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March 2, 2009


Submitted by Amy Gewirtz, Esq.
Director, Pace Law School New Directions Program
Member, NYSBA Committee for Lawyers in Transition

Last spring, I participated as a co-panelist, with my fellow Committee member and colleague, Elena Kaspi, on a NYSBA Committee for Lawyers in Transition panel entitled: “Networking: With or Without a ‘Net’.” Elena and I were so pleased with the attendance and active participation in this program. Deb Volberg Pagnotta, President of Interfacet, Inc., former Director of Pace Law School’s New Directions program for reentering attorneys, and a fellow Committee member, and I, would continually emphasize with our New Directions participants, the importance (and, fun) of meeting as many different people, not just attorneys, as possible.

This is, beyond a doubt, my FAVORITE career topic and the strategy I suggest most often for achieving your career goals. Ask anyone I’ve ever counseled in my prior capacities as a Career Counselor and Associate Director with Pace Law School’s Center for Career Development, and in my roles as former Associate Director, and now Director, of Pace Law School’s New Directions program for attorneys seeking to reenter, (or enter for the first time), the legal profession and they will confirm that “network, network, network” is my mantra--probably to the point of great annoyance on their part!

I know that I am not at all alone among my professional colleagues in stressing the importance of networking in general, and particularly at a time of transition. You will often hear that approximately 80% of positions are obtained through networking—the percentage is probably even higher in challenging economic times like these. Pure and simple, employers like to hire people that they know, or who have been referred to them by someone they know and whose judgment they respect. Therefore, it is in EVERYONE’S best interest to network—whether for a new position, or client referrals, or just to meet new and interesting people.

Many individuals tend to think of networking as having to attend large social events, where they don’t know anyone, and having to make small talk. They may wonder, “who is possibly going to be interested in talking with me?” They may fear that they have nothing to say, that they’re not interesting enough, they’re embarrassed at having recently been laid off, etc. Unfortunately, these understandable and recognizable feelings may stop some people from venturing forth even in a smaller way. Of course, these types of events (law school and college reunions, professional dinners, etc.) are one way of networking, and some attorneys may feel perfectly comfortable and confident in these settings. However, this is only one of a number of networking approaches. I am a firm believer in the “informational interview”—particularly since that is how I received my first post-law school position! In brief, an informational interview is NOT a job interview, but rather an opportunity to meet with someone you’ve identified as doing the type of work you might be interested in doing. It gives you an opportunity to learn more about a particular practice area, type of employment setting, etc, while at the same time, impressing the person with whom you’re meeting so that they might remember you when an opportunity with their organization arises, or feel comfortable referring you to a colleague who may have a position.

One way of looking at networking that I’ve found makes people a bit more comfortable is to think of the process as being on a level-playing field, rather than the networker being a supplicant and the “networkee” in a great position of power. Networking should be thought of as relationship-building. You never know when you might be in a position to offer assistance to the individual from whom you are currently seeking assistance. I used to tell my students and alumni, and still tell our New Directions participants, that when my daughter was looking at colleges, and students would come to have their resumes reviewed, I would immediately look at their undergraduate institutions and ask them questions about their experiences there—I was there to help them, but they were also helping me.

A few networking tips:

1. Write down the names of everyone you know, including your family, friends, neighbors, dentist, parents of your children’s friends—EVERYONE. Keep track of all of this in a binder, spreadsheet, whatever works for you. Note addresses, titles, employers, date you contacted them, when you will follow up, etc.

2. Even if you are not currently employed, print a business card with your name, (and attorney-at-law underneath), a phone number and an email address; your home address is optional. When you exchange cards with someone, it supports that level-playing field concept. Always write on the back of the card you receive (not in the person’s view!) a few notes about where you met, some things you discussed, etc., so that you can reference them when and if you reach out to that person.

