Saturday, May 26, 2012

What Does Being a "Hip" Lawyer REALLY Mean?

Seriously, I want to know. I saw this ad recently:

Hip Lawyer Please (TriBeCa)

Date: 2012-05-11, 12:49PM EDT
Reply to: [Errors when replying to ads?]

Law office seeks motivated attorney to work with our foreign artists and creatives in attaining their work visas to the USA. We offer a boutique small firm environment, lack of dress code, informality and reject the corporate model to law firms, (lawyers are stiff enough)..

The most important qualities we are looking for are;
1 -strong, efficient and attentive writing skills,
2 -creativity and ability to work independently
3 -have an ear to the ground in regard to trends, fashion, culture and arts
4. an ability to incorporate their "hipness" (for lack of a better word) into our work, which is mostly persuasive writing and research

The position would be part time to begin (at least twice a week) as we determine the effectiveness of the role with real potential for advancement if results met and growth continues. Please send a resume/CV and a short explanation of why you feel you would be a good fit given our needs.

Compensation: hourly, commensurate with experience
This is a part-time job.
Principals only. Recruiters, please don't contact this job poster.
Please, no phone calls about this job!
Please do not contact job poster about other services, products or commercial interests.

PostingID: 3009506645

Due to the nature of what I do & the fact that Craig's List is rife with scammers, I NEVER send personal details in responding to ads unless I've gotten the poster's personal details first. For one thing, there's vetting concerns. Second, I don't want someone asking me for entertainment advice (certainly not for free) or to pass a script to someone I know. I have far too much respect for my colleagues to bother them with such crap. Third, I don't want someone trying to establish a personal connection with me that I might not want to have. I network very carefully & don't deal with losers. I've also seen way too much BS (as you can read in prior entries) to take anyone seriously unless they actually answer my questions & follow MY directions.

If you're an employer who doesn't get this, then you're not one I want to deal with anyway. I evaluate you just as much as you evaluate me. Trust me, if you'd lived some of my experiences you'd do the very same thing.

In short, you can't be overly trusting of total strangers.

I've not heard anything from this one & while I may be a bit cynical as well as pessimistic, I think I'm probably right when I think I won't at all.

Here's why:

It's my theory that when a law firm says they want a "cool" or "hip" lawyer, they don't really want a cool or hip lawyer. To me, it feels just like what colleagues in the entertainment field have said about film execs who say they want something "different" but what they REALLY mean is "something that will make money but is different enough to not be a knock off of some already popular, money making film."

In the case of these firms, I think they mean they want someone who's still vanilla, bland & boring but keeps up with technology and watches television. If they really wanted "hip," I'd be hearing something. I challenged people I knew to find me a lawyer in NYC who is hipper than me. Someone who's got their own humorous rant blog, says some of the things I say, could care less about impressing anyone & defies lawyer stereotypes in the same manner I do. I've yet to find that person. If I did, that person would have to be my friend by default. I'll guarantee you none have made the sort of impression I make. People know me by my hair.

I found out at a NYCLA networking event I went to a while back that I was being identified as a redhead. That & working in the entertainment field. I'd also dare you to find someone less impressed with hierarchy or sucking up to other attorneys.

Am I right about this definition of "hip" for lawyers? I haven't personally talked to some lawyer or firm soliciting for such people but can tell you than when I see those ads & challenged them on that by responding, no one ever responded. That leads me to think that the poster is either a total liar or a moron. Neither category is a good place to be. Plus, I feel like in some cases this blog's a good screening tool. If you can't take someone who has opinions and a mind of their own + bothers to express them since silence is the same as condoning shadiness, I don't want to work with you or even know you. Save that crap for someone who doesn't mind being treated like a 5 year old. I'm not that person.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

If You're Going to Perform, Bring Your A-Game & Clean Yourself!

