Scott Limmer

Keith Lee is a practicing lawyer and columnist for Above The Law who started his own legal blog Associate’s Mind when he was still in law school.

Keith graduated law school in 2010 right when the legal industry imploded. He knew that he needed to find a way to differentiate himself from the pack. When he had interned for a law firm during school. He had helped that firm set up and launch their own blog. He saw that it helped generate business and interest in the firm.

But what could he blog about having just graduated law school? Keith knew he would lack the authenticity needed to be successful if he started to blog about a specific area of law but he also knew that a successful blog had to have a viewpoint. So he started blogging about what it meant to be a young associate in the current legal marketplace:

  • How would he generate business?
  • How would he form a relationship with a valuable mentor?
  • How would he learn the ins and outs of actually practicing law

Because of the unique voice and viewpoint in Associate’s Mind, he secured a book deal with the ABA; became a popular speaker at law school’s and law firms; and was soon in demand to consult lawyers about what it meant to be in the trenches.

Keith also recognized that his blog filled a void in information for young associates because they were not getting any of that information in law school. The hosts discuss with Keith their experiences in dealing with young associates both in their firms and as adversaries. They see the lack of awareness of the “business-side” of law and discuss how the blame for that failing falls onto law schools allowing professors without real-life experience to often be the main voices that law students hear.

Law schools need to become cognizant that not all law schools are the same and not all law schools are the same. They need to adjust for where they sit in the law school pecking order – they all teach to Big Law even though their students have no chance to get those jobs. The law school model should be adjusted for Tier III and Tier IV law schools to cater to their regional needs. Sixty Percent of all lawyers practice in firms of 10 lawyers or less. Law school curriculums need to be focused on producing law students who graduate with a focus on small firm or solo firm life.

Keith discusses specific points of how young lawyers can distinguish themselves in the marketplace:

  • Make sure you think about who you are applying to; tailor your cover letter and resume for the specific needs of the job you are looking to get;
  • Specificity is key – do some research about the job and target your communications to the firm based upon what you learn about them before you apply;
  • Find a good mentor but realize mentors are not cheerleaders – their entire purpose should be to cultivate your professional growth. You need to be ready to give your time and energy in order to get back the advice and assistance you need. Keith call this building up “Trust Equity” You should look for more than one mentor and they should not all be lawyers.
  • Also realize that you may fail initially from time to time and need to learn from those errors. No one comes out of law school ready to be an awesome lawyer.

Keith’s advice is helpful and applicable for all lawyers, not just young lawyers or recent graduates. We encourage all of our listeners to follow Keith Lee on twitter at @associatesmind and read his blog

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.

OSCAR:                      Hello everybody. This is Oscar Michelen and welcome back to the podcast.

SCOTT:                      Hi everyone. This is Scott. This week, we have a special guest. We’d like to welcome Keith Lee. Keith is an attorney in Birmingham, Alabama. He started a blog called Associate’s Mind in 2010 while he was still in law school. He has also written a book for the ABA entitled The Marble and the Sculptor, and he is a columnist for Above the Law. Welcome to the podcast, Keith.

KEITH:                       Hey, good to be here. Thanks for having me.

SCOTT:                      No, our pleasure.

OSCAR:                      So why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you began to be interested in this area, kind of legal development, business development?

KEITH:                       Well, I was getting ready to graduate from law school back in 2010 and I was looking around at things. I’ve been doing a lot of reading, about the industry and obviously, the legal industry had kind of imploded a couple of years prior right as I was going to law school. I was very keen on that happening and I was looking around at things that could be done to try and differentiate myself. How could I stand out? How could I be doing something different? As I got through law school, I had clerked at a law firm and I had helped them get their blogs set up, develop it, and push it out there and make it be a thing. It generated clients, it generated business, and it became very apparent to me that this was a platform where you could probably do some interesting things.

OSCAR:                      Right.

KEITH:                       So I decided why don’t I do my own. For me, I say this to law students a lot. I’ve talked to a lot of law students and new lawyers, I thought about things I can maybe start a blog about and I was very cognizant with the fact that I was coming out of law school and for me to try and blog about a specific practice area would be disingenuous.

OSCAR:                      Right. It wouldn’t have the authenticity behind it because you hadn’t practiced it long enough, etc., right?

KEITH:                       Right. I mean, obviously, I’m still in law school. I’m about to graduate. So for me to try and be like, “Oh, let me tell you about IP Law” whatever, it would just be so fake. It would be the most fake thing ever. I was like, what can I speak to you with authenticity and the one thing that I felt like I could really speak to with authenticity is how the type of lawyer I wanted to be. How could I develop as a lawyer? What would I need to do for professional development? How would I find mentors? How would I generate business relationships? How would I essentially become a new lawyer? What would I need to do?

