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Tag Archives: Lawyers

Paths to Success: An Interview with Larry Zelle

 

Larry Zelle

It is clear that the successful and prominent attorneys in our community are gatekeepers to success. They have attained achievement and are formally and informally chosen to be mentors for younger attorneys amongst their ranks. Cornell Moore, Board member of Twin Cities Diversity in Practice from Dorsey & Whitney LLP, along with associates, William Hughes and Mike Blackmon, recently sat down with Larry Zelle, co-founder and partner, of member firm, Zelle Hofmann Voelbel & Mason LLP, to hear what he had to say about his path to success, his mentors, and what challenges young attorneys face in today’s legal market.

1. Please tell us about how and where you began your legal career?

I began my legal career in private practice at the law firm of Robins, Davis & Lyons (now Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi LLP) after clerking at the Minnesota Supreme Court for Justice William P. Murphy.  I knew that I wanted to be a trial attorney, and I appreciated that I was able to start trying cases early in my career.  I believe that my early mentors and clerkship with the Minnesota Supreme Court were both instrumental in affording me the opportunity to begin trying cases within my first year of practice, during which I tried a total of ten cases, two of which were in federal court.  I also was able to make appellate arguments because of my experience gained from clerking for Justice Murphy.  By the time I was thirty, I had already obtained a $100,000 verdict, which in today’s dollars would probably be over $1,000,000.

2. As a young lawyer, tell us about mentors that were instrumental in your early development.  What type of guidance did they provide?

Robins, Davis & Lyons co-founder Solly Robins, along with then managing partner Bud Orren, and Minnesota bail bondsman Bud Goldberg, were invaluable early mentors for me.  From Solly Robins, I learned to be a perfectionist about my work.  He taught me that my work product should have at least four drafts before the final is submitted to a client or the court.  Although my early court appearances as second chair to Solly were great learning experiences, he cautioned me not to emulate him.  Instead, he encouraged me to find my own style and develop my own techniques in the courtroom.  As managing partner, Bud Orren was a guide whose leadership pointed me in the right direction.  Similarly, Bud Goldberg was instrumental in my development.  I met Goldberg after arguing a motion in District Court.  Shortly thereafter, he introduced me to most of the Hennepin County judges, clerks, and bailiffs.  That enabled me to feel more comfortable in court early in my career, and helped me learn my way around the courthouse.  Moreover, Bud Goldberg was a lifelong friend to whom I could turn whenever I needed help.

3. Have you thought about intentionally repaying the help you received as a young lawyer, and if so, how have you helped young lawyers transition into legal practice, and what types of leadership, mentorship, and advice have you provided?

I started mentoring others early in my career at the Robins, Davis & Lyons firm.  It has been very fulfilling to see my mentees grow and take leadership positions as their careers have progressed.  Several of my mentees actually became partners at Robins, Davis & Lyons and departed with me to become the leadership of Zelle Hofmann.  My mantra for mentorship has been to give young attorneys an opportunity, responsibility and guidance.  In some instances, mentoring has gone far beyond mere legal career advice, and I have developed close relationships of trust with those mentees.  The greatest piece of advice that I can provide to young attorneys is to take virtual ownership of every client matter and case in which you are involved.  In other words, imagine that you have primary responsibility for the particular matter on which you are working.  Through this process, one will be stimulated to think more critically, ask better questions to the assigning attorney, and have greater development in one’s career.

4. How have you provided leadership and mentorship to young attorneys?

After I became Co-Executive partner at Robins, Davis & Lyons, I began to work with many young attorneys who were assigned to some of the larger cases I handled.  Many of those attorneys have since achieved their own successes, and are now partners at law firms throughout the Twin Cities and elsewhere.  In working with attorneys, I gave extensive responsibilities to all associates, allowing them to make meaningful contributions to the cases.  They knew that their work was valuable and communication was encouraged.  Beyond creating an environment that fostered the professional development of attorneys in the legal sense, I developed a relationship of trust with younger attorneys that also fostered the professional growth of my mentees.

5. What is one of the biggest challenges that you see young attorneys facing, and do you have any advice as to those who are facing such a challenge?

Among the biggest challenges is making certain you are able to gain significant and meaningful experience early in your career within the given practice area you are involved, whether that is in the transactional or litigation realm.  It is important to take virtual ownership of the matters in which you are involved, even at the beginning stages of your career.  This will enable you to become fully immersed in the issues, and make you more comfortable when asking informed questions or making intelligent suggestions to the assigning attorney.

6. What advice do you have for young attorneys who may not have identified a mentor but are interested in doing so?

Make certain to first answer for yourself the area(s) of the law of interest to you that you would like to pursue.  Once you have made this determination, it is important to seek out the attorneys who have created a successful career in those areas, and whom you admire.  It is important to keep in mind, also, that you will want a mentor who has a commitment to your professional development, will advocate for you, and has the willingness to advise you with candor.

