Scott Limmer

Elizabeth discusses the changing legal market place for recent law school grads and those out 10-15 years. Her position offers one-on-one counseling to assist alumni in reaching their career goals. Targeting the job search is important but networking remains the most powerful tool to make that connection that can build your practice.

Elizabeth describes that while this a tough legal marketplace it is improving over the past year or so. Her office provides help with the basic tools – drafting a professional resume, building social media, looking at your connections. Many older attorneys who are practicing 10-15 years or more have trouble adapting the job search or their practice to the current marketplace. Elizabeth points out that using technology is not an option: you need to get involved with LinkedIn; have a good website; use social media.

While all this technology is important, she reminds us that the basics are still important:

  • clean resume;
  • professional business card;
  • focused cover letters;
  • excellent writing samples

Beth discusses specific pointers on all of these important matters to increase the likelihood they will stand out from the pack.

Elizabeth discusses asking for an “Introductional Interview” – meeting someone who has the career path that you want. Research the person, learn about their practice then ask for a 15-20 minute meeting or even a phone call to ask questions about their practice, how they got there, and what steps you might take to get into that area.

She reminds listeners of the many resources available to begin networking and suggests starting with your law school and then move onto Bar Associations almost all of which also have a small law firm resource center.

The podcast concludes with a reminder that it is essential that you find a way to get into a frame of mind to make networking a priority:

  • volunteer to work an event at your law school;
  • arrange a meeting with an alumni advisor;
  • join a Bar Association committee.

New York City Bar Association Small Firm Center:

New York State Bar Solo and Small Firm Resource Center

American Bar Association Solo and Small Firm Assistance

Episode transcript

INTRO:                      Welcome to Reboot Your Law Practice, two lawyers, a podcast, and a plan to help any solo or small firm, hosted by Scott Limmer and Oscar Michelen.

SCOTT:                      Hi everybody, this is Scott.

OSCAR:                      Hi. This is Oscar and welcome back to Reboot Your Law Practice. Today, we have a very special guest. One was my former law school classmates from too far back to mention, Elizabeth Dambriunas of New York Law School. Hi Elizabeth, welcome.

ELIZABETH:             Hi Oscar. Hi Scott.

OSCAR:                      Thank you for joining us.

ELIZABETH:             Thank you.

OSCAR:                      We’re going to be talking a little bit about the changing legal market place, what people can expect. Maybe a recent law school grads or folks who have been out for a couple of years in a solo or a small firm practice or they want to start one, what are some of the challenges they are facing and Elizabeth has a keen eye on that because she’s Alumni Advisor here at New York Law School. Elizabeth, what’s your actual title?

ELIZABETH              I’m the Associate Director of Alumni Advising at New York Law School.

OSCAR:                      What does that entail?

ELIZABETH:             Basically, I’m part of the Office of Career Planning, which here at the Law School is a group of about I think there are five or six of us. We’re all counselors and each of us has a specific area of responsibility. Some of us are counselors for the 1Ls, 2Ls, etc. I am the counselor for the Alumni, which are all alumni, recent grads, and any alumni from the school no matter what year they graduated.

OSCAR:                      Well, that’s the group that we’re kind of actually talking to, right, Scott?

SCOTT:                      Right. That’s exactly the group we’re looking at. The practitioner who has been out there for a little while and maybe has lost his way and doesn’t exactly know how to get out there and learn the skills that he needs to learn to be in the market place.

OSCAR:                      Or recent law school grad who either can’t find the position that they want and she just decided to start a small firm with somebody else of her same year or maybe even a solo practice, but just for our audience, tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to come back at your alma mater.

ELIZABETH:             Sure. Well, just like you said, I’m also a graduate of New York Law School. I graduated the same year. You could ask Oscar which one of the year. I knew when I came into law school literally on day one that I wanted to be inhouse in the entertainment industry. That’s why I chose New York Law School because I needed to be in New York City and there were some courses that focused on that. Back then, if we had an Office of Career Planning, I don’t know that I’ve ever found it.

OSCAR:                      No.

ELIZABETH:             Now, we have elevators that you actually had to operate by hand and you tell the elevator guy, you’re in good shape. So it was, you kind of had to find your own way and I think I certainly did that, but I also made full use of our alumni connections and I got my first job out of law school at the Warner Brothers New York Office. I worked for the director of Business and Legal Affairs of the Warner Licensing Group, who was an alumnus here at the law school.

OSCAR:                      There you go.

ELIZABETH:             I was lucky enough to get the job right when the very first Batman movie had been green lit. I just stated us.

