Networking is not a job search activity

networkingWhen you are looking for a new job, what’s the first piece of advice you get? Go network. Talk to everyone you trust to see who they know and how they could help you get an interview with someone who works at a place where you’d like to work.

The advice makes sense, but what you are being told to do is not really networking — it’s asking for favors from people you know. In that scenario, you have a predetermined goal (get a job at a certain firm or as in-house counsel, for example) and are looking to talk to people who can get you the job (or a lot closer to it, anyway). There is nothing wrong with doing that, but how successful you are will depend on whether you were doing real networking even when you weren’t looking for a job.

In this model of “networking for a job,” you are making a one-sided request that you are hoping someone will be willing to fulfill. You are not in the driver’s seat.

Networking, however, puts you in the driver’s seat of your career but only if you are doing it all of the time. Real networking is when you are reaching out to people to learn more about them and their needs and exploring ways in which you can people helpful to each other. Maybe not at that moment. Maybe not even that year. But eventually.

Being a successful networker — the kind who gets favors done for them whenever they need them– means helping others meet their goals and working on building relationships. It means that when someone you’d like to have in your list of contacts want to make a pitch to a company where your friend is a vice president, you make the introduction, even though there is nothing you wish to ask the person to do for you right now.

In order to be a good networker, you really need to remember that it’s not all about you. Rather, networking is about building long-term relationships that are a two-way street. In order to be in charge of your career, you have to be a giver in your professional relationships (even if what you are giving is a spot in a golf tournament that you can no longer use but know that the woman you met at last week’s trusts and estates seminar would love to play).

So, wherever you next meet a “person of interest,” give this a try. Make the conversation about them. Learn all you can, be of service where you can. Check in every so often. Don’t just add them to your Outlook contacts or link to them with LinkedIn but try to build a real relationship, and nurture it. Then when you need the relationship, it will be there and ready to work for you.

Deciding where to hang your shingle

Map of MarylandDon’t worry. I’m not going to start this post off with the old “Location, location, location” cliché.

I’m just going to try to give you an idea of what to expect after you make that initial decision to open up your own law office. Because that choice actually forces you to make a hundred or so more that will directly impact your career as a solo practitioner.

And while you may think that it would be more beneficial to spend your time trying to decide what type of law you want to focus on, how much of a caseload you are willing and able to handle or what kind of malpractice insurance you feel is appropriate and affordable, the fact is that choosing where you want to open your law practice often influences those other decisions and more.

For example, if you plan on practicing criminal law, it would be better to look for a location close to the local courthouse or jail so that you would have faster and easier access to your clients. Attorneys who spend most of their time handling estate planning should probably open their office in or near a large residential area — for mostly the same reasons. On the other hand, transactional attorneys who work with contracts don’t necessarily need the perks that come with proximity to clients, so they can look at other criteria when deciding where to set up shop.

In the same way, the location of your law office can partly determine how many cases you wind up handling. Hang out your shingle in downtown Baltimore and you are bound to get more walk-ins than someone who opens a law practice somewhere on the Eastern Shore. The key is deciding how much of a caseload you are willing to work. If you have other commitments that require your time, energy and attention, perhaps it would be better to find a location a little more out of the way. It can be very tempting to take on more clients than you are comfortable handling if they just keep walking in your door.

Finally, your choice of office location can impact various financial decisions as well, such as your choice of malpractice insurance and what bank you’ll use. These differences show up predominantly when looking at one state versus another instead of different localities within the same state, but the principle remains true. If you are licensed to practice law in two or more jurisdictions, wouldn’t it make sense to at least consider a state where the malpractice insurance is cheaper and the local banks are willing to give you better deals on your accounts, even if that may not have been your plan when you first made the choice to go solo?

If you are considering opening your own law practice, or if you have already made that decision and are just looking for “the perfect location”, what you need to do is consider all the aspects of being a solo practitioner, giving greater weight to those more important to you and less weight to the not-so-important ones and use those parameters to guide your thought process. Only then will you be able to truly make an informed decision on the matter.

I wish I could give you the street address of the perfect place to open a law office, but I can’t. No single spot is going to be good for every possible type of attorney. What I hope I’ve been able to do is point you down the path toward finding a location that’s best for you.

A vacation away from my iPhone

iPhoneTwo weeks ago, I left for a week-long vacation with the family to the Outer Banks. Before setting out on what should have been a six-hour car ride (which turned into a nine-and-a-half hour ordeal because of traffic and potty breaks for my two kids), I packed the car with what seemed like a majority of the contents of our house. Clothes, bikes, beach towels, beach toys, non-beach toys, chairs, games, food: we even invested in a rooftop carrier so we would be able to bring more things for our week-long trip.