 
 

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Moneyball Studies: Lessons Learned

What do baseball teams and law firms have in common? Probably not a whole lot, but as Monique Drake of Lawyer Metrics LLC told us at the Leadership Summit on January 25, legal employers can learn a lot from the Oakland Athletics’ General Manager Billy Beane and his moneyball hiring strategies, where he constructs a baseball team built strategically for success. Both in baseball and law, employers need to identify real correlations and eliminate outmoded identifiers of success.

Billy Beane, General Manager Oakland Athletics

In baseball, you have statistics like runs batted in or home runs  which are may be indicative of a star player, but these statistics may not yield the maximum impact for the health of the team, overall. For instance, is it a good trade-off, if for every home run that a player hits, he strikes out five times? Probably not, right? Consistency, or on-base percentage, will likely be a greater predictor of overall team success, while home runs will indicate an individual with great statistics.

Legal employers can have their own moneyball statistics too. Professors Marjorie Shultz and Sheldon Zedeck of the University of California at Berkeley released a study in 2003, “Predicting Lawyer Effectiveness: Broadening the Basis for Law School Admission Decisions”, which identified 26 effectiveness factors by which to evaluate attorneys and potential hires, including, Analysis and Reasoning, Stress Management, and an Ability to See the World through the Eyes of Others. The traditional hiring attributes, like grades, law review, and class rank have the potential to be like home runs or RBI – the qualities of a star – but they may not be the qualities that are the most effective for your team.

The key to finding what skills will be the most effective begins with identifying what makes someone the most successful at your individual organization. Here is what Drake recommends:

  • Step 1: Identify measures of success.
  • Step 2: Identify your most successful attorneys based on these measures – perhaps your top 20 to 40 – depending on your size.
  • Step 3: Analyze the background of your most successful attorneys for common traits that positively or negatively predict success.
  • Step 4: Develop an effective interviewing process to determine if a candidate has these skills or traits.
  • Step 5: Implement the process!

After you have identified your definition of success and implemented your process, it is important to follow through with intention. In baseball, it is important to place your newly acquired talent where they can be the most effective in the batting order, so you can minimize the talent’s weak areas, while they are being honed. Similarly, it is important to give your attorneys the best opportunity to succeed, so they can be great members of your team, on a long-term basis and attract clients/fans!

Monique Drake   Lawyer Metrics LLC

To ensure your talent is the most effective, Drake challenged employers to integrate your new factors of success into all of talent management and development and to communicate the factors regularly to the organizations attorneys and work them into your organization’s culture. Drake also urged organizations to refine how work is allocated to ensure associates are able to receive feedback and can be sponsored or championed by rainmakers and partners of influence, rather than only by service partners. Finally Drake pressed attendees to identify the traits in your corporate culture that may be barriers to success and to provide development opportunities to help alleviate their influence.

While baseball and law may not have (m)any direct links, the comparison between building a strong team is pretty uncanny. Knowing what best prepares your attorneys for a successful career in your organization is imperative for retention and the long-term vitality of your attorneys – both minority and majority.

For more information:

Lawyer Metrics LLC | http://www.lawyermetrics.com/home.html

Shultz & Zedeck | https://breakintolaw.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/predicting-effectiveness-shultz-zedeck.pdf

What has your law firm or corporate legal department done to help choose successful attorneys? What have you done to make relatively unsuccessful attorneys turn their career trajectory around?

 

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7 Ways to Have Fun & Make Your Network Grow

There is one word that nobody trying to find a job or advance in their career is looking to hear less than Networking. It’s a buzz word, so often used that it instantly clicks peoples’ brains to the off position. But if networking is so ubiquitous, then why are so many people so bad at it?

Networking, in it’s lowest form, is simply making basic, human connections with people in the community. That’s it! It’s getting to know people and getting people to know you and having them like you enough for them to remember you. Networking in positions where you need to make sales, like as a lawyer in private practice, will become even more beneficial, because not only will you be able to use your connections to find employment or opportunities for professional advancement, you will also be able to use your own personal network to drive business and/or get earmarked for work assignments.

As a lawyer, networking starts in law school. Your fellow classmates will one day be your future colleagues, future clients, and future bosses. And since everyone that you meet could someday be a potential client or be connected to someone that can get you further on your path toward your goals, you might as well enjoy the time that you spend building relationships and making acquaintances and friends!

Are you at a loss for fun or interesting ways to meet new people and build relationships? Here’s a couple of ideas to help get you started.

1. Young Professionals Organizations

Young Professional organizations oftentimes give you the opportunity to show your leadership skills, when if you are just entering your field, you may not get the same opportunities at work. In addition, your work with these organizations may satisfy your need to give back to the community, if you aren’t able to do that with your job, as well!