SCOTT:                      I was in college.

ELIZABETH:             Again, it was a great time to be a part of that organization because they were expanding their licensing division to basically take it to Disney in terms of how to market a big movie. Because of that, they relocated our entire team out to the studio in Burbank, California.

OSCAR:                      Nice.

ELIZABETH:             So I went from being inhouse in New York to this small branch office of Warner Brothers to the Burbank studio in California inhouse. I didn’t need the California bar exam because I was still inhouse and I stayed there for nine years. I went on to Paramount after that, still doing primarily transactional licensing work. I traded Batman for Star Trek is how I usually describe that.

OSCAR:                      I’m sure I think I did that when I was a kid a couple of times, comic books.

ELIZABETH:             Again, luck was with me. I happen to be at Paramount for two amazing things. We won Best Picture three years in a row with Forrest Gump, Braveheart, and Titanic. The day I joined Paramount, Viacom acquired the company which meant that suddenly, MTV and Nickelodeon were our sister companies. Personal side, I wanted to come back to New York. There was a small company called Nickelodeon that was just beginning to license their programming, did not have that expertise. I raised my hand, came back to New York as Nickelodeon. I spent 15 years there.

OSCAR:                      Wow.

ELIZABETH:             It was amazing. There’s nothing like working for Nickelodeon when you have two small girls at home. I was as much a consumer as I was their attorney.

OSCAR:                      Nickelodeon shows every good cartoon.

ELIZABETH:             I was close monitored on elementary school. With the advent of the Blackberry and the laptop, and the multitasking that I know we all know so well now, what had been an amazing career became a more challenging career as I got older and wanted to do different things. It was always in the back of mind that I was going to try and find a way to come back to academia. I began doing some adjunct teaching at Entertainment Law. I began doing some mentoring for our students in IP. One thing led to another and I had the opportunity to come back here as the Alumni Advisor. I took it and I have been here for about a year. It has been amazing.

SCOTT:                      Tell us a little bit about, like in every day, what your day would be like as an alumni director. What are the things you usually deal with the types of students you deal with, types of problems you deal with, types of problems you deal with?

ELIZABETH:             Overwhelmingly, it’s one on one counseling because that’s the best way to reach either a recent grad or an alumnus, just to sit down with them one on one for an hour and just basically I want to hear their story, why did they go to law school, wave a magic wand – what’s your goal, what do you want to do, and what materials do you have to help you get there. What’s your resume look like, what kind of a cover letter are you using? How are you doing your job search? If you’re already in a job, why are you talking to me? Obviously, something isn’t quite clicking and you want to make a move. Most importantly, I know we’ll talk more about this, who are your connections? What’s your network and how are you maximizing your network because it’s that age old saying and it’s so true, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. I want to help them be as powerful as they can when they present themselves to who they know.

OSCAR:                      It’s funny because I wanted Beth to tell a little bit about her background because it does show how having this idea and pursuing what you wanted to do required you to make sure you are meeting the right people, taking the right classes, and preparing yourself to be in that position to do that. If you just sat there and said, “Gee, I’d like to do inhouse or IP and didn’t go put yourself out there to try to meet the right people, you wouldn’t have gotten the job at Warner and that wouldn’t have led to Paramount, which wouldn’t have led to Nickelodeon.

SCOTT:                      But the other thing that you said is that the first job you got, you got because of networking.

OSCAR:                      Right.

ELIZABETH:             Alumni connections.

SCOTT:                      So because you went out there. If you sat and just took classes, and you didn’t work any of these angles and talk to people, and get yourself involved, you wouldn’t have most likely have this job.

ELIZABETH:             You have to go start your own career. I definitely believe that. I mean, there are some students that are lucky enough by their circumstances or their performance that it is handed to them. They worked hard for that so it’s not like that it’s a handout, but the vast majority of our students and most law school students, you have to go find your own job.

OSCAR:                      Right, especially alumni law student for 11 years and come back very often to do things that they can do to help the school, but it’s not an Ivy. You do have to do a little bit more than, you know, Harvard, it’s just getting in. If you get in and you get good grades, you’re going to get a job coming out. The vast majority of law schools…

SCOTT:                      Talk 14, 15 law schools? You’re going to have to…

OSCAR:                      Right, especially with the marketplace. You must have seen a dramatic change in the course of legal marketplace. I know you have only been here a year but just from the course of the year when you were in practice, we graduated in a very tight legal marketplace also if you remember.

ELIZABETH:             Yup.

