in general. What do you look for in a new hire?
I look for demonstrated leadership—people who have had other careers—teachers, PhD.s, someone who's worked in consultancy or banking, and people who have overcome obstacles. In my experience, it's not always people who went to the fancy law schools who succeed, but those who outwork you.

But Munger is pretty focused on the fancy law schools, no?
That's true, but that's not the whole story. We don't want an academic who can't bounce back. We want someone who's academically sharp and someone who's been on a team before—soccer, debate, chess.

What's your favorite question?
Sometimes I ask what's your biggest obstacle and how you overcame it.

And how do you decide to whom you give offers? What's the decision-making process?
We vote on every hire. Any lawyer who shows up at lunch—partner or associate—can vote on recruits. It takes a long time when you have to vet summer associates. Sometimes it goes to 9 [in the evening]. I'm the first to admit that we're inefficient.

I guess democracy is messy. Do you do this with laterals too?
We do this even in the case of lateral partners. We tell partner candidates that they have to interview with associates. And if they don't like that, they don't belong in this firm. One year, we had a partner candidate who wasn't comfortable with it, and he didn't get an offer.

Speaking of partners, your firm bascially has a l:l ratio of partners to associates. And all your partners are equity. That must be a big draw for new recruits.
Most students today don't expect to make partner. They think they'll have three jobs during their life. We don't get many questions from students about partnership. They've not as devoted to firms, but that also reflects the fact that firms are not so responsive to them.

Do you think law students are more cynical now?
No. It's just hard to [practice law in a firm], and people don't want to do this all the time. People are more rounded today. They are more up-front about what they value.

Hiring partners often tell me that they are amazed by the quality of applicants today. Your firm must see a lot of the crème de la crème. Do you think hires today are more impressive?
They can get the right answer quicker than before—in a matter of hours, not days. That's technology. But it's debatable whether they write as well. They text so much.

See other hiring partner interviews: Baker BottsBoies, Schiller; Debevoise & Plimpton; Jones DayFenwick & WestK&L Gates; Kramer LevinPaul, Hastings; Paul WeissPepper Hamilton; Quinn Emanuel; Sidley & AustinSkadden; Susman Godfrey; Vinson & Elkins; Wilmer.

April 24, 2012

Your Bald Spot

Patrick-Steward_©wikipedia & bald-lawyersWho says I don't write enough fashion posts for men? I'm going for it, diving straight into a topic that's undeniably male. Next to being short, losing their hair (can we be frank and say "going bald"?) is something that men get awfully touchy about.

For whatever reason, hair is still equated with virility. I guess ever since Samson met Delilah, men have been watchful of their locks.

What should men do to curb the wrath of nature? Get hair transplants? Wear toupees?

Hell no! The macho thing is to embrace your impending baldness. Better yet, get a head start and shave your head. That's the advice of Daniel Jones, a writer for the style section of The New York Times. Reports Jones:

Head shaving has gone prime time. And not a moment too soon for guys like me, who would never have had the guts to take such a drastic measure if so many men hadn’t acted so bravely to make an odd look so mysteriously hip.

The advantages of head shaving, says Jones, "are almost too many to count." Among them: "No chance of going gray, no wet hair after a shower or swim, no haircut bill, no bed head, no risk of infestation with hair lice from your third grader."

But let's put those practicalities aside and go back to the real issue, which is whether having a head of hair is still essential to your ego (and, by extension, your career). I know a couple of male lawyers who spent a small fortune on hair transplants, though I can't say that it altered the course of their careers (or love life).

Personally, I don't really understand why men are so sensitive about going bald. I rarely notice whether a man has thinning hair. And I've never heard of a woman who refused to date someone because of his hairline. (It's not the hair loss but the combover that's the deal killer.)

Of course, if you are already in a positon of power, the issue recedes, so to speak. That said, if I had to make an aesthetic choice between someone with thinning hair versus a bald guy, I'd go for the baldy. I don't know if it's a Yul Brynner or Patrick Stewart thing, but I think bald men exude a certain authority and mystique. 

Indeed, The Am Law 100 is full of luminaries who are bald—like Latham & Watkins's Robert Dell, Jones Day's Joe Sims, and Kirkland & Ellis's James Sprayregen (pictured above, left to right). Whether they achieved that look by shaving their heads, I have no idea. As for whether they exude the same sexuality as Patrick Stewart—well, I'll let you decide.

What do you think? Shouldn't male lawyers with thinning hair just take it all off? Wouldn't that elevate the style quotient at your firm?

 Related post: "Your Gray Hair."


