Trial & Error: How lawyers can leverage LinkedIn (part 2)

In my last column, I suggested a few ways that lawyers can use LinkedIn to enhance their professional band. But all of that effort will go to waste if you don’t start with a strong profile. So here are six simple tips for building and managing a stellar LinkedIn page:

  1. Write your summary in the first person
    When people visit your profile, this is probably the only thing they’ll read. So take some time to write a punchy, 30-second snapshot of who you are professionally. And to make it more personal and authentic, write it in the first person.
  2. Include your contact information
    You might have concerns about privacy, but LinkedIn is only helpful if connections can actually contact you — and the LinkedIn messenger service is not user-friendly. I find it helpful to include my email on my profile. (Plus, my work email is Google-able anyway.)
  3. Accept most invitations to connect
    But don’t blindly accept every request. At worst, you’ll be spammed and, at best, you’ll have an unwieldy and impersonal network. As a general rule, filter out people you’ve never met, unless they send you a message explaining why they want to get in touch.
  4. Post updates regularly
    Even if you’re just commenting on a piece of legal news, posting often will keep you top-of-mind within your network and enhance your professional brand. I also use Hootsuite, which lets me manage both my LinkedIn profile and my Twitter feed at once.
  5. Be cautious about endorsements
    It’s flattering to receive endorsements from other users — and they are the mark of a strong profile — but be wary if someone endorses you for a skill you don’t possess. It both muddies your professional brand and it can mislead potential clients.
  6. Use groups sparingly
    In theory, groups should help you meet new people in your field, discuss the latest trends and learn about cool events. But in my experience, most groups are more annoying than helpful. Be thoughtful about which groups you join or you might be overwhelmed with spam. I prefer to join closed groups with moderators who are selective about who can become a member. Feel free to join and exit groups until you find a few that work for you.

Happy linking!

Atrisha Lewis is a second-year associate in McCarthy Tétrault’s litigation group. Follow her on Twitter: @atrishalewis


Trial & Error: How to take a vacation like a boss

When I started as an associate, I’d just returned from a relaxing three-month backpacking trip across Europe and Asia. After a busy articling year, I needed to take time to travel so I could clear my mind before entering the next exciting chapter of my career.

Being an avid traveler, I couldn’t wait to plan my next adventure, but I wasn’t yet versed on vacation etiquette. So I asked lawyers across an array of practice groups and firms if there’s an ideal time or length for a vacation. Here, I’ve compiled some helpful best practices.

When to take a vacation

On this point, I heard a range of opinions. “I didn’t feel comfortable taking any vacation in my first year of practice,” one lawyer told me. Others said: “It’s taboo for juniors to take time off during March break or in August” and “you can only take one month off at time if it’s your honeymoon.”

Despite these comments, most lawyers I spoke to said life — not gossip — should dictate your vacation strategy. Be open and honest with everyone you work with. Doing so will allow you to find the best time to step away from the office for some much deserved R&R.

How to really enjoy your time off

With that reassuring tidbit, I planned my first vacation: to visit my sister in France during her spring break in April. While it’s often tough to step away from your workload, here are five tips I gleaned from my peers:

  • Announce it from the rooftop. With so much on the go, it’s difficult to track your colleagues’ schedules. I repeatedly reminded co-workers that I’d be out of the office and unavailable. The week before my vacation, I added a line to all emails I sent to say: “Please note, I will be on vacation out of the country from X date to Y date.”
  • Book buffer days. Even though I only left the country for eight days, I booked a buffer day on both ends of the trip that I could use to tie up any loose ends and deal with issues that erupted on my return. Only my assistant knew I was in the country during the buffer days, which allowed me to focus on what needed to get done before and after my trip.
  • One hour a day. While this tip is a matter of preference, I found it helpful to spend up to — and no more than — one hour a day to comb through my emails. This small step gave me peace-of-mind and made my return a lot less daunting.
  • Have a backup. During my vacation, I left a major file behind. So it helped to have another associate on the ground to assist with the file while I was away. My backup was a trusted colleague and she really allowed me to enjoy my vacation. Bonus points for a backup who scolds you for checking in while you’re away.
  • #urgent. Set up an email filter. I haven’t done this before, but I’ve seen it used by other lawyers. For instance, a litigation partner at my firm tells everyone he is working with to add “#urgent” to the subject line of any email that requires his immediate attention. Then, he uses an email filter to route those emails to his phone. This ensures he only reviews emails which are truly urgent.