If you live in the Twin Cities, here are some great examples:

AZUL (Minnesota Zoo)

GenYWCA

The Scene (Hennepin Theatre Trust)

Young Professionals Minneapolis

YPro (St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce)

2. Non-profit organization Boards

There is something to be said of being on the Board of a non-profit organization. Being an active, engaged, and thoughtful member of a Board will give you the opportunity to connect with fellow Board members as well as members of the community. Board service also gives you the opportunity to work on projects that you are passionate about!

Interested in Board service? Check out the Minnesota Council of Non-Profit’s job/volunteer board!

3. Sports teams

One great way to meet people is to join a sports team. Basketball, slow-pitch softball, kickball – whatever it is that you find fun. Not only can you find it enjoyable  and get in a little exercise to help reduce your stress, you can show your teammates    that you a fun person to be around, you work well on a team, are reliable, and have passion! Check with your employer to see if they ave any established teams or what their policy is for sponsoring a team. If you still live near the law school that you went to, they may have an alumni team that you an join, too!

4. Affinity bar organization galas and events

So, maybe sports aren’t your thing. Instead of putting on a team uniform, throw on    our favorite formal clothes and attend the galas put on by the various affinity bars or   other organizations around town! Some of them likely have a cost associated with attendance, but the money generally goes to a good cause! It’s important to note     that you usually don’t have to belong to the affinity group that is hosting the event, as long as you have a ticket!

For links to the local affinity bar association websites, click here!

5. Peer Mentor groups

Friends of friends are also a good place to start! Gather a group of people who you would consider peers and discuss topics that are important to being successful in your job! You can talk about time management techniques, balancing work with having children, generational differences in communication, or effective branding techniques.

6. Meetup.com

Are you brand new to the Twin Cities and don’t know very many people? Check out www.meetup.com to find groups of people who are interested in doing the same things that you like doing! Groups in the Twin Cities include a Salsa dancing group, language conversation groups, “The Monthly Pint Group”, and even a paranormal research society. Browse through the available groups, and if you don’t see one that you like, make your own!

7. Diversity in Practice events

And there is always Diversity in Practice events! Come to our annual Summer Social, sign up for our Mentoring Circles or Ambassador Program, or join one of our committees!

Do you build connections with people through any of these ways? What other fun ways do you get to know people?

 

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Unspoken Bias and You: The Power of Micromessages

“Don’t worry, I’m still listening.”

“Here is the next candidate. Her resume is so great. Everyone in the department is excited for her.”

“I didn’t say she stole the client…”

Have you heard any of these quotes around the office? Perhaps you’ve said them recently yourself? Don’t worry, we are all guilty of using micromessages, or unspoken cues. Positive messages, or Microadvantages show a bias for, while negative messages, or Microinequities, show a bias against. In order to create and maintain an inclusive work environment, we should be aware of how these micromessages show our conscious and unconscious biases.

As a resource for attorneys in the Twin Cities, we hear from people about how others’ unconscious bias has been a major barrier to advancement within the profession and comfort at their current place of employment. The unconscious bias for some individuals, can lead to unbalanced access, and can truly impede professional development for others. As such, we thought it would be a great opportunity to bring in Stephen Young, of Insight Education Systems, who has literally written the book on micromessages (“Micromessaging: Why Great Leadership is Beyond Words”), to discuss the importance of, not only the words that you use, but also how you say them.

Below, we have included two examples of micromessages, to help set you on the right track toward being aware of your own biases, and to help identify those of others. If you want to know more, feel free to check out Mr. Young’s book.

“Micromessaging: Why Great Leadership is Beyond Words”

1. Introductions

The way in which you introduce yourself or someone else can have a major impact on the result of a meeting or relationship, because of micromessages that show bias, either real or perceived. Imagine you introduce two new colleagues to another co-worker in the following way:

“Hey, Sandra! Come meet our three newest department protoges! This is Hakeem – Harvard graduate, top of his class. Impressive, right? This is Michelle, she just got back from a year teaching English in Cambodia! And this – I’m sorry – I forgot your name…is it Meghan?”

Clearly, Meghan is going to feel a little down on herself, knowing that you almost forgot her name and didn’t remember anything that you had talked about previously. This may be the beginning of Meghan feeling on the outside looking in, which could cycle into not feeling comfortable sharing ideas or taking on leadership opportunities within the deapartment, which could ultimately lead to Meghan not being successful within your organization.

Instead, make sure to balance your introductions or allow the three new hires to introduce themselves. This will allow each of the three, to feel like they are on equal ground and have the same opportunity to succeed within your group.

