the legal sanity mentor: kathleen brady
Due to the summer posting hiatus, it’s been a little while since the last installment in my series of posts on redesigning legal services around the client experience.
I’ve always been a proponent of the idea that it’s really hard for unhappy lawyers to provide great client service. To put it another way: The lawyer experience and client experience are two sides of the same coin. You can get a good sense of what I’m driving at by sampling some of my archived posts on the subject:
With the recession-fueled law firm shake-ups, the lawyer experience has become a front burner issue for many displaced practitioners as they contemplate their next professional steps.
Kathleen Brady is an expert in career planning for lawyers. I first met Kathy when I was a student and she was Assistant Dean of Career Services at Fordham University School of Law. I asked her to dialogue with me about her work with lawyers going through career transition.
AH You must be busy.
KB Yes, I’m incredibility busy doing outplacement work for law firms.
AH Is it frustrating? How do you deal with fact that there are more lawyers than jobs?
KB We’re not head hunters, so our success isn’t measured by the number of jobs we help people get. Rather, we help lawyers move through the transition process.
AH I like that, helping people through a process. What emotions do you come across?
KB Emotions across the board – from truly relieved because they hated what they were doing to shocked, devastated and appalled because they did everything they were supposed to do and still find themselves out of work.
AH How do you help people deal with the emotions?
KB It’s really important to let them feel what they’re feeling and work through that. If they don’t, the emotions come out at the worst times, like, during job interviews.
AH What does it mean to let them feel what they’re feeling?
KB It means encouraging them to express their feelings – to vent, cry, etc. We let them know it’s OK to be emotional. But, the key is to not let them get stuck in their emotions. To prevent this immobility, we help people focus on effective steps they can take to move forward in their career. That said, when people present additional issues – such as depression, eating disorders or substance abuse – it’s important to recognize the limitations of your counseling abilities. A few psych courses in college or grad school doesn’t qualify me, or most other career counselors, to address those issues. You have to know enough to know when you need to make a referral.
AH What’s the biggest challenge to getting lawyers-in-transition to experience and embrace this forward momentum?
KB The biggest challenge is convincing them that the job loss, especially a layoff, isn’t personal. It’s challenging because there’s nothing more personal than losing your job. This is where support groups and other resources (bar associations, alumni groups and virtual communities) are vital. Being able to see the common ground, how the recession is hitting everyone, makes it less of a personal slight.
AH Is there a silver lining here when it comes to the lawyer experience?
KB Yes there’s a huge one; particularly for new lawyers. Before the most recent recession, many lawyers moved into their careers without thinking about long-term goals. After a few years, they’d look up and realize they were miserable. Then, they would go through a process of figuring out what they wanted from their career. This process of taking a hard look at your career is happening en masse now and it’s a good thing. Lawyers have a chance to be more deliberate in how they shape their career in the law or on a more non-traditional path.
AH Is there one skill that’s vital to successfully navigating this path to a positive lawyer experience?
KB I’d say networking and business relationship skills are vital. For example, many lawyers spend all their time searching for a job on the internet. They send out 500 resumes to little or no avail. The best way to find a job is to use all your resources. If you see something online, find someone you know at the firm and get your resume to them. If you don’t know anyone there, use your network to make a connection. Connecting with people can be hard work, but it’s a great skill to hone because it’s the same skill set that helps you build relationships for business development and career advancement.
AH Any final words of advice?
KB Young lawyers need to reset their expectations. Some still are convinced that they need to work at the biggest and most prestigious firms. But, they really need to consider where they can acquire the skills they need to get where they want to be in the long term They need to seriously consider: “Does this job take me closer to my dreams or take me away from them?”
Thank you, Kathleen, for helping us better understand how we can optimize the lawyer experience, even in these difficult times.