One issue a NYC resident you'd actually want something to do with (no offense to those of you 1-25%ers who aren't assholes) consistently encounters is people using the subway as their personal platform. Some are selling candy, some are devout worshipers of their relevant faith, some are singing/acting/dancing & others are simply begging for money. I may have shared a few stories on these but in case I haven't, here are some of my most memorable ones:

* The guy on the horse. I was having a bad day at the time & he was on this horse costume. Not sure if he was on some person's back that was covered by this horse but he was so hilarious I was considering giving him some money. This is the only actual performer I've seen who made me laugh.

* The acting troupe doing Shakespeare. They were actually pretty good & as you know, I work in the business. Good enough for me to bring in for meetings, though? No one really fits my standards for such things since there's enough competition & I don't want a flood of people harassing me for revealing my identity in public.

* The off key singer annoying the hell out of us with his R&B performance. Another passenger starting mimicking this guy singing "I suck" & other such things. I felt like I was on Subway Idol & was thanking God this guy didn't know I worked in the industry. However, you'd have wanted to say "I work in this industry & you STINK! Don't give up your day job." I could also add being a semi-pro singer & knowing professional singers to that.

* The failed beggar. Occasionally, you'll find people coming into the car, telling you this poor pitiful tale of woe so others will give them money. Sometimes these people have kids on them (women only, I've noticed) but most of the time, it's men. I've seen quite a few of these but the most memorable was when I was on the train with a group of young black women who had apparently just gotten off work as well as a group of young black men sitting not far from them. They had to be late teens or early 20s.

As this older white guy come onto our car to share his sob story, one of these black youth says to his friend loudly "That guy is scamming people." He didn't directly confront the beggar but he totally shut that guy down. I thought "Intelligent Black Youth: 1, Scam Artist Beggar: 0." Not sure if those women being around had anything to do with it but that moment rocked. I'd love to see more of it.

If we didn't cover it, here's my basic policies on these categories:

1. Candy sellers: I have no problem with them. I think the MTA ought to hire them for this at a fair wage. I view it as a public service but only wish the sellers who get on my main train would have more selection. It's usually Welch's fruit snacks or peanut M&Ms. If you get some regular M&Ms or Twix bars like the one guy I bought from the one time at Union Square, I might be interested when I'm hungry & have a spare buck on me (yeah, they charge $1 for candy bars & 2 for $1 for the fruit snacks).

If you want to sell World's Finest, even better! Just make sure you have some nut free chocolate if you do. Heck, I think you'd make a killing selling World's Finest on the subway since I know I'm not the only person who loves their chocolate. The Boondocks even did an episode about this; go see it if you haven't.

2. Performers: Be fucking good at whatever you do, all right? It seems the good performers are never on my train. The most famous thing happening on ours was apparently some random woman taking her clothes off while some photographer with her quickly shot her picture & moved on. By the way, not something I support since you should at least give someone some warning so they can take their kids out or cover their eyes if they want. What next, are you going to fuck right on the subway floor in front of us?

I'd also think the hygiene issues would concern you (they DO concern me when I'm just wearing shorter shorts or a short skirt). While a live sex show might be interesting, I'm pretty sure it's illegal even if you film it. Not to mention invoking the wrath of angry parents & the God bothering graffiti artist I hope the cops have shut down (they have been more present in our area lately; I hope they're also cracking down on the assholes who don't clean their dogs' poop off the sidewalk, leaving it for unsuspecting pedestrians to step in).

Aside from all this, treat your performance as though you were on a stage in front of paying customers & as though casting directors were in the audience. Have some showmanship. Have some stage presence, charisma, charm, things that don't make people pissed off at you. Treat it seriously. If you suck, we DON'T want to hear or see it. This also isn't the time to put strangers on the spot & try putting them into your act. Unless the person's a plant, don't do it. We DON'T appreciate it & it WILL bother us.

Know your skills & be honest about them. This sort of thing isn't going to get you discovered. There, I said it. Pop music lore aside, I'm pretty sure those people were networking & hustling as well. They didn't just bug commuters on subway trains; they made sure they met the right people & took their work seriously.

