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The Top 5

Top 5 – Become a Better Writer

Is your brief a winner?

  1. Start with an Outline. Easy as 1, 2, 3, right?
  2. Flesh it out—It's just a first draft, so cut, snip, and chop with abandon!
  3. Stay strong There is no room for weak words. Eliminate everything that isn't persuasive.
  4. Consider how each page looks—Employ pull-quotes, subheadings and even white open space to help keep a judge from getting bored.
  5. Get a second opinion—Because four eyes are always better than two.

Top 5 – Working with Judges

Want the best outcome for your client and a great reputation at the courthouse? Keep these simple rules in mind. 

  1. Don't be late – Wasting a judge's time is not going to help you or your client.
  2. Learn the rules – A lawyer who doesn't know or understand the applicable rules – procedural rules, ethics rules, evidence rules, and the like – risks appearing incompetent or, worse, giving their opponent a big advantage. 
  3. Remain civil – Even if things aren't going your way, keep cool and think before you speak.
  4. Put yourself in her shoes – Is the judge having a bad day? Don't be surprised if that happens sometimes. Imagine the stress that a judge encounters on a daily basis
  5. Don't Argue -- Nothing is more certain to upset a Judge than to argue after the Judge has ruled. If you disagree with the ruling on a substantive issue, you can file an appropriate motion to reconsider.

The Top 5 – Working with Work E-mail

Before you hit send, take a breath and ask yourself the following:

  1. Could this be published in a newspaper? – Sure, there’s nothing criminal in your message—but would you be embarrassed if it were made public? Consider how the staff at Enron probably felt in 2001 when 92% of their emails were published by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2001.
  2. To whom am I responding? – When you receive a group email it’s quick and easy to just click ‘Reply All.’ But during the course of a conversation other addresses could have been added or removed… and don’t forget there may be blind copied recipients that you don’t even know about.
  3. Did I proofread? Attention to detail is important. Don’t throw away your good professional image on a careless typo.
  4. Is the content better suited for a letter, phone call or in-person conversation? Email’s  convenient, but not all information is best delivered electronically.
  5. Did I reveal too much? Be wary of including sensitive information—social security numbers, credit card numbers, or other personal information—that could be used by identity thieves.

The Top 5 – Should You Blawg?

A blawg is simply a blog for the legal crowd. But not every lawyer is suited to becoming a blawgger—do you have what it takes?

  1. Are you eager to stand out? A blog can establish you as a leader in your field among your colleagues.
  2. Do you have something to say? No one's going to ready a boring blawg!
  3. Looking to attract more clients? Posting useful information to your social media platforms increases your website traffic and thus your odds of connecting with a prospective client.
  4. Is your skin thick enough? Dip your toe in first with a post or two on Facebook-- If you hate social media and value your privacy, move on.
  5. Do you have enough time? If not (and who really does?) there are companies out there who can help.

Top 5 – Ways to help a struggling co-worker

Lawyers carry a heavy load. And in this profession, it's easy to mistake depression for just being busy. But even those who are great at solving other peoples' problems could use some help now and then. Here's how you can help.

  1. Learn the signs – Is your colleague always late? Irritable? These could just be symptoms of a heavy workload. Or they could mean something more.
  2. Open your door - You can't spot problems at your firm if you're not approachable and willing to listen.
  3. Change the culture  – Fight the urge to make work your everything. The lawyer who proudly proclaims, "I haven't taken vacation in 10 years" should be given a referral to a travel agent, not a medal.
  4. But don't cover for him – In Illinois, if you know that a fellow lawyer has committed fraud, deceit, dishonesty or criminal conduct, you're required under the Himmel case to report that behavior to the ARDC.
  5. Call in the cavalry -  If you think you—or someone you know—may have a problem, contact the free and confidential services of the Lawyers Assistance Program. Check out their Web site: <>, or call them at 1-800-LAP-1233.

The Top 5 – Hiring the Right Staff

Need to hire? Everyone knows that good support staff can make a lawyer's job infinitely easier, but how do you go about it? Here are five suggestions to help you find the right person and avoid potential pitfalls.

