Archive for November, 2008

Meeting Thomas Friedman–and How He Surprised Me

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

From my smile above, can you tell that I’m a Thomas Friedman fan?  I may not always agree with his views, but I do admire his mind and his unwavering commitment to international analysis.

But his speech last week surprised me.

I knew that his comments would be interesting. (After all,  this New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning author has penned several bestsellers including  The World is Flat and most recently Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How it Can Renew America. ) However, I didn’t know that he would be a really entertaining speaker.  After all, not all accomplished writers are also good–or even decent–speakers.

Why was he so entertaining? His presentation during the Farfel Lecture Series used a number of professional speaking techniques, including:

1. Stories, stories, and more stories: Even dry stats come to life when told through a story. Too many professionals try to show their intelligence with facts and figures. Instead, make statistics memorable with STORIES. Those are what the audience will remember. Friedman told his stories back-to-back, and very casually, without referring to notes.

2. Personalized references: Time and time again, Friedman customized his broader points to the audience. He peppered his speech with references to Rice University, the University of Houston, and Houston’s energy business, and told how they would be impacted by upcoming changes to the world economy and climate.

3. Approachable manner: Friedman seemed approachable. He referred to his Minnesota upbringing and his current family life in Bethesda. Even though he’s a world-renowned journalist, he came across as relaxed, normal and open.  Off stage he acted the same, welcoming students and other fans.

4. Minimal PowerPoint: His slides were clean, sparse and easy to understand. Sadly, he bypassed some slides–leaving audience members wanting more. (Perhaps a ploy to sell more books to an information-hungry audience?)

5. Humor: He didn’t tell “jokes”, but made humorous references–including self-deprecating ones. He used just enough humor to lighten a heavy topic (start a green revolution or face disaster).

Clearly, he had focused on how to enliven his presentation. Next time that you speak in public, use some Friedman focus to bring your dry data to life.

Lawyers, Don’t Send Holiday Cards to Clients

Monday, November 17th, 2008

“Why not send a traditional holiday card?”, you ask. After all, holiday cards are a staple in every lawyer’s client development toolkit.

That is precisely why lawyers should not send them:  every other lawyer is doing exactly the same thing.

When I practiced law in house for a large multinational corporation, my outside counsel from all over the world sent me standard holiday cards. So many arrived at once that they got lost in the shuffle.

To differentiate yourself during this economically challenged holiday season, look for ways that you can distinguish yourself from the crowd.  Ask yourself:

1. What can I send OTHER THAN a standard holiday card? This year, think about  sending a personal handwritten note on holiday stationary (most effective if entirely written by hand).  Small gifts can be memorable, particularly if they are non-perishable and will continue to remind the client about you. (Hint, send a plant or a unique book rather than a box of consumable chocolates.) Personalize the gift as much as possible, such as by making a donation to a charity of particular importance to the client.

2. If I send a card, how can I make it stand out? First, think about sending a New Year’s card or other unique card after the Christmas rush. (See Creatively Commemorate Holidays.) If you must send a traditional holiday card, be sure to include a personal, handwritten note tailored to the individual client, or a copy of an article that would be particularly relevant, interesting or amusing to him/her. Include an attractive bookmark or another memorable token.

3. How can I follow up after the holidays? Use the holiday gift or card as an entree to contact the client in early 2009. For example, in your accompanying handwritten note, you might invite the client to a special upcoming event–like a free educational seminar you will give in early 2009 on legal issues from the economic downturn. Promise to call them after the holidays to follow up on your invitation.

Need an International Legal Job? Think Beyond Borders–Literally and Figuratively

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

Here are some tips for international lawyers who want a new job:

1. Jobs Abroad:  If your resume is stellar, look abroad for law firm opportunities, reports the ABA Journal. If you transfer to a foreign office, however, think this through; as the economic crisis deepens globally, you may find yourself jobless AND across the globe from home. See my recent article So You Want to Work Abroad? for The Complete Lawyer.

2. In-house: If you have done excellent work for a particular client, now may be the right time to move in-house with that client. However, doing so isn’t easy during a tight market. Good in-house jobs are coveted right now, and hiring freezes may be in place. Be prepared to use your best contacts and to demonstrate how hiring you will actually save the client money. If you have been at a well paying firm, know that moving in-house may require a pay cut.

3.  Government Jobs: Working for the new Administration appeals to many lawyers; the WSJ’s career website tells you how to make Obama your boss. There are also good international law positions with the government that don’t require a political appointment, such as many with the CIA and the State Department. Think about other government agencies that touch on international topics, like the US Commerce Department and its International Trade Administration.

