Peer to Peer Magazine

December 2012

The quarterly publication of the International Legal Technology Association

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Evaluating a law firm on which they may stake their professional futures is one of the first challenges of career-minded young lawyers. The second thread traces the personal history of two eventual applicants for associate positions with Smith Jones. Both students have experience — she in her father's hotel and restaurant business, he in banking — and education that equip them for legal careers with an established midsize law firm. How one of them makes the right choice and the other ends up having to make a course correction helps to highlight the complexity of finding an optimal fit between candidate and opportunity. For a glimpse of the content, let's take a look at two of the topics — possibly the two that are least likely to be prominent in a student's or novice associate's expectations of law firm life: training and marketing. Training According to the author, any firm's hiring policy and program necessarily include training, whether formal or informal. This is invariably related to the firm's expectations of its associates and its evaluation process. To be effective, the training of new hires must be a matter of commitment among the firm's members and treated as a priority, both as expressed through the mandates and attitudes of management and as reinforced by funding. Its success depends on the willing participation of the firm's junior associates as well as its designated and de facto mentors. A reasonable degree of selfinterest dictates that firm members at all levels focus the bulk of their efforts where the rewards are greatest. Ongoing training activities contribute appreciably to the development of future firm owners. They may also lead to the identification of associates whose career paths are not best aligned with the particular firm. The sooner such determinations are made, the better for all concerned. The illustrative threads in the chapter on training underscore the value of training and the impact of learning through guided experience. Marketing If what we typically think of as the function of marketing seems remote from the practice of law, perhaps that's because we're not thinking of it in terms of the acquisition and retention of clients. Those two indispensable activities, says Koster, are nothing other than marketing — "the process of creating or identifying a need for a service or product and promoting a mutually agreeable means for satisfying that need." All members of an organization are a part of that process, whether so designated or not. An essential element of what marketing means for a law firm is relationships. Mutual trust and respect are key components. Because legal services are not a concrete product, much depends on the firm's reputation and the client's perception. Each individual lawyer must achieve differentiation in the marketplace in order to be a client's initial and ongoing choice for legal services; and firms must have a marketing plan that accomplishes the same thing. To the greatest extent possible, the marketing plans of all firm members must be consistent with the overall plan of the firm so that self-interest is not in conflict with the interests of the organization. Support staff can be as critical to the client's favorable view of the firm as are the associates and owners. Examples in the chapter call out the difference between advertising and marketing and show how effective marketing involves everyone in the business, both internally and externally. Although some members may be more gifted marketers than others, the contributions of all play into the firm's ability to gain and keep its clientele. The Checklist While anticipating the hiring manager's evaluation of their candidacy, Koster's fictitious law students pool their lists of questions for finding out what they need to know about prospective employers. The topics they cover boil down to the elements of firm culture defined at the outset and elaborated during the course of the book. In preparing not only for their interviews but for their careers, the two students are also shown incorporating all their prior work experience, both as interns and in other positions along the way. One of the points that Koster brings out is the transferability of basic business skills and practices from one setting to another. Although the scope of the book is limited by its stated goals and leaves much to be discovered about the business of the practice of law, newcomers will find that it offers a starting point for progressing from learning about the law to learning to be a lawyer. Meredy Amyx is a writer and editor with three decades of experience in high-tech in the heart of Silicon Valley. She has edited hundreds of thousands of pages of technical documentation and related materials, as well as nontechnical content such as novels, memoirs, essays and "Although a firm may have the brightest lawyers on the planet," warns Koster, "it will fail unless the skills of those lawyers are successfully marketed." short stories. A member of the Bay Area Editors' Forum and an active member of the South Bay Branch of California Writers Club, Meredy has won a number of prizes for her writing. She can be contacted at editor@meredyamyx.com. Peer to Peer 73

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