Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Are Facebook Posts Preventing you from Job Offers?

Etiquette Tip of the Week

Another story from an employer.  The company was getting ready to tender an offer to a young man who just graduated from college.  The last step in the process was a quick check of his Facebook page.

On the Facebook page, he was bragging about his third DUI.  The offer was never offered.

"Never" is not completely accurate -- the offer went to the next candidate, whose Facebook page checked out.

If you are going to be on Facebook, what positive things can you do while growing your career?
  • Show you can communicate in complete sentences.
  • Have pictures with friends who don't have beers in their hands.
  • Stay out of politics -- unless you plan to spend the rest of your life in politics.
  • Wear clothes.  Not swimsuits.
  • Let some of the activities on your resume be reflected in your Facebook content.

The most important part: don't put everything out there.  A little mystery makes a person interesting. When you publish everything you do, think and feel, your mystery is history.

The Etiquette Tip of the Week may be forwarded to others who really, really need it, pinned to billboards, taped to the water cooler, blogged, Tweeted or used to fill that last little hole in your newsletter.  Giving credit to the Culture and Manners Institute at http://www.cultureandmanners.com/ is the polite thing to do.

The Culture and Manners Institute is all about respect.  Therefore, your email address will not be sold, traded or gifted to other parties, as that would not be a polite thing to do. If you would like to be removed from this list, simply type the words, "Please Remove" in the subject line and hit Reply.
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Culture and Manners Institute, 2500 Woodland Avenue, West Des Moines, IA 50266

Friday, August 22, 2014

Can you Carry on a Conversation?

Etiquette Tip of the Week

The Etiquette Tip of the Week is a little late this week, as I am just returning from a trip to Japan.  On the way home, on an airplane between Baltimore and Chicago, I sat next to a gentleman in commercial real estate. I asked him what he looked for in job candidates right out of college.

"The main thing I want to know," he said, "is can they carry on a conversation?"  This is important he explained, because they have to be able to communicate with clients.

He said he looks for eye contact, whether they researched the company, if they show an interest in the company by asking him questions and if they can do all of this without checking or answering their cell phone.

Practice your conversation skills.  Strike up a conversation with people around you while you are waiting in line, riding an elevator, waiting for a train or bus, or riding on an airplane. Dive into business networking events offered by your local chamber of commerce or your college alumni organization.

Being a good conversationalist is simple: ask questions of the other person.  My conversation with the gentleman on the airplane began with some small talk about air travel.  He said he travels a great deal for work.  So I asked, "What do you do for a living?"

Some people will be very easy to talk to, while others will be like talking to a brick wall.  Don't be discouraged, because it is good experience and part of your process.  
The other benefit is you meet some interesting people and sometimes make a good business connection.

The Etiquette Tip of the Week may be forwarded to others who really, really need it, pinned to billboards, taped to the water cooler, blogged, Tweeted or used to fill that last little hole in your newsletter.  Giving credit to the Culture and Manners Institute athttp://www.cultureandmanners.com/ is the polite thing to do.

The Culture and Manners Institute is all about respect.  Therefore, your email address will not be sold, traded or gifted to other parties, as that would not be a polite thing to do.

If you would like to be removed from this list, simply type the words, "Please Remove" in the subject line and hit Reply.

Trust Seal
Culture and Manners Institute, 2500 Woodland Avenue, West Des Moines, IA 50266

Friday, August 8, 2014

‘Ask Me Anything’ - An interview with a UH Alumni Personal Injury Attorney in Houston

Stewart Guss is 47 years old and has 20 years experience an attorney, concentrating primarily in personal injury law at his practice in Nortwest Houston. Stewart graduated from the University of Texas at Austin and is a proud graduate of the University of Houston Law Center. He lives in Tomball with his wife, two rambunctious children and one rambunctious dog.