OSCAR:                      But not even as bad as this current market place. What are you seeing as far as that?

ELIZABETH:             I think in terms of what my colleagues are saying and what I’m seeing because my colleagues have been here longer than I have, it is definitely better, better with an underlying [inaudible 08:05] compared to what happened in 2008, 2010 when things were not so good, we are in an upswing. I think everybody is feeling that.

SCOTT:                      When you’re talking about an upswing, Beth, are you talking about new graduates getting jobs?

ELIZABETH:             New graduates getting jobs, yeah, recent grads.

SCOTT:                      Recent grads.

ELIZABETH:             Either they have when they graduate or they are getting their jobs shortly after graduation.

OSCAR:                      Are you kind of surprised when you see some of the alumni coming back asking for help at some of the help they need with some very basic things. I mean, I was listening to you tell us what you help people with. It was like, “Here’s your resume, here’s your website. What are you doing out there?” Some of them are coming back to you and wondering what’s wrong with my business and yet they don’t have any of these basic tools in place.

ELIZABETH:             That’s so true and I’m not entirely surprised because I know when I was in my inhouse career, you’ve got your nose to the grindstone, you’re doing your work. You’re not aware of what’s happening on the professional side in terms of social media and how you present yourself because it’s not really relevant to you. You’re doing it. So when I meet with a graduate who has been out maybe 15, 20 years and they come in with a 5-page resume and they don’t know what LinkedIn is. “Is it something I should use?”

SCOTT:                      That’s the person we are talking to on this podcast mostly.

OSCAR:                      “Would I still need LinkedIn if I don’t go?”

ELIZABETH:             Absolutely. So I get it and I’m very happy to explain to them that we are in this 24/7 cycle. Everyone has got the attention span of a small insect and you’ve got to get that messaging upfront right away. As much as possible, I want to get that resume to the highlights only and keep it to as few pages as possible, and position them so that it makes them look as good as they can. Then I want to take that information and put it on LinkedIn and help them with LinkedIn. I do a lot of, “This is what LinkedIn is. This is what it will do for you. Here are all the people that you already know that are there and they are waiting to connect with you too. It’s a two way exchange. It’s not just you putting yourself out there.”

OSCAR:                      Sure. Well, that’s what people don’t realize, right, because “How can I do that?” I say, “Well, if they are on LinkedIn, this is what they are expecting to happen.” They are not on there saying, “Gee, I hope nobody tries to connect with me because then they wouldn’t be thought as being odd.”

ELIZABETH:             Yes. I have this conversation often, “Are you sure it’s okay? I went to school with them.” “Yes, it’s okay.”

OSCAR:                      Right. “Ooh good, I’ve got another person on there,” because that’s what they want.

ELIZABETH:             I tell them that I’m the first person to connect with them.

OSCAR:                      There you go.

ELIZABETH:             I do and I’ll set the tone for that, absolutely.

OSCAR:                      Right and it’s a difficult thing because you’re also competing with some folks who may be younger and this is second nature to them.

ELIZABETH:             Yes.

OSCAR:                      I remember when I did teach for many years, one of the things that we give at the beginning of the year was a list of things your students have never heard of like Gilligan’s Island. I can’t remember this list but it’s depressing when you see it. People no longer understand these references. I remember one, it said, “The Plane.”

SCOTT:                      The Plane.

OSCAR:                      It’s like 80s, 90s references that we grew up with. It’s like when this person was born, this was the president. Like, “What? How is that possible?” So for these folks, technology is second nature. They are not excited but when you see all those smart boards and all the technology that we have here, folks of our class and around that time, we walk in like we’re in Willy Wonka.

SCOTT:                      My kid has been in first grade in elementary school.

OSCAR:                      Exactly. It’s what’s expected. They don’t see anything great or exciting about it. It’s what’s expected.

ELIZABETH:             It is absolutely expected.

OSCAR:                      So a guy who is out a year or two years, they are going to be out there doing this so you need to catch up and catch up quickly.

SCOTT:                      Right and again, the focus of the podcast is to look at those guys, those guys who have been out for 15 years that just have no clue how to put themselves out there. Do you talk to them? When you’re talking to them about networking, what kind of advice do you give them?

ELIZABETH:             There are so many resources especially in the city like New York or even in New York City area for that matter. One of my initial recommendations aside from LinkedIn is your law school. You are an alumnus for life when you graduate. That doesn’t ever go away so my ability to help you, you have that forever. Events at the law school is hosting that are usually free of charge and are on topics that are public and are going to be interesting to you in varying degree, and we’ll give you a chance to meet either your contemporaries or more recent grads or runs the gamut, putting the guest speakers obviously.