3. Using babies/kids to elicit sympathy: This really pisses me off. I mean, super raging pisses me off. First off, I have a Psych degree so I know what you're up to with this (if someone knows you're using a psychological tactic, the tactic doesn't work on him/her). Second, I have a sister with a young child who's expecting her 3rd right now. She doesn't have a ton of money & her family is in financial struggle from time to time. Still, I can't imagine her standing on the side of the road panhandling while showing off her pregnant belly. I also know she'd not have begged for things with her kids with her. My own parents also had & still have financial struggle but you won't see them going to beg on street corners (in fact, my mom has commented on seeing beggars wearing nicer shoes than my father's & how that made her mad). So you get zero sympathy from me. Third, I'm childfree. You want to elicit my sympathy? Get a cat or dog. Then again, I'll accuse you of being a neglectful asshole & want the Humane Society to get that animal far away from you.

This sort of thing also really bothers me because I feel like it says you have zero pride & zero scruples to use someone that way. You aren't James Belushi in Curly Sue. You might have a heart of gold but we're never going to see it if you're just trying to take the easy way out & especially if you're going around with an iPhone. Plus, I hear James Belushi is a total scumbag in real life (my husband shared a tale with me about this that you can read in a previous entry).

I feel the same way about this as I do about parents using their kids to help steal from stores.

4. Telling a sob story: Okay, come up with something original. At least be funny & charming. THIS will motivate someone to care. Above all, don't have an iPhone or anything that looks "nice" (especially if it's nicer than what the average commuter on the line where you're doing this has). If you are doing that, you're going to make people angry & prove that you're just another scamming jerk. At least the "tell me off" guy was interesting. Learn, do something interesting. Hell, be honest. If you tell us you're going to use the money for booze & drugs, people may just give b/c they're impressed with your honesty.

Personally, I'm not inclined to support this sort of thing. For one thing, I've got negative net worth. If you don't have that, you're not worse off than I or millions of other people who have oppressive student loan debt that will follow us to the grave. I have even said that to folk when personally accosted on the street (which is against the law, by the way & I did tell someone that one evening; he pretended not to hear me, then backed off). Second, no one likes being personally accosted by strangers. Ever. Okay? Young women certainly don't since it conjures up all sorts of "stranger danger" issues. Psychological studies have shown that people are more inclined to help those that are more like them & if you aren't like them, they're not going to bother. They also don't help if they're rushed, in a bad mood or there's a lot of people around the situation.

For those thinking I'm a heartless bitch, well perhaps but I'm not a sucker. I don't mind giving food. If I have some, I don't mind sharing that. If it's my own cooking, I'll want feedback. Asking for food is okay: it makes me feel you really ARE in dire straits & aren't a lying scammer.

Doing it with kids though, doesn't make me feel anything. I'll just think you're teaching some horrible values & about my sister who isn't doing that kind of thing. I have more respect for women who become strippers or prostitutes to feed their kids as I don't know of any using their kids to get clients or bringing that work home to their kids by letting them watch or participate in some fashion. If they're doing drugs or drinking around them, then you're talking about the parent exposing the kids to drugs or alcohol, which can happen without the mother taking on those kinds of jobs. Totally separate issue.

Plus, there's other options besides pissing off commuters & issuing fake apologies for disturbing them. If you really were sorry for the inconvenience, you wouldn't be offering your spiel in the first place. How many signs do you see for organizations that help homeless people & outreach groups? At least try that first & LET them help you.

Lastly, DON'T STINK!!! Try washing off in a public bathroom, take care of the smelly areas. If we can smell you, we don't want to be near it. Also not a good idea to be stinky if you want to sell candy. That's not accomplishing that aim. I was once in a car with one of those accordion player groups & one of them had a baby that stank to high heaven. No joke. When that kid was away from me, it was fine but when that kid was sitting with his mom (seated right next to me) I had to turn my head away & STILL could smell the stank.