Attorney Guss has a long track record of making substantial recoveries for his clients while providing “top shelf” customer service.  Building a niche in the ultra-competitive personal injury market in Houston has been difficult, and it remains an ongoing challenge.  A good reputation as a personal injury lawyer is hard earned and is far from “static.” What factors go into his success and professional satisfaction, and what advice does he have for law students and graduates?

Q: What made you decide to study law?

A: I’ve got to be honest here.  As I approached college graduation, I was equally interested in a career in business and in law.  After spending a year at the McCombs MBA program at UT Austin, I realized that I was not “corporate” material.  I needed a career where I could express my creativeness and individuality and wear my hair long if I wanted to.  (Hey, it was the 80s!)

Q: Why did you focus your practice on Plaintiffs Personal Injury Law?

A: I actually started off doing mostly appellate work and business litigation.  While I found this work intellectually challenging and stimulating, I didn’t necessarily “feel” the tangible successes I had.  As I started doing more and more personal injury work, I realized that I thrived on the satisfaction of looking a client in the eye and saying, “This is what my work has done for you, this is the difference I could make in your life going forward.”  When I did personal injury work, I really felt like I was making a significant and tangible difference in someone’s life.

Q: I am told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day… What’s your typical morning routine? And please expand to give us an idea of a day in the life of a Personal Injury Lawyer

A:  <laughing>  Oh no, don’t tell my mom, but my typical breakfast is a huge cup of coffee!  My day normally starts before the rest of my staff arrives at the office.  I like to catch up on emails and interoffice messages in our case management system.  I’m lucky enough to have a pretty sizeable docket, so I usually set aside a dozen or so cases to review for status every day - just to make sure everything is moving ahead as planned.  When finished, it is usually safe to start returning calls to clients, adjusters, opposing counsel, etc.  After lunch, I’ll usually move on to my bigger projects - preparing or reviewing demand packages, reviewing medical records, reviewing or responding to motions or other correspondence.  I’m typically the first in and the last out, but this is a habit my family is desperately trying to get me to change.

Q: What separates the good, the bad and the ugly in Personal Injury Lawyers?

A: That’s a great question!  I’m lucky enough to be friends with a LOT of really great, talented, and very caring personal injury attorneys.  Typically speaking, these men and women share the same passion for justice when working on their clients’ cases.  I know that sounds hokey, but its really not.  The Plaintiffs bar in Texas is MASSIVELY outgunned and out-resourced by the insurance industry.  We are underdogs almost EVERY single time we take on a new personal injury client.  The best personal injury lawyers that I know really look at their cases as a personal challenge to “take on the system” on behalf of a deserving client and make a difference in their lives.  While I truly think that there are WAY fewer “bad” personal injury lawyers than the public may think, I do see that there are some lawyers that start to focus on the money and the business end of things more than doing the right thing for a deserving client.  These guys are few and far between, however.  I think most of us at the Plaintiff's bar believe the best way to do “well,” professionally, is by doing “good” in the world and for our clients.

Q: What advice would you give graduates starting out in the job?

A: My best advice is this - find a job where you can learn what you need to learn and “earn your stripes” in the field.  Think of your first job out of law school the same way a doctor looks at her residency - an opportunity to work massive hours at modest or low pay and learn a HECK of a lot in the process.  My second best piece of advice - LISTEN to the long time legal secretaries and other staff.  You may be a newly minted “second lieutenant” but you better pay attention to experienced support staff.  They are the “career sergeants” that keep things running!

Q: What is the best professional advice  you’ve ever received?

A: The best professional advice I ever received is simple.  Attorney Alvin Rosenthal, another University of Houston Law Center graduate (class of ‘55) told me that I would achieve success on the cases I declined, not the cases I took.  That is to say, trust your instincts.  Make sure that when you accept representation you do it with the right client and for the right reasons.  Alvin is passed now, but I often find myself in my professional career thinking, WWAD?  (What would Alvin do?)

