Friday, October 31, 2014

Alumni Spotlight: Sireesha Chirala '13

Meet Assistant Attorney General, Sireesha Chirala '13. Sireesha works in the Environmental Protection Division at the Office of the Attorney General in Austin, Texas and was kind enough to answer a few questions about her job search and career path. She practices civil litigation and environmental law and represents the State of Texas in environmental enforcement matters involving violations of State waste, air, and water laws.

How did you obtain your first job out of law school?

At the end of my 3L year, I secured a law clerk position in the Environmental Protection Division at the AG’s office and applied for the UHLC’s Graduate Fellowship program. After graduating and taking the bar, I moved to Austin and completed my fellowship. I tried to develop a relationship with as many lawyers in the division as I could, found some amazing mentors, and worked hard to impress the attorneys who gave me assignments. About a month after I passed the bar, a position opened up in my division. Since I had already been there for three months (I stayed past the official time period for the fellowship) and made a positive impression on the attorneys, I was interviewed with the endorsements and support of almost everyone in the division. I was in the right place at the right time.

Describe what led you to pursue your current position/practice area:

I was drawn to environmental law in law school. I took several classes in this area, wrote my journal comment on this topic, and tried to intern at places where I could develop the skills and experience necessary to start my legal career as an environmental lawyer. Through my internships, I also realized that I wanted to work in the public sector.

I knew that the practice area I wanted to specialize in was smaller and very competitive and that typically a law license is required to be hired in the public sector. But I decided I would give it a shot. Because of the successes that my friends who graduated the years before me had in obtaining positions through their UHLC Graduate Fellowships, I decided that a fellowship would be the best option. The fellowship allowed me to work at the place I wanted to work without the employer (or me) having to worry about pay.

What experiences/internships did you have that you found to be helpful or beneficial in your job search and career thus far?

Definitely my judicial internships. Potential employers always asked me about my judicial internships. Working for judges is an incredible experience and really links together what we study in law school with the practice of law. I was able to see how judges view cases and pleadings; interact with judges on a day-to-day basis; observe a lot of different practice styles, hearings, trials, and courtroom procedures; and hone my legal research and writing skills. My judicial internships have proven invaluable as a new lawyer.

Another thing that was helpful in my job search was the variety in my internship experiences. After 1L year, I interned or did research for a professor every semester and summer. As a result, I worked in the public and private sector and in criminal and civil law. This made choosing a practice area to specialize in, and basically my career path, a lot easier.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to current law students?

Try hard not to compare yourself to other people. It is almost impossible not to do it because of the nature of law school, but you will find the job/career path that is right for you if you pay attention to yourself instead of measuring yourself against others. Most of my friends went into the private sector, but I knew that I wanted to work for the government. Instead of following suit, I followed my interests and luckily, found my dream job.

I also think that varied internships are incredibly important because of the relationships you build with other lawyers from a broad spectrum of practice areas, the work experience you can discuss in interviews, and the exposure to the practice of law that comes with it. So intern or research with different professors while you are in school and if your schedule allows it.
And remember, it’s not a matter of if you’ll find a job; it’s a matter of when.

If you'd like to connect with Sireesha to learn more about her career path, talk to your counselor in the Career Development Office.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Resource Roundtable: Practice Area Overviews

Still unsure of which practice areas might be a good fit for you? The Career Development Office has Practice Area Overviews – quick, one-pagers with descriptions of various practice areas, the type of work involved, and recommended classes. You can find these in the Career Resource Library, under the “resources” tab in Symplicity. 

If you’re looking for more detailed information about the various practice areas, ask your counselor if you can borrow The Official Guide to Legal Specialties by Lisa Abrams. You’ll get a more in-depth look at what it's like to practice law in 30 major specialty areas, including appellate practice, entertainment, immigration, international, tax, and telecommunications. This book gives you the insights and expertise of top practitioners – the issues they tackle every day, the people and clients they work with, what they find rewarding about their work, and what classes or work experience you need to follow in their footsteps. Over 120 government, public interest, corporate, and private attorneys are featured.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Welcome to the New and Improved Career Development Office (CDO) Blog!

