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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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Pipeline: What is it and why does it matter?

While the Keystone XL oil pipeline may be a controversial oil transportation project periodically in the headlines, a completely different pipeline has an immense impact on the racial and ethnic demographics in the Twin Cities legal industry.

According to 2012 data from the National Association of Legal Professionals (NALP), approximately 6.49% of attorneys in the Twin Cities metropolitan area are people of color*. The statistics become even more alarming when you break this number down further to see how many Partners of color are in our community, particularly women of color. In comparison, the Twin Cities metro, overall, has a population of 23.59% people of color^. Not only does this tell us that racial and ethnic minorities are vastly under-represented in the legal community, it shows us that there is a lot of work left to do.

One way to achieve greater, more representative numbers, is to hire our way to a representative sector. Essentially, we can try enticing attorneys and law students of color from outside of the Twin Cities to move here. While this may work in the short term, not only will it be harder for attorneys with no connections in the community to build a client base, it will also be harder to get them to stay. As such, a more sustainable method to increase representation is to address root causes of the problem, like the vast achievement gap in the Twin Cities, and working with youth to realize that a career in law is a viable and appealing option.

Realistically, building a pool of our own talent will also be difficult. The Twin Cities’ achievement gap in education is startlingly high. When looking at 2011 high school graduation rates in the Twin Cities, 82.5% of White (non-Hispanic) students graduated from high school, compared to 72.8% of Asian students, 48.0% of Black students, 47.7% of Hispanic students, and 35.9% of American Indian students**. Building a pipeline, or a path, for young people of color to become members of the legal community is key, and it starts at the earliest stages of their lives, to provide them with the environment and support to learn, graduate from high school, attend a reputable undergraduate institution, and find the right law school. The construction of this pipeline is vital in order to make the Twin Cities legal community more representative of the population, in a sustainable manner, with the worst case scenario of building a strong pipeline, being a more equitable education system.

Below are some great pipeline organizations that Diversity in Practice recommends. They all do great work and have opportunities to donate or volunteer!

1. Joyce Preschool

2. Minnesota Urban Debate League

3. Big Brothers Big Sisters/Hennepin County Bar Association

Do you have questions about the idea of legal pipeline, or do you want to know more? Visit the resources below or leave your questions and comments on this post!

1. ABA Council for Racial & Ethnic Diversity in the Educational Pipeline 

2. Example National Program: Legal Outreach 

Any other great pipeline organizations that you know of and would recommend? Leave them in the comments below!

 

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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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