Forum Finds: Careers and Professionalism

Editor's Note: Ms. JD's forums have been an important source of advice and inspiration for many women in the legal profession.  The "Forum Finds" series is dedicated to bringing these pearls of wisdom to light.  As always, you can connect with us onFacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn with your questions! 

On April 25th, 2008, jessie asked: Nicknames: Does Using One Appear Unprofessional? I was updating my resume last night and wondering if I should change the header to "Jessie."  My given name is Jessica, but I can't think of any person that calls me Jessica. When I introduce myself I do so as Jessie. My friends, family, and co-workers all call me Jess or Jessie. Everytime I go on an interview the first minute is spent explaining that they can call me Jessie. My email address says Jessie - so my name is inconsistent on my resume. And yet I hesitate to change it for fear I will appear unprofessional - too girly even.

What do people think?


Peg says:

This is admittedly coming from somebody who's "real name" isn't one that lends itself to being shortened or adapted into a nickname...  but, I say leave it as Jessica.    Also, just let them call you Jessica during the interview so as to avoid wasting a minute on your name.  Then, if you land the job, you can transition everyone to "Jessie" once you start working there.  Or, who knows, maybe you'll end up liking being "Jessica" in the work context.  I know an attorney that was "Kenny" for the first five years of practice, or so but is now trying to get everyone to start calling him "Ken" and it is very hard to break people of the habit.


SDevlin says:

My first question sounds silly, but how many people know you?  If an attorney you're interviewing with next week is out to lunch with another attorney who happens to be your biggest fan, will the first be able to realize that the "Jessie" the latter is going on about is actually the "Jessica" whose resume is on his desk?  Or if an attorney you're interviewing with has already met or worked with you in some other context, will he make the connection that this person on paper is the person he already knows? 

Personally, I would tell you to go for it.  If you know that you want to be called Jessie, put it out there.  It's not an unusual or unprofessional nickname like "Spike" or something.  Honestly too, I think there are a lot more people our age that have the nickname as their legal name.  I have a friend whose name is Christy.  Her birth certificate says Christy, not Christina or Christine.  If you put Jessie on your resume, no one will know that's not your birth name until you fill out your W-2s.


Elizabeth says:

I think it depends on the nickname. "Jessie" doesn't sound unprofessional to me, but if you have "Jessie" on your resume, then I think you have to be prepared to be stuck with it (i.e. have "Jessie" on business cards, nameplates, email signatures, official correspondence, etc.). If Jessie feels like your name in the sense that you can't imagine ever going by anything else and are comfortable with that sort of professional permanence, then I don't think there's any reason not to introduce yourself as Jessie. On the other hand, to start out as a Jessie and to switch to a Jessica, or to be Jessie in some professional settings and Jessica in others, presents a wishy-washy image that may not hurt you directly but might infantilize you in the eyes of at least some co-workers. I think it's best to pick one name professionally and to stick with it, and if that name is not your nickname, then it will create a feeling of closeness between you and co-workers you become friendly with to let them transition to calling you by your "my friends call me..." name. I think this distance between your personal and professional self can be helpful, like not bringing your work home or your home to work, but I think it's a personal preference.


nickfortuna says:

I think as long as your nickname is just a shorter version of your name, it will be fine. I have had friends who had absurd nicknames, and of course those were not suitable to be used in resumes. But in your case, I would think it is perfectly fine.


On May 7th, 2008, Brooketerry asked: Benefit of an LLM?  Hi everyone, I've been seriously considering pursuing an LLM after law school, but I don't know anyone else that has earned one, so it is hard to find any helpful advice. Does anyone know how favorably they are viewed in the workplace? Do they significantly increase your pay or prestige? If it doesn't pay off in the short term, will it in the long term? Is it an effective tool in directing your carrer in the way that you want?

My thinking has been that the more degrees you have, the better. And I figure that if women really need to work harder in order to advance, getting an LLM can't be a bad place to start. What do you all think? Any knowledge that you all have to share would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!



Jessie says:

My advice is to pursue further degress only if you are certain you want to specialize in that field.  

The only LLM with which I am familiar is one in tax. I am interested in tax policy and considered taking a job with the tax court and pursuing a tax LLM simultaneously.  I ended up choosing a district court clerkship instead. I felt that I got more benefits, more door openings to a greater variety of things this way. But that's reflective of my uncertainty about specializing in tax exclusively. If I were certain that was what I wanted to do - then the tax intensive year would have been much much more beneficial to me than this more general credential.