There is an enormous amount of information out there about the legal market, the job search, and professional development! The CDO continually strives to bring this material to UHLC students in an easy to read, useful way. So, we have decided to revamp our communication efforts in order to keep everyone informed and proactive in their job search. Look out for us on these platforms:

  • Blog: We’re recommitted to bringing you the information you need to be strong job seekers and great lawyers. Look out for features such as: alumni spotlights, articles about the Houston legal market, job and internship opportunities, professional development tips, and introductions to CDO counselors.
  • Weekly Digest: The Digest will now be emailed to all UHLC students every Monday morning. This will be your go-to resource for upcoming events, deadlines, networking opportunities, and recruiting fairs.
  • Events Calendar: A handy online resource to see what’s happening in the CDO and the Houston legal community.

Also, don’t forget to like our Facebook page! Get convenient updates in your newsfeed so you don’t miss any of the great information coming out of our office. Like the UHLC Career Development Office Facebook Page by October 31st and get entered into a raffle for a $15 Starbucks gift card. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Tips for Successfully Launching your Legal Career
Launching a career as an entry-level associate is exciting, energizing, and—let’s face it—discombobulating.  You’re working with new people and confronting high, often unspoken, expectations.  You’re wondering how to translate the common truisms that barrage new associates—“Focus on the important stuff!’ “Act like an owner!” “Project a positive attitude!”—into something that you can actually do at work.
While we haven’t found a complete cure yet for the discombobulation that accompanies the first year of legal practice, you can successfully launch your legal career and sail through even the most turbulent waters by focusing on four key concepts and some simple tips that will allow you to put these concepts into action.

I.  Get the Assignment Right

Before plunging into an assignment, confirm that you properly understand it.  The assigning attorney’s years of experience might create entirely different assumptions about a project’s scope, and might make it hard to remember what it’s like for a first-year associate to navigate through a task for the first time. 
When receiving an assignment, take the initiative to quickly and confidently ask the right questions:
  • Restate the assignment:  “You want me to write a ____, correct?  The key issues are ___, right?”
  • Get a clear deadline:  “You want this by ___?” or “Will it work for you if I give this to you on ___?”
  • Clarify when and how to check in:  “How about if I check in with you on ___?”
  • Ask the best place to start:  “Do you have any tips for the most efficient places to start my research?” or “Have you written anything similar that you’d like me to use as a model?”
  • Ask how long it should take:  “Any expectations for or limits on how much time I should spend on this?”
Whenever you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, get help—if not from the assigning partner, then from another associate.  If you ask the assigning partner for guidance, demonstrate that you’ve prepared for that discussion.  Jot down questions and save them for a meeting, call, or email, instead of asking then one at a time.  Efficiently summarize how you’ve thought through and tried to resolve problems on your own.