2. Any other ideas?

Have you ever been in a brainstorm session, and say something that you think is insightful, only to have the moderator say, “That’s great. Any other ideas?” Mr.Youngdiscussed how we throw around words like great and terrific, to the point that they don’t mean anything, unless you back it up with discussion on the merit of the idea. By quickly moving on, the moderator showed a lack of interest, and by invoking the word other, he or she implied that they were searching for something better or an alternative option.Mr.Young says, that if a manager or discussion moderator takes time to offer a true reaction or assessment of merit of each idea, team members will be more likely to come up with ideas in a greater volume and potentially think with greater innovation in mind.

Still skeptical? Mr. Young led the following exercise, which is also included on page 161 of his book, that showed how much impact microinequities have on a person’s performance.

You will need a partner to do this exercise. One of you will be Person A, and the other Person B. Person A speaks and Person B only listens. Have Person A talk through each of the eight items in the columns below, starting with Segment 1, followed by Segment 2, making sure to audibly note when switching to the second Segment.

Segment 1Name/Tenure, Position, Responsibilities, Work Challenge

Segment 2Previous role, Organization, Responsibilities, Current project

During Segment 1, Person B should actively listen, with all attention to the speaker, including eye contact, smiles, nods, and audible “mhms.” During Segment 2, however, Person B should stop paying attention completely – break eye contact, check their phone, talk to someone else, and so forth. Now switch!

How did you feel while you were speaking in Segment 1? How did this change in Segment 2? Did you notice any differences in your performance in the two segments? Do you find yourself battling micromessages in your job or daily life? Tell us what you think!

 

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DIVERSITY: 5 Tips to Doing Diversity Right

If you’re finding this blog and Twin Cities Diversity in Practice for the first time, you’re probably wondering, “Why do you do what you do?” We at Twin Cities Diversity in Practice know that diversity and inclusion in the legal profession is vital, not only for the health of the industry, but also to best serve clients and the community. There are many facets to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace, but we work primarily on diversity from a race and ethnicity perspective. We have strategically included concepts of inclusion into our work, because a more inclusive workplace helps break down barriers that people of color face in the current legal landscape.

Through our efforts in diversity and inclusion, we have found some key guidelines to work by that all people who are in management, recruiting, and diversity/inclusion work should take into consideration in their practice.

1. Avoid tokenism.

Identity is complicated! Asking an individual to speak for an entire community is not only a lot of pressure, but can be misleading. For instance, the experience of a Latina who grew up in an urban community is different than a Latina from suburban community. Or maybe it isn’t. Every person brings a different vantage point to the table, given their race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion (the list goes on). So perhaps that Latina from the city has more in common with the Latina from the suburbs, than she would with another urban Latina, due to other parts of her identity. But because we have chosen to only look at her gender, ethnicity, and location, and haven’t gotten to know her or her story, it is not possible to make such a conclusion.

2. Move past “Check-the-Box” mentality.

Making and measuring progress is important, but how do we define progress? Reaching a certain number or percentage of people of color in your department is great goal, but that metric is superficial. Work to dig deeper with your metrics to focus on differences in background and thought, or diversity within diversity. Also, are you just hiring your way to your threshold? Making sure the people of color within your department are a comfortable, successful, contributing members of your workplace and corporate culture, are allowed to effectively bring aspects of themselves into client relations and work product, and can see potential for growth within your organization are important for retention, morale, and employee buy-in and success.

3. Intentionally balance access.

Access is the mechanism which allows people to succeed. Repeated opportunity to prove your skills to senior attorneys, have face time with clients, and get regular feedback are all important to being a successful lawyer. Privilege that you are born with oftentimes gives certain individuals a higher chance of gaining access, because if a junior attorney has a similar interest or background as more senior attorneys in your organization, they’re more likely to be able to find their way into an inner circle. They’re more likely to be able to speak the “code” that others at the firm speak. They’ll understand idiomatic, regional, and class-based references that give them extra opportunities to prove their worth, socially. Being aware of these biases, which are likely unconscious, and working to intentionally balance access, is important because it allows all young attorneys the opportunity to succeed within your organization.

4. Focus on innovation.

Nobody is doing everything right. Some firms and organizations may be on the right track, but diversity and inclusion is still a major industry concern. Diversity has been lacking in the legal industry since its formation, so institutional change may be needed. Implement relevant best practices, but since the current structure isn’t working, its up to you to break the mold! Work with your organization to decide what your approach will be. You’ll never know the results until you try it.

5. Be authentic.

Nothing is worse than an organization that doesn’t practice what they preach. You may not know everything there is to know about diversity and inclusion, but if you truly care about creating a workplace that is safe and accepting of everyone, people will take notice and your efforts will shine through. Authenticity goes a long way in complicated tasks like diversity and inclusion efforts, and knowing when you don’t know the answer and asking for help can overshadow your subject knowledge deficit.

Which of these tasks will help bring your organization to the next level? What other tips do you have? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below!

 

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