So I went with that and I rolled with it. I think I was maybe just in the right place at the right time because, I mean, I started the blog in the website with really no expectations but within six months, I was one of the most popular legal blogs and went on to book deals with ABA. I’ve got another book coming out next year, writing column for Above the Law. I’ve got around speaking to a lot of law schools and firms, and it all came out from starting Associate’s Mind. I don’t know if I was doing anything in particular really great or well. I was just consistent.

SCOTT:                      You were doing it.

KEITH:                       I was doing it, yeah. That’s all that matters. No one else was doing it. There were other websites and blogs for lawyers around that time but nothing geared to helping new lawyers become better lawyers.

OSCAR:                      And probably nothing that really described the state of law that it really was. I think in 2010, there were probably more articles and blogs about how there might be resurgence in hiring in a couple of years.

KEITH:                       Right, definitely. That’s where the ABA reached out to me to write the book. They were like, “Hey, would you write a book for us?” A lot of it was centered around the fact that obviously, the ABA has published numerous books on how to practice or how to be a lawyer, whatever. I think they were cognizant with the fact that all those books were written or published years ago and by older lawyers. They were like, “Look, we’re in a brand new situation right now.” They wanted someone who was in the trenches, who was coming right out and doing it and sort of living it and like, “Hey, this is what it means to become a new lawyer right now.”

OSCAR:                      I don’t mean to cut you off but I read a couple of the articles from the blog and what I see also is that you recognize the vacuum that law schools don’t gear enough towards that. So you have a young person coming out in a bad job market where they are not automatically guaranteed jobs because they have the law license and then they are completely unskilled in how to develop a practice area, find a niche, or find some way to differentiate themselves from the pack of other unemployed lawyers. So the blog happen to come at that time where it needed to fill a void of that information that they weren’t getting from any place else, really.

KEITH:                       Yeah. I think that seems to be the case and it was interesting, this past week, I’m on the advisory board. There’s an organization called IAALS. They are the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System and they are a consortium of about 40 or 50 schools, and I’m on their advisory council for their Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers Initiative, which is about reforming law schools and everything. I can’t talk about it because it’s not released yet.

SCOTT:                      Sure.

KEITH:                       I got to see the data this past week and they have just conducted probably the largest survey of lawyers over the past year in terms of… they didn’t ask law schools, they didn’t ask law students. They went and they asked practicing attorneys particularly if they were in charge of hiring and they asked about the skill sets needed if you were going to, they had the criteria to rank them and it was like absolutely have to have, can be developed within the first five years and then advantageous but not necessary were the sort of three categories they could rank things on. The report comes out later this year but to be very general about it, it was a very much sort of soft skills, a lot of like listening well, having rapport with clients, being…

SCOTT:                      Someone that you could form into a good attorney but is already formed into the person and the associate that you’re looking for, I guess.

OSCAR:                      Right, yes, so it was a lot of soft skills and then it was business. It was like we want them to be able to have these soft skills where they can negotiate, they can talk to people, they can relate to people, they can be friendly, and then we also want them to understand business. We want them to have some type of understanding of management, marketing, and business development. It was just an affirmation in that law schools aren’t teaching people what employers actually want out of graduates.

OSCAR:                      Exactly. From my small firm, we recently hired a couple of guys right out of law school, a couple of lawyers right out of law school. By and large, I find a big majority of my time is talking to them about client relations, how to talk to a client, what to ask a client, when they should let me talk to the client as opposed to them. There’s a tendency sometimes to try to get too familiar with the clients right away because they don’t understand the business relationship necessarily.

KEITH:                       Right.

OSCAR:                      It was clear that here’s something that, they are good lawyers, by the way. They are all very bright lawyers but this was just something that had never even been touched upon or explained to them at all. It was funny because do you know where I was this morning? I was at my son’s law school graduation. I had to sit through three speakers and I wanted to get up there and say, “Can someone just say wake up?” It was like, the speeches they gave they could have given in like 1975.

SCOTT:                      I’m sure.

OSCAR:                      It’s great. You want to tell people obviously the honorable thing about the profession, justice and all of that.

KEITH:                       Sure.

OSCAR:                      But there was no one talking about like the different paradigm today and even the aspects of social media like Keith talks about, how to put yourself out there, how to present yourself, and it was as if there was nothing to talk about at all. It just didn’t relate at all to the students. When I spoke to my son and some of his friends about that, they all had the same feeling like it was just platitude cliché, platitude cliché. Nobody was really out there trying to explain to them what does the future hold and how do we become lawyers.