The one thing that I did not pack on this trip, however, was my work iPhone.

A few months back, I wrote about camping and disconnecting from my work life. In the same vein, in the weeks leading up to my vacation, I began to seriously consider whether I should leave my iPhone at home during vacation. I still had my personal cell phone, which normally gathers dust on my night stand, but I would be without immediate access to information (both work and and from ESPN and CNN) as well as other guilty pleasures (Words with Friends, Facebook). I decided to take the plunge.

Here are a few qualifiers to my decision: first, my law firm is supportive of the idea of truly taking vacations without having to constantly check emails or work; second, we have a system in place that provides coverage for the attorney on vacation; three, I brought my laptop and iPad (for personal use, but I would be able to log on and work  if necessary); and fourth, if needed, I was available via my antiquated 3G Samsung Shine (which barely takes a decent picture and is good only for making or receiving calls).

Day One was mainly a travel day for us (again, two kids and I-95 traffic makes for a lot of driving), so I barely noticed the absence of my digital leash, aside from the absence of my ability to text. On Sunday and Monday, however, I felt some pangs of withdrawal. Was something going on at the office that I should now about? Did Client X respond to my email from the previous week regarding discovery responses? Did an earthquake or wild fire ravage my office in Towson? I had to work on comforting myself with the fact that I had proper coverage at the office and, in the event of a fire at the office, I would certainly be on the list of people that would get an update.

By Tuesday and Wednesday, I enjoyed the fact that I was no longer attached. Instead of checking my work email and then checking the score of the game, constantly updating my Facebook status or playing Words with Friends, I put Legos together with my oldest son, fed the turtles at the pond with my youngest and learned to play Settlers of Catan (which is a pretty awesome game, though the instructions are in excess of 10 pages and I had to watch the informative video on the Internet). We rode bikes, swam at the pool and built sandcastles of differing shapes and variety.

In other words, my vacation was a vacation.

And when I returned home, my office was still standing and how I left it and, while I am sure I was missed by my office mates, everyone managed without me for a week. I spent Sunday evening sifting through emails and other filings that had come to the office while I was gone. On Monday, while I still wished I was sitting by the pool with a cold cocktail, I felt like I actually had gotten a vacation and I was able to get back to the grind.

And while my vacation now seems like a distant memory, I can still remember when work felt the same way. And it was nice.

On staying organized

highlightingOne of my biggest challenges at work is just staying organized.

Since I am still in the newbie phase at my new job, I am still in the process of developing some semblance of an organizational system. I feel like it is easy at first to organize yourself in a new job, especially when you go in with the best of intentions to stay organized. (I had big plans to stay on top of things). But once things start to get going, it can be more difficult to keep up with the organizational system you originally had planned.

I am not the person who did color-coded highlighting in law school. For me, my focus (to the extent that I can stay focused) has been on the task at hand and then I let everything else besides that task kind of just be what it will be until I’m done. While this works sometimes and can be good in a pinch when I really need to get something done, it can also leave me disorganized.

Part of the battle is just determining what organizational system will work best. It all depends upon your office and your work habits. I’ve found that I don’t need to do color coding or make labels but I do need to have some sort of method to the madness. Even a non-system system helps, as long as I have a decent idea of where things are and can communicate to my coworkers that things are good.

One thing that I’ve started to do (and am really, really going to try to keep up) is taking a few minutes each day, whether between tasks or when I’m having trouble on a project, to organize myself. It’s made life a lot easier so far, and helps me feel less stressed. (It also really helps with keeping track of time for the dreaded timesheets.)

There’s a lot of benefits to staying organized, such as helping you concentrate and reduce stress. It can even help if you have to suddenly take a day off.

In theory, being organized can help prevent those unnecessary calls from the office on your precious days off. It is so much easier for co-workers to figure out questions they would have asked you if you were in the office if you are organized. It also makes it easier for them to pick up the slack if need be while you’re gone.

Do you take time every day to organize yourself, or is it a challenge for you, too?

Be bold in your job search

being boldIn my last post, I wrote about the importance of always keeping your eyes peeled for a new job opportunity. The chance to advance is never something you should let slip by, so as a follow-up I thought it’d be good to discuss how exactly to make it known that you are looking and what to do when something you want unexpectedly presents itself.

