Posts tagged: Employment

Job Opening – Accounting Manager, Law Firm

Immediate job opening:  A Montgomery County, PA law firm has an opening for an Accounting Manager. The responsibilities include overall direction and supervision of accounting operations, general ledger, financial reporting, accounts payable, accounts receivable, payroll, banking, cash receipts, collections and billing. Federal, State and Local tax reporting, preparing financial plans and annual budgets, and managing accounting staff. The desired candidate should possess previous experience in a law firm. Knowledge of Aderant Platinum a plus. Professional written and verbal communication skills required. Send resume and salary requirements to Joan Wean.

Economic Recovery Eludes Legal Industry

If job gains and losses are any indication of economic recovery, it is safe to say that the general economy continues to inch out of the recession pit, but the legal industry is still in the hole.  The most recent report by the US Department of Labor indicates that the legal industry lost 1,200 jobs in April, even as the economy as a whole saw the highest monthly job creation in more than two years.

According to DOL, the private sector as a whole has posted a job gain for 50 consecutive months.  That’s clear evidence that the recovery is moving at a snail’s pace.  Still, it keeps improving, and that’s what counts.  It has always been a peculiarity of the legal industry in that it lags behind the general economy;  slower to experience dips, and slower to recover.  So it’s not surprising at all.

Optimists like myself take comfort in knowing that eventually our sector will catch up.  Just keep in mind that the economy in the legal industry will never return to where it was.  There will be some expansion in some practice areas.  But as a whole we’re going to be faced with flat or diminished client demand and strong competition from firms of all sizes.

If you’ve been hanging on by a thread waiting for the recovery to bail you out –trying to avoid making changes which might be painful — it’s time to make the hard decisions.

Job Opening – Law Firm Office Administrator

Solnick & Levin is a small law firm in Jenkintown, PA with a busy personal injury and workers’ compensation practices.  They have a job opening for a Law Firm Office Administrator.

The firm, which currently has 4 attorneys and 6 staff, is growing and will be nearly doubling its footprint into space adjacent to their existing office.  The expansion project is expected to launch in April.  The responsibilities include human resources management, facilities management, and management of accounts payable and accounts receivable.  Interested candidates should submit their resume and salary requirement to Mindy Levin, Esq. via email.  No calls or walk-ins.  The firm offers health insurance and 401(k); salary is commensurate with experience.

Is Telecommuting a Bad Idea?

Cyberspace has been all abuzz about the new ban on telecommuting announced by Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer.  Is telecommuting a bad idea?  Well, I hate to sound like all the attorneys I work with, but the answer is “it depends.”   If you check out some of the articles written, many of which liberally quote former employees, you will note that people weigh in on both sides of the issue.

Arguments against the ban seem to center on two points.  The first point is that there is great irony in banning an employment policy which is enabled by technology, when the company is fundamendally rooted in technology innovation, and located in Silicon Valley, which is internationally known for technology innovation.  I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it.  What?  Is it giving the other technology companies a black eye?  Is this HR policy change such an abomination that it takes these forward-thinking companies into the dark ages?  I don’t think so.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I’m thrilled that technology exists which makes telecommuting and virtual office arrangements possible.  I have worked on a virtual office basis for the PA Bar Association for 14 years.  So it should be clear that I am in favor of such arrangements.  But only when they make good sense and work from a business perspective for both employer and employee.  That’s really what’s at issue here.

The second point being raised is that this is a very abrupt change in a widely-deployed work policy, and will leave a large number of employees unable to continue to work under a more “traditional” arrangement.  Again, I do understand.  But things change.  Economies change.  Companies change.  And so, too, must employees occassionally change.  The new CEO has taken fast and decisive action.  She is tasked with turning a company around, in an industry where change occurs in a nanosecond.  Should she take her time, examining each telecommuter individually to determine whether or not their arrangement is providing the necessary ROI?  The company could cease to exist or pass a point of no return before that exercise is concluded.

I’ve been in situations where decisive action must be taken, such as downsizing a workforce.  This is not something that can be done in pieces.  In the long term the harm to morale is greaterwith the gentler, more gradual approach.  It’s like removing a bandaid from a hairy arm . . . going slowly doesn’t easy the pain, it exacerbates it.

Here’s my take from an outsider’s perspective, but also the perspective of one who has been charged with turning around a company more than once.  One has to look at the organization one runs as a living breathing entity.  I always thought of the companies I managed as infants, entrusted to my care.  Like any nurturing mother, I was ferocious and unmerciful with anything which threatened the strength, growth or viability of my child.  It never mattered whose ox I had to gore in order to protect and nurture the child.  There were no sacred cows.  Any clear threats were quickly dispatched.  This rarely made me popular.  But it always made me successful, along with the company entrusted to my care.