SCOTT:                      They don’t get it, Keith. We talk about this a lot in the vein of an older attorney who knows how to practice for a little while, they are kind of lost. We say in the show a lot that all these guys, even myself too, I graduated law school in 1993. I was DA. I started my own practice. Everything was great. I opened up an office and business came. That’s what these guys who were speaking at the graduation this morning, that’s what they remember. They remember everybody came out of law school, opened up a practice, and business came. You know we are trying to shake these guys who don’t understand that business isn’t going to pick back up and they need to form some skills to distinguish themselves in their practice.

KEITH:                       No. I mean, I think that’s absolutely the case. When I was at the IAALS event this past week and the advisory group, we were talking to them about what to do about all this and how we can handle it, or what advice should they give to law schools, I was just like, obviously these things are needed, the problem is I honestly don’t think that law schools and law professors are the right group of people to give that information to law students.

SCOTT:                      They have no experience in it.

KEITH:                       Right. That’s the issue. I mean, you’re an average law professor. someone who was a KGT, they went kindergarten to law degree…

OSCAR:                      Exactly.

KEITH:                       And they probably clerked, they did federal clerkship for a couple of years, maybe they were an associate at some big law firm for a year or two, and they went right into the academy. That was 15 years ago. Suddenly they are going to try and “All right, hey we need to try and have a more practical curriculum for law students.” “Okay.” These people who have no practical experience at all whatsoever, suddenly they are going to explain to law students. That’s not a solution. It’s not.

OSCAR:                      Especially because they don’t know what the practice is like today. They might not even have an idea what it was five or six years ago when they first went for that one year in practice but they haven’t been following up. They haven’t been thinking about that and the change in the legal marketplace, and how young lawyers need to develop themselves. It’s the blind leading the blind.

KEITH:                       And my position was, either: a) anywhere that has a law school probably has a business school. You should be doing some type of cross schooling. You should reach out to the business schools, and not that business schools are like some magical solution to this.

SCOTT:                      It’s something. It gives them a system from.

KEITH:                       Yeah. I mean they have more practical experience. The business school alumni, MBA students are way more involved with their schools, it’s a much more sort of hands on practical education in terms on running a business. You see the reach of that. I was like, “That’s option A.” If you do that, it can probably work. Option B is law schools probably go on the path that they are already on, and don’t do anything significant in regarding the problem, and it’s solved by the market and by third-party providers. It’s going to be done by the equivalent of sort of like the Khan Academy

SCOTT:                      Sure.

KEITH:                       Sort of online education model. There will be sillies, there will be online educational models that will provide these skill sets and methodologies and things that new lawyers need to understand business, to understand the soft skills they need, and that will probably be just solved by the market. But that’s pretty much it. I was very skeptical as I talk about law professors somehow suddenly having an epiphany and understanding all these things. Maybe they will stop giving the tenure and they will hire a lot of adjuncts. Maybe that will happen but I doubt it.

OSCAR:                      I will tell you why. Absolutely I’m a 100%. with you on that because I have known a couple of guys who practiced for quite a bit of years, even decades, running their own business. Just last year, one of them said, “Could you introduce me to some folks I knew at our local law school out here.” He wanted to get into teaching a little bit and they said to him, “We really don’t like to necessarily bring someone with that much experience because you have your own world view and we prefer folks who haven’t been out there quite as much as you have.” I said it’s the first job I ever heard where someone said, “You have too much experience. We don’t want you to tell our students what the real world application is,” and it is as if they want the kids to think it is ivory tower.

SCOTT:                      They just don’t want to teach 33 years. They just want to teach you how to think.

OSCAR:                      So he was taken aback that he was rejected because they felt he had too much actual practical experience. Some law schools are starting to make a little bit of turn around. Our last guest list, podcast list, law school, Elizabeth Dambriunas, and they have done exactly what you have suggested which is they have formed a relationship with a business school to offer even a combined degree. New York Law School is a standalone law school key that doesn’t have a university attached to it. It’s just a law school. So they had to reach out to a university and partner with them to pick up some business classes for their students. I think that’s a first good step, to understand that the students need as much, not as much, but a component of business acumen to go along with the law degree.

SCOTT:                      Keith, are there any schools that you know of that have made any substantive changes to programs or even somewhat helpful changes to their programs that would help someone who’s going to be a solo or small firm attorney?