3. Join bar associations or other professional organizations and, take it a step further by joining a committee of interest to you. Volunteering to help put programs together, write articles for newsletters, etc., can give you additional access to practitioners. Bar associations, among many other benefits, generally provide a member directory, often divided by practice area. This is a very valuable resource.

4. Identify practitioners with whom to network (informational interviews, for example), by doing a Martindale search for law school and college alumni in your practice and geographical areas of interest. People will always look a bit more closely when there is some commonality between you and the person you’re writing to.

5. Attend CLE programs—these are great opportunities to meet other attorneys. If you think you might be interested in a practice area, but don’t know much about it, go to a CLE program on the topic. Then, when you request an informational interview from an attorney who practices in this area (including, perhaps, one of the presenters of that CLE program), you will have some background in the area.

6. It is important to project confidence when networking, even if you don’t feel confident at that moment. A firm handshake and good eye contact go a long way to projecting that confidence.

7. Create an “elevator speech” – a 30-second way of introducing yourself at networking events. Practice it until it flows naturally and doesn’t sound rehearsed.

8. It’s ok to carry a resume with you; however, don’t give it to someone unless they ask for it. You can take their card and either send it to them within a day or two, reminding them of your conversation at what event and let them know you’re interested in a position with their employer, or request an info interview and then bring it with you.

9. Read professional journals and periodicals, such as the New York Law Journal or the Connecticut Law Tribune, as well as NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Crain’s, so that you’re aware of current legal issues and trends. Also, there may be an article that is of interest to you or that mentions an attorney—you can try to reach out to that attorney, tell her your read about her and would like to meet with her.

10. Always remember to write a thank you letter or email after you meet with someone for an informational interview or if they help you in some other way. Someone is taking his/her time to assist you and it is important to express your appreciation.

Ultimately, it’s very important to be creative and think outside the box when you are networking. It is always worth trying to reach out to someone respectfully and professionally to develop your network. The worst that can happen is that the person you reach out to may not respond, or may not be interested in meeting with you—that will happen. Don’t be discouraged, though, as there will be many people who will be interested in meeting with you. Over the years, I’ve found that the majority of attorneys have been generous with their time and are interested in assisting their colleagues—remember, it is always nice to offer to be of assistance to them as well.


• Publications

It's Who You Know: The Magic of Networking in Person and on the Internet, Cynthia Chin-Lee 1998, Book Partners, Inc.

A Lawyer's Guide to Networking, Susan Sneider, 2006, the American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division

The Official Guide to Legal Specialties, Lisa Abrams 2000, National Association for Law Placement

How to Work a Room, Susan Roane, 2000, Harper Collins Publishers, Inc.

A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market, Katherine Hansen, 2000, Ten Speed Press

The Networking Survival Guide: Get the Success You Want By Tapping into the People You Know, Diane Darling, 2003, McGraw Hill

Networking for Job Search and Career Success, Michelle Tullier, 2004, Jist Publishing

Little Black Book of Connections: 6.5 Assets for Networking Your Way to Rich Relationships, Jeffrey Gitomer, 2006, Bard Press

Masters of Networking: Building Relationships for Your Pocketbook and Soul, Ivan Misner, 2000, Bard Press

Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time, Keith Ferrazzi, 2005, Doubleday

The Art of Mingling: Proven Techniques for Mastering Any Room, Jeanne Martinet, 2006, St. Martin's Griffin

Professional Networking for Dummies, Donna Fisher, 2001, For Dummies

Power Networking, 2nd Edition: 59 Secrets for Personal & Professional Success, Donna Fisher, 2000, Bard Press

The Fine Art of Small Talk: How To Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills -- and Leave a Positive Impression! Debra Fine, 2005, Hyperion,

Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty: The Only Networking Book You'll Ever Need, Harvey Mackay, 1999, Doubleday Business

Is Your `Net’ Working? A Complete Guide to Building Contacts and Career Visibility, Anne Boe and Bettie B. Youngs, 1989, Wiley

