Vol. 83, No. 8, August 2010
Lawyers at Midlife: Laying the Groundwork for the Road Ahead
By Michael Long, John Clyde, & Pat Funk (Seattle, WA: Decision Books, 2009). 217 pgs. $35. Order, www.amazon.com.
Reviewed by Richard L. Binder
Is your career nearing the playoff stage? Perhaps you’re mired in the second round and just waiting for the whole thing to end. Unfortunately or not, a law career is not a timed event. Unless you’re at the beginning or the very end, it’s hard to know where you are. Lawyers at Midlife speaks to attorneys who are beyond the novelty stage of a law career but not yet in their final season.
Although not physically organized as such, the book focuses on two areas: financial needs and emotional barriers. The financial information is good but basic. If you do not know how to make an assets record or expense log, you can use the book’s models. I always thought a “dipping table” was for snacks, but it also is a chart showing how much money you can withdraw from retirement accounts over time before you get to zero. You need to know the “4% rule,” which holds that 4 percent is the approximate amount you can take from your nest egg annually and expect the fund to last 30 years. There’s more: the rule of 72, springing powers of attorney, investment pyramids…. If you still do not know what to ask the tax expert, estate planner, real estate broker, or insurance agent, this book will help. As I said, it’s good but basic.
The best part of the book discusses the emotional impact of retirement. You may see yourself as a slave to billable hours, but it can be better than having nothing to do. Actual retirement – or even just a reduction in hours – affects self-worth and identity. On a scale of stressful life events, retirement is akin to marriage, death, and divorce. There are real-life issues to be resolved, such as money versus meaning and work versus family. The book provides helpful tools, including interest-preference inventories, a relocation questionnaire, and self-assessment assignments. There’s a how-to checklist for closing a law office. The book emphasizes that being a lawyer is a perk in itself. It’s a career that shapes one’s interests and social network. It forces you to use your brain. Change is not easy. Sometimes it seems that the only thing worse than being a lawyer is not being a lawyer.
So, if your career is past the novelty stage, or you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, or you simply want to change the “management plan” for your life, Lawyers at Midlife is a helpful read. It may scare you into working longer, or you just may decide to lock the door.
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Best Friends at the Bar: What Women Need to Know About a Career in the Law
By Susan Smith Blakely (New York: Aspen Publishers, 2009). 272 pgs. $29. Order, www.aspenpublishers.com or (800) 638-8437.
Reviewed by Emily Zimmers Weiss
Susan Smith Blakely, a veteran of big-firm law practice, stay-at-home childrearing, and political employment, sets forth a guide for women law students and new women lawyers. She outlines the possibilities and pitfalls of entering into what is still a male-dominated profession.
The text mainly features information on big-firm law practice, although other types of practice also are examined. Blakely encourages women to balance flexibility, pay, hours, and stress levels when choosing career paths. She counsels women to first establish their worth in their profession before asking for accommodations and emphasizes that women need to become and remain excellent lawyers to stay successful.
Blakely advises women in the profession to be assertive. This includes asking for work, making the case for why they are the best for the job, and taking risks. She states that even today there are male attorneys and judges who will put up obstacles to female attorneys’ careers based on gender. The author peppers her research and commentary with anecdotes from women in the practice. These stories are interesting and amusing and help to break up the handbook into a more conversational text. Other advice for women lawyers: invite yourself when you are not invited (when appropriate), be thick skinned, don’t tolerate gender bias, be yourself (don’t try to act like a man), and be a team player. The author expands on the notion of being a team player and hard worker with advice to stay positive about the work you are doing and to campaign for higher-profile work as your career progresses.
Blakely reviews the dismal state overall of women partners in big law firms; in 2008, women comprised only 16 percent of full equity partners in big American private firms. Blakely suggests ways for women to reach the elusive partner status or the even more elusive part-time partner status. Some of these steps include promoting and selling your work to potential clients and networking as much as possible. According to Blakely, the golf course is a good networking arena, and learning to play golf is worthwhile for women lawyers seeking to advance their careers.
Blakely warns that the big-law-firm lifestyle and family life are hard to reconcile, especially for women. She states that once a woman lawyer is on a strong career track and becomes tied to a certain lifestyle, it is hard to cut back or change careers when family life becomes a priority. She suggests maintaining relationships with female mentors and colleagues throughout one’s career.
Overall, this handbook provides useful and sound advice within a casual and entertaining format. Readers will gain insight into gender and family issues prevalent in the modern legal world.
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The Organized Lawyer
By Kelly Lynn Anders (Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 2009). 149 pgs. $20. Order, www.cap-press.com.
Reviewed by Joseph E. Redding
Jim Croce once lamented that “there never seems to be enough time to do the things you want to do.…” The Organized Lawyer offers practical and easy advice on how to fix that problem. Author Kelly Anders pre-sents the thesis that good organization is attainable and will free up valuable time for clients or personal matters. Unlike many other time-management books, this book is designed specifically for lawyers, because, let’s face it, lawyers are different.
The Organized Lawyer starts with the premise that there is not one proper organizational setup for lawyers. A short quiz in chapter 2 helps readers determine their organizational type. These types are 1) the “stacker,” who organizes by placing various topics or projects in stacks or piles, giving the visual appearance of order; 2) the “spreader,” a visual organizer who spreads out everything at once so that everything can be seen; 3) the “free spirit,” who organizes with an intellectual focus on a few specialties, keeping things deemed important or interesting nearby and ignoring the remaining rubble; and 4) the “pack rat,” who puts sentimental and personal items as close by as possible, so the space has a “lived-in” feel. With these organizational types in mind, the book then explores specific elements of a lawyer’s job, from office layout and desk arrangements, to filing and financial record-keeping, to alternative work areas, marketing, and wardrobe. Each chapter discusses organizational needs and ends with advice on how individuals in each of the organizational types can improve organization concerning the specific element.
The book is intentionally broad, with advice more general than specific. This is done to stay within the premise that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to organization; if a stacker attempts to organize like a pack rat, the mess of failure (both literally and figuratively) will ensue. The author does give resources at the end of the book for readers who want to explore more detailed organizational methods in specific areas.
I believe the book is geared more toward large-firm attorneys, newer graduates, and law students; some of the advice may not be as helpful to the older or sole practitioner. However, there are many useful tips and thought processes that can be used by any attorney, regardless of years in practice or size of firm. Remember, even one tip that saves 10 minutes a day will add up to more than an extra 43 hours of time per year to do the things you want to do.
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