KEITH:                       There was one we talked about this past week and I’m blanking on who it was, somebody was on the east coast. The reason it got a lot of noise was they made the change in response to these sorts of needs and requests, and then they are hiring. The statistics didn’t change at all.  It’s one of those things. It’s like, all right, people are saying they want business schools, people are saying they want soft skills. They are saying all these things and then they are still actually hiring on where you went to school, class rank, law reviewer. It’s like you’re talking out besides your mouth.

OSCAR:                      But that is always going to be there. I think law schools forget that, especially in this marketplace, a good number of their students or their graduates are going to either try to form their own practices or small firms maybe with co-graduates. “Neither of us got a job. Let’s try to go out there and market ourselves.” I think they have an obligation to those people as well. Not everybody wants a big corporate law job. Not everyone maybe has the grades or goes to the right law school to get those jobs, which are very rare, and I could tell you this from my own experience. Many of my law students who get those jobs, they don’t want them ever they get them. They like the check but they don’t realize what the life is.

KEITH:                       Absolutely. That’s the thing. Just like you can’t paint the practice of law with a broad brush and say, “All lawyers are this,” because that’s dumb, that’s ridiculous. It’s like saying, “Business is a thing. Everything is very unique.” Law schools need to become recognizant and become more self aware of the fact that all law schools aren’t the same. Like, look, if you are the T14, if you’re the Harvard, the Yales, and the Stanfords of the world, or whatever, okay, cool. Your model and your educational system is to produce big law associates. Fine. But there are over 200 law schools in the United States.

SCOTT:                      Exactly.

KEITH:                       They don’t all need to be trying. The problem is they all emulate Harvard and Yale.

OSCAR:                      They all teach to that job that their kids are not going to get.

KEITH:                       Yeah, none of those kids are going to make into those jobs. That’s the problem. The Tier 3 and Tier 4 schools just need to embrace their positions and go, okay, we are regional schools that produce graduates within our state, within our geographic regions and we also need to be aware with the fact that roughly 60% of lawyers are in law firms of 10 or less, right? That is the majority of lawyers and they need to stop pretending, like, I’m going to make up a law school. If you’re at the School of Law in Wichita, Kansas, that does not exist, but if there was a Wichita School of Law, they should try and devote a curriculum towards producing attorneys who function well in small law firms.

OSCAR:                      Exactly because that’s where they are going to go.

KEITH:                       Because that’s where they are going to go. But they don’t and again, I think a lot of it is, the academy, the ivory tower, even at the University of Wichita whatever, still tends to be X big law, X federal clerkship. These jobs that are…

OSCAR:                      I don’t think any law school wants to be the first to say, “The emperor has no clothes,” and look at the mirror to see who they really are because they still try to draw based on, “You can get a $160,000 a year when you graduate and many of our graduates end up at large firms,” but there are just two of them or whatever. You need someone to take the first step and say, “Look, we know who we are and we are going to produce good lawyers to fill a need and do that.” The only one I can really point to that I’m aware of that does anything like that here is the CUNY Law School in Queens, the City University of New York Law School, and what they do basically is say, “We are going to make great public service lawyer.”

Legal aid needs lawyers, DAs, board of education lawyers, people who are going to be working either for the government or in a public interest positions and then by the way, can go on to any other kind of career they are after, but they kind of know who they are and target those people who want to do that. I think it’s a much better model than some of these other schools that try to pretend that they are going to get you to one of the top five numbered law firms in the country when that’s just the way to take your money basically. It makes you waste your tuition if that’s where you’re going, and then you come out without the skills to go anywhere but someplace like that, and then that just doesn’t exist for you.

SCOTT:                      Right.

KEITH:                       Oh yeah. I mean again, you can go to the Wichita School of Law, whatever, and they are like,”Oh yeah, our graduates good at ORIC” or something like that, or DLA Pipers or something. It’s like, “No, they don’t.

OSCAR:                      If they do, they are paralegals. They don’t tell you that.

KEITH:                       Right.

OSCAR:                      Those big firms have outside little firms that they create for those types of jobs. You may work for those big firms but you are in an office building somewhere in the middle of the country not seeing anything but paper all day.

SCOTT:                      Keith, to switch topics a little bit, I‘ve read a couple of articles that you have written about distinguishing yourself and as a young attorney needing to figure out your place and figuring out how you’re going to network or you’re going to find your nature, I’ll tell you a little personal experience I’ve had in the last couple of weeks. I’ve been deciding whether I was going to hire an associate or an intern but I decided on an intern. But I have been getting resumes from law students that have distinguished themselves but they have distinguished by spelling things wrong and writing illegible cover letters.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that you know I have never looked at law students. I have never hired anybody before and I am reading all these resumes and everybody has an internship in the DA’s office, everybody does this, and everybody’s resume is exactly the same. I’m looking for someone with some business experience, some social media experience or at least an interest in those things, and I feel like in law school, in the alumni offices, that they are kind of telling them to keep it bland and not let themselves shine on these resumes or cover letters. Have you experienced anything like that?