  1. Start with a strong foundation—Spend time thinking about the position, and draft an accurate, detailed job description. What are the four to eight most important duties? What training or qualifications are necessary? Be as specific as you can to narrow down your applicant pool.
  2. Be prepared—An interview goes both ways, so be ready to answer questions about incentives, benefits and your realistic expectations.
  3. Know What You Can and Can't Ask—Discrimination claims can arise out of thoughtless questions or comments made during interviews.
  4. Don't Oversell— Doing so may unrealistically inflate applicant expectations and could result in a claim for breach of contract or promissory estoppel.
  5. Consider Virtual—Not every law practice wants or can afford more bodies in the office.

Top 5 – Have the Career You Want

Feeling like maybe a traditional career in the law isn't for you? Good news-- there are a great deal of options out there for those with a J.D. and a law license. Here's how to find the perfect fit for you.

  1. Discover New Interests – Attend CLE programs on a variety of topics, even ones you don't think you're interested in.
  2. Do what you love—Do you read? Watch football? If so, consider work as a literary or sports agent.
  3. Think Outside the Box—See our ongoing series, "What Can I Be with a J.D.?" for some ideas. 
  4. Do a little bit of everything—One reason many solo and small firm practitioners love what they do is because every day and every case is different.
  5. Don't Be Afraid of Change—It might not be easy, but transitions within the law happen all the time.

The Top 5 – Going Solo

More and more attorneys are opting to work for themselves. So what does it actually take to create and build a small law firm?

  1. Learn the ropes: This is best done on an employer's dime and under the supervision of an experienced practitioner.
  2. Don't dive in: Have a realistic business plan in place-- What kind of law are you going to practice? How you will support yourself until you see revenue? 
  3. Get insurance: Select and obtain liability insurance. You need it.
  1. Find clients: Start networking immediately. And then network some more.
  2. Prepare to be unprepared: Law school doesn't teach the business management side of things, so it's okay not to know everything.

The Top 5: Getting and Keeping Clients

Paying clients are the bread and butter of every law practice. So how do you find them? And better yet, how do you keep them happy?

  1. Avoid Complacency: Promoting your practice isn't something you do just to get new business—even current clients want to be reminded of your strengths.
  2. Get Out There: The more people you know, the more potential clients you know.
  3. Invest in the Relationships You Already Have: Take a genuine interest in your clients' lives—greet them when you see them socially, or send an email to follow-up on a previous conversation.
  4. Practice Good Etiquette: Ask yourself how you would want to be treated. Would you be irritated if you left a message for your lawyer and he took four days to get back to you?
  5. Ask Clients Directly: Give out a client satisfaction survey—and this is the hard part-- be open to making changes accordingly.

The Top 5: Get That Raise

Come to the table with a plan and you just might be rewarded:

  1. Don't Be Shy: You've got to ask for what you want. No one's going to give you more when they think you're satisfied with less.
  2. Come prepared: And if you can quantify your value, hard data is always a plus.
  3. Consider alternatives: If money's tight (and really, when is it not?) you may need to be open to non-salary benefits.
  4. Be realistic: Bottom line, you need to bring in more than you cost. If you can't prove your worth, wait until you can.
  5. Have perspective: A reasonable request will likely be met with a reasonable response.

The Top 5 Ways to Keep Your Balance

You're making great strides in your career, but at what personal expense? Here are five tips to ensure your work and home life stay balanced.

  1. Be Honest: With your family, your employer, and with yourself. It's okay to love what you do, and it's also okay to step back when you feel overwhelmed.
  2. Set Reasonable Expectations: Blackout times when you're absolutely unavailable to answer calls and emails—like during family dinner-- then let your employer and clients know you'll respond afterwards.
  3. Bring Your Kids: The next Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day is April 27, 2017. Put it on your calendar.
  4. Work it Off: Many employers sponsor wellness programs-- Check with your boss or HR rep to see if yours is one of them.
  5. Develop a Plan: Where would you like to be in five years? Create a roadmap to help you achieve your personal goals.