If you read what former Yahoo workers have to say — along with the few current ones who dare to speak up — you will discover that in all likelihood the option to telecommute became an entitlement over the years, rather than a rare privilege.  Enormous number of workers chose to work remotely not because of lifestyle needs (which is what telecommuting should be about) but because of the desire to escape workplace scrutiny.  Sure, some people gave an honest day’s work for their wages.  But I think that an enormous number of people took advantage and were not earning their wages.

One of the problems inherent in telecommuting policies is oversight.  How does one know whether there is a fair exchange of work for pay?  In some instances it is relatively easy.  For example, a remote receptionist has to cover phones for a certain number of hours, regardless of whether the phone rings.  It’s easy to spot check to make sure they are doing their job.  A remote attorney is usually paid based on billable hours spent on client matters.  As long as the hours are reasonable, billable, and paid by the client, there is no reason to question efficacy.   But the reality is that for most jobs done remotely, it is difficult to determine  successful performance.  For that reason, employers need to think about what measurements they will have to gauge success before approving any telecommuting request.  And it should be openly discussed with the employee, so they know the terms of the arrangement.

I agree with Mayer’s move on many fronts.  The Yahoo workforce is probably in need of “rightsizing” and by making this change, attrition will eliminate some of this problem.  Yahoo depends on innovation to survive.  Innovation does not happen with a huge remote workforce of creative minds.  Innovation happens when you squeeze creative people into a workplace like sardines with a little extra elbow room, where they are forced to interact continually.  Allow them to be a little rowdy and undisciplined.  Provide food whenever possible.  And then throw in some food for thought, e.g. challenges to work on, and let them germinate.  Wonderful things will grow.

I would not be surprised if telecommuting is reintroduced to the company again in a few years.  But it will not be until there has been a turnaround achieved, if it in fact can be achieved.  And when it happens, it will be on a much more restricted basis, and more carefully measured and monitored.  And it will most certainly never again be allowed to be regarded by employees as an entitlement.

Supply and Demand

Supply and demand.  Buyer’s vs Seller’s market.  These fundamental economic concepts are learned early. Where’s the legal industry now?  Where is it headed?  We know that we headed into a Buyer’s market long before the economic downturn.  As we entered the new century, we encountered increasing numbers of client RFPs which boldly laid out the new terms of engagement.  We endured beauty contests.  We submitted to electronic billing and auditing.  We modified billing systems to produce what clients wanted.  We timidly stepped into the uncertain waters of alternative billing.  Adapt or starve.  That simple.

There is no doubt that there is a current imbalance between supply and demand.  We’ve been reading articles about the big lie that law schools have told to prospective students about the percentages of graduates obtaining jobs which require a legal degree.  Scandalous scoundrels.  A few singled out under the bright light of scrutiny to pay for this misstep. 

Let’s take a look at the statistics presented in a Washington Post article entitled “Will law school students have jobs after they graduate?”

In 2011, more than 44,000 students graduated from the 200-odd U.S. law schools accredited by the American Bar Association. Nine months after graduation, only a bit more than half had found full-time jobs as lawyers.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts 73,600 new lawyer jobs from 2010 to 2020. But just three years into that decade, about 132,757 new lawyers have hit the job market.

While not every new JD seeks employment as a lawyer, it is safe to say that planning to work as an attorney is not rare among law students. But perhaps it should be. Data from the National Association of Legal Career Professionals indicate that since 2010, about 75,000 new law grads have found full-time jobs as lawyers.

So, in theory, all of the BLS-forecasted job openings through 2020 have already been filled, and 59,157 new lawyers are still looking for “real” law jobs.

Yes, of course some of the JD graduates this year and in the years to come will find high-paying, partner-track jobs at big firms and elsewhere. But the scale of the imbalance over a decade gives some indication of just how tough it is — and will be — as armies of newly minted JDs rise every year. By 2020, about 300,000 additional grads will join those 59,157 in a hunt for jobs that, statistically, are not to be found.

Those are pretty grim numbers.  And they’re mostly believable.  An ABA Journal Law News Now article entitled “Law School by the Numbers: 300K Additional Law Grads by 2020; 73K New Jobs Forecast for Decade” reported on the Washington Post article.  They noted that

Mark Medice, national program director for a Thomson Reuters unit that tracks jobs and pay at large law firms. . . believes a new legal education model may be needed that emphasizes specific skills such as discovery, regulatory matters and litigation support. The cost would be relatively cheap and the focus would be on jobs that are available.

Yikes!  What a terrible idea.  Well, not terrible from the perspective that one would likely get a job.  But it would be a greatly downgraded job.  And a cubby-hole career-wise.  This would likely hasten the further commoditizing of legal services.  Commoditizing = devaluation from my perspective.