4. Part-time or Contract Jobs: Sometimes you have to take a “placeholder position” in order to make money.  Regardless, you will learn from the experience, and it may benefit you down the line. See Zigzag to Get Your International Dream Job, Even if it Means Grueling Work.

5. Non-legal Jobs: This requires thinking outside the box. Although lawyers are taught to solve legal problems with creative solutions, they are not taught to think about their careers creatively. Brainstorm with legal recruiters, executive headhunters, lawyer coaches, family members and friends about what else you might do. Career testing, which can be purchased through most major university career offices, can also be helpful. Read the WSJ’s online career site’s discussion of how to reposition youself for a new industry.

You might also enjoy my January 2007 presentation on Career Change for Lawyers in a Global Economy.


Why Lawyers Should Love Layoffs: The Three “Rs” of Layoff Survival

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

Okay, “love” may be too strong of a word. Perhaps “benefit from” or “learn from” would be more accurate.

Getting laid off hurts, but the more prepared you are to handle it, the better. Being laid off also forces you to examine your career path–and steer in another direction if you have been on the wrong track.

The reality is that layoffs are happening fast and deep. Sometimes employers are using “stealth layoffs” to mask their economic situation, as the ABA Journal reports, but increasingly, layoffs are overt.

In recent weeks I have spoken to more and more lawyers facing–or potentially facing–a layoff. If you are in this position, or fear that you might be, read the three “Rs” of Layoff Survival:

1. REVISE: First of all, rethink and revise your lifestyle. Many lawyers that I have coached over the years cannot quantify their living expenses. To survive a layoff, you must know exactly how much money you NEED to live on (trimming ALL unnecessary expenses). Lawyers who are laid off (or fearing a lay off) should pare down–immediately. This can be hard for lawyers who have enjoyed the pleasures made possible by a high salary (club memberships, expensive car leases etc.). If your golden handcuffs have been broken, rethink your lifestyle and cut your expenditures asap.

2. REPOSITION: Take a hard, critical look at your resume and your experience. Do you need to reposition yourself to get a new job? You may need several versions of your resume during the coming months, as discussed in Revive Your Resume(s):  Layoff Survival 101. In the long run, getting laid off may benefit you by forcing you into much needed career change–within or outside the law.

3. REACH OUT:  Immediately. Many laid off lawyers feel ashamed and want to retreat from the world.  This is a deadly mistake. Instead, begin networking at once, connecting with everyone from old classmates to former employers to family friends. Reach out beyond your close circle of friends to a broader sphere of contacts. Tell them honestly about your situation; the economic downturn easily explains your job loss without negatively implicating your skills.  Ask your contacts whether: (1) they know of any job openings, (2) have an open position themselves, and/or (3) whether they could introduce you to someone (be specific) who might help you. (Sometimes people have a hard time answering a broad question like “Do you know of any jobs?”, but can more easily answer a specific one like “Do you know anyone at ExxonMobile or Shell that I could contact?”) Walk a tightrope between describing your skills and experience accurately, but not so narrowly as to foreclose opportunities.

Revive Your Resume(s): Lawyer Layoff Survival 101

Friday, November 14th, 2008

The worst has happened: you are laid off, or you see a layoff coming. Here are some quick tips on resume revival.

1. Revive your Resume(s): Resumes become stale over time. Make sure that yours contains up to date information, and appears fresh and energetic. I always tell my clients to use action verbs (avoiding the verb “to be” whenever possible.) Choose positive, powerful verbs that communicate your expertise and authority, such as “negotiated”, “argued”, “won”, and “settled” rather than “assisted with” or “helped draft”.

2. Always be Honest: The legal world is small. Thanks to the internet, any potential employer can check your background. Be sure that you state the truth.

3. Sell Yourself: In this crowded market, you must distinguish yourself from other candidates. What special and unique things have you done? How can you compellingly describe–using persuasive language–your expertise? Do you have letters of recommendation from co-counsel or clients that you can share?  If not, ask for some.

4. Create Multiple Resumes: Different jobs call for different skill sets. Redraft your resume, creating several versions to highlight different skills. For example, I have helped one international business lawyer with a fair amount of bankruptcy experience early in her career. Her traditional resume never mentioned this experience because bankruptcy wasn’t her primary area of practice. Given the current market, she is creating another version of her resume to highlight and describe this experience in detail.

5. Get Feedback. Legal recruiters, lawyer coaches and lawyer friends can help with feedback. It’s a good idea to have several pairs of eyes read a resume for content, tone and typos. If you are applying for a non-legal position, be sure and have some non-lawyers look at your resume beforehand, and remove any “legalese”.