Networking Smart: How to Build Relationships for Personal and Organizational Success, Wayne E. Baker, 2000, Backinprint.com

• Professional Networking websites


• Internet Resources


• Networking Articles











http://www.lawstudent.tv/2006/12/29/law-school-student-and-attorney-lawyer-job-career-networking/ (for law students and new attorneys, but may be helpful)


http://online.wsj.com/careers#help (link to several Wall Street Journal articles regarding networking)







So You've Been Laid Off

Submitted by Deb Volberg Pagnotta
Deb Volberg Pagnotta, an AV-rated lawyer, is President of Interfacet, Inc., which trains employers and employees on various employment issues, and provides career transition resources to employees, past, present and future.
Contact info: 914.997.8888 or info@interfacet.com

So you’ve been laid off. Or you’re about to be. Or your best friend at work has been. Or your spouse or sweetie. The world looks grey inside and out. You feel incredibly depressed. Or angry. Or guilty. Or maybe you don’t feel it at all, it just seems like a bad dream from which you will soon awake. Law school and life do not prepare you for this type of loss and challenge.

I’ve been a lawyer for, um, 28 years, and have for the last ten years run a consulting company, Interfacet, Inc., (www.interfacet.com), which trains on workplace issues. The NYSBA has asked me, along with other professionals, to write a blog for the Lawyers in Transition website. I offer my comments not as a lawyer, however, but as a “happy survivor” of layoffs, firings and career transition. I’ve been on almost every end of the equation: I’ve hired and fired people, laid off workers, helped men and women re-enter the workforce after many years, counseled employees to leave their positions, and indeed been fired myself. (And, by the way, here’s the crucial distinction between being laid off and being fired: layoffs are related to downsizing an organization, while firing typically has to do with the dysfunctional relationship between the employer and the employee. So at your interviews with potential new employers, don’t say you’ve been fired – unless you were – say you were laid off.) I will try to offer you some useful guideposts along this path you are now traveling. Today, this is specifically for those of you who have been laid off yourselves.

First, change is life itself. Nothing ever stays the same. Not you, not your family, not your work, not the weather, not your age, not even the faces on Mt. Rushmore. You see things differently now then you did when you were 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50. Your values change, your needs, your likes and dislikes, your interests, your social network, your hopes and goals all evolve – sometimes swiftly and shockingly, sometimes incrementally and subtlely. So, recognize that change is not by itself good, bad or indifferent. It just is, and most often there is little you can do to stop that change happening.

Second, I give you the advice I give to my 8-year old daughter when she gives a big presentation in class. I have found it exceptionally useful myself. “Jenlu,” I tell her, “use your big voice, your big smile, and make sure you wear clean underwear.” How does this translate for us grownups? Don’t whine, don’t act defeated. (I know, you may feel that way inside with every bone in your body, but fake it for now – see point three below). Make every attempt to sound reasonable and fair. Don’t denigrate your past employer; rather, explain your transition in socio-political terms. Don’t be a sour puss. It depresses you and everybody around you. I’m not advocating that you should be chirpy and perky at all hours, but try very hard to project a sense of optimism and excitement. Get up every morning and put on decent clothes. When you go for interviews (and you will), make sure you get an excellent haircut beforehand, wear well-cut clothes and good shoes, and hold yourself confidently. These steps send a strong message that you are competent.

Third, you will hear lots of people telling you “be positive, think positive, act positive!” (Of course, this includes me.) But here’s the reality check: what you are going through is grim. It is miserable. It is deeply depressing. You are a trained professional who has been operating at peak or near peak capacity for years. It is hugely upsetting to find yourself having slid down a mountain within a day and for reasons that are utterly out of your control. If you’re not depressed about this, I would be much more concerned about you. However, my final advice here is FAKE IT. Fake your optimism, fake your good mood, fake that positive attitude. You don’t actually have to feel it, but you should project it for now. One day at a time. One step at a time.