I ended up having to switch cars b/c the smell was that bad. Now I may not have kids but I have been around little kids before, both on the subway & in my personal life. I have never encountered a child that smelled & reeked like this one, even when one of my nephews or some other little kid needed a diaper change. More reasons for me to be mad at you & want you out of my presence quickly. Most of the typical NYC subway smells weren't even as bad as this so that's got to tell you something. Damn it, if you plan to use children as pawns CLEAN THEM!!!!!!!! That is all.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Turning Lawyer Applicants Into Indentured Servants & A Serious Lesson in Business Etiquette

So, if you've done your homework before reading this blog you know that I have 2 different core audiences in the professional world: attorneys & entertainment professionals. This one's going to have something for both (though this is still ultimately the place where I can be myself; if you're fortunate enough to do this, you really should).

First off, NY state is soon to be the very first state in the US to require all new attorneys to undergo 50 hours of pro bono work before being admitted to the bar & provide certification of this to the bar examiners. This article is a good overview on the issue & addresses some things.

However, I feel the need to comment since I don't think it goes far enough & doesn't cover things I've said:

1. You may know I'm doing my first stint of Monday Night Law this year. If you read one of my earlier entries, you read about a conversation I overheard about someone being turned down for pro bono work she actually wanted to do & cared about b/c the organization only wanted BigLaw attorneys trying to meet their pro bono requirement.

Now what about these aspiring lawyers? They're not going to have malpractice insurance to cover them. If these organizations are so strapped for cash, they can't cover experienced attorneys volunteering then how are they going to cover these new folks?

2. Why should new attorneys get to be involved in programs to "get experience" when there are tons of unemployed attorneys who could use it? What about the attorneys who actually WANT to be there getting the experience & feeling good about doing it? Don't they count?

3. Let's expand on that that whole "reluctant volunteer" issue: many of these volunteer projects won't take new attorneys. Monday Night Law doesn't take attorneys admitted less than 2 years. Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts won't take you unless you've been a lawyer for 7 years (I'm heading into my 5th year, even though I've been doing far more in this business than their majority BigLaw volunteers probably have; reading Yelp reviews of them also makes me adamant about never recommending anyone I know there). Presumably, you want to take on pro bono work that might have relevance to what you want to do, right? Or maybe you'd like to do something you'd actually, oh I don't know, ENJOY?

What if there's no opportunity for that? Then what? Are we now subjecting people who can't afford legal counsel to bitter, miserable law students/graduates who are only there to get this pro bono requirement met & could care less about their problems or them as people? The requirement doesn't say "50 hours of pro bono work where you built rapport with clients" or "50 hours of pro bono work where you helped clients w/their matters." It just says "50 hours of pro bono work." Not a word about the quality of it.

I would hope that the students commenting on this article are right about people caring about using their schooling to help others but I can't help but wonder about the elitist types who don't want to be there, are miserable & will take it out on any organization they work with as well as any clients walking in the door. You know there are some.

I personally CHOSE what I did & don't regret it. Working at my school's legal clinic proved to me that I wasn't really cut out for the politics & craziness of a law firm. The helping people aspect was great (and that makes a lawyer feel better since if you're not in charge or a veteran lawyer, you're often made to feel useless, incompetent & like you've got a permanent case of two left feet or foot in mouth disease). The life lessons & war stories were great truths I use to this day. However, the stories I heard about law firms & the time I was yelled at by one of our professors in the second phase of my work there were enough for me to say "Nope, not happening for me."

There are some projects I would have no interest or desire in doing. Helping someone convicted of many sorts of crimes is one (rape, animal abuse, neglecting children, hate crimes, etc.). Anything dealing with illegal immigrants is another. I have some very personal beliefs on these subjects that would make representation by me not only ineffective but verboten under ethics rules (attorneys can't take cases where they will not be able to provide zealous advocacy or effective counsel due to personal biases, religious beliefs, etc.). If you have to subject someone to a more rigorous screening process than you would for something where you don't have personal biases, then you can't effectively counsel him/her.

