Leadership: sometimes the opposite of dithering

If you have to force a decision, should it be made? (Props to Judy B. Margolis, MA, for posing this question on linkedin).

Look at your staff. Some are hard-chargers who will go off any cliff with or without a guardrail. Others are so timid that they look both ways before they cross the hall.

If you always wait for them to come to an agreement, your organization out of your control, and may be sliding gently toward disaster. Decisions have to be made so that work can be done. The courage to make decisions is part of leadership.

Sometimes leadership is the opposite of dithering.

Pass the Baton works with managers to teach techniques that capture mission-critical information which can be shared with current and future employees to enhance performance and productivity.

Contact Susan Gainen at susan@passthebaton.biz.

Manager's Memo 2: Your best consultants are on your staff

Unless your organization is in start-up mode, you have processes that can be streamlined, improved or eliminated. It is time to enlist your best consultants: your staff.

Every employee has opinions about how his own job should be organized, and, if asked correctly, he will share his thoughts on how the entire organization ought to function. Managers who are reluctant to engage staff at all levels are wasting precious resources. For example,

  • The person who has answered the phone for 20 years knows more about the business and the customers than most managers.
  • The warehouse and delivery staff can almost always make suggestions for efficiencies.
  • Secretaries and administrative assistants share ideas among themselves that they would never share with their supervisors.
  • Everyone who performs a task that has been unchanged for 10 years probably has ideas about streamlining the process.
  • Tech-savvy staff will be delighted to suggest ways to integrate technology to save both time and money.

Ignoring "why do we do this?" or "why can't we do this?" or "why can't we sell that?" leaves good ideas (and money) on the table.

While there may be good reasons to spend thousands of dollars on outside consultants, you may miss the time and money-saving ideas that your staff could contribute for the cost of a few pizzas and your genuine interest in their opinions.

Pass the Baton works with managers to teach techniques that capture mission-critical information which can be shared with employees in ways that enhance productivity and performance.

This is part of a series of PTB Managers' Memos.

Susan Gainen is a new Lawyerist Blogger, First Post -- Alternative Careers

I am a new blogger at Lawyerist: The Lawyering Survival Guide, which offers terrific advice about lawyering skills, marketing, practice management, technology, law school, and starting a law practice. Lawyerist also has links and posts about careers and ethics that illuminate real-world problems.

Although a lot of Lawyerist info is targeted to small and solo practices, as you know, the entrepreneurial skills that make a successful solo practice are the same skills that make or break a career in any other setting.

My first post is on Alternative Careers.

PTB Manager's Memo: Will your business be ready when the economy turns around?

With job satisfaction at its lowest level in two decades and an impending wave of Boomer retirements, capturing the mission-critical information that your employees use in your business everyday should be at the top of your task list.

In a bad economy, managers may sit tight, mind the store, make no hires, build no plants, and launch no products. While everyone else is holding their collective breath, you should be using creative and non-threatening techniques to preserve and improve the information that makes your business work. Sharing this knowledge with your entire staff can enhance productivity and performance. By engaging your staff, you may be able to change their jobs in ways that they find engaging, which may prevent inconvenient departures.

Pass the Baton works with managers to teach techniques that capture mission-critical information which can be shared with employees in ways that enhance productivity and performance.

This is part of a series of Pass the Baton Manager’s Memos.

Value transferable skills for the non-legal market: Step 5 in an alternative career search

Having identified the job that you want, do not be discouraged to find that other people have trained for it. You can explain and enhance your value to an employer by showing what you know about the job, the business, and the industry, and by putting your legal skills in context for non-lawyers. 

One benefit for lawyers seeking non-legal positions is that they are often posted with a lengthy job description. Unlike 2nd year associate sought for busy family law practice, job descriptions for non-lawyers contain specific information and smart candidates use every word in a job description in their resumes and cover letters.

Some of the language you might find: advising/counseling, analyzing (events, data, people,risk), anticipating/estimating, applying theory, appraising, assessing, compiling/gathering (information),comprehending technical material, Conceptualizing, Connecting, Coordinating/arranging (events), delegating, designing, editing, evaluating, examining, exercising good judgment, explaining, group facilitating, handling complaints, imagining, interviewing (to obtain information), listening, mediating, meeting deadlines, motivating others, negotiation, organizing/coordinating, persuading/promoting/selling, planning/scheduling, predicting/forecasting, prioritizing, programming, public speaking, resolving conflicts, reviewing, supervising, teaching/training, theorizing, translating, working effectively and calmly under pressure, and writing.