II. Act like an Owner

“Own the case!” “Take initiative!”  These are common words of advice for associates.  Woe to associates who display the dreaded “employee mentality” or who “limit themselves to the four corners of their assignments.”  But as a new associate, how can you take charge without overstepping your bounds?  What can you do to show your commitment and channel it in productive ways?
  • See the big picture.  Before starting an assignment, ask yourself:  What overall goal is the client trying to achieve? What problem is the client trying to solve?  The due diligence you’re conducting or the written discovery you’re drafting are not ends in themselves, but vehicles to help achieve a bigger objective.  If the partner hasn’t taken the time to orient you to a case’s or transaction’s overall goals, talk to another associate on the matter, read key documents in the file, and think for yourself about the big-picture goals.  Look for ways that your work can further those goals.
  • Speak up!  Contribute ideas and make recommendations. While you don’t want to shoot from the hip with ideas you haven’t thought out, go ahead and identify issues that the partner hasn’t raised or propose solutions or arguments that the partner hasn’t thought of.  Instead of waiting for new directions or assignments, strategically look for helpful times to put the partner in the position to approve or veto your ideas.
  • Organize projects and create schedules.  Never underestimate how much partners will appreciate you volunteering to create and update task-lists, timelines, or other project management tools.  While this can be hard to do when you’re first encountering a discovery plan or closing schedule, taking initiative to help plan and track a project’s progress is a great way to master these new processes and demonstrate ownership of your work.
  • Propose priorities.  Without extensive experience to guide you, you’ll find it challenging to set priorities when you have more work to do in a day than you can possibly complete.  That shouldn’t stop you from proposing priorities and confirming that you’re setting the right ones, instead of always waiting for someone else to set your priorities for you.  In the flurry of a busy practice, many partners might not stop to think through those priorities themselves. If you ask, “Which one of the torrent of tasks that you’ve given me should I do first?” the answer might well be, “That’s what I need you to tell me.”
  • Play by the rules.  Does it really matter if you submit your time entries each day? Participate in practice group meetings, trainings, and firm-sponsored events?  Treat staff courteously?  Yes.  Particularly if you fail to do any these things.

III. Inspire Confidence in Yourself and Your work

How do you project confidence without projecting cockiness?  If you’re feeling flummoxed, how do you earn someone else’s confidence?  Instead of churning over what you’re feeling inside, focus on what you convey to others through your attitude and actions.
  • Project a positive attitude.  This isn’t as simple as smiling when your heart is weary during a late-night filing, although that helps. And you don’t want to come off as a know-it-all who is more audacious than wise.  You can, however, discipline yourself at the office to show an interest in and enthusiasm for your work, colleagues, and clients.  When you feel stuck in a routine and unchallenging assignment, the best way to earn more advanced work is to enthusiastically surpass everyone’s expectations on that assignment.  When you discover a problem—or worse yet your own mistake—that looks like it might blow up a deal or kill that motion you’re drafting, take a breath and embrace the challenge. Don’t just worriedly bring a problem back to the partner: propose a solution.
  • Honor deadlines and provide status updates.  Even when you’ve set the deadline for submitting a draft, treat that deadline as if it were an imposed one.  Sure, the partner might have replied “yes” when you asked if it would be all right to email your draft on Sunday instead of Friday.  But is that partner really feeling overjoyed about reviewing your draft on a Sunday night instead of a Friday?  If you’re working on a project that will take several days or even weeks, chime in with occasional status updates.  With a short email, call, or visit, you can preempt the partner from starting to worry about whether you’re making any progress.
  • Organize your talking points.  Even out here on the more casual West Coast, prepare for a short phone call or quick visit with a partner or client as if it were a mini-meeting with a simple agenda.  Outline some bullet points so that the person you’re talking to understands immediately why you’re there and what your point is.  If you’re reporting back on research or analysis that you’ve been ask to perform, lead with your conclusion or recommendation, explain why that’s the best answer and what you did to reach that answer, and be prepared to discuss potential limitations, weaknesses, and alternatives.
  •  Deliver client-ready, error-free work product.  Don’t let the word “draft” fool you. To a partner it means “a document that requires the least amount of work possible from me before I hand it over to the client.”  Even the most collaborative and friendly partners are taken aback when an associate submits a draft brief or memo with an incomplete section that includes a few bullet points and a note that “this needs more work.”  And before you send any draft to a partner, proofread it on paper, ask someone else to proofread it, then proofread it again.  All of it.  You want the partner to remember your clear and persuasive writing, not your failure to notice that the signature block listed the wrong clients.
  • Learn to be a great lawyer.  No matter how much confidence you project, you can’t win confidence in your work unless you deliver outstanding legal work.  Take advantage of the formal training programs and informal mentoring your firm offers, and don’t ever stop learning your craft.  The legal market’s ongoing transformations have prompted firms to emphasize the types of business and interpersonal skills discussed in this article.  But these transformations also require lawyers more than ever to continually hone their legal skills.