These are some of the individuals lawyers come in contact with & the people society doesn't like or approve of do need legal counsel. However, I know there are certain cases I can't take & certain projects I wouldn't be a fit for. I'm sure there are attorneys who wouldn't be able to deal with some of the matters I have but that's why there's a little something for everyone. At least, when you're licensed.

4. Some schools apparently have some very competitive clinic & internship/externship programs. Fortunately, I didn't attend such a law school but I've read about places where if you aren't on law review or top of the class you won't get into any of the law school programs. If you're in that boat, then what do you do? Again, there's that problem of not getting the opportunity you want & being forced into something where you & everyone around you will be miserable.

I have to wonder if this is a "do good" way to project yet more elitism into NY bar admissions. No one's going to say "Oh, it's a bad idea to require lawyers to help the less fortunate," but if you're dealing with a lower ranked student at one of these schools with a competitive clinic/internship/externship program who then has no ability to meet the requirement (presuming the outside organizations also try instituting grade requirements, which isn't uncommon at some places & especially considering nearly all the decision makers in the legal field view GPA/class rank as the only way to determine one's value as a human being), you've just shut out the attorneys who are ranked lower in the class. You see where I might get that notion & why it could raise hackles?

5. Then, to get away from the issues I took with this requirement was the point brought up by many about the whole notion of indentured servitude of lawyers. In case you haven't heard, the legal job market sucks for new grads. Even BigLaw isn't taking all the top GPA/law review members & starting a business without money, contacts, etc. is extremely hard. Some of us are good hustlers. Some of us are great at networking. Some of us can get breaks by doing this stuff.

However, you can be a good networker & still have problems in this economy. You can't MAKE someone give you a job or an opportunity. You can't make someone do something they don't want to do. Plain & simple.

So I do think the people pointing out this being indentured servitude that the folk imposing this aren't going to have to do personally do make a good point. It does seem like you shouldn't outsource your own pro bono duties or even duties to help society/your fellow man in general to the attorney applicants, who really have no say in the matter & can't object.

In sum, I think it's a noble idea but misguided. You can't really force anyone to be a good citizen. It's either there or it isn't. Kind of like what my law school Ethics professor said in class. He said he couldn't instill Ethics into us as 20 somethings & either we had ethics or we didn't. Same goes for this. You've either got a sense of altruism & care about helping people or you don't. I don't think this requirement is going to make a selfish, elitist scumbag become Mother Teresa all of a sudden.

Plus, the people imposing this requirement ignore the issue of classism among the poor. Those people will know in a second if some aspiring NY bar applicant is being patronizing or just there to collect hours vs. really caring about their issue, empathetic to that client & "gets" it. It is a different world & if you don't brief people on it, they will give off a terrible impression to the client + may even discourage that client from ever seeking out a lawyer again. We know not everyone involved in pro bono projects cares about the work or the people coming for help.

So, that's a special lawyer issue that is definitely important to the community at large & I'd love to know what non-lawyers think about it, especially those who'd likely have to go to these organizations to get legal representation. I wonder if the Chief Justice is taking statements from those people directly; if not, he should consider them.

Now, we're going to look at business etiquette. Consider the following scenario:

You have an e-mail account that is not available to the general public. The only acceptable way someone would get the address is by A) getting your business card or headshot/resume (most likely from you), B) being a member of a bar association or networking group you belong to i.e. an attorney or entertainment professional, C) you initiating contact with the person.

I say "acceptable" to mean a method where it was okay for the person to reach out to you. Those who have this e-mail also know not to pass your information along without asking you first. The majority of your contacts are attorneys, entertainment professionals working behind the scenes or people you've told not to spread your info around without asking.

Attorneys & entertainment professionals generally don't share your info without asking since they get hassled enough by strangers & if they share your info without asking, they know you could (and probably would) do it right back to them. If they do it to lots of people, they will effectively get blackballed. Everyone knows this.