Having returned from my vacation, I am convinced more than ever that they are vital to finding success in your career. Indeed, in her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg points out that people who quit their jobs because they’re exhausted often have a significant number of unused vacation days. I know it might seem difficult in the short term, but going on vacation is necessary for long-term success. 

Atrisha Lewis is a first-year associate in McCarthy Tétrault’s litigation group. Follow her on Twitter: @atrishalewis

Photo: Moyan Brenn

Trial & Error: How to build your personal brand within your firm

As a junior associate, you want to develop your practice area by working on files you’re interested in. But to get those files, you have to make yourself known as the woman (or man) for the job. If your colleagues don’t know your skills and interests, why would they bother to staff you on a file? To build your brand, you just need to build your colleagues’ awareness of who you are and where your interests lie.

Building your profile involves two basic steps: general profile-building, and targeted profile-building. Here are some examples:

1. General profile-building

If your profile needs a boost, consider these simple tactics:

  • Make the most of your elevator rides. Time in an elevator is a great opportunity to get to know someone who likely has your undivided attention for the next two minutes. As a general rule, I try to introduce myself to any colleague I haven’t met. That can be as simple as: “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Atrisha Lewis, an associate in the litigation group.” It’s a great way to break the elevator silence, meet new people and become a familiar face around the firm.
  • Get involved in student recruitment. It’s actually fun, and it’s also a great way of familiarizing yourself with your colleagues, particularly if you’re at a large firm.
  • Attend the firm’s social events. This will help you connect with lawyers from different practice groups and years of call. To make the most of these events, I make it my goal to talk to at least one new person at each event so that I expand my internal network.

2. Targeted profile-building

Being a recognized name and face at your firm isn’t enough. You have to associate your name with the work you’re interested in — this is how you create your personal brand. I’m interested in mining litigation, so my goal was to ensure that my colleagues know. 

Here are some ways to stay top-of-mind with the right people:

  • Join an industry group and share your experiences. I joined Women in Mining, and when something noteworthy comes up during a networking event, I’ll share it with the mining litigation team in a short email.
  • Offer to help with major events in your desired area of practice. The Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference is the biggest mining event in Canada. I knew it was important to mining litigators, so I proactively asked the lawyers if they needed help preparing for the conference.
  • Offer to cowrite articles. A great way to build your profile is to approach a senior lawyer in your desired field and ask to co-write an article with them. Chances are, they will take you up on your offer. This is a great way to develop your expertise and build relationships.
  • Stay on top of industry trends. I follow mining news and cases and often forward new developments along to lawyers who practice in that space. This is a simple way to build your knowledge of the industry and stay top-of-mind with the right people.

Building your brand is a long and difficult process. It takes years to become an expert in your field. That’s why taking small, frequent steps towards your goal will help you move forward. If you have any other strategies for building your internal brand, send ’em on over

How to survive a law firm meltdown

Major law firms rarely self-destruct, but as the fall of Heenan Blaikie LLP shows, it’s worth considering how a lawyer in such a situation can best respond — especially if they find themselves out of a job.

Precedent spoke to Lianne Krakauer, a career consultant and former assistant dean of career services at the University of Toronto’s faculty of law, who offers these three tips for staying afloat when the ship goes down.

1. Acknowledge that losing a workplace is like any other kind of loss

The collapse of a law firm, or any other workplace, also means the collapse of a community of meaningful relationships, says Krakauer, adding that the emotions people experience are comparable to those they experience when they lose a loved one or go through a divorce. That’s not to say these life events are the same, but, says Krakauer, “it’s important not to minimize a job loss as a routine event in your life. It’s okay to have an emotional reaction.”

She says people should take time to process, on an emotional level, what has happened, which could include talking to a therapist, friends or family for support.

2. Don’t obsess over rumours about what caused the meltdown

People, especially in a close-knit profession, will naturally be curious, says Krakauer.

“In order to move forward, however, you should focus on the positive aspects of your time at the firm,” she explains.  “Think about what made it a great place to work. A lot of people probably chose the firm for really good, positive reasons. Try to remember what you learned and contributed, rather than dwelling on the unfortunate events of the final month or so.” 

3. Have an open mind about the future

Most lawyers, according to Krakauer, are more risk-averse than other professionals when it comes to their careers.

“This can make it especially difficult for a group of people who thought they’d joined a firm for life, and suddenly the rug is pulled out from under them,” she says. “It’s going to be a lot harder for a risk-averse lawyer to jump back into the job search and find something else to be passionate about.”