Then the Bar Associations, New York City Bar Association, Night Glass, State Bar Association, Westchester County, Nassau County, New Jersey, all of them have varying degrees of membership. If that’s a daunting prospect for whatever reason, you can also just go to different events and pay the fee to go to the events. If it’s on your practice area or on an area that is in some way ancillary to what you’re expertise is, all the more reason to go because then you bring an expertise to that event and there’s always a networking reception that comes along with every single one of these.

OSCAR:                      Right and again, people are expecting that and it gives you an opportunity to put yourself out there and say, “I practice in this area but maybe I do a different niche of it or I have a different experience. You can expose yourself to that” and also it’s a good place, it’s like a safe place to start if you’re not comfortable doing this and networking with a lot of folks who called in or written us emails and said, “I’m not that person. I don’t go out there and promote myself.” Well, that’s an uncomfortable way to get used to meeting and talking to people about your practice.

SCOTT:                      I think anybody listening should really, if they are concerned about starting to network and are not sure where to start, this is something I’ve never even thought of, going to your alumni office and ask some question. Try to meet somebody. Try to sit down with somebody. This sounds like a great resource that they have here at the school. My guess is they probably have this at most every other school also.

ELIZABETH:             Absolutely. There are networking events both at schools and bar associations. There are also committees and committees need members. Those are also opportunities to again, depending on what your discipline is, joint committee, which means you then have a monthly standing meeting to go to, other people, other contemporaries to be in touch with, events to plan, more networking opportunities.

OSCAR:                      Do the older attorneys, people who have been practicing 15, 20 years, do they respond to this well? We know a lot of attorneys who you tell them, “You need to put a couple of hours a week into networking and go to this even and go to that event. They are like, “No, no. I’m too busy or I have work to do.” Whether they really are busy or whether it’s an avoidance issue, do have people that are resistant to even starting?

ELIZABETH:             I don’t know that anyone has ever said it’s a question of being too busy. I think if you’re too busy, then you don’t need such committee.

OSCAR:                      Right.

SCOTT:                      Right, but you know how people are sometimes busy when they are not busy.

ELIZABETH:             I certainly get other forms of that kind of hesitation but it really more comes from a sense of awkwardness, of like, “I got to sell myself, I’ve never had to do this before. I really thought I wouldn’t have to be. I wouldn’t be in this position, I don’t know how to do this.”

OSCAR:                      I’m a great lawyer. Why is it that’s not enough? It’s a repeated mantra.

ELIZABETH:             Why isn’t that enough and I don’t know how to be a marketer.

OSCAR:                      It’s funny, Scott. I realize that you and I are seeing different people because they are coming to Beth for help. We’re seeing the guys in the courthouse who maybe don’t want to admit to us that they are mortgage payment away for closure and they finally will be open up a little bit at these other things or when I’m mentoring to the bar association or whatever, you realize how pressed they are because there’s no practice there because they are in the wrong practice area or they are not trying to generate business enough. We’re not always going to get the honest answer.

SCOTT:                      Right.

OSCAR:                      “Oh I don’t need to do that. That’s not me” or “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine” until they are not and then they go to see Elizabeth or somebody else to try to get them started. I think that’s great information. I think it’s an area that we hadn’t really touched upon as far as where your law school can help you.

SCOTT:                      No, not at all.

OSCAR:                      We encourage our listeners to think about that and go back to your alumni and use that office to get you started.

ELIZABETH:             One more thing I could offer.

OSCAR:                      Please.

ELIZABETH:             The New York City Bar Association, I’m guessing other bar associations as well, but the New York City Bar specifically has a small law firm resource center. In addition to their events and their meetings of other small practitioners, there’s a PO Box you can make arrangements with if you need to have materials delivered to you. You can almost do your shadow office with the New York City Bar while you’re still a solo practitioner operating out of your house, but you can use the resources of the city bar to help present yourself and perhaps a way that is slightly more advantageous than what your reality might be, but that’s one of the resources of the bar association.

OSCAR:                      That’s a great idea. What we’ll do is those of you who follow the podcast will know that after every episode when it gets uploaded, there will be episode notes and we’ll attach a link to the City Bar Small Firm Resource as well as other bar association small resource practice committees or small firm practice committees that you can maybe get a jumpstart there as far as, “Who shall I be speaking to? What should I do to get my small firm started, my solo firm started?”