Another fact about this e-mail account: your full name is not associated with it. That means if you sent an e-mail to someone using it, they would not get your name unless you put it in there. You're extremely conscientious & paranoid about giving out your name to strangers since you come up first in a Google search. So, this account is one of those insider things.

Rule #1: Do NOT use a "secret" e-mail, phone number, fax number, screen name or social media account to contact a stranger. Assume a 98% chance that you will piss off that stranger. This is why getting lists of contacts for the entertainment industry doesn't really work if you don't have a personal friend/contact of that stranger that will vouch for you.

The same goes for lawyers who don't have law firms. Don't contact lawyer/film execs through a secret means. Secret means you wouldn't find it in an online search & have no one to vouch for you.

Rule #2: If you spam someone, be prepared to tell the person how you got that secret means of communication, apologize & take what's coming to you. You ARE in the wrong. Make no mistake about it.

Rule #3: If you're going to send your newsletters/updates/impersonal correspondence to a stranger, be prepared to accept any such correspondence that stranger may send. This includes information about fundraising campaigns for films, newsletters & any other business correspondence. If you want someone to care about YOUR company/updates/life, you'll have to do the same for your recipients. This is life.

Rule #4: If the stranger reaches out to you about networking & says you may be a useful contact (especially where that strangers is someone who could hire your clients), you seize that opportunity to be friendly. If that person was someone you chose to target with your materials, any rational person would conclude that you are open to networking with said person. After all, why waste your time with people you don't see an opportunity in dealing with?

Rule #5: Follow up with people who could hire your clients or otherwise help your business. To only look at the present time & not the long term future is stupid. For those in the entertainment field: not networking with entertainment lawyers is stupid, presumptuous & will screw you sooner or later.

Most entertainment folk know better than to snub lawyers; even your newest actors tend to be at least polite to entertainment law attorneys. As one person told me once, we serve a useful & important function. Don't you fucking forget it; if you're going to do anything professionally in entertainment, you will need us. It's just a matter of time. Find someone who makes a living in the entertainment field who doesn't have a lawyer or an agent/manager who is a licensed attorney. I dare you.

And as you don't piss off entertainment lawyers in general, you don't piss off someone who knows a lot of attorneys & has extensive contacts in entertainment law. Guess who most of my lawyer contacts are? Entertainment law attorneys. Common interests, people.

I also look out for my friends & if I hear they're going to be working with someone I know is a jerk, I'll be saying something.

Back to the scenario:

You get a newsletter from a total stranger in this "secret" e-mail account. It contains your full name in the Recipient line. You don't know the name in any context. This isn't a LinkedIn contact, a member of a LinkedIn group, a business contact, a lawyer or someone who'd have a legitimate reason to have your e-mail. Nor did this person acknowledge that they're sending you this thing & don't know you.

In doing your homework, you learn this person could be a good contact & might be able to answer a simple informational question. Sort of a cross between informational interview & "What's it like to do X?" inquiry. You get a response by phone then send your info so the person can do their research on you.

You hear nothing. Then, you take an opportunity to meet this spammer/potentially useful contact in person. Figuring maybe this person's busy, you're not too phased with a lack of response to your e-mail. After all, you know people in this stranger's line of work tend to be busy.

When you hear this person speak, you get an impression of competence & the person does have some sense of humor.

However, you ask this person directly about what you wrote in e-mail & guess what the stranger does? The stranger attempts to recruit you for one on one time & charge you money for it.

Remember, this person reached out to YOU & had no way of having your private e-mail account. You asked everyone who had that personal e-mail that may have dealt with this stranger & no one knew this person. Presuming professionals aren't going to send out your info for you to get spammed & that these individuals have no personal animus toward you to get your name added onto a spam list, you have to conclude that the stranger is not only a spammer but a total asshole. This was NOT you making first contact & then trying to get a freebie.

Who was this person, you may ask? Well, as I feel it's my duty to inform those I know in the business about professionalism & counter the BS where I can I'll tell you. That would be Jenn Lederer of The Dream Management. Her competence is not a concern for me (the typical reason I'd not work with someone in this business). It's her lack of business etiquette.