Q: How do you distinguish yourself from the pack in Personal Injury Law?

A:  As I mentioned, there are a lot of great lawyers doing a lot of good work for Plaintiffs in the Houston area and around the state.  There are lots of lawyers getting lots of great settlements and verdicts, and I do concentrate on results of course.  But in addition to focusing on our results, we also focus on providing excellent customer service and communication.  Most of us know that the number one complaint about lawyers from clients is lack of communication.  At my office we have a “4/24” rule in place:  All calls and emails should be returned within four hours, and MUST be returned within 24, even if it is say “we don’t have an answer or solution yet, but we’re working on it.”  

Q: Aside from law, what should every graduate understand about running a business?

A: Only some of the Law Center graduates will immediately open up their own practice.  Even for those that initially go to work for someone else, they may end up running their own business or with partners at some point in the future.  For this reason, it is a great idea to understand the business of law, not just the practice of law.  If you ask 10 law firm owners their “secret to success,” you’ll surely get 11 different answers!  I suspect, though, that there may be a few universal truths:  1) Find and keep good employees and support staff.  Pay them fairly, treat them fairly, and let them grow professionally.  2) Implement technology that will help increase efficiency and effectiveness, but don’t implement technology just for the sake of having the latest and greatest bells and whistles.  3) Concentrate on steady and measured growth, and avoid excessive debt.  Many personal injury lawyers and law firms launching an office will start out with large debts so they can have wood paneling and antique fine furniture in their reception and offices.  There is a difference between an air of “success” and an air of “opulence.”  Your clients are interested in your results, not your furniture.  Besides, do you REALLY want them wondering if their case will buy you your next Persian rug?

Q: What trends do you see in types of personal injury on the rise / decline?

A:  No surprise here - texting and driving!  Or, more specifically, using a smartphone while driving.  While commuting, I can’t tell you the number of people I see with phones pulled up to their faces.  We see accidents caused, not just by texting, but by people browsing the web or looking at Facebook updates!

Q: Which cases most interest you from a point of financial / personal satisfaction?

A: At this point in my career, I really enjoy working on serious injury cases.  A great many of my cases involve moderate car accidents and slip and falls where a client is injured, receives medical treatment, and eventually recovers.  I do enjoy these cases, but they tend to be more straight-forward.  I tend to get the greatest satisfaction working on serious injury cases where I have to work closely with my client to establish the full scope of a damage model - loss of future earning capacity, the full effects of ongoing disability, and the loss of damage of life.  My serious injury clients have an important story to tell the insurance company or a jury, and I really appreciate the opportunity to help them tell it.

Q: If you weren’t a Personal Injury Lawyer what would be your dream job and why?

A: Psychologist.  My undergraduate degree is in psychology, and I am constantly fascinated by the human mind.  My twenty years practicing law has given me the opportunity to help a lot of injured people get through a really tough time in their lives.  I really appreciate that opportunity to be of service to people, and if I weren’t doing it as their lawyer and advocate, I think I would be doing it as a therapist.  (Which is, by the way, a role most attorneys will have to play part of the time anyway!).

Q: Final question: Which three famous  lawyers (dead or alive) would you like to have dinner with and why?

1) Thomas Jefferson.  Not just because he was one of the most fascinating of our founding fathers, but because I’d like to know what he thought of the effects of the Marbury vs. Madison decision (decided during his presidency) over the last 200 years of American jurisprudence.

2) Justice John Marshall Harlan.  To thank him for his dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson.

3) Atticus Finch.  To thank him for inspiring me to become a lawyer and, every time I re-read “To Kill a Mockingbird,” for reminding me what it means to be a lawyer.  (Yes, I know, he is a fictional character - so sue me!)

Students: send us your questions! 

12777 Jones Road, Suite 297
Houston, TX, 77070, USA

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mentors Matter !