SCOTT:                      So Elizabeth, we talked a little bit about LinkedIn and how you help the alumni gather their information and put it in a LinkedIn page. We talked before in the podcast about other social media, about the importance of blogging and putting your information out there, the importance of having a good web page, the importance of Twitter, all types of social media.

ELIZABETH:             Sure.

SCOTT:                      What do you tell the new graduates and alumni that come back that ask you about social media?

ELIZABETH:             That it’s necessary, that it is an elective.

SCOTT:                      Right. It has to be done, right?

ELIZABETH:             It has to be done.

SCOTT:                      Exactly.

ELIZABETH:             Again, if you are looking at the small firm solo thing, marketing is part of this and yes, you’re an attorney and yes you have that element of practice but you have to market yourself. That’s just the way it is. Believe it or not though, business cards are still an essential because when you’re out there networking, it is still an expectation that you have a card to hand out.

OSCAR:                      Right. We’ve talked about that actually thinking about what your card should look like. I deal more with business clients. Scott deals more with families and individuals. That’s going to change how your website looks, that’s going to change how your business card looks because you have to think about what message you want to send out there.

ELIZABETH:             And overwhelmingly, we live in a media world. I don’t need your street address. All you need now in a business card is, you may just want to put your email address, maybe you want to put your cell phone but you don’t necessarily even have to do that if you’re not comfortable. I mean, at some point, not everybody wants to get a phone call to start things off. I’m one of those people that actually prefer to get an email and I also prefer to write an email. Business card can be a little bit about your practice area. It can have your JD and an email address. You’re good to go.

OSCAR:                      Yeah and with website too if the folks need to know and you need to spend time developing your website, developing their online presence. Have you found that’s a bit of a harder sell especially sometimes when folks may get businesses tight, they might not have the money to invest but you have to find your way out to do it?

ELIZABETH:             Yeah and we probably don’t get into that level. I’m not the marketing consultant kind of thing but it’s more like, “I want a small practice. I want to do my own thing. “Do I have to market myself?” Yes, I think you do. “Shall I have a website?” Yes, you should and from my own standpoint, I will say it needs to be a responsive functional website. Ideally you should have a picture. Ideally if I click on your email address, it’s going to take me right to the link to send you the email address, it’s going to take me right to the link to send you the email, you got it. You have to make it as easy as you possibly can for potential client to reach out to you.

OSCAR:                      Right, to contact you.

ELIZABETH:             If it’s just a place holder page with a picture and a few words, why don’t you bother?

OSCAR:                      Exactly, it’s not going to do anything. Also, the important thing is it’s got to convey whatever message you think is most suited to get that client to select you. They are going to look at your website whether you want them to or not, whether you direct them to it or not because that’s such a large factor in the way. People choose all kinds of services, including lawyers. Some of the folks I have talked to who have been out 10 or 15 years, are finding out the hard way that that takes the time to do it right, to think these things through. But it’s got to be done with what’s going on at that time.

SCOTT:                      So do you find when you have an alumni who comes in after a long time and is looking for some direction, do you find they are receptive to your ideas? Obviously it’s probably going to be tough at first to do new things and I understand Twitter and it could be a pain. I could understand how someone can look at it and be very daunting. Do you find that the general attitude of attorneys between 40 and 55 is that they are willing to learn or they are more resistant?

ELIZABETH:             I think there is probably a little variation because human nature is what it is everyone is a little different. I think when they are coming in to see me, I think they realize that I’m not doing my job if I’m not giving them my advice and what I think is the best thing to do. I do get some resistance sometime when I try to explain that a shorter resume is better than a longer resume because obviously they are very proud of their accomplishments as they should be. But you have to present it in the most optimal way and we are all living in this media world where resumes are reviewed online. No one is going to make it to the third or fourth page, so you got to get the good stuff on the first two pages. They are sometimes hesitant but after I’ve done my thing and revamp their resume for them, almost all the time I get an email saying, “Wow, I think this is great.”

OSCAR:                      That’s good. I guess it’s a lot like our clients who don’t necessarily listen to our advice the first time and usually have to learn the hard way that they should have listened to us the first time. I know that when you do talk about the length of the resume, a lot of times someone who’s out 10 or 15 years figures; that’s what going to differentiate my right. If I just put my education and my experience, how long I have been out, that’s not going to be enough. What makes me different form the guy who is only out two years and have tried 150 trials? In other words, they might feel like, “I need to bolster this,” but there are ways to do that, to get that same message across succinctly is what you are saying.