To connect your skills to job description language, identify:

People with whom you interact: Who are they and what are the relationships based on?;
Institutions with which you work: Who are your contacts and what do you do with and for them?
Tasks you do: What do you actually do? What documents do you create? What meetings do you attend or conduct?
Problems you solve: What kind of problems do you solve? What skills do you use to solve them?

Look carefully at the work that you do and to translate it into language that will be understandable to non-lawyers and that will relate to the job descriptions for your target positions.

For example, a busy litigator works with individuals, clients, co-workers, co-counsel, opposing counsel, court personnel, other professionals (medical, criminal, insurance agents, bankers, etc.). She interacts with institutions including courts, banks, and insurance companies, federal, state and local regulatory agencies. For any of these she identifies problems by creating a complete narrative drawn from a variety of sources; creates strategic and practical solutions; organizes large amounts of information; serves as project manager; participates as an effective team member; provides effective oral and written communication lawyers and non-lawyers; acts independently; deals with unexpected problems; and uses technology effectively and efficiently.

To recap, a search for an alternative career has five parts: self-assessment, research, purposeful and serendipitous networking, patience, and an articulated set of transferable skills. 

You are not alone and you are not the first person to consider changing careers.

Get started and good luck!

Patience: shifting careers is not a "ramen noodles" quick fix: Step 4 in an alternative career search

Expect a barbecue-like long and slow process, not a ramen noodles quick-fix career shift because of three unalterable truths:

1. There is no Alternative Careers Monster Board
because an alternative career for a lawyer is a traditional career for someone else. Busy recruiters go to traditional sources: schools that give the training, professional organizations that post jobs for their members, linkedin groups, and lists targeted to specific professionals
2. Alternative career employers do not recruit at law schools because of yield. Finding an entry-level marketing manager at a law school every five years inefficient and cost-prohibitive, especially when compared the ease of recruiting a group of them at a business school every year.
3. Regardless of your legal credentials, you have to persuade an employer to consider you as an individual candidate. Being the only law-trained person in a group of candidates has advantages (you stand out) and disadvantages (lacking the assumption that your credentials give you in a search for a lawyer, you have to demonstrate why you are a good candidate for the position).

Finding an alternative career path is the polar opposite of a successful campus interview search.


Create a traditional legal resume
Upload or email the resume to the employer
Schedule an interview
Interview well (without knowing much about the employer)
Finesse the callback (knowing slightly more about the employer)
Accept the offer


Complete self-assessment tasks to begin to hone in on an alternative career path
Research to identify target industries and employers
Network to gain some information that will make you a good interviewee
Understand the employer’s hiring process
Identify the employer’s ideal candidate’s credentials and skills
Tailor your resume and cover letter to the employers’ problems and issues
Finesse the interview(s) by explaining why you and your training, experience and perspective make you the right hire

This takes time. Be patient. Be persistent. Be creative.

Tomorrow: Value transferable skills for the non-lawyer market: Step 5 in an alternative career search

Purposeful and serendipitous networking: Step 3 in an alternative career search

Combining research and smart networking to learn about potential career paths can create powerful momentum.

Purposeful (in person): After you know a little bit about an industry and have your four questions (Step 2) in hand, go to a professional meeting. Introduce yourself as someone who is curious about the business and interested in finding a way to harness your legal training and experience in a new and creative way. There will be a continuum in your greeting from those who are deeply suspicious of lawyers to enthusiastic embrace by formerly practicing lawyers who will welcome you onto their path.

Recall the networking skills that you have used as a student and as a lawyer. Be consistent, be persistent and keep track of who you talk with and what you learn. When you are referred to someone, be sure to thank the person who sent you.

Best opening line: I have read a lot about X and I have some questions for you.

Worst opening line:
Tell me everything you know about X.

Purposeful (electronic): This is the 21st century, and myfacebookspace.com/linkedin@twitter is at your fingertips. Use (don’t abuse) these tools to connect with the people, the businesses, and the industries that are your targets.

Kimm Walton and every career services professional has dozens (hundreds) of stories about serendipitous networking. Everyone knows someone who found a job through her hairdresser’s husband, from the guy at the next treadmill at the gym, and from the person who sat next to his family at Vikings games for decades. The connecting thread is that everyone who thanks serendipity for employment is really passing the buck. They got their jobs because they spoke up. They talked about their job searches. They didn’t keep secrets.