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April 22, 2012

News Briefs—Latham Offers Cooking Lessons to Female Lawyers

I warned you that my reportage of happy news about women last week was an anomaly. Today, I'm back to my usual self—offering you news about women that's curious, annoying, and downright depressing.

GEadvertisementCirca1950s1. "It's wrong on so many levels." That's what one female lawyer at Latham & Watkins says about the firm's upcoming event for female lawyers in London. (Funny, it seems just like yesterday that I questioned whether women's initiatives are useless time-suckers.)

What's the offending event at Latham's U.K. office? A master class on "creative canapé making," reports The Lawyer.

Cooking classes at a law firm sound like jolly good fun, except that this one seems aimed only at female lawyers and is sponsored by the firm's women's initiatives group. As The Lawyer notes, Latham's own Web site touts that its "women enriching business" group was “designed to promote women in business, by creating broader networks and productive business relationships, and by attracting and investing in the long-term success of women.”

Hmm, could there be a hidden logic between making canapés and business? Is Latham delivering a clever retro-progressive message—like the way to your client's heart is through his stomach? I mean, if women can't master golf and cigar smoking, maybe their best bet for developing business is to go to the kitchen and whip up some delicious treats.

2. And there's always cleaning and serving. I know you know this only too well: Women still earn a fraction of what men do. (Quick refresher: Overall, women make 77 cents for each dollar a man earns; female lawyers do a bit better, earning 78 cents for each dollar a man does.)

But did you know that there are some professions where women actually outearn men? So, what are these lofty professions? Well, they include butlers, valets, house sitters, and shoe shiners. Women who work as personal care and service workers made $1.02 for every $1 their male colleagues did in 2010, according to Bloomberg Businessweek .

3. Women might make less, but they're cooler about their salaries. I don't want to end on a totally negative note, so I'll leave you with this curiosity: Men seem more defensive about their compensation. According to a survey by FIT, a Web site of recruiting-technology company Bullhorn, "26 percent of men but just 17 percent of women say their friends would feel badly for them if they knew how much money they really earned," reports Harvard Business Review.

HBR also notes: "Not only are women less ashamed of their salaries, they also report working longer days and working more on vacation than men, and they're less likely to take a sick day under false pretenses, the survey says."

The positive spin is that women tend to be more humble, harder-working, and more reliable. But does the survey also suggest something else—that women tend to work diligently, while getting shafted on the pay front?


Photo: GE ad, circa 1950's

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April 18, 2012

Are Women's Initiatives Distractions?

©contrastwerkstatt - Fotolia.comYou remember Sallie Krawcheck, right? She was a perennial on those list of "most powerful women on Wall Street"—until she wasn't. Last fall she was fired from her post as the president of global wealth and investment management at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, adding to the stockpile of high-profile female executives who have gotten axed in recent years.

In an upcoming issue of Marie Claire (yes, a fashion magazine, not a business journal!), Krawcheck (pictured below) talks about being one of the few top women on Wall Street. To me, she's refreshingly frank.

First, she's not afraid to embrace her feminine sensibility. On the subject of regrets, for instance, Krawcheck says: "There are always things you would do differently. I'm a female—it's a very female characteristic to think through issues again and again." (Sadly, I can relate to that.)

And on work/life balance, she says: "Choose your husband carefully. . . . If you're caught in a meeting and walk through the door late, what you want is a spouse who says, 'Can I get you a glass of wine?' versus 'Where were you?' with an eye roll." (Practical advice. You won't get that from a dewy-eyed 20-something.)

But it's her response about the dearth of women in high finance that's bound to get some people upset:

If you look around Wall Street and corporate America, we're putting women on diversity councils; we're putting them in mentoring programs; we're giving them special leadership training, telling them how to ask for promotions—but we are not promoting them. My goodness, we're just making women busier.

Sallie-Krawcheck-Bank-of-AmericaJust when women thought they've finally found the elixir to success, Krawcheck is telling us we've been sold snake oil! For years now, it's been drilled into us that mentoring and leadership training are what women need to get to the next level. Indeed, a lament I often hear is how law firms are behind corporations in providing these offerings.

I'm often impressed by some of the programs that firms offer these days—there are speaker series, career coaching, and formal mentoring/sponsorship programs. Not since college have I seen such a wealth of extracurricular offerings.

At the same time, though, I've often wondered if they're just pacifiers—or to put it less cynically, time wasters. How do people who bill 2,000 hours a year also manage to participate in all those programs?