And therein lies the problem, she says, especially for people who struggle to find a new job immediately after the collapse. “People who are open to risks and being experimental are more likely to find things they enjoy and land somewhere they want to be.”

“It’s not an easy task,” she admits. “You didn’t have a choice about this happening, and that’s hard. And I totally acknowledge that. But now you do have some choices, including networking, calling friends in the industry, and thinking outside the box about where you might be able to find a new job.”

Photo: Steve Snodgrass

In-house counsel guide: From GC to CEO

Gregory Blatt
CEO of IAC/InterActive Corp. (2010–present)
Blatt spent six years as general counsel at the U.S. Internet conglomerate (whose businesses include The Daily Beast and College Humor) before succeeding IAC founder Barry Diller.

Kenneth Frazier
CEO of Merck and Co. (2011–present)
The Harvard Law grad spent 35 years working with U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck, first as external counsel and eventually as GC in 1999. Five years later, the company pulled its arthritis drug Vioxx, which was found to increase heart attack and stroke rates.

Kathleen Taylor
CEO of Four Seasons Hotels (2010–2012)
Taylor joined the hotel chain’s in-house department in 1989, became general counsel three years later and was chosen by founder Issy Sharp to succeed him as CEO. She was just named chair of RBC, the first woman to lead the board of a Big Five bank in Canada.

Anne Giardini
President of Weyerhaeuser Co.’s Canadian subsidiary (2008–present)
Giardini joined the lumber giant in 1994 and was named general counsel and vice-president 12 years later.

Timothy Mayopoulos
CEO of Fannie Mae (2012–present)
Mayopoulos became general counsel of the mortgage behemoth in 2009, shortly after it was taken over by the U.S. government in the wake of the housing collapse.

Don Schroeder
CEO of Tim Hortons (2008–2011)
Schroeder started off representing Tim’s franchisees back in the 1970s and eventually became one himself before joining head office, later making his way up to GC.

Pro tip

Wooded ladder“There’s a tendency for a person with legal training to provide advice that is very conservative. If there’s a crisis, they’ll say, ‘Don’t say anything.’ That might be good legal advice, but it might be bad business advice. If you restrict yourself to legal advice in the purest sense, you’ll be limiting your ability to contribute to the broader business issues.”
– Hugh Arnold, academic director of the Business Leadership Program for In-House Counsel at Rotman School of Management.


This story is part of our in-depth guide to in-house counsel.

In-house counsel guide: How to make it to the top

Precedent: What prompted you to go in-house? Jacqueline Moss at CIBC
I was an associate at Blakes and had been seconded to the CIBC legal department for six months. After that, I became partner and I started to do a lot of deals for CIBC. I was then asked by Mike Capatides, chief administrative officer and general counsel, administration division, to be the Canadian general counsel. It was a fantastic opportunity — and a big job at that point in my career.

How does working in-house differ from being at a law firm?
When I went in-house at CIBC it was more about being an advisor. You get a chance to understand the business and take part not only in legal decisions but assisting in business decisions. From a work-life balance perspective you have more control and can even out the hours more. You don’t get the same extreme peaks and valleys. Our in-house lawyers put in long hours — but they’re more steady hours. In terms of compensation, you won’t make what a senior partner makes. Coming in, it can be comparable to the level you’re at in a firm but the changes are more incremental.

What do lawyers bring to business?
Legal training teaches you how to think, to be analytical and articulate. It teaches you how to get your point across. It’s great communications training. These are all critical skills in a corporate environment. Lawyers also bring diversity to the thinking of the leadership team.

What special skills set in-house lawyers apart from those working at a firm?
You better understand the business. When I was building our internal legal team, I recall our investment bankers liked going to external counsel. The guy I hired to do the work internally knew the business well. The investment bankers were skeptical. Soon after, one of the executives said to the management team, “this guy’s the real deal, he knows our business.” That’s what matters to them.

There seems to be a growing number of lawyersturned- executives here and in the United States. Why do you think that is?
I believe it’s because legal training is a skill. As a corporate lawyer you learn about many businesses and get to understand them well. So, you have opportunities to leverage that experience. I also think that the ability to balance career goals with life goals makes it appealing.

What advice do you have for young lawyers looking to go in-house?
Get trained really well at the large law firms. Once you’re in-house, there’s just not the same level of training available.

What about for in-house lawyers looking to advance once they’re hired?
Really get to know the business because you need to be more than a lawyer — you need to be a strong advisor to really succeed.

This story is part of our in-depth guide to in-house counsel. Click here to read the next section for how to talk like a CEO. 

Image by Dave Worley