Law Blogs Busy Keeping Up with Layoff News

Buffalo Law Journal

By Caroline Bala Brancatella

Some are referring to it as “Black Thursday,” others as “The Valentine’s Day Massacre.”

On Thursday, Feb. 12, an estimated 1,000 people in the legal industry lost their jobs when several major law firms announced layoffs of both staff and attorneys, adding to months of job cuts at firms that once seemed invincible.

Word of such losses came on the heels of the local news that Buffalo-based Hodgson Russ LLP issued layoffs for the first time in its 192-year history, letting go of five attorneys and eight staff members. Nixon Peabody LLP, a national law firm that maintains offices in Buffalo and Rochester, also announced it was laying off 36 people, including 20 attorneys. Neither firm specified which of its offices were affected by the layoffs.

Legal gossip blogs are infatuated with alerting readers to news of lawyer layoffs, declining partner profits, salary freezes and delayed start dates for new associates, as well as severance-package details.

Associates in the first few years of practice are the attorneys most likely to read blogs that report little else but job losses, and they are also the firm lawyers most susceptible to such layoffs. Paranoia often results.

But does the national reporting portray an accurate economic picture of the situation facing “regional” law firms such as those in Western New York?

Saturation Coverage

There are now entire Web sites dedicated to cataloging and analyzing the epidemic of law-firm layoffs.

Vault.com, an online provider of employment information in a variety of sectors, including law, now maintains a page entitled the “Layoff Tracker.” Its layoff outlines across all businesses include the name of the company, its location, the number of employees dismissed and the percentage of the company’s total workforce let go.

For information specific to legal job losses, masochists can visit AmericanLawyer.com’s “Layoff List,” which keeps a catalog of major firms that have implemented layoffs, and provides links to news coverage with details of those losses. For those who want details and visuals, Lawshucks.com, a legal tabloid, provides charts and graphs that analyze and crunch the numbers so that associates know that their firm is laying off a lot more people than other firms are.

These sites and the better-known blogs that report on legal culture primarily focus on large New York City law firms, with frequent reporting too about the goings-on of Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and Chicago offices. And rightfully so, as those cities’ law offices are epicenters of national and global legal activity.

Nonetheless, such coastally centered coverage leaves large segments of law practice throughout the United States undiscussed and unanalyzed. Legal blog reporting, particularly related to the economic outlook of law firms, may not be helpful or relevant to attorneys working in more regionalized markets, and the firms there that rely on a client base very different from a global financial center like New York.

Credit-Crunch Spinoff

Many of the recent financial woes of large law firms stem from the “credit crisis” that has been driving the downturn of the economy for the past year and a half. This is because a great deal of recent corporate practice in the financial centers has focused on asset-backed securities, credit-swap derivatives and the byzantine — and in some cases questionable — financial transactions that surrounded them. Entire practice groups based on such financial tools have vanished.

The good news is that the end of the era of securitization as we know it does not affect regional legal practices such as those in Western New York quite as drastically. For the most part, Buffalo-area law firms never engaged in such transactional work. Local firms do have diverse and active corporate practices, but they are based on more traditional forms of business — real estate, contracts, etc. — than the largely theoretical finance that larger firms have engaged in during recent years. While an economic down turn usually leads to an uptick in litigation work, it simply has not been enough to make up for the losses.

Since the practices and revenue related to such financial footwork dried up in megafirms over the past 24 months, layoffs are the quickest and most effective way to lessen financial blows, simply because personnel costs are the most significant expense for law firms.

Jim Cotterman, a principal at the national legal consulting firm Altman Weil, lays it out: “The cost structure of a law firm is 78 percent labor, 8 percent facility and technology and 14 percent other. The facility and technology costs are largely tied to leases and contracts that will not be easily broken … Let’s face it, law firms are labor-intensive. That is where the money goes, and that is where the savings are.”

Local Outlook

Is the blogs’ sense of hysteria warranted in areas outside the financial centers? Are more layoffs on the way in the Western New York legal community?