Patricia Gillette, a partner at Orrick, also has her doubts about the efficacy of these initiatives. She says that women often "let firms off the hook" when they let themselves get sucked into these "soft" projects. She adds that firms think they've fulfilled their duty to diversity "because women are in charge of the women's initiatives." Meanwhile, she says, "the leadership roles that influence firm policy continue to be filled by men."

To Gillette, women must first have genuine policy-making powers. "Then mentoring, part-time, maternity, and equal pay issues will have some chance of being solved," she says.

I like the idea of putting more emphasis on getting women to top positions—though I doubt that will be a quick fix either.

How useful are women's initiatives at your firm? Are they pushing women to the top of the pyramid? Or just keeping them busy at a Sisyphean endeavor?

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April 17, 2012

How to Land a Dream Job

Rosenthal_LesleyLesley Rosenthal has the kind of job a lot of lawyers would kill for: She is the general counsel, vice president, and secretary of New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Inc. A former litigation associate at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and a violinist herself, Rosenthal (at right) arrived at the center in 2005, just in time to help oversee its $1.2 billion redevelopment project.

In the following post—based in part on her book Good Counsel: Meeting the Legal Needs of Nonprofits (Wiley 2012)—Rosenthal gives us the scoop on how lawyers can parlay their firm experience into a job in the nonprofit sector.

How to Get That Nonprofit Job

By Lesley Rosenthal

America’s 1 million charities represent a gorgeous array of goodness. They lead efforts to cure diseases, alleviate poverty, advance education, and ennoble through culture. 

But what people don't realize is that these nonprofits tend to have a tiny or nonexistent legal team. That was the case with every nonprofit I've worked with. From the modern dance company I helped out as a fledgling attorney, the child care advocacy organization I served when its outside pro bono counsel suddenly passed away, to the foundation of one of the greatest violinists in history and the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation—the total number of in-house counsel in each organization had been binary: zero or one.

When I arrived at Lincoln Center (I heard about the job from a mentor of mine at Paul Weiss), the legal department of the world’s largest and most comprehensive performing arts center consisted of just me and an executive assistant. When friends asked me how big Lincoln Center’s staff of lawyers was, I would look myself up and down and joke, “Oh, around five-foot-five!”

That's not at all unusual: Of the nation’s charitable organizations, only a minuscule fraction has regular access to counsel, whether in-house or outside, paid or voluntary. Unless the organization has an unusually high-risk profile or is particularly savvy about legal matters, it is unusual to put an attorney in charge of the organization’s legal affairs.

Until now. Tectonic shifts in the nonprofit landscape are persuading directors and senior executives that it is necessary and desirable to bring on counsel to oversee the organization’s legal function. Outside or in-house, paid or volunteer, there should be one person—a general counsel—in charge of overseeing the legal affairs of the organization. (Today, my department has three lawyers, including me and a paralegal/executve assistant.)

To land one of these coveted jobs, you have to be creative and resourceful, sometimes even persuading the organization that it’s time to get full-time legal help. Once the leaders are persuaded, here are some things to do to make sure that position goes to you:

1. Build up your resume. Gain experience drafting and negotiating contracts. Learn nonprofit corporate law, governance, and compliance basics. Understand how business laws and regulations apply in the nonprofit context, and how they differ.
2. Do pro bono or volunteer work, or serve on a nonprofit board. Work with the type of organization you would like to be employed by.
3. Build your network through social networking, bar associations, and legal education programs. List your resume with search firms that specialize in nonprofit searches.
4. Ask for informational interviews—and be sure to ask your contact for suggestions about others you should meet. But don’t go in under the guise of an informational interview and then ask for a job!
5. Show your passion for the cause. Some examples: travel to a troubled area to do relief work, contribute to or raise money for the cause, or launch and manage a social media presence on a pressing social concern.
6. Be informed. Subscribe to trade publications such as Chronicle of Philanthropy, Nonprofit Times, Idealist, Arts Journal, and RSS feeds of newspapers and job Web sites. These publications carry industry-insider information about nonprofits in transition, nonprofits facing regulatory or legal challenges, and general issues of importance to the sector. Job seekers can pick up clues about which organizations may be hiring in the future—or which could be susceptible to a pitch to create a new legal position now.

In my case, my experience as outside pro bono general counsel to several nonprofits helped me land the job. My broad-ranging experience, plus the "chemistry" I had with people at the center, helped too.

But there's another route to the nonprofit sector: Apply for a nonlegal job—which, in time, might turn into a legal job. Consider the following:

Fund-raising. This means being a zealous advocate for the organization. You'll need persuasive writing and oral expression skills. Moreover, the connections between fund-raising and law are legion–trusts and estates, tax planning, and compliance.