I also wonder how much respect she actually has for lawyers considering when I saw her speak, she told actors to see about getting a writing to get reel footage for student films but that the filmmakers could choose at their leisure whether to give it up or not. Not wanting to announce to the entire room my entire resume or background, I thought loudly "That's a contract! If these people don't act, the performer could sue & maybe even get an injunction against the film getting a distribution deal, going to festivals, etc. At the very least, they might be able to get some money. Depends on what this contract says & what you include or not."

I've also told people not to waste their time with anyone who won't sign contracts or freaks out when you mention discussing the work with your lawyer or manager since that shouts "unprofessional." Even on my company's no budget, no name films you'd better believe there were contracts. That "smile & a handshake" stuff doesn't cut it if you want to be a working professional in entertainment. No professional I've met has EVER said this to an actor & or devalued lawyers in this way.

This leads to Rule #6, which is especially for renaissance people: various careers or sides of a person don't exist in a vacuum. If you think I'm not going to use knowledge I get about you in the context of my film company work or legal work, then woe unto you. Treat me like shit in some other context & like every single other professional who works behind the scenes in entertainment, I will take notes & make sure you're not subjecting my team to your crap. We have no patience or time to be magnanimous, nor should that be expected of us. Demanding it from us definitely won't get you anywhere. That's why such complaints don't impress me.

My lawyer side doesn't vanish just because I'm doing an acting gig. That producer trainee/film exec side doesn't go away if I'm at a lawyer event. I watch how you conduct yourself, how you treat people, what you say, etc. Renaissance people are the people you'd better be impressing hardest since we ARE doing so much stuff & probably have more contacts among so many areas than the average person. We could help you or we could ruin you.

I'm hardly an unreasonable person, overly sensitive or insist on ego stroking but don't you find that screwed up? I don't even know of an attorney charging law grads, new lawyers or anyone else for informational interviews or networking meetings (and you'd expect that from the dreaded lawyers; hell, I could make a fortune from it if I were an asshole). I could guarantee most lawyers' busy schedules would put her own schedule to shame, no matter how busy she is. I also wrote her the next day to mention these truths to her (I also mentioned being from NC & having friends + family living there considering she'd claimed people in NC had no souls during her talk to see if she gets that maybe I'd find it offensive).

If she apologized, it would be all good but since she has not, I'm afraid her actors won't be working with my company. After all, if she's that disrespectful to me a.k.a. "the enforcer," how's she going to treat a producer or director? Is she just going to further actor/director conflicts vs. helping find a solution? That's what I feel like she'd end up doing.

I should however, thank the acting coach who had her speak since I likely wouldn't have been able to have that conversation in any other forum & it saved me a lot of time and headaches. John Pallotta, you're awesome (and he is, really).

So kids, you violate business etiquette at your own peril. If you think you don't need to learn it, think again. Remember, I'm one of those easygoing, non-asshole lawyers who acts like a real person. Imagine how I'd react to this if I were a stereotypical lawyer. Imagine if she were a law firm associate pulling this mess with a law firm partner.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

How to Ask Lawyers for Legal Help (Or For Professional Services in General)

Those of you who are lawyers are bound to appreciate this. In fact, anyone who's constantly being bombarded with expertise requests where strangers ask for freebies are going to love this one.

If you remember, I'd pretty much not bothered with doing much legal representation since some very horrible experiences with clients taking advantage of me by not paying me for my services & treating me with disrespect. Other people just went MIA but they're not part of this discussion. Those things I mentioned are huge in creating ill will & making a lawyer really hate the general public.

Very recently, I found myself the recipient of referrals & requests on legal stuff. I even read this article that discusses why attorneys shouldn't be working for free, even in this bad economy. Before that, I was talking to an acclaimed acting coach who's worked with celebrities & we got into this very conversation about people asking for freebies.

Let's make a few things clear right off the bat:

1. My legal expertise is a personal thing connected to ME, the person. I don't work at a law firm or own one so if you want me to do you a personal favor, you'd better be taking a personal interest in ME.