ELIZABETH:             Yes, succinctly. Just realize that unfortunately that these days we all have a very short attention span and you just have to be mindful of that.

OSCAR:                      Let me ask you this, do people still care about a writing sample?

ELIZABETH:             They do.

OSCAR:                      I mean in the employment field.

ELIZABETH:             They do, yeah. It depends on the position. Firms, overwhelmingly yes, government agency positions, yes. Public interest groups, for sure. Not everyone but I would say those three sectors for sure.

OSCAR:                      I’m also thinking that that’s a nice way to say, “Here is your resume” and then when you have a writing sample that could tell a little bit of a story by making sure you select the right one that shows the level of experience or the level of difficulty of that particular case. That sells that point if they get to that.

ELIZABETH:             Especially if it’s responsive to the requirements of the position, for sure. And then likewise the cover letter, that’s another thing that I probably get more resistance on cover letters, or more trepidation on cover letters than I do on resumes. It’s a daunting prospect. Even to recent grads writing cover letters is not anything anyone looks forward to.

OSCAR:                      Let’s pick your brain while we are here. What makes the perfect cover letter?

ELIZABETH:             A perfect cover letter is not more than one page no matter how old you are. The perfect cover letter has a tone of how you can add value to the organization you are applying to and not how it would be such a great experience for you to work there and learn. Most organizations don’t want to hire you…

OSCAR:                      This is great.

SCOTT:                      That’s an interesting perspective. It makes perfect sense but it’s not something that necessarily people might think of.

ELIZABETH:             Obviously the hope is it will be mutually beneficial of course, but for an organization to say, “I’m going to set this salary money aside for you and bring you in to do this position,” they want to get the value for that. So your cover letter…

OSCAR:                      Especially for five or six years out.

ELIZABETH:             Exactly. So the cover letter needs to really make your case of how you can bring immediate value to that organization.

OSCAR:                      Specifically do you think, you ask for the personal interview in the cover letter? Do you make a picture look forward to seeing? I remember when I was getting these advices when I first started to look for jobs. That was the thing to do. You kind of went in there and said, “Make sure you close by saying; I look forward to meeting you at a personal interview.” Is that necessary anymore?

ELIZABETH:             I think yes, maybe yes conceptually I think you may be a bit more diplomatically than that. Usually the first letter, the first paragraph is being very clear about what you are applying for and making clear the skills and experience to make that valuable contribution. I think your next paragraph is your absolute best experience as to why you are that candidate and then your next paragraph is I think your education or your next best experience. By your fourth paragraph you are concluding, you are out of there. It is. I welcome that opportunity to meet with you to discuss my credentials further, thank you. Good bye.

OSCAR:                      Something like that, right. I see a lot when we have a position open and we get so many cover letters, and I’m telling you, if it’s two pages it better be the Magna Carta, because legal writing also it should be succinct. So if you can’t tell me what’s great about you or why I should hire you in a cover letter, in a page, I’m already starting to worry about your skills and ability. The same with a resume, because it’s verbose, if it’s lengthy, it’s like, “Wait a minute. We are not hiring a journalist. We are hiring someone who needs to get the point across very sharply. So why are we seeing a two page, three page resume?”

ELIZABETH:             Absolutely.

SCOTT:                      We talked about this in the podcast a couple of weeks ago. If you saw that someone who came into your office and sent out a resume to someone and the cover letter said, “”Dear attorney,” do you think that would be something good for them to do?

ELIZABETH:             In most cases no but again, I would want to know where they found the listing because sometimes if you’re looking at a listing on Craigslist and it’s a Dropbox number…

SCOTT:                      This wasn’t a listing, this was just a blind resume that someone decided to send my office and we talked about it on the podcast. We said, “If somebody wanted to catch my attention, do something at least a little interesting.”   That leads me to something. Do you talk to alumni about how to get introduced to someone? How to meet the people that you want to meet? How to network with specific people?

ELIZABETH:             Absolutely we get a lot of advice on asking for informational interviews. It’s called an informational interview. It really isn’t an interview, it’s an introduction.

OSCAR:                      What is that?

ELIZABETH:             It’s basically identifying someone, either an alumni or a connection or someone in the industry that is doing what you want to do some day. Usually it’s an email or it’s a letter, but usually it’s an email. Just basically saying, “You have the career path that I want to have. I would love to have 20 minutes of your time. I’ll take you to coffee. I’ll get on the phone with you. I’ll meet you wherever, whenever. I would like to ask you about your career path. If you are in law school, I have taken these classes. I’ve done this internship this year out, I have been working for the past five years doing X and I want to do X plus Y. Can I just have 20 minutes of your time to ask you a few questions?” That’s really all it is.

The hope is you’ll have that exchange. It goes well. You have to be prepared for it. You have to have your questions because this is your shot to interview. Like if I wanted to interview Oscar about your practice, I better have done my homework to know what to ask you or not. or you can ask me about real estate. So you do that and the idea you have a conversation. Most of us love to talk about ourselves. It’s enjoyable, we love to give advice. Who doesn’t want to be helpful if they can be helpful? That’s all this is. The hope is that in the course of that conversation, the attorney you are interviewing says, “I know this guy, John. He’s over at this other firm. You should go talk to him, use my name,” and bingo, you have a new connection, a new email to write saying, “Oscar suggested I write to you.” You know that if John gets that email, he’s going to say yes.

OSCAR:                      Right. It’s a whole different thing now when that resume comes in with that recommendation and that name. It says, “Okay, this person has met this person, Oscar met this person. They were able to carry a conversation. They are showing that they are intelligent. They are showing they are prepared. I’ve done some vetting for that person and it helps them.” Then again, even if nothing comes from it the person learns a little bit more about the practice that they want to get into. There is no downside. You get a little bit more experience without the pressure of saying, “Oh my God. I’m trying to get a job.” So you get used to asking the right questions and responding the same way that you point out about that people like to talk about themselves. No lawyer is going to sit there and not at least ask you a question or two, “Why do you like that field? What interested you? What classes have you taken?” So that exchange of information is to let them know, “Oh people are going to ask me that at a job interview or a networking event. I should have a better answer for that, than the last time.”

ELIZABETH:             Absolutely. It’s further professional preparation and it’s also really great when everyone that does this knows that the ultimate goal is the job. But you were not forced to actually say that. That’s just not how this exchange plays out. It’s just I want to ask you some questions about your career.

OSCAR:                      It’s a relationship building and again it’s very similar to what we talked about before. Everybody in both sides of that deal, that conversation, that interview, that networking event understand the purpose of why they are in the room. When Beth sends someone like that to me, I understand why the person is coming there. I’m not like, “What are you doing here? You are not just buying me coffee. You want to talk about something?” I get it. You’re looking for work. I’ve always, by the way, if they impress you, you say, “Send me the resume. If something opens up, I’ll think about it or I’ll pass it along.” It does lead to further contacts, so that’s a great point.

SCOTT:                      Taking the other angle from what we’ve talked about before is the worst thing that can happen if you do something like this is someone can say no. You send an email, they say no or you have coffee and it doesn’t go well. That’s the worst thing that can happen. We get a lot of emails from attorneys who are very hesitant to go and do anything. Truth be told and people who listen to this podcast are sick of me talking about this, but I was someone who never networked at all and was not very comfortable in social situations, talking to people about myself. At some point I just said to myself; “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” I just went out and did it. It was very life changing for me in all honesty but it’s a simple as that, again anyone listening. All you have to do you get somebody’s help, an alumni director, another attorney, someone. You go to LinkedIn, you send out an email just like we talked about. I do this, you do that. Let’s get together and talk. That’s all it takes, you’re just taking your shot. Do you find that once you talk to people and explain to them, the benefits that they can get that they are apt to take action?

ELIZABETH:             They are, they are. Obviously the better purpose when they actually do it and what you just described actually happens. It’s the same conversation when it’s going to a networking event. “No, I’m shy. I am not that type. I can’t go introduce myself to somebody.” Volunteer to work at check-in table, because you got to check the names off and while you’re checking the names off you get to meet them and shake their hand, and you’ve got something to do. Get to the event, grab a plate, get in the food line. Make yourself busy and the next thing you know, you’ve began talking to someone. I myself I’m not the most outgoing person either, I understand the shyness but the rewards are so exponentially worth it.

OSCAR:                      The current state of the marketplace, although it is improving requires you to do this. It’s no longer enough and people are sick of hearing me say this, but I guess hang out shingle and be a great lawyer as it used to be. Those days are over. I think I do get the feel that the marketplace is picking up a little bit. Have you noticed that?

ELIZABETH:             I had and I also think it’s a question of expectations. For our recent graduates, start your career, get that first job. The first job doesn’t have to be the job.

OSCAR:                      Or pay you the amount of money you were expecting.

ELIZABETH:             Right. If you want an opportunity to build skills, ideally you want to be in a position where someone is going to be mentoring you. So then you can be adding to your training and building those skills. If you don’t want to be a litigator, you see yourself on that transaction side and ideally you’d like to get into bankruptcy or financial and you can’t find that specific firm but you are in a general practice, corporate transaction firm, that’s not bad.

OSCAR:                      Right. Close enough, right?

ELIZABETH:             Close enough and there will probably be an opportunity to segue in or raise your hand and say, “Can I try this?” when you are there.

OSCAR:                      Those issues are going to come up in the practice.

ELIZABETH:             It’s so important to try and get in an opportunity where you’re building skills, you are actively employed and obviously that goes on your resume and we go from there.

OSCAR:                      By the way especially more so for recent grads, it’s also important sometimes, even when you get the job in the field that you are in to see what the day to day practice of that is. Sometimes it’s an eye opener. It’s like, “I can’t do this every day,” or you have a different expectation. I know lots of my former law students had a little bit of that, like buyer’s remorse. When they got the job and it’s like, “I haven’t been to court. It’s like, “You were admitted last week. Yes, you’ll get there.” Just today, I saw a young DA. I have been there two years. I haven’t gotten to try a case. That’s typical, but…

SCOTT:                      In his trial history I guess.

OSCAR:                      You know in Nassau County, it’s tough. There are not a lot of cases. They all plead out. I said, “Hang in there. Hang in there.” You’re seeing other aspects of it. Maybe observe a trial, maybe you can get an opportunity to sequence you to trial. Do something else. But unfortunately with the way it currently is, people are staying longer in those jobs. The opportunities are opening up less, and it may take a little bit longer to get there but you got to get started and hope like you said, maybe even somebody’s ancillary practice areas will lead to where you want to go.

ELIZABETH:             Yeah.

SCOTT:                      If you persevere, you can really get anything as long as you keep trying and you keep pushing, and you keep meeting. There’s no reason you can’t. Let me ask you, how does the shifting beforehand? Let’s shift to the law school. How does the law school prepare students for networking and for getting out there in the world and understanding that the practice of law is more than just a practice but a business?

ELIZABETH:             Well, I think most law schools are doing this but we certainly are. We focus on professional development along with curriculum. So even as early as first year, our students are in professional development classes learning the skills of networking. They are doing their resume workshops. As they get their summer internships, they are getting advice from us on how to conduct themselves in an internship to make the best impression and do the best job that they can for that placement. Obviously, they are encouraged to meet with us periodically. Again, we are categorized so that there are counselors specifically tuned in to the person at the center. I’m sure that most law schools practice as well.\

OSCAR:                      I would imagine and I think that we told our kids who are now in college, “Go to your guidance counselor.”

SCOTT:                      I tel my kids in high school to go to their guidance counselor and learn.

OSCAR:                      Right. In college, meet with them, have a relationship with them. That’s what they are there for and it has helped them get the internships they wanted because the contact leads the guy who has come to think about them and look for things like that the same thing he would as an advisor.

SCOTT:                      It’s everything. Every podcast, it doesn’t matter what we talk about or in what context it is, it’s all about building relationships and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a good thing. You want to build as many relationships. You want to build a fan club, we sometimes talk about and have people on your side that are looking out for you and could always give you good advice.

ELIZABETH:             Absolutely.

OSCAR:                      You’ll always learn something from every contact. Even if it’s a negative thing, that’s a positive thing for the next time.

SCOTT:                      Sure, not to do it again.

OSCAR:                      Exactly.

ELIZABETH:             For our personality trait that you want to make sure that you don’t exhibit.

OSCAR:                      Exactly right. That’s usually my problem. Okay, should we wrap it up?

SCOTT:                      I think so.

OSCAR:                      Well, I want to thank Elizabeth Dambriunas for joining us here from New York Law School and doing a great job here and telling us all to go back to your school and think about that as one of the initial places to maybe get yourself back on track. I want to thank you again, Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH:             Thank you.

OSCAR:                      Please, anybody who comes along who you think might value listening to the podcast, send them our way if they have any questions. This is Oscar signing off. We’ll see you next time.

SCOTT:                      And this is Scott. We will see you next week. Also if you’ll be kind enough, if you enjoyed the podcast, leave a review for us in iTunes. You could also email us at or, or you can call us at 516-900-4842 and feel free to leave a question, a comment, or any topics you might have for future shows. Thanks everyone. we’ll see you next week.

OUTRO:                     This has been Reboot Your Law Practice with Oscar Michelen and Scott Limmer.

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