“It takes a village to raise a child.” This maxim could easily be applied to lawyers. Sure you can try to go from being a baby lawyer to a adolescent lawyer to a full grown lawyer on your own. You can try doing it without a mentor to help you grow and without a community to support you. But why would you want to?
Traditional Sources of Community for Lawyers
It used to be that you were limited by geography to finding and participating in a community. Local bar associations played a huge role in the lives of many lawyers, acting as sources of referrals and collegiality. Many have continued to serve this important function, but lawyers are not limited to traditional communities like this any more.
More recently, practice-oriented organizations (like DRI and CLM for insurance defense lawyers) have provided additional avenues for growth, development, and community for lawyers. Conferences provide opportunities for lawyers to discuss common problems, learn methods of improving their practice, and meet new people. But aside from exchanges messages on a listserv or attending meetings a couple times a year, these interactions are often fairly limited. Most of us need something more consistent and readily available.
Maybe you have that among a group of friends who you can bounce ideas off of. But from what I’ve seen, most lawyers don’t. They’re daily or weekly interactions are constrained to the folks within their own firm. Or if they’re lucky, perhaps they have a mentor available to them.
Find Your Community of Lawyers
But technology has created new opportunities for networking and developing communities. Two years ago, I found a community in LawyerSmack that has been both helpful and a source of great entertainment. We have a group of people who are rooting for each other to succeed, are willing to share practice ideas, empathize with each other through family problems, and refer business to each other. It is a place where colleagues can become friends despite being separated by hundreds of miles. Here is an example of where the community helped out of the members who had career advice questions:
Matt: Hey guys – interview etiquette question and I’m curious what the LawyerSmack thoughts are. I’m interviewing for a public interest place that seems like it lines up perfectly with my interests and experience. The salary range they posted is below what I’m making now and well below what I want to make. I applied anyway and had a great phone interview and they want me to come in to meet with the director. I know I can’t accept the job at the range they listed. Originally I figured I’d go and if they really wanted me we can negotiate but my girlfriend thinks that it may come across really bad that I wasted their time with the entire process if I could never accept anything within the range they posted. Thoughts? Should I just cancel the interview?
For clarification, the range they posted was very small (5k difference between high and low) and I’m being paid about 10k more than the top of their range right now.
Nick: Unless there are some major long-term bridges being burned, you owe them no duty to cancel meeting. It’s their responsibility prior to bring you in to determine if you’re willing to work for that salary you’re not wasting their time they’re wasting their own time.
Walter: As someone who ran a non-profit for a bit (and have interviewed for a number of non-legal and legal positions) – a lot of times more $$ can be found if they really want you. That being said, I would expect that you are going to make a bit less than you are now. I don’t think you need to cancel the interview – if nothing else you can always say “The fit isn’t right given the salary” or something similar.
Matt: Got it. Yeah all of that makes sense. Thanks, guys. I wasn’t planning to cancel but wanted to check just in case if I was out of line.
Erica: Yeah I’d ask for more but be prepared for, “No.”
Keith: Yeah, no reason not to go. But you’ve also got to look out for yourself and your family. The work might be more satisfying, but if you can’t support yourself, that’s a no go.
Dan: It might be reasonable to think about telling them you can’t accept the job for less than $X – do they still want you to interview?
Matt: I was thinking about that. But I think it might come across as a little pretentious?
Jeremy: I agree with what had been posted. Go to the interview and give them the opportunity to tell you no.
Dan: The real question is why you applied to a job with a posted salary range well below what you would expect.
Kristen: Yeah. I think you go, and if you get an offer, take a day or two to think, call back and say – this is a perfect fit for me, I’d love to do it, I don’t think I can justify the financial cut, blah blah blah.
He just said why. He wants the job and hopes there’s wiggle room.
Dan: Eh, I expect the place will offer him a job, he’ll tell them their salary demands, and they’ll go, well, why’d you bother? We told you what we were paying,
Jeremy: A posted salary range is always negotiable if they want you. I would not not respond to a posting because of salary
Walter: Agreed, @jeremy
Kristen: But maybe they call him back in 9 mos after it doesn’t work out with a new guy, too.
Matt: Yeah, I applied because it matched up perfectly with my experience, and I figured they’d be willing to negotiate a bit above what they posted for a perfect match. I’m not asking for double the salary or anything.
Kristen: I don’t think you need to justify that. It makes sense.
Craig: Oh, come on, @Dan, you know it’s more flexible than that.
Matt: It’s about teaching kids law and running mock trial programs and stuff, and I’ve been coaching mock trial and moot court since college, and I’m involved in multiple programs today as a volunteer. So I can’t imagine another candidate with that kind of experience also applying. I figure they might be willing to be flexible.
Dan: My suggestion was to simply inform them ahead of time of your salary expectations. Because they’ll offer you the job and then get whiplash
Kristen: I’ve been on interviews before with a posted range and then they’ve been like, “So what are your salary expectations?” [shrugs shoulders]
Anyway. Go and kill it. And if it doesn’t work out, no big deal.
Matt: Thanks everyone! This has been really helpful.
What a Community Can Do for You
The point here isn’t how great LawyerSmack is … although it is. But rather, you need a group of people around you who can help you when you have questions. Who can disagree with you and question your ideas. Who can support you. Who you can talk about whether hotdogs are sandwiches with.
We all need support, encouragement, and entertainment. Find a community of lawyers that can help you grow. Whether it’s lawyers in your practice area who are spread across the country or a diverse group of lawyers you eat lunch with weekly. And if you can’t find a group that meets your particular needs, form one.
Photo by Newfrontiers.