Government affairs/lobbying. This is a great fit for lawyers with political, policy research, and analytical experience.

Corporate secretary. This entails facilitating good governance, coordinating communication between the board and management, keeping corporate records, taking minutes, disseminating information, advising on bylaws matters, and drafting resolutions. 

Operations/administration. This builds on skills that lawyers running busy law practices may have in abundance, or may have acquired outside of their legal career. The GC at the Alvin Ailey Dance Co., for example, started there as a director of operations.
Human resources. This job involves a range of legal issues: hiring, firing, complying with nondiscrimination and wage/hour laws, crafting and enforcing employee policies and handbooks, negotiating collective bargaining agreements, investigating workplace grievances, and more.
Finance. If you have finance, business, accounting or dealmaking background, it can eventually lead to a chief financial officer role.

Some of these may seem far afield, but there are general counsel of major nonprofits–cultural, educational, social services, animal welfare, and others–who have come via each of these routes.  

Paid work as in-house counsel at a nonprofit is hard to find, but with some persistence, planning, a generosity of spirit, and a little luck, you can locate or create the job. And the opportunity to bring legal skills to a cause you care about is priceless.

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April 16, 2012

I Am Not Ann Romney

 AnnRomeny© 2011GageSkidmoreI swore, swore, swore that I was not going to enter the fray. But I can't help myself.

I'm talking about the dustup over political consultant Hilary Rosen's comment that Ann Romney "never worked a day in her life." As you undoubtedly heard, Rosen made the comment on CNN, reacting to Mitt Romney's statement that his wife keeps in touch with the concerns of working women.

Almost immediately, Republicans seized on the issue as an indication of Democrats' contempt for stay-at-home moms. And almost as immediately, Democrats (including President Obama) jumped in, condemning Rosen's comment. All of this was fueled by Ann Romney's first-ever tweet: "I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work."

Do I think raising five kids is a lot of work? Of course. But do I think Rosen's comment is dead wrong? No. Rosen's mistake is that she didn't say it in a technically correct way. What she should have said is this: "Ann Romney never worked at a paying job a day in her life."

And therein lies the distinction that politically correct people (on the left and right) dodge when it comes to women's work: Working for a paycheck is different. And doing so while juggling home and work demands—particularly in pressure professions like law—adds another layer of complexity to the equation.

To me, it's crystal clear that being a woman who works outside of the home brings a different set of perspectives and experiences to the table. It's certainly an anachronism these days to have never worked at a paying job—which apparently is Ann Romney's situation.

No, I'm not going into how some women have to work to support their families—because that opens up a whole can of worms about class and economics. Too often, we hear: "A lot of women would love to stay home if they could afford it"—as if staying home is what women truly aspire to do. These arguments make working women look self-righteous, which I find almost as nauseating as stay-at-home moms who claim they're the ones who have their priorities straight.

My point is that it's ridiculous to collapse all of "women's work" into one big pot. And it's also ridiculous when President Obama says there's "no tougher job than being a mom." Really? Isn't being the leader of the free world just a tad tougher?

Being a mother—actually, can we make that "parent"?—is always tough. But must we always put motherhood on a pedestal?

Ann Romney seems like a perfectly nice person, but I don't think that someone who hasn't worked outside of the home can really speak empathetically or knowledgeably about the concerns of working women. I certainly wouldn't try to pretend to know what it's like to stay home with five kids.

So can we stop the pretense and admit there's a difference?

Related post: The Rich Husband.

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April 12, 2012

Eight Interview Tips

© Eric Isselée - Fotolia.comIt's not just a friendly conversation. Nor is it true that there are no right or wrong answers. Not to be paranoid, but I think interviews are sometimes  power games in which the interviewer watches you—the crafty mouse—squirm in confusion and fright.

The good news for law students and laterals is that most firm interviews aren't quite as sophisticated about hiring as companies like Goldman Sachs or Google (click here and here for examples). But the bad news is that some firms are starting to adopt corporate hiring techniques. A few have adopted "substantive" interview techniques—like putting recruits through "personality" tests or simulated client meetings.

But even when firms don't use formal vetting devices, some have tricks up their sleeves. In his book Hiring for Attitude, Mark Murphy reveals the mind games that interviewers play to vet potential employees. For those who have little desire to slog through an entire HR book, Business Insider provides a nice synopsis:

1. Be wary of the awkward silence. It's not that the interviewer is socially awkward (though that might also be the case); rather, the silence might be deliberate. "When faced with an uncomfortable silence, people will start talking 95 percent of the time," says Murphy. The result is that recruits will probably say more than they should, revealing weaknesses and insecurities. 