Possibly. According to Cotterman, how each legal market fares in a rocky economy mirrors how that geographic area is weathering the downturn. For this reason, Western New York’s legal community may, for the moment, be in a better overall position than many other places.

The area’s economy has been in decline for decades, and the local legal field has adjusted to the shifting needs of clients. There is a theory that individuals and families who have always struggled financially fare better in times of economic woe because they already know how to weather a storm and make adjustments. The same may be true of a place like Buffalo, where residents are in the habit of adjusting to bad financial news.

Juxtapose Buffalo to Charlotte, N.C., which in recent years has been referred to as “Wall Street South” because of the number of financial institutions that have set up shop in the area. The Carolinas have been seen as a haven for Buffalo refugees in search of better weather and better financial opportunities.

Many Charlotte law offices have not merely laid off lawyers, but closed all together. Additionally, the real estate market in the Carolinas has been as hard hit as anywhere in the nation. Although there are signs that it is starting to slow along with the rest of the nation (home sales were down 17 percent in January compared to last year), Buffalo’s real estate market remains one of just 18 in the country where home prices increased last year.

Big Overhead = Bigger Risk

Another factor that may contribute to law-firm financial troubles in the bigger markets is that the larger the law firm, the more debt it is likely to carry. While the larger local firms may carry some debt, it is likely not significant as at larger firms, and therefore not as dire a problem as it could be in this tight credit market.

“Overall, 23 percent of law firms are debt-free,” Cotterman says. “About 30 percent of law firms with 20 or fewer lawyers and about 8 percent of law firms with over 150 lawyers will be debt-free.”

The no-frills approach of many local firms also helps keep the “people costs” that eat up so much of a firm’s budget at bay. The New York firms entice lawyers with starting salaries of $165,000, performance bonuses, clerkship bonuses, laptops, PDAs and smartphones, dinners, parties and all the trappings of prestige. Local firms tend not to engage in such antics, a money-saving decision that is serving them well now.

But when it comes down to it, the economy everywhere is rough, and Western New York is experiencing a new round of economic hits. Local law firms will likely feel some of that, but may be able to avoid slashing and burning their workforces. In the end, each firm needs to look at its situation and, above all, address the needs of those who pay the bills — the clients.

“Law firms need to stay close to their clients, appreciate their clients’ challenges, and assist them as much as possible,” says Cotterman. “Not raising rates or raising rates much more modestly can help. Work with the clients to find more efficient and effective ways to provide the services — hopefully such that the firm and the client can make progress.”

March 23, 2009

Podcasts to Contemplate

Submitted by Deb Volberg Pagnotta
Deb Volberg Pagnotta, an AV-rated lawyer, is President of Interfacet, Inc., which trains employers and employees on various employment issues, and provides career transition resources to employees, past, present and future.
Contact info: 914.997.8888 or info@interfacet.com

The bad news keeps coming. “White & Case's Black Monday: 200 Associates and 200 Staffers Axed,” blares the New York Lawyer on March 9, 2009. The 2000+ lawyer firm is laying off 200 associates and 200 administrative staff; and last November they had laid off 70 associates. In fact, since January 1, 2009, over 3000 lawyers in the U.S. have been laid off. So what do you do if you’ve been laid off?

One of the things you should be doing, as you transition into your new world and career, is bringing yourself up to date technologically. It is a brave new world out here, for those of you who have been slogging away in law firms. You may already be adept at Word, or billing software, or Westlaw, but now is the time to explore what else is happening in the techie world that can be of use to you moving forward (or even just sitting still). A simple yet elegant new technology is podcasts (from iPOD broadCAST):

An audio broadcast that has been converted to an MP3 file or other audio file format for playback in a digital music player. Although many podcasts are played in a regular computer, the original idea was to listen on a portable device; hence, the "pod" name from "iPod." Although podcasts are mostly verbal, they may contain music, images and video.