How can you do this? You could follow me on Twitter (or at least follow me back if I follow you, which rarely happens; otherwise, I get pissed since that's a form of disrespect in my book & I don't reach out to just anyone there). You could send me a LinkedIn connection request. Even though I don't prefer this, you could even send me a Facebook friend request.

You could also read this blog. In fact, I strongly encourage people wishing to network with me to read this blog since it will tell you whether I'm the right fit for you. If my having a personality & not judging others is an issue for you, I'd rather you not waste my time. If my having a backbone & a sense of ethics bothers you, you definitely don't need to be dealing with me. Trust me, it will save you a lot of time & headaches.

Making that personal effort is going to make me far more motivated to bother caring about your issue or helping you. When you don't do this, I've got zero motivation to care about you or your issues.

2. Do not ask for a freebie in someone's area of expertise (mine included). Unless you fall into one of the following categories, you will piss off any professional for doing so:

A) You're in a networking group with the professional where the professional has made a choice to help you. I myself don't mind doing this sort of thing for entertainment colleagues since I'm choosing to help or not.

B) You're participating in a volunteer project I'm part of. Attorneys have no problems with clients in an organization or program they've signed up to help people in. Most people pick causes they personally care about or have a connection to, though the fact that NY is going to impose a 50 hour minimum pro bono requirement as part of the admission process may very well change this.

I'd like to think, though that most attorneys doing those programs actually care about the people that come in. If they don't, they are pretty stupid & too masochistic for their own goods.

C) You're friends with that professional & not asking for something labor intensive or that takes up lots of time. Real friends don't take advantage that way. If you'd not be willing to do the professional equivalent for that friend, don't ask that of your friend. It will build resentment.

3. Don't make it personal. Attorneys in particular have strict rules & professional ethics requirements. We have to tell you that we're not your lawyer w/out a retainer agreement; we also have to put things in writing. If you don't like that, you're not capable of working with a professional & treating that person with respect. These are standard to my industry.

Any smart freelancer also puts their business transactions with clients in writing.

4. Be an adult. That means listening to what a professional has to say, thinking about what you're told & giving the person room to apply their expertise.

Some people will be collaborative with you & involve you (which I personally think is a good idea & like doing myself) but while you may be involved, that doesn't make you more skilled than the attorney. One experience prompted me not to represent anyone who thinks they're an attorney b/c they've had legal training that wasn't law school.

This also means treating the professional as you'd like to be treated. Would you want me undermining you or leaving you to hold the bag if I asked you about something? Want me to question your expertise at every turn? If that's not something you'd want one of your clients doing to you, then maybe you shouldn't be doing that to the lawyer (or whatever professional you're dealing with).

Attorneys in particular have been burned out by this mess. Your altruism & sense of compassion fades real quick after you get a client or two doing those sorts of things to you. If you think this doesn't happen, go talk to some attorneys & you'll get an education.

5. Finally, if you have another attorney involved in your company & you're using me so you don't have to pay his/her prices don't even bother unless you're offering equity and/or an in-house or junior attorney title. It's just offensive, insulting & creates confusion. If that attorney's not supervising me & is listed as "in-house counsel," then why am I present?

A newbie might be okay with "getting experience" but professionals don't need to do that so free work is nothing but slavery to them. Keep in mind that even new attorneys have a market value that's not $0.

If you remember nothing else from this, remember this: Don't ask professionals for freebies!

I also can't offer referrals to my attorney contacts if you want a freebie. If you genuinely can't afford legal services, then you either have to take what you can get (which may be a new attorney who is learning your area), go to a volunteer organization or do it yourself. Long time vets can offer to work with you or do a freebie but if you walk in asking them for one, they will get offended.

Attorneys & anyone with a high level skill aren't minimum wage workers. They are not slinging burgers or doing simple tasks a child could do. They are using professional expertise, likely acquired through tons of student loan debt & may have