Young Lawyers Q&A
A diverse panel of lawyers and other professionals from Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis answers a few select questions in this column each month, advising young lawyers about their career, professional development, office politics, business development, pro bono work, relationships with mentors and colleagues, and so on.
Here is this month’s Q&A on (1) choosing a mentor, (2) pitching new business, and (3) bad coffee:
Question #1: What is the best way to choose a mentor, and what should I be wary about?
ALBERT S. DANDRIDGE III: You want to put yourself in a position that a mentor chooses you. You do not necessarily want a mentor, you want a “sponsor”—someone who has a vested interest in your success.
NICOLE LEACH: I agree, but I don’t think there is a systematic way of going about it. It’s important to find someone you like and can relate to; however, find someone who has also shown an interest in YOU. Not someone who enjoys being a mentor in general, but who has literally shown an interest in you specifically.
JONATHAN B. SKOWRON: Choose someone who you feel comfortable with, because if you’re not at ease reaching out to them for guidance, it won’t work.
CLAUDIA RAYER: I’d advise looking for someone who is different from you. You can get good feedback (if you are willing to listen) from someone who is not “just like you”.
JULIE MEYERS: If you are seeking guidance on substantive work, then I would look for an attorney with relevant subject matter experience. If it’s for business development, then someone who enjoys networking and will take you along. I also recommend looking for a mentor who is patient and non-judgmental.
Question #2: I want to have a bigger role in pitching new business and getting origination credit. How do I talk to partners about this?
SKOWRON: Listen when partners talk about pitches or meeting with clients and ask if you can tag along. Also consider asking for a small but defined role on the pitch team, and ask for feedback about your performance.
STRUWE: Speaking from my own experience, the clients that I have referred have been contacts from my time in the military. These military friends/contacts are interested in doing business with my firm in a way that I will benefit. For this reason, I look to get origination credit.
LEACH: My response would be to bring in your own business first. Also, make sure your work is excellent.
RAYER: I would take a different tactic—instead of talking to the partner, consider asking the partner about how to get more involved in the pitches. Ask for feedback about how the partner sees your strengths and weaknesses in the skill set needed to pitch business and what you need to improve. Ask your business development/marketing team to help you develop a personal business plan. Also, be willing to do the research and “grunt” work for a future pitch.
DANDRIDGE: You have to demonstrate that you are a team player. You will not be on a pitch or get origination credit unless you do so. You also have to be willing to give credit, not just get it.
Question #3: The coffee at my firm is terrible. It seems so petty, but it is a productivity issue. Should I complain?
LEACH: Yes, but get confirmation that many lawyers at the firm share your opinion that the coffee is truly terrible. Also, try to at least add flavored creamer before you say it’s terrible.
HUGG: That’s right. A great place to work has great coffee. Law firms spend a lot of money on water coolers. Empowering coffee is a necessity.
SKOWRON: If you know who is responsible for buying the coffee, become friends with them, then mention it.
STRUWE: I would be more careful when picking your battles. Coffee is not a hill I would die on. If you are working at a firm that does not pay you enough to buy coffee of your choice, seek out another firm.
MEYERS: Don’t make this an issue. You might get a reputation for being a complainer. If the bad coffee is causing you to go out to get better coffee and this affects your productivity, then invest in a coffee maker for your own office.
Email your questions for next month’s column to firstname.lastname@example.org. If selected, questions will be published anonymously; your name and firm/business name will not be published.
Schnader’s Q&A panelists include: Laurel Brandstetter (Pittsburgh partner; 2000 law school graduate), Albert S. Dandridge, III (Philadelphia partner; 1978 law school graduate), Jonathan W. Hugg (Philadelphia partner; 1994 law school graduate), Nicole Leach (Philadelphia associate; 2015 law school graduate), Julie Meyers (Chief Marketing Officer, 1986 law school graduate), Claudia Rayer (Director of Human Resources), Jonathan B. Skowron (Pittsburgh associate; 2009 law school graduate), David Robert Struwe (Philadelphia associate; 2011 law school graduate)