Mind-reading and telepathy are lounge acts in Las Vegas. Telling your story to friends, relatives and perfect strangers enlists Serendipity – a random but real job search tool.

Tomorrow: Patience: Not-a-ramen-noodles schedule for alternative career shift (Step 4)

Research: Step 2 in an alternative career search

There are three key research tasks: (1) define your terms; (2) learn about other jobs; and (3) explore the information you have gathered.

Research Task 1: Define traditional, non-traditional, and true alternative legal careers.

Traditional: Traditional legal careers require a JD and bar membership, and are often titled lawyer,attorney or counsel. Post-JD judicial clerks are in this category.

In a non-traditional career, a JD may be desired but not required. Often careful reading of a job description appears to require legal training or years of experience in the job as a substitute.

For example, a posting for an HR Director made no mention of JD, but it included this: Specialized training in employment law, compensation, organizational planning, organization development, employee relations, safety, training, and preventive labor relations, preferred. While these requirements sound legal, candidates with degrees in human resources development, personnel, industrial relations and labor relations can have this experience.

Some typical non-traditional career paths for lawyers are:

Academic administration
Bar Association management
Board of Education staff
City Manager
CLE administrator
Compensation consulting
Contracts administration
Court TV or on-air reporter
Dependent care consultant
Development director
Environmental consultant
Financial planner
Forensic accounting
Headhunter for lawyers
Health care administration
Human resources
Jury selection consultant
Law firm marketing
Law librarian
Legal publishing
Litigation support manager
Non-profit executive director
Risk management administrator

True Alternative Career: I distinguish non-traditional and true alternative careers in lectures and coaching because a true alternative career is intensely personal and tailored by chance or by design for a specific individual. Never be surprised to hear that vision, commitment, sacrifice, and luck brought a law-trained person into a job that was (a) not posted, (b) had no JD in the requirements, and (c) was a fulfillment of a life-long dream.

Research Task 2: Learn about other jobs. If the last time you thought critically about a career path was in high school and you are unsure where to begin, go back to your undergraduate career services office. One of your key questions is what do people do all day? Those professionals are used to working with candidates whose eyes are wide open and who are eager for information.

As you begin to process this information, combining your legal work experience and answers to some of the self-assessment questions (Step 1), should help you eliminate a lot of paths out of hand.

Research Task 3: What kind of research? Google is your friend. Follow relevant news. Find websites for professional organizations. Follow relevant topics on linkedin. Join linkedin groups. Every professional and business imaginable has a cadre of bloggers and twitterers. Find them. Follow them. Learn from them. Check for professionals in the news. Read carefully and critically.

STOP. Do not attempt to contact a live person until you are sure that you can ask four intelligent questions about the work.

Tomorrow: Purposeful and serendipitous networking for alternative careers (Step 3)

Self-Assessment: Step 1 in an alternative career search

You, and only you, can decide what you want to do with your life. The minute you decide that you are ready for a change, you will ask Where are the jobs?

STOP. Self-assessment is the most important part of a search and it is the step that people want to skip. Why? Without knowing where you are going, you will put the cart before the horse. When you don’t know what you want, you can pass up what could have been a great opportunity.

Career development can be encapsulated into the three questions below. Answering them will keep you from ever skipping assessment.

1. What kind of problem solver am I?

Do I like numbers? Do I hate numbers? Do I work well in a group? Do I want to work in a room all by myself? Do I want to be the leader of the band? Would I die if I were the leader of the band? Am I a big picture person? Do I love to dwell in the details?

The Problem Solver question leads you to traditional self-assessment tools (Myers-Briggs (and its clones), Strong-Campbell) and lists of questions to ponder in some good articles, including Find Satisfaction in the Law (Mark Byers and Ron Fox), Launching your career with self-assessment tools (Kathy Brady), and Self Assessment Questions (Harvard Law School Bernard Koteen Center for Public Interest Advising).

While none of these tools or questions will tell you to be a fireman or a teacher, they force you to think about your preferences, personal style, and relationship to work

2. What kind of problem do I want to solve?
This question moves you closer to a job search, but forces you to consider your skills and interests. What issues and problems do you want to deal with all day long? Where do you want to sit at the problem-solving table?