The Top 5: Resolutions for 2017

This year, make resolutions you want to keep.

  1. Set achievable goals: Something broad, like "don't procrastinate," isn't realistic. But having all briefs drafted a week before they're due, so you have time to review them with clients and colleagues, is.
  2. Become a better writer: If you are just starting out, identify someone whose writing you admire and develop a mentor relationship with him or her.
  3. Take advantage of free CLE - Eligible ISBA members can  select from over 450 hours of online CLE content to earn up to 15 MCLE credit hours (including PMCLE credit) per bar year (July 1 - June 30).
  4. Fix Your Finances: Overwhelmed by law school debt? By developing a plan early on in your career you'll also hone the financial skills you'll use the rest of your life.
  5. Make Time for What Matters: Remember that you have a life outside of your career and it's important too.

The Top 5: Surviving and Thriving Through the Holidays

The holiday season is upon us. It can be overwhelming, but it also presents opportunities to shine.

  1. Reconnect with clients: Send a simple, inexpensive holiday card to your existing clients. Most lawyers don't, and you'll set yourself apart while securing client loyalty.
  2. Savor the Experiences: The end of the year is a natural time to look back and consider what was good and what could have been done better.
  3. Celebrate Differences: Not everyone observes the same holidays. Remember to be respectful and accommodating with those who don't share your beliefs.
  4. Prepare for Peace: By working with your clients to create an end-of-year game plan you'll prevent any emergency motions and ensure you get to enjoy this time with your own family.
  5. Enjoy the Festivities: Office parties and social events are everywhere. Have fun, but keep in mind you'll be seeing your co-workers on Monday!

The Top 5: Ways to Give Back

With the holidays upon us it's important to remember to give back - to others in need, to the profession, and to those who will follow us in our profession. Here are some ideas:

  1. Contribute Your Time: Check out Illinois Legal Aid Online's Young Professionals Board. They're looking for attorneys, paralegals, non-lawyer volunteers and law students to volunteer just four hours or fewer per month.
  2. Donate Money: The Illinois Bar Foundation (IBF) is the charitable arm of the ISBA. The IBF's mission is to enhance the availability of justice for those without attorneys and to support lawyers in financial need.
  3. Share Your Talent:  The ISBA encourages lawyers to participate in pro bono activities and has compiled an informative webpage to help you find the right opportunity.
  4. Impart Your Wisdom: The ISBA's Lawyer-to-Lawyer Mentoring Program is a year-long mentoring program that pairs ISBA lawyers with new admittees to provide them with guidance during their first years of practice. Hurry—enrollment deadline is December 16, 2016.
  5. Remember the Children: The ISBA's YLD Holiday Party is an annual tradition that benefits the Illinois Bar Foundation / YLD Children's Assistance Fund. This year's party will be held on December 8, 2016 from 7:00: 9:00 p.m.

Top 5: Do You Need an Office?

Is your practice a good candidate for going virtual? Here's what you need to consider:

  1. How long you've been in practice: The more stuff you've accumulated, the tougher it may be.
  2. How often you meet with clients face to face: Why pay rent if you're working over phone or e-mail anyway?
  3. How much staff your practice requires: A few employees could probably work just as productively offsite.
  4. How much paper you have: If there's not too much paper coming in, you can work scanning into your daily routine.
  5. How secure the cloud is: What if cloud servers are hacked? Do your homework.

5 Ways Add Value to Your Firm

With legal jobs in high demand, job security is at an all-time low, especially for the less experienced. Here’s how to make yourself indispensable:

  1. Lend a hand: Be helpful for the sake of helping others, and don’t aim to get credit every time.
  2. Generate business: Your personal connections can help your firm. Don’t be afraid to share.
  3. Pay it forward: Say yes when asked to give a presentation to law students or judge a moot court competition. 
  4. Identify opportunities: Organize the holiday party or offer to help interview for the new paralegal position.  
  5. Take the initiative: If you see a problem, fix it. Remember, you’re a part of the team!