I've been practicing law for 18 years.  In that time, I've externed for a Federal Bankruptcy Judge and worked at three different firms.  I've read many articles on how to make it in a man's world, how to succeed in BigLaw, how to attain work life balance and how to be happy.  Here are some of the best bits of wisdom I've accumulated from mentors over these almost two decades:
(1) Hard working lawyers beat lazy lawyers 99% of the time.
Here's the truth: preparation is probably more important than the highest I.Q. in most legal situations.   If you are blessed with exceptional intellect, there is a temptation to cut corners, be a little less diligent or wait for inspiration to come.  The slow and steady lawyer, who diligently prepares, is thorough, shows up early and takes good notes is much more likely to win than the lawyer who flies by the seat of her pants.  This doesn't mean that you need to work endless hours or make work where none is needed.  But the winners put in the time.
(2) There is no balance, only a comfortable blend.
If I have to sit through one more work life balance seminar, I'm going to scream.  There is no balance when you have email on your cell phone, you work in many time zones and everyone expects an answer in minutes.  But the fact that you can monitor emails and calls all the time, from anywhere, means that you don't always have to be at your desk.  And you don't have to announce that you are away.  If you service your clients, you can do it remotely.  How remotely is up to you.
(3) The client is always right.
Except in the rare case where you know the client is breaking the law, the client's needs are paramount and right.  If you don't like working for the client, then either don't take the case or don't keep the case.  But if you are someone's trusted counsel, and they ask you for help, you help them to the best of your abilities, as promptly as you can.  You give them your honest and thoughtful advice, but their needs and business decisions are the ones that you help implement.
(4) Life is long.
If you are lucky, life is long and minor bumps in the road pass into history with time.  During a painful performance review, I was told "life is long" and I would have to wait another year for a promotion.  It was couched in platitudes about how young I was, how talented, but how it just wasn't my time, and that if I put in one more year of great work, next year I would be considered for the promotion.  I hated this advice.  One more year of work seemed like an eternity after so many which preceded it.  But I know now that the advice was right.  The additional year went quickly, I was promoted and later I was grateful that I had the additional time to mature and hone my skills before being saddled with even greater responsibility.   It's now many years later and this delay meant not much if anything in my career.
(5) Life is short.
But for many people, including some of your most dear loved ones and friends, life ends tragically soon.   If you have known the loss of parent, friend, sibling or co-worker at a young age, you know what I'm talking about.  Don't defer your dreams for retirement.  Don't take today for granted.  Live with purpose and if you are unhappy, have the courage to change course now.  Don't waste another minute in a job you hate, earning money to buy things you don't need.
(6) Be of service.
Whenever I feel like I don't belong, or don't know what my role is, I just look for something to do to be of service.  It could be making a connection for someone, volunteering to be a mentor, taking a pro bono case for someone who can't afford a lawyer, or just being kind to a co-worker who is having a bad day.  Whatever it is, just help out and life is much easier.
(7) Don't criticize the person writing the check.
If you don't like your employer, you still need to do a good job until you find another place to work.  Don't complain about the person writing the check.  I have not always followed this advice, and sometimes you can offer ideas or constructive feedback to make positive changes.  But if those go nowhere, remember that your boss is paying your rent, so instead of criticizing the person who is writing your checks, just find another employer.  If you can't, then you need to work on improving your skills and marketability, which might include cultivating a better attitude at the job you currently have.
(8) Keep your nose to the grindstone.
Much of my 20s and 30s were spent working very hard.  In my 40s I'm able to enjoy some of the fruits of that labor.  I would not have the freedom to move from Los Angeles to Honolulu and start a new job here if I had not worked hard, saved and made great connections during my 18 years of practice.  My dad always told me to "keep your nose to the grindstone" when I would call him and complain about how hard my job was.  He would remind me that my job was a great job, it was a privilege and that it would pay off later.  He was right.  But it was a lot of long days and nights in the office, lots of stress, cancelled plans, interrupted vacations and failed relationships.  Now I am working hard, and will keep working hard until I'm ready to retire, but I'm more aware of the costs and have made significant life changes so that I can work happy too.
(9) Embrace change.
Switching jobs and cities has been a huge change for me.  Most of the time I find it exciting.  Some of the time I am terrified.  I read somewhere that fear and excitement are the same physiological response.  I'm not sure if that is scientifically accurate, but I like to think that a slight attitude shift changes being afraid to being EXCITED instead.  Embracing change and feeling excited about all the possibilities are great ways to deal with stress and lead a happy life.
(10) Stay connected with old friends.
One of my mentors has taught me that loyalty and remaining connected with old friends are paramount values.  This is especially important advice since I now practice on a rather remote island.  Email, Facebook, phone calls and visits are things that I do daily.  Your old friends are great.  They knew you when you were a child, or a college student or a baby lawyer.  They are invaluable treasures.
Mentors matter and I hope that this advice from my mentors helps you with your life challenges this month.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

