“Bad Advice Column”
Article byPosted Featured AuthorSeptember 2020
Maybe you landed your dream job at an AmLaw 200 or a non-profit that was made-for-you, maybe you just hung a shingle in your home town, or maybe you can’t find a job and you’re contemplating selling your plasma with (fingers crossed) COVID-19 antibodies. Whatever your current job situation, you’re new to the profession and you want to be successful. There is no shortage of advice on the topic but it’s not all created equal. 1 In this Bad Advice Column, I’m taking the classic career advice and explaining why you can dump it.
Bad Advice: Emulate Your Boss
When you start working at a new job, its only natural that you try to fit in. Chances are, there is at least a decade between you and your boss, but probably closer to three. No doubt they have a never-ending supply of legal knowledge to share with you, but you may have more to offer them than you think.
New Advice: be a Boss at Tech
I just heard a well-respected attorney ask a colleague “did I computerize that research?” Nope. Nope-ity, nope — just no. Do not get stuck in the technology rut that the Boomers have created. If your boss is “computerizing” things wrong, run. If you can’t run because you need a paycheck, spend some time on the front end discussing the issues and finding a method that’s best for everyone involved. Let your boss know that it will probably involve the “cloud.” Give him or her time.
Bad Advice: No Phone at Work
I’ve heard rumors about law firms prohibiting associates from being on social media or limiting access to social media on work computers. LOLz. ROTFLMFO. 2
If you’re not posting on social media, how do people know that you’re a lawyer? The only people perusing the bar directory are spambots. You probably aren’t making enough money (yet) to pay the Google algorithm for your face to pop up in lawyer searches. Quite frankly, if you’re not on social media, you’ll miss the work. If your firm is not on social media, its days as a going concern are numbered.
My Advice: Claim Your Face-Space in the Algorithm (and Bill It to “Client Development”)
When our firm was moving offices, I spent way too long on an Insta story about my new office and my RBG action figures. I felt self-conscious that I was “bragging” about my new fancy office, but my RBG-induced joy needed to be shared (and I’ll take all the attorney superheroes I can get, am I right?). The next day, I got a call from an acquaintance who said her friend needed an attorney and, “your name came to mind.” Did it now? When we communicate on social media we become part of the algorithm.
While writing articles about legal developments is a great way to distinguish and market yourself, it takes a lot of time to create quality content worth reading. But spending fifteen minutes to make a lawyer joke with a cute picture of your kid on Instagram is less time consuming, and frankly, a lot more fun. Granted, your phone can be an unnecessary distraction, but the ten minutes it takes to mindlessly scroll could just as easily be turned into an investment. Spend time reminding your audience (“friends”) about your work. Let them know when you’re at a CLE, conference, staying up late working on a draft (but, please, don’t share the actual draft), going to Court and living the lawyer life. Be yourself. 3
Bad Advice: Don’t Talk Politics.
When I first started working — admittedly my first soiree into the professional world — it was jarring realizing that certain, seemingly benign, topics were off limits. I know the age-old wisdom says to avoid politics, religion, and sex, and that’s largely true. But its illogical to me that the most educated individuals — who are by definition trained to think critically — should actively avoid discourse on something as critical as politics.
My Advice: be an Advocate for Change
Anyone else find themselves oddly anxious in May and June? Like, one minute your reading emails about your firm’s back-to-work policy and contemplating whether you need to shower (it has been three days, after all) for a client-call in thirty minutes and, the next second, you’re crying at your home-office desk (which smells like feet because your closet was the only place available for your office) because of the videos you saw the night before of black men and women being murdered by vigilantes and police officers? That was a new stress for me.
Then a friend confided in me that for the black community it was so much worse because of the added stress — and very real safety risk — that communities of color were being hit hardest by COVID-19. I was so full of pain and frustration and anxiety, I couldn’t focus on work. So, instead of working, I spent a day drafting an email to my female colleagues to talk about Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and COVID-19, reminding them to check in on their black colleagues and to speak out about what is happening. Out of that came a lot of pain, discussions, community, and eventually a book club. 4
You don’t have to be bold or go out of your comfort zone (though I highly recommend it) to advocate for change. If you feel like talking about politics, don’t be discouraged by your jaded husband who thinks that social media comments are the downfall of civilization (I love you, Dustin). People are changing their opinion based on what they see on social media. Just ask Russia. You can be part of that. But with great power comes great responsibility. If you have seven years of higher education, you are decidedly too educated to make your point with a meme. Sharing an academic article with a reputable source is much more productive and your audience may even read more than just the title. On second thought, just make sure you cite check the meme.
The Young Lawyers Division of the American Bar Association first published this article prior to Justice Ginsburg’s passing, under the title “Classic Career Advice and Why You Can Dump It” in After the Bar September 2020.
- It is highly doubtful that the advice provided in this column is superior in any way to previous career advice. In fact, following the advice in this article could result in poor performance reviews, demotions, rescinded job offers, or even termination.
- Laughing out loud. Rolling on the floor laughing
- Be yourself following the applicable ethical and professional rules.
- It’s not enough, but learning more about systemic racism in this country is a step in the right direction.