First off, it is always easier to get a job when you have a job. This is a painful reality when you find yourself out of work, because it seems that you are always a little out of place at networking events and other professional gatherings. The fact is, if you have a job, you can begin conversations with “I work with so-and-so, on this and that issue.” Odds are someone within earshot will have a connection and you can go from there.

It’s a little harder when you’re out of work and have been spending all day, every day writing cover letters and sending out resumes. You end up talking to yourself and the dog all day, so when you make it out to events, all you can do is speak in the bullet-points on your resume. On the other hand, if you are not currently working, I would suggest finding an organization with which to do some volunteer work. Then, instead of “anyone hiring?”, you can begin conversations with “I’ve been doing some work with a great organization in Baltimore” and odds are someone within earshot will have a connection. Plus, your ability to get out there and “do,” despite being out of work, will resonate with people. They’ll be more likely to recommend you should they know of an available position.

When a position does come to your attention, it’s important to be bold! I recently read that a new firm opened involving a person I had lunch with a month earlier. So, with a little prodding from my boss to go big or go home, I shot off a text – “Wow, congratulations! Make sure you send me your new email… and a job offer.” He knew what I was looking for, no reason to beat around the bush. And although I didn’t get a job offer, a “Thanks! Let’s get coffee” was just fine.

The other necessity when you see an available job, and I can’t stress this enough, is to immediately activate your network. When I apply for a job, I cross-reference the people in the office with my LinkedIn to see if anyone has a connection. If I see that someone I worked with in the past knows someone in the office where I am applying, I shoot off an email. Most of the time, a connection can be made quite easily. By doing this, I’m also keeping myself on my connection’s radar and they’ll think of me when they see something.

It’s all about keeping yourself out there. If you’ve done great work for people in the past, they will usually be happy to recommend you for a position – if they know you’re looking and if you remind them.

From 0 to 60 in Annapolis

Annapolis State HouseI had intended to write a post later this year addressing the nature of the interim between legislative sessions in Annapolis later but recent events have prompted me to advance my timetable.

Unlike their full-time, federal counterparts on Capitol Hill, most state legislatures act in a part-time capacity. Maryland politicians, for example, meet for a 90-day legislative session at the start of every calendar year and split the rest of their time between their district offices and their “day jobs.”

This, of course, presents the staffers who work year-round in Annapolis with a heavily imbalanced workload. In a previous post, I compared the workload of a 90-day legislative session in Annapolis to studying for the bar exam. On the flip side, working in Annapolis during the interim can be more like that three-month waiting period before finding out if you passed.

The key is understanding that all of that can (and often does) change in a split second.

Take last summer, for example. When the 2012 session ended without resolving the issue of expanded gambling in Maryland, most political insiders expected Governor Martin O’Malley to call a special session at some point. The only question was, “When?” As a result, much of June and July was spent in a sort of holding pattern, avoiding any substantial projects for fear of simply having to shelve them when table games came a-callin’.

All that waiting culminated in a whirlwind, four-day special legislative session in which bill drafters had to craft and amend a 70-page bill, committee staffs had to organize whole hearings on just a couple days’ notice and my fellow staffers and I had to make sure our legislators understood exactly what was in the bill.

And as quickly as that special session arrived, it was gone in a flash. While the gambling bill led to a ballot question that necessitated additional work, it all derived from the work that the legislators and their staffs performed those four days last August.

This example is far from the only reason you might get whiplash from working in Annapolis. One of the biggest disappointments of the 2013 legislative session was, for many, the failure to work out a legislative compromise to resolve the issue of dog-attack liability in Maryland put in flux by a controversial Court of Appeals decision last year. This despite multiple meetings of a joint task force in the summer of 2012 that tried to hammer out all the details before all 188 state legislators came back to Annapolis in January. And for the staffers involved, it could not have been easy to gear up from the relative quiet of interim to a full-speed, session-style hearing like that.

Of course, this being politics, not all of the workload shifts result from legislative actions. In the past few months alone, I have seen a far-reaching prison scandal threaten to tarnish or even take down high-ranking officials; I have seen numerous legislators announce their plans to seek higher office; and I have seen almost as many announce their retirements from the political arena altogether.

These are the things you need to be prepared for should you pursue a legislative career in Annapolis. These are the realities of life. Yes, when the General Assembly is out of session, it’s not nearly as demanding a workload; however, if you’re unable to accelerate to session speed in an Annapolis second, you’re just going to get left in the dust.