10 Things To Do Before the Summer Ends!

Good morning,

In the next few weeks most of your summer associates and interns will pack-up and begin the mass migration back to school. I’ve created a short list of the top 10 things they should do as they wrap-up their summer experience. If you have summer associates or interns in your office, please feel free to share this content. If you’re in career services and have stayed in touch with the students you worked so hard to place, please don’t hesitate to pass this content onto them.

Also, one quick advertisement: my latest book in the “100 Things You Need To Know” series is now available via Amazon.com. “Business Etiquette” addresses a variety of issues including:

• Interviewing with style
• Working with your boss & coworkers
• Business dining
• Business communications
• Business travel
• Working globally

Enjoy the end of summer!

All the best,

10 Things To Do Before the Summer Ends

Over the next few weeks your time as a summer associate or intern will rapidly come to a close. Before you leave your summer employer, make sure you do the following 10 things to ensure you leave on a high note:

1. Transition work – Turn in completed work assignments. For any work that remains incomplete, prepare a short memo detailing what you’ve done and what work remains. If you have relied on specific sources for key information, list their names and key contact information. Provide supporting documentation. Make it super easy for someone else to finish the project.

2. Meet with your supervisor(s) – Ask for feedback. Listen carefully. If any feedback is less than positive, do not become defensive. Show your appreciation for your supervisor’s willingness to share his/her thoughts and time.

3. Ask for copies of your work – To begin building a portfolio, you may wish to keep copies of any work you completed. Ask permission to do so. Remember, your work product belongs to your employer. Don’t assume you may keep it. 

4. Say “thank you” – In a private conversation, thank your supervisor for the summer experience. Stop by the recruiting department and do the same. And don’t forget to thank other people—administrators, tech department, library, mail-room, and others—who helped you complete work.

5. Share your career plans – If you hope your summer experience will lead to a future job offer, clearly express this desire. You may or may not receive a positive response, however, don’t assume others know your goals and expectations.

6. Speak positively – If your summer experience was disappointing, suck it up. When you refer to it, only focus on the positive. Avoid complaining. Never burn a bridge.

7. Prepare to stay in touch – Create a plan to stay in touch with key people. Update your LinkedIn profile, adding information about your summer experience. Invite others to “link” to you. Avoid using Facebook for this purpose.

8. No gifting – Do not give a gift to your supervisor or to anyone else with whom you worked. Your good intent could be misinterpreted as an attempt to curry favor.

9. Hand write a thank-you note – Yes, it’s redundant, but this note gives you one last chance to leave a positive impression with your supervisor. Keep it short, simple, and sincere. Mail it within 48-hours of your last day of work.

10. Update your résumé – While your summer experience is still fresh in your mind, craft four or five quality sentences that describe the experience and the skills you acquired as a result.

Don’t let the end of your summer experience just happen. View it as one more opportunity to take charge of your career and close with class.

Copyright © 2014 Mary Crane & Associates.