For example, in the Problem of Crime, the traditional seats for lawyers are as prosecutors, public defenders, and judges. If your interest is crime but you don’t care for a traditional seat, consider parole and probation, jury consulting, court reporting, court administration, legislative drafting, policy analysis, forensic accounting, arson investigation, counter-terrorism analysis, emergency management analyst, fraud investigation, loss prevention consulting, substance abuse counseling, rape crisis center management, victim-witness services, social work, family support services for incarcerated people or for crime victims, or law enforcement (local, state, federal, international).

Just as there is rarely one solution to any problem, there are multiple career paths that you can take to solve the problems that are meaningful to you. Some of those paths may require additional training which will require time, money, and sacrifice. The choice is yours.

3. Who can pay me to solve the problem? This is the money question. Where are the jobs? Knowing that there is no Job Monster Alternative Legal Careers Board gets you back to the research that will need to do on your target career. Wherever there are professional organizations, there are job postings. By noting the authors in the literature and reaching out, you can connect yourself to the Big Thinkers in the industry who are likely to have some useful insight into employment possibilities. In the 21st century, you have access to myfacebookspace.com/linkedin@twitter. Find your people and follow them.

Once you begin to address these three questions, you will have taken some serious steps toward your alternative career.

Tomorrow: Smart research for alternative careers (Step 2)

Feeling trapped? 5 steps toward an alternative career

Happy New Year? Is an alternative career in the cards for you in 2010? If just one of the following is buzzing in your brain, you may be ready begin the 5 Steps Toward an Alternative Career:

I knew when I came to law school that I did not want to practice law.
I am a 1L/2L/3L/4L.
I have never worked and now I want an alternative career.
I am graduating and I want an alternative career.
There are no jobs, and I want an alternative career.
I have been practicing for (1 week to 20 years) and I want an alternative career.
I hate (private/corporate/public interest/government) practice.
I hate my job.
Writing makes me crazy.
Deadlines drive me nuts.
I hate being around lawyers.
I hated moot court and do not want to litigate.
Law practice is not fun (anymore).
I hate arguing over nothing.
I hate my life.

Beginning an alternative career search is easy
: announce it to your friends, family, and trusted co-workers. Trusted is the key word. Outward signs of unhappiness can give your employer the chance to let you conduct a full-time alternative career search.

Making a search work is complicated. It is deeply individual and personal to you. There is no magic bullet or on campus interview. What is alternative for a lawyer is someone traditional for someone else, so there is no Job Monster Board for Alternative Legal Careers.

You are not alone, and there are resources for you. Among them are Deborah Aaron’s What Can You Do With A Law Degree?, George Cain’s Turning Points – New Paths and Second Careers for Lawyers, (especially good for very experienced lawyers), and the alternative career materials on the NALP website. Your undergrad and law school career offices, alumni office, professional associations, and the connections you build through social networking sites will be important resources throughout your search.

The Five Steps in an Alternative Career Search are below, and I will address them more completely in future postings:

Self-assessment. You, and only you, can decide what you really want to do with your life. Connect to basic assessment tools through your law school or undergraduate career office. Be prepared to look at every part of your life including your personality, skills, interests and financial position. If your family and friends are invested financially or psychologically in your legal career, be prepared to campaign for their support for a major change.

Research. What do other people do all day? As a lawyer, you read, write, talk on the phone, and go to meetings. When was the last time you considered another career? Because the only lawyers who understand what non-lawyers do are in Workers Comp practices, you may need to combine the broad perspective of an undergrad career office with the nuanced legal alternative career information in your law school career office. You will also have to use your technical research skills on this project.

Purposeful and serendipitous networking. Combining research and networking to learn about potential career paths can create powerful momentum. Best opening line: I have read a lot about X and I have some questions for you. Worst opening line: Tell me everything you know about X.

Patience. Expect a barbecue-like long and slow process, not a ramen noodles quick-fix career shift. Expecting a rapid and dramatic career shift is magical thinking.

Value transferable skills for the non-lawyer market.
Having identified the job that you want, do not be discouraged when the applicant pool is full of people with the precise credentials and experience listed in the job posting. A successful alternative career candidate can connect legal skills and experience to the new job by describing his work in terms that make sense to a non-legal employer and that show legal training as a value-added bonus.

January 7: Step 1: Self-assessment for alternative careers
January 8: Step 2: Smart research for alternative careers
January 11: Step 3: Purposeful and serendipitous networking for alternative careers
January 12: Step 4: Patience -- A barbecue-not-ramen-noodles schedule for an alternative career shift
January 13: Step 5: Value your transferable skills for the non-legal market

Watch your law school or bar association's calendar for Susan Gainen's Alternative Careers: Getting to There.