I listen to three podcast “series” in particular:

• I’ve been trying to learn Mandarin for the last 8 years, not very successfully. However, Chinesepod (www.chinesepod.com) is a fantastic site as a model for eLearning (the fancy name for digitalized, computer-based learning). Each podcast is about 8 to 15 minutes long. The “newbie” and “beginner” podcasts give a brief conversation or a few words in Chinese, with banter between the “podcasters” Ken and Jennie. I listen to these podcasts over and over and over when I’m driving. It is very soothing, and the only place I can repeat several hundred times the Chinese phrase “Wo xiang he idianr pijiu” (“I would like to drink some beer.”).

• I also listen to “Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” a weekly political humor show from National Public Radio (http://www.npr.org/programs/waitwait), with some great guests like Leonard Nimoy (yes, Mr. Spock!). I listen to this in order to laugh. These days, whatever makes you laugh, you should do it often. Watch funny movies, read funny books, spend time with friends who help you laugh. Being out of work is depressing, and humor will help you through it.

• Finally, I also recommend www.zencast.org, from which you can download remarkable presentations by various Buddhist teachers. Most recently, one of the presenters told a wonderful story about his experience as a Western monk living in a monastery in Asia. As the monastery was being upgraded, the head monk requested the monks to move a vast pile of dirt from one location to another. They did so willingly, albeit in miserable heat and, being Buddhists, unable even to swat at the thousands of mosquitos who joined the party. Once the pile was moved, the assistant to the chief monk directed the monks to move the pile to another location altogether. They did so, enduring the heat and insects yet again. The chief monk returned from his trip, and promptly told the monks to move the pile back to his original target location. The presenter, deeply unhappy with this situation, stuck to his task, but protesting internally every miserable and back-breaking step of the way. While not vocalizing his anger, his body language must have reflected some distress. Finally, another, much more seasoned monk came over to him, and gently pointed out “you know, shoveling is easy, but thinking about it is hard.” This concept struck me as particularly useful for lawyers in transition. In my own, involuntary transition in 1995, I was deeply angry about the political events which had transpired leaving me jobless, and that anger stayed for quite some time. The seasoned monk’s message resonates with me: it is the thinking about the pain of loss and separation and uncontrollable events which is truly difficult and hurtful. Let go of the endless re-looping about what you “coulda, woulda, shoulda” done differently. Instead, focus on here and now, your present. That way, you can more easily begin to look at what your present options are. Concentrate today on the immediate tasks you should undertake to help you move forward.

One final note: for those who’ve been laid-off, I recently found this excellent article: http://www.jobs.state.ak.us/TAA/survive.htm

In the meantime, post your favorite podcasts. I’m always looking for new ones.

March 27, 2009

Pro Bono Programs for Attorneys

Submitted by Amy Gewirtz
Director, Pace Law School New Directions Program
Member, NYSBA Committee for Lawyers in Transition

It is heartening to see that in these challenging times for attorneys, some government and judicial, among other, organizations, are responding by offering programs for attorneys who have been laid off, or furloughed by their employers. Notable among these are the New York City Law Department and the New York State Unified Court System. Both entities have created programs in which attorneys can work, on a pro bono basis, while they are either looking for paid positions or until they return to their employer.

Please visit the following websites to learn more about these programs:

New York City Law Department


A new program offered by the New York City Law Department offers litigation and labor associates who recently have been laid off or are on the verge of losing their jobs the chance to gain courtroom experience while continuing their job search.

New York State Unified Court System


Administrators of New York courts are rolling out a new program today to enlist attorneys, many of whom may be laid off or on reduced work schedules due to the sour economy, to provide legal advice and expertise to pro se litigants.

Importance of Pro Bono Work


This article from The New York Times emphasizes both the importance of doing pro bono work (not just for lawyers) and the importance of doing your research on the organization for which you're interviewing for a pro bono position.

About March 2009

This page contains all entries posted to Lawyers in Transition in March 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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