2. Be egotistical. "High performers answered in the first person 60 percent more than low performers did," says Miller. So don't be modest—and use "I," "me," and "we" with abandon. Low performers tend to answer with "you" or in the third person, says Murphy. (Is that why Herman Cain dropped out of the Republican race so early?)

3. Don't get flustered if you're asked to spell your boss's name. It's not a spelling test, but a device to put you in your place. "It will immediately put the interviewee on alert because they think their former boss will be contacted," surmises Business Insider.

4. Cut out the adverbs. "High performers are far more likely to give answers without qualifiers," says Murphy. "Their answers are direct, factual, in the past tense, and personal. Low performers, on the other hand, are more likely to qualify their answers."

5. Use the active voice. To me, this is English 101. You shouldn't say, "I was asked by higher-ups to be a blogger." Instead, you should say, "I wanted to be a blogger, so I am a blogger."

6. Don't overuse "never" and "always." I'm not sure if I buy this, but Murphy says that employers actually track how often you use those words, and that "low performers use absolutes 100 percent more often than high performers." Using "never" or "always" is a sign of insecurity, reports Business Insider.

7. But use the past tense. If you are asked about your job, use the past tense to describe your performance. According to Murphy, high performers used the past tense, while low ones used present or future tense. The article didn't explain the reason, but I assume the past tense suggests the completion of a task.

8. Don't whine; give solutions. If you're asked to describe a difficult situation, be sure it doesn't sound like a complaint about your job. Real problem-solvers won't accept any situation as hopeless, says Business Insider: "You will continue to try until you solve or at least salvage some of it. In contrast, if you're a problem bringer, you will answer the question as is—you will tell the recruiter about a difficult situation and that's it."

Take all this with a grain of salt. I know not all interviewers are out to get you. But let's not deny that interviewing is a game. So why not use a little strategy?


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April 11, 2012

Caliber of Law School Applicants Drops

Jughead Jones_Archie Comics_WikipediaA sign of market rationality—or the start of the decline of the legal profession? For the second year in a row, law school applications are down. According to the Law School Admission Council, "60,693 applicants submitted 440,964 law school applications as of March 30 for the academic year starting this fall," reports the New Jersey Law Journal. "That's 15.6 percent fewer applicants and 13.6 percent fewer applications than about the same time last year."

But here's the kicker: The smart ones (I use that term loosely to mean those with high LSAT scores) are leading the drop. Among those who score near the top on the LSATs (in the 170-174 range), applications to law schools have dropped by more than 20 percent (applications by those who scored at the very top—175 to 180—dropped by 13.6 percent). Reports The Atlantic:

What does that tell us? It says that fewer people who are smart and hardworking enough to even get that score are probably taking the LSAT, and even if they are, they've heard enough terrible news about the legal economy that they've chosen not to apply.

Now the bad, sad news: Among those with the worst LSAT scores, there hasn't been that much of a drop. For those who scored in the 140–144 range, the drop was just slightly over 6 percent; while for those in the 140 or below range, the drop was just over 4 percent.

In case, you've been out of the LSAT loop for a while, The Atlantic's Jordan Weissmann puts it in context:

To get into a top 50 law school, you need roughly a 160 on your LSAT, give or take a few points. To break into one of the vaunted Top 14 programs . . . you realistically at least need something closer to a 165. Once you start looking at the super elites, you're talking 170 and above.

I can hear some of your complaints already: Why the focus on the top schools? I've often been accused of elitism, but let me repeat my shtick: Law is an elite profession. And even if you don't aspire to work at an Am Law 100 or 200 firm, it behooves you to go to at least a top 50 school (personally, my cutoff would be top 20) if you want a realistic shot at getting a decent law-related job.

So what's the implication for the legal profession now that fewer high-scorers are going to law school? Will the quality of lawyers—especially those in Big Law—decline as a result?

Frankly, I don't think you need to be a genius to be a successful lawyer. In fact, I'd argue that if you're too smart or are too well-rounded, you'll probably be bored to tears by the repetitive nature of practice. In many ways, it's probably a healthy development that more mid-range applicants will fill the profession.

Really, there's a real silver lining in these latest law school application stats: Maybe those high scorers on the LSAT, who presumably have other options, will be pursuing more worthwhile professions, like medicine, science, or teaching.

Let's just hope they're not saving themselves for Goldman Sachs. 


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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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