I don't know much about other LLM programs.  I imagine that an LLM from a highly ranked law school may be helpful to those whose JD is from a school with less local or national prestige.


Peg says:

Okay, so the title of my comment is a little harsh, but I am serious.  Here's the thing, you've been in school 7 years or so to get into a profession that you likely don't know for sure that you will even enjoy.  While it is daunting and a little scary to start your legal career, I do not think that adding another year of law school to the equation is a good idea, in most circumstances. (How about that little disclaimer!)  Get to work; see if you like being a lawyer; figure out what you really enjoy about being an attorney; break free from the protections of full time school; live!

My perspective is, as always from a biglaw firm associate, and the truth is that law firms could care less about an LLM.  Even the tax attorneys in my office do not have tax LLMs.  However, I also know that the tax department doesn't have any junior associates so if that is where you want to start out, a Tax LLM mightopen that door for you.  With that said, law firms do appreciate other advanced degrees that line up with what are you may be practicing in.  For example, law firms go crazy for people with science or engineering graduate and post-graduate degrees who can do patent work; they also appreciate MBAs.  I could imagine other types of practices where a specific masters degree in something like home land security, public health, education, etc, would be beneficial -- but not so much an extra year of law school.

With all that said, if you have no job prospects and getting an LLM from a better, more connected law school could open up some career doors, then I would consider it.  Be careful though, that if you get a tax LLM (for example) that you want to do something related to tax.  Employers can see through somebody that just did an extra year of law school to put off going to work or to get access to a better career services office and will be suspicious of a person that got a tax LLM but wants to work as a public defender as her life long ambition.


On April 3rd, 2011, Eralon asked: Clerkships: How to find deadlines and decide on judges? So as a 2L, I'm finding this whole clerkship process a little bit daunting. Particularly managing the due dates of all the different applications and navigating which judges make sense to apply to. First, does anyone have a good way to find out which judges are NOT following the federal hiring plan? I've done some looking on websites but that information seems to be really limited. I know some of the state courts have already begun accepting applications and I don't want to miss out on opportunities just because I couldn't find the deadline!

Also, how do you decide which judges to apply to? As someone with mediocre grades and no law journal, I know I'm probably no good for Court of Appeals or district courts in really popular places. But that still leaves a lot of judges left. Any ideas how to decide between those remaining?


Jessie says:

In my research I found that most state court judges accept applications through the summer with the goal of making their selections just before the federal hiring process begins (they want to grab candidates while they can).

As for finding federal judges who preempt the hiring plan: there are very few open violators. My experience was that judges would bend the rules upon recommendation from a person they know and trust (so, e.g. a professor of mine recommended me to a friend of his on the bench and that resulted in a June interview, similarly a family friend recommended me to another judge who met with me in July).

This brings me to the more important lesson: connections matter. A lot. When choosing judges, I would look carefully to find ones who have hired from your school in the past, and focus on those who have a clerk from your school now. I would also mine all your teachers and others for their connections (during my 2L summer I sat down with my supervisors at work and had them look at my list of judges and tell me everything they new about every name they recognized-this conversation produced a call on my behalf from a supervisor to a judge).

Good luck!!


On March 9th, 2007, KHernan881 asked: Bringing in Business. Is there a point where firms teach associates how to bring in business? I ask not so much about general networking tips like how to approach a stranger, how to steer the conversation to the firm, etc. but more about what to say if a contact has specific questions about taking on a case that you haven't conflict checked or about creative billing like contingency fees or flat fees. Is the right answer usually something like, "I'll tell you what, I'll set you up with one of our partners that can answer all those questions for you."?

I am not yet a full time associate but sometimes meet people that could be potential clients of the firm. I never bring it up because I'm afraid of questions that I couldn't answer. Also, I usually figure that somebody at the firm will tell me what to say once I start full time and that I'll have another opportunity with that contact in the future.


Kate Jones says:

If you have a chance to obtain a client for yourself or your firm, do so immediately. Don't wait for a second chance, someone else will grab the client.   This is the key to your firm's survival AND to your success in the firm. I'm not the best person to tell you how to get clients for a firm because I have been a sole practitioner most of my career, but here's how I would approach it: 

(1) When people ask you what you do, do NOT answer: "I'm a lawyer." 

DO answer: I'm a lawyer, I specialize in representing purple people eaters (or if you think you are too much of a newby to claim a specialty), I work for the purple people eater section of Smith, Jones, and Stickem.  (If you mention your specialty, you are more likely to get the attention of purple people eaters). 