KEITH:                       Yeah. Again I think with a lot of certain law schools, there is a tendency to favor blandness because they come from the sort of risk adverse background like, “Mitigate risk. Let’s not do anything different. Let’s not do anything distinct. Let’s be really careful.” I don’t want to discount that because that is a factor especially in larger law firms where you have hundreds of clients and you have to do all kinds of conflict checks and be like, “All right, can we actually say this thing because it might be true for a client A but if we go all the way down to client J, it’s completely different and we are actually going to piss them off. I think it’s just really weird. I mean my perspective is why do you want to be average?

SCOTT:                      That’s exactly it. Why do you want your resume and a cover letter look like everybody else’s?

KEITH:                       It’s funny. I actually had that conversation with multiple attorneys at big law firms, people who are GCs at large companies and have a legal staff. Last year had a conversation with somebody who was a state attorney general somewhere in the Midwest. We were talking about how you would hire and at that time, he was saying, “Oh, we hire…” Again, he was trying to paint people with a broad brush. It’s so inaccurate. It’s like all law schools and all lawyers, which was so inaccurate and he was asking me, I’m in a small firm. There are three of us and the idea we were talking about was what resume will stand out to us. We were looking out at a number of resumes and we picked entirely different things. He and I started talking. He was concerned about class ranks, the very standards and stuff, and he was very concerned about a team environment, which makes sense if you’re an attorney general for a state. They are all about a team environment.

SCOTT:                      Sure.

OSCAR:                      It was very team oriented and I was very concerned about, if I was going to hire an associate in a small firm, I was very concerned with entrepreneurial skills. Would they take ownership? Would they be a self starter? Would they be able to go out there and do business development on their own?

OSCAR:                      And see the opportunities, yup.

KEITH:                       Yeah and create their own opportunities. As we started talking about it, he’s like,”Now that we’re talking about this, I totally understand and I agree with you 100%,” but he was like, “I would never have thought about it in that context but it completely makes sense.” He doesn’t need entrepreneurial attorneys. He needs team players who can be given tasks and can fit into the existing system and become state attorneys and start cranking their cases right away. But at a smaller firm, you don’t need that and I think for law schools, like you were talking about resume and how people put themselves out there, again that’s just a victim of all law schools trying to do the same thing, create the same blanket of attorneys and act as though all t200+ law schools in the entire country are graduating the exact same graduates for the exact same jobs, which is just not the case.

OSCAR:                      And to fill the exact same need where the needs are very, very different. Also, you bring up a good point is that the young attorney for yourself who started to come out into the legal field needs to think about who he’s applying to. So many of them I think, they will write the one nice generic cover letter and they will send the same thing to somebody who’s a two-man real estate shop as they might to a 20-laywer insurance defense firm, for example. You talk to them about you are doing the background check and doing some homework, and make the application for that particular job relate to that need and respond to that, as opposed to just say, “Here’s my CV. Here’s my cover letter. Give me a job.”

KEITH:                       Yes. Specificity is essential especially if you are applying for a job. I mean anything really. I think if you’re a job seeker, you should look at any potential employer as a client. If you’re going to try and land this person as client, you’re not going to send someone a general thing. You’re going to learn everything you can about them. You are going to understand their business. I had a call earlier today with another attorney, had referred me a client. Before I got on the phone with them, I did as much internet research as I could. I learned as much about their business as I could before I got on the phone with them. I tried to understand what they were about and what their business was about. So once I get on the phone with this potential client, I could speak intelligently to it. I would be educated. I would be informed. It would more likely lead to an attorney-client relationship.

OSCAR:                      Right, and know what issues are important to them, etc.

KEITH:                       Yes, exactly. So if you are a recent law school graduate and you’re looking towards being employed somewhere, again, if I was the potential hirer and someone sent me just the most generic cover letter, I’m going to write you off out of principle.

SCOTT:                      I wouldn’t even look at it.

KEITH:                       Yeah. You haven’t shown any effort to understand my firm or my business. Why am I going to even put any effort forth to understanding you and what you’re about?

OSCAR:                      I’ve gotten a cover letter that says, “Dear Attorney” and I’m telling you, that’s the last thing I read. Dude, you’ve got to make some effort. I’m really sorry.