IV. Focus on Others’ Needs

As we start our legal careers, we need many things from the people we work with, such as guidance, mentoring, career-advancement opportunities, and support.  The best way to inspire others to help you with your own needs is to focus on how you can help them with theirs.  You want to create genuine reciprocity cycles, in which your generosity and thoughtfulness surrounds you with people who are eager to help you—not because they feel they owe you something, but because they are happy to do it.
How can you do this?
  • Find out what they need.  Research your clients’ businesses and interests.  Inquire about clients’ and partners’ work styles, communication preferences, and quirks. Adapt your approach to suit their needs.
  • Listen.  As lawyers, we can easily slip into thinking about what we need to say next instead of what the other person is saying now. Take the time to listen, empathetically opening yourself to the speaker’s perspective instead of immediately judging it, confirming whether you’ve correctly grasped the substantive of what’s been said, and acknowledging unspoken emotions or needs.
  • Focus on helping others shine.  Instead of worrying about whether you’ll impress a partner with your deposition outline, focus on whether you’re producing an outline that actually will help the partner in the deposition.  Instead of treating paralegals, secretaries, and other staff as if they only exist to support your career, find out what you can do to help them excel in their jobs.  And as for your client’s employees, who are ransacking their computers before the impending document production deadline, always remember that they’re job is not to make discovery easy for you, your job is to make it easy for them.
  • Be a successful giver.  Research by Adam Grant, Wharton professor and author of Give and Take, indicates that the most generous employees—the “givers”—can be either the most or least successful performers.  Successful givers know how to generously help others without burning themselves out or sidetracking their own careers.  You can do several things to establish yourself as a smart, successful giver:
  • Recognize the times when you need to advocate for yourself.
  • Set realistic limits so that you don’t overcommit yourself.
  • Develop a network of supporters who can help you deliver what you’ve promised to others.
  • Develop specialties so that people seek you out for your expertise instead of for random requests.
  • Look for high-impact, time-efficient ways to help others, what Grant calls “five-minute favors”—answering a request for a template or quick research, connecting two acquaintances with common goals, sharing an article about a topic or cause that interests a colleague, or jumping in to help a paralegal pull together documents for a closing or filing.
While the tips in this article can help you as a first-year associate, they can also serve as lodestars as you sail far beyond the harbor  where you launch your legal practice. In the years ahead, you can develop into an experienced lawyer who:
  • sets clear expectations and deadlines when delegating assignments, and as a result, efficiently delivers the work product that the client needs;
  • builds collaborative teams, in which everyone understands clients’ priorities, takes initiative, and freely contributes ideas;
  • inspires those who work for you to confidently deliver their best work and those for whom you work to happily seek your services; and
  •  develops a network of clients and supporters eager to reciprocate your generosity.
Set a course for that successful career through the habits you start developing now as you launch your first year of practice.  Bon voyage!

About the Author

grumbach-editAnthony Grumbach is the director of professional development at Farella Braun + Martel LLP, and a board member of the Professional Development Consortium.

(Image Credit: ShutterStock)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"Constructive Criticism"

How to Accept Constructive Criticism 
            One of the hardest things to take, especially when we first enter the professional world, is how to accept "constructive criticism." How we advance in our professional lives depends on our ability to accept and incorporate feedback.  We need to take guff in order to give guff.

            It's not easy. None of us likes to be reminded by others that we are not perfect. Even when you call it "constructive" to sound nice, the word "criticism" still sticks.  The worst part? Sometimes it comes from people we don't like.  Or at least we don't like them after we get their feedback.
  1. Don't take it personally or begrudge the person who gave it.
  2. Hear the person out, without interrupting with excuses or self-defense.
  3. Work on your flaws. Aim higher by breaking bad habits and raising your standards.
If the criticism is warranted and you did work to overcome it, thank the person who brought it to your attention.

If you are serious about advancement, ask for feedback:

  • "How was my presentation received?  Do you have any suggestions for improvement in my content or delivery?"
  • "I am interested in a management position.  What things do I need to work on to get there?"

                          What you know will help you grow
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