If people ask you for a further explanation of what you do, give them an explantion which will serve as a sixty second pitch for your firm ("I am really enthused about my job because I am working with such great people and such talented lawyers. We were the first firm in this area to establish a purple people eater section and we have eight lawyers who specialize in the problems of purple people eaters. Blah, blah. "

(2) Get your own business cards if you don't have them already and ask your boss for some of his business cards.   Explain to your boss that you occasionally meet people (through your hobby, through your husband's work, whatever) who might want to be clients and you want to be ready to discuss the firm's services with them in hope of reeling them in.   Ask him for suggestions on how to do this. 

Sample conversation:   PPE:   I need info on PPE tax problems. (Follows with long complicated question you have no idea how to answer). 

YOU:  I'm really not experienced enough to respond to your questions.  Here, let me give you my boss's business card, he specializes in this (brief description of how great your boss is).  I'm going to write my name on the back.  I'll let him know to expect your call and I'm sure he'll be happy to give you a 5-10 minute phone conference at no charge. I'll let him know to expect your call - when you talk to him, please mention that I'm the person who suggested you call him and that way he'll know you're the person he's expecting and he'll have some idea what it's about." 

Then let your boss know about the conversation and ask if you could have done anything differently/better.

PS.  If you do continue to hang back and wait for second chances with prospective clients, I would be very interested to know what state and city you are in and please supply a list of clients. Because if you will give me two weeks to figure out how to approach these people, they're gonna be MY clients.  The race is to the swift here.,,


Kate Jones says:

I see I haven't really answered your specific questions.

(1) Billing - if the case is good, almost any law firm will be interested in working out the type of billing arrangement that the client requests, and if they aren't they can refer the case to another firm and get a referral fee.  So you should probably ask your boss in general what your firm's billing policies are, but if a prospective client with a good-sounding case needs a lawyer, the billing arrangement is almost never going to be an issue.  The right answer is almost always, "I think our firm makes that type of billing arrangement if the case is solid.  You would need to talk to one of our partners to see exactly what they might be able to work out with you." 

(2) Conflicts -  This has never been an issue for me because, as a sole practitioner, I nearly always know immediately if I have a conflict.  My impression is that most large firms have conflicts policies and people who are officially in charge of screening for conflicts and you need to find out exactly what your firm's policies are and how these matters are handled. 


Kate Jones says:

I was pondering your problem while I drove my kids to school and I came up with a few final thoughts - so you are getting installment 3 of a long, rambling, and possibly not very helpful answer (maybe other lawyers will benefit even if you don't). 

Young lawyers don't have good instincts about screening clients.  If the lost heir to the throne of Russia shows up wanting a law firm to file suit to get him restored to his throne (on a contingency basis, of course, with a substantial advance to the client to cover living expenses), there's always gonna be some young associate who wants to take the case.   The associates who bring in these kinds of clients are guilty of two serious crimes: showing poor judgment, wasting a partner's time.   At worst, the associate convinces the firm to take the case and the firm loses money, this is NOT good.

On the other hand, young lawyers who don't bring in business (especially young female lawyers) are at very high risk of being relegated to a second class tier as "permanent helpers." 

So young lawyers have to be very careful about bringing in business and they also have to be very careful about not bringing in business. 

My gut reaction is, if an associate - male or female - doesn't get coaching on this issue, it's important to ask for coaching, and this goes double for a female associate because this is the point at which subtle but eventually teminal sex discrimination can begin to set in and strangle the female associate's career. 


KHernan881 says:

Thank you so much for some really good and useful advice.  You know I definately get the impression that my firm expects young associates to just work (and work and work) and to really not be at all concerned about brining in business.  However, I think this concept is based on the notion that all young associates are 25-27 years old and don't really know anybody except their family and college friends (neither of which does the firm want as clients).    Not to mention the fact that these young people don't really know how to work and learning that takes a lot of energy.  In my case, I am older and have numerous connections to business people in my city through a variety of organizations and networks.  I often find myself in social situations that could turn into rainmaking opportunities.

 I am going to have to seek out some guidance on this, and soon, before you come grab these clients smile. 



These related Ms. JD articles may also be helpful: The LLM Experience

Kate Hartman is currently a junior at the Bentley School in Lafayette, California, as well as a Ms. JD Board Associate. The Board Associate Program aims to give young women who are either interested in non-profit management and social enterprise or in law the opportunity to work directly with a Ms. JD Board Member. Through that work, these women will get the opportunity to see how a non-profit works and a taste of what the legal profession is like.




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