What I don’t know is whether the statistics take into account the massive number of baby boomers who are set to retire over the coming two decades.  I have to just “assume” that is the case.  But even if not, that mathematical correction would not be enough to swing the pendulum back into a Seller’s market.  So what are tomorrow’s grads to do?

  1. Put every single molecule of energy into graduating at the highest possible ranking.  Although it is not a determinant of career success in the long run, most law firms see class ranking as an factor in candidate desirability.  Remember, you have to actually have a job as a lawyer to demonstrate how skilled a lawyer you can be.
  2. Pick your focus carefully, and early.  Too many graduates have no idea what type of law they want to practice.  They accept jobs which often cubby-hole them.  Too often they become trapped  in practice areas which may forever doom them to higher hours and lower wages.  Serendipity is not an acceptable career strategy, in my book.
  3. Prepare to hang out your own shingle.  Don’t be dissuaded by condescending or pessimistic professors, partners at large firms where you intern, or overly concerned judges where you may be fortunate enough to clerk, that going out on your own without spending time in someone else’s firm first is a formula for malpractice.  Just be sure that you connect with other more experienced solo and small firm attorneys through your bar association.  The Pennsylvania Bar Association has both a Young Lawyer’s Division, and the Solo & Small Firm Section.  Belonging and participating in both should be an essential part of your career.
  4. Nurture the business side of your practice.  The legal industry is unique in that it is both a profession and  a business.  You can’t have one without the other.  So avail yourself of the law practice management resources available through the Pennsylvania Bar Association (or whatever your state bar is), as well as the resources of the American Bar Association
  5. If you’re determined to work for another firm you can greatly increase your success in finding a job by focusing on smaller firms in smaller towns.  Find the law firms online, and send your resume to every firm.  Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time.  Contact the executive director at the local bar and find out if they have a job bank, a way to circulate your resume or advertise your availability, or know of any openings.  Remember that small-town firms usually provide more opportunities for direct client contact, rainmaking, and variety of assignments.  The pay is lower, but after a few years you can — notice I didn’t say will — have the skills necessary to locate a more desirable situation, or open your own practice in the location you desire.  And there’s a distinct possibility you may learn you actually like small-town practice and life.
  6. Learn to market.  For a small percentage of lucky individuals, it is natural.  For the vast majority it is learned.  Just as you learn to become a skilled lawyer by practicing your trade, you learn to become a successful rainmaker by practicing your marketing skills.  It gets easier, and you get better, over time.  Networking.   Teaching. Publishing.  Leadership.  Community Service.  All of these are still successful methods.  Except now you can — and should — leverage yourself with social media tools as well. 
  7. Find your value proposition.  Somehow you have to find a way to differentiate yourself from the mass of other attorneys trying to attract attention in a crowded marketplace.  How will your voice be heard?  If it is somehow different, it will be.  Focus on responsiveness, creative pricing strategies — note I didn’t say cheap, which is different — which are based on leveraging your intellectual property to the max and running a highly efficient operation, and helping the client focus on value provided instead of hours x cost. 

Today’s grads think it’s tough?  The road ahead for future grads will be tougher.  Don’t wallow in self-pity.  Don’t be passive or weak in your efforts to get your career going.  Most people are, even while thinking they’re not.  Finding a job is a full-time job.   Get active about creating your future. 

If law school is ahead of you, put thought into where you want to be when you graduate.  Take courses, even undergraduate courses, appropriately.  And for goodness sake, don’t go to law school just because it seems like a good idea.  I see too many graduates who land a job only to learn, after all that time and effort and expense, that they really don’t like being a lawyer at all.  Don’t choose law school because you don’t have a better plan.  Choose law school because you’re passionate about becoming a member of the profession, with an open eye toward all that entails in a world of supply and demand.

 

More on Social Media and Privacy Legislation

While the connection of the phrase social media with the concept of privacy may seem to be an oxymoron, there are some fundamental constitutional principles which cement them together.   Think about free speech, freedom of association, and freedom from self-incrimination.

In my last post entitled “Keep Your Nose Out of Employee Posts”  I mentioned the passage of new legislation in California designed to protect employee privacy rights regarding their social media accounts.  In today’s ABA Law News Now article entitled “Site Unseen: Schools, Bosses Barred from Eyeing Students’, Workers’ Social Media,”  they discuss similar legislation in Delaware, Maryland and Illinois.  A comment posted to this discussion adds that The Canadian Supreme Court ruled recently that employers have no right to look at an employees internet history as it reveals too much about an individual”, and provides a link to an article about it. 

Mostly, the egregious conduct legislation is attempting to stop is the practice employed by schools and employers which compel employees and students to disclose their private passwords, thereby providing access to personal information which is not otherwise publicly available.  At some schools, students are even forced to install software which essentially logs everything they type.

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