SCOTT:                      When you talk about these things to law students and young lawyers, are they mostly receptive? Are they looking to try to find their niche and how to stand out or do you find they are just so…

OSCAR:                      They just want to stay in their comfort zone.

SCOTT:                      Yeah. They just want to stay in their comfort zone. They want to be, “Listen, I graduated law school and I went to go learn how to be a lawyer.” You can’t do that anymore. Is that what they are looking to or are they really trying to reach out and become that bit of an entrepreneur and a bit of a businessman and a bit of understanding more before they get a job.

KEITH:                       The responses run the gamut honestly. I will say despite the fact that it’s 2015 and I would think that everyone is well aware that the legal industry is in the midst of a total upheaval and change….

SCOTT:                      Yeah, they are not at all.

KEITH:                       I’m consistently surprised by the amount of law students. Once I started talking about these situations, I started talking about employment, I started talking about bimodal salary distribution, I start explaining all these things that the number sort of like shock and like dropped jaws, I still get at this point, I’m like, “Are you being willfully ignorant because that’s the only way I can imagine you don’t know about this?”

OSCAR:                      Exactly.

SCOTT:                      You should try talking to a bunch of mid-40 or 50-year-old attorneys who still think business is going to pick back up. You are trying to explain to them how many more lawyers there are now and how much less business there is and all about Avvo and all these legal service websites. They look at you and go, “It will pick up. It has slowed down before.”

OSCAR:                      Look at this, I put up a website. I got a website. We talked about one guy who had a website and the picture of the lawyer was a stock image. It wasn’t even him.

SCOTT:                      It wasn’t even him. It was some other guy.

OSCAR:                      So it’s like, “Why are you even putting that website up?” I think it goes back to again, yes they should know themselves. They should be researching the field that they are going to go into before they go into it, but again it goes back to law schools. Are you getting resistance from law schools about changing the paradigm?

KEITH:                       Yes and no. It’s one of those things, the higher rank the law school, the more they feel like they can ignore it. I’m speaking specifically to US News & World Report which is a horrible method. I mean like that’s a good methodology for ranking the top 20 schools but outside that, it’s useless. It’s a bad model.

OSCAR:                      I couldn’t agree with you more.

SCOTT:                      It’s not relevant to most schools in US.

OSCAR:                      I agree with him. It’s a good model for the top, to identify the top, which is obvious, which anybody can do anyway. You will get more receptive hopefully as you move down into Tier 2.

KEITH:                       If you move down the ladder a little bit, if you moved to Tier 2, Tier 3 schools, they are a little bit more receptive. Students, regardless of the school tend to be like, “Huh?” but the nice thing is, there are a number of students who are little bit more clued in. They are like “Oh, I get it. I’m not going to get a big law job. If I’m lucky, I can get a small firm to mid-sized firm job but there’s a good chance I’m going to have to probably go out on my own or be man or woman #2 somewhere.”

SCOTT:                      Right.

KEITH:                       And those people tend to be really interested. Some people are in denial but then some people are really, it kind of hits the gray curve. There are the A’s, B’s, C’s, D’s, and F’s. Most people are the C but people who are A students in law schools, they are getting the jobs.

OSCAR:                      When you mean A students, you mean A students who are aware of the marketplace, are willing to adapt and embrace it and say, “I want to learn how to do this. You know, they hear the message. I think that’s great. We have come across lawyers who have done that as well. “I’m sorry. I’m waking up a little bit. I’m starting to see what’s out there.” It takes a while sometimes to get that message across and I think maybe sometimes they need to fail like the old model until they realize it’s time to catch on to the new.

KEITH:                       Yeah. I’m actually a big proponent of failure. I think failing is necessary in becoming a good lawyer. I don’t know any successful lawyer who has not faced adversity, who has not lost on a motion or hearing or they failed at something. Hopefully, you can be in a firm or you can have someone look at the things you do and your failures are internal, but there’s a reason they call being a lawyer a practice. You are not going to come out out of law school and hit the grounds running and be awesome. You are going to have to practice at it. You are going to encounter failures and you are going to encounter losses. Not to be down on the newest generation of law students, the millennial, the Gen Y, whatever you want to call it, but I feel as though a lot of them have been reared through this educational model of “There are no losers.” Everyone’s a winner. Everything is good, and suddenly, “Well actually, that’s what the practice of law is about. There’s a winner and a loser.”

OSCAR:                      Just about every time, just about every day.

SCOTT:                      I agree with you to a point but I also think like I think back to myself when I came out of law school. There were jobs. There were available jobs. I didn’t have to take that extra step and learn those extra things to become an entrepreneur. The students today, they have no choice. They have to look at it and they have to say, “If I want to be successful…” Someone came into the office last week. I practice special education law and criminal law and I was interviewing her. I had to explain to her what Special Education Law was. I was beside myself. We finished up in five minutes and that was it.

OSCAR:                      Why didn’t you research that before you came and spoke to you? I want to get back before we close up on one point that you raised. I want to ask you a question, Keith. You mentioned mentors and what would you advise somebody about how do you find a good mentor if you don’t have anyone in the family who is a lawyer or an uncle or someone like that? I think it’s important for young folks when they come out and if they are going to try to be with a small firm or solo, especially because of what you just said that you are going to lose and you may not have somebody in the firm and maybe on your own. So what advice do you give to those folks who don’t have anybody they can turn to about finding a mentor?

KEITH:                       Mentors are one of those really complicated scenarios that are hugely important if you actually want to be successful as a new lawyer. I’m trying to be concise but this is complicated. I feel that this is a super important point and I kind of want to dive into it a little bit. First off, a mentor is not a cheerleader. That is not their role. A mentor who only offers praise or encouragement is not a mentor. That’s your mom. A mentor’s entire purpose is to cultivate growth in their mentee. Growth is change. Growth is painful. Growth is a difficult thing to do. It’s not an easy thing to do. Step one is you need to understand the fact that if someone is going to be your mentor, they are not going to just give you just rainbows and ponies. They will be critical of you but then outside of that, the next step, just like you have been talking about you had to explain this, what special education is, to find a mentor and this is just the fact of the matter, you already need to be good.

SCOTT:                      Right. You can’t waste their time.

KEITH:                       Right, someone who’s willing to be a mentor is someone who’s already made it. They are successful in some situations and they look at being a mentor as sort of giving back as they probably had a mentor in their past. So they were a mentee and they want to pay it forward, but they don’t want to pay it forward to someone who’s useless.

SCOTT:                      Who is just sitting there waiting to be told what to do, that’s not what they are looking for.

KEITH:                       No. They are looking. They are like, “All right, you are already a diamond in the rough. We’re just going to polish you off or take off the rough edges.”

OSCAR:                      Right or give the right pointers here and there to help guide you, tell you where you’re going wrong and try to send you back out there to learn, adapt, and then come back and see how you’ve applied it.

KEITH:                       Right. So you’ve got to be conscious of the fact that they are going to give you critical advice. You’ve got to be good enough to actually begin it. I mean, for me, I think it’s one of those situations you need to give in order to get. I have people that I consider mentors in my career and me trying to develop that relationship with them was, I’m big on something I like to call it trust equity, like you build up equity in your house or people say they are sweat equity, put a lot of time into the thing. I like to think about building up relationship trust equity, meaning if they are someone I want to have that I feel as though that I want them to be someone I can seek advice from and receive information from and have them give me guidance, if I just contact them out of the blue and start asking, that’s offensive, honestly.

OSCAR:                      Yeah, right.

KEITH:                       Right. It’s on me because I’m the junior person in the relationship. I’m the lower person in the relationship. I need to add value first. So you do Special Education law and you’re someone I want to interact with. I need to be aware of the fact that you do Special Education law and then I need to be like, “Hey, I’m interested in this area of practice. I think it’s a good thing. Can I just take you out for coffee? No strings attached. Let’s just grab a cup of coffee.” We have a cup of coffee. We talk about your practice, done. Then over the course of the next few months, it’s on me to, I go on to Google, I develop an RSS feed, I research Special Education Law, I find articles that I think are relevant to the practice area, law review articles, general news articles, and I don’t bother you but on occasional interest of like, “Oh I saw this. I thought it might be relevant to you.” I give you a little synopsis and I shoot you an email and I let you know about it.

OSCAR:                      Right.” Did you catch this article or this recent decision?”

OSCAR:                      Exactly and I don’t ask for anything. All I’m doing is adding value to your life or I’m attempting to add value to your life. I’m trying to provide you information, provide you relevant items that can hopefully be relevant to your practice area. Over time, over the course of a few months, this is one of those long game things. There’s no quick fix for this and anyone saying like “Oh, I want to microwave solution to finding a mentor,” get out. You’re in the wrong job. I’m slowly going to develop this sort of relationship trust equity and only once I have built up enough trust equity can I begin to cash it out. It’s a delay thing. I can’t just approach you cold. I have to develop this equity and place first, and then I can be like, “Oh, if you have time next week, can we go out have a bite and I want to talk to you about an issue I’m having at work” or “Oh, I’m going to write an article on this practice area. I’ve got a rough draft together. Could we look it over?”

SCOTT:                      You have to put yourself out there. You have to give something. You can’t expect someone to just give you all their knowledge because you’re a good guy.

OSCAR:                      I think it’s important. We talk about that all the time with respect to networking as well as mentoring, which is the value has to go both ways. If you’re going to sit there and expect it, it’s going to come one way to you. That relationship is not going to last as long as you needed to last. For it to have meaning for you to change the way you practice, it needs to be a longer relationship because you don’t learn how to practice in a month or two months. So you need that mentor to be there to guide you through your early year or so, or even longer necessarily, and that’s not going to happen unless you’re giving something back to that person that makes them want to continue the relationship.

KEITH:                       Right, it has to be a two-way street. You have to be able to reach out and deliver some type of value to them because otherwise, you’re a drain on them.   I need to point out, I think most people would agree that when you interact with people, there is sort of a feeling after you interact with some people, you feel as though there’s this positive. There has been a growth. You feel amped up. It’s like, “I talked with him. It was good and I feel really great.” Sometimes you interact with people and you’re like, “Oh, it’s neutral.” Other times, you interact with people and you feel negative. You feel like it was a drain, exactly.

SCOTT:                      You go to networking events and speak to an insurance investment guys still?

OSCAR:                      Exactly.

KEITH:                       Yes. So you have to be cognizant of the fact that you can leave that impression on people and you just always going to leave that positive feeling. When people leave from interacting with you, you want to make sure that it feels as though that they have gotten something out of it. They have grown. They have become bigger. They are better or something has happened. One last sort of mentor thing that I want to touch on is in movies and popular fiction and everything, there’s the Obi Wan, there’s the Yoda, there’s the Morpheus in the Matrix. There’s this idea of the uber mentor who is horribly wrong.

SCOTT:                      Everything okay.

KEITH:                       Right, really what new attorneys should be trying o seek out is more of like an advisory group of mentors. You want to have multiple mentors from multiple areas because if you do that, you can have different perspectives, you cannot wear one mentor out like, “All right I have a question now. I have five people that I feel as though I have a mentoring relationship.” If you just ask person 1 again and again and again, they will be like, “Look kid, I’ve got no more time for you,” but if you have five people, you can start to cycle that through and you’re not bothering people and hopefully, they have different practice areas, and also honestly, they probably shouldn’t all be lawyers. You should probably try to find an MBA or someone from other, if you have a specific industry related practice, find someone in that industry to reach out and speak to. You can’t undervalue differing perspectives in terms of mentors.

OSCAR:                      Not just that, that’s another excellent point that you raised because the mentor could be somebody in the business area who could become a client. I don’t mean that person specifically. You want to work in restaurant and a lot of my firm’s work and employment law is with restaurants for example, so maybe mentor with someone who runs a successful restaurant or is some person in the business community in the area of law you may want to practice and learn what the client needs and what the client is looking for in a lawyer. In the couple of podcasts in the future, we will have clients on telling us what they look for in lawyers but that’s an excellent point. It doesn’t have to be a lawyer to help develop your practice. It could be an accountant, it could be an MBA, it could be someone who could be a prospective client in the field that you don’t want to go into, and spreading it out also means that you’re ready. You’re not bothering the same person each and every time you have a question, all good points.

SCOTT:                      Keith, we’d like to thank you for coming onto the podcast today. Would you like to tell the audience where they can reach you?

KEITH:                       Yeah, my home base is It’s probably, it has been around for about five years now. It’s probably the longest running professional development blog for new lawyers. You can probably find everything else I’m doing there. I also again write for as a column and I wrote a book a couple of years ago, the Marble and the Sculptor that we mentioned earlier and I should have a new book actually coming out, I think in March 2016 that I’m actually co-authoring with an MBA and we’re sort of translating the first year of business school for attorneys.

SCOTT:                      That’s great.

KEITH:                       Marketing, supply chain, efficiency management, advertising, all the sort of core concepts you get taught in the first year of business school. We’re trying to adapt and make available. If you’re coming right out of law school and you don’t know anything about business and you want to sort of get a primer on it, that’s what the book is going to be about.

SCOTT:                      That sounds very informative and very helpful.

OSCAR:                      We really appreciate you coming on and maybe we will have you back later on either when the book comes out or even before then as more issues come up that we think you can integrate voice to. We really appreciate the time, Keith.

KEITH:                       absolutely. Thank you for having me.

SCOTT:                      Thank you, Keith. Bye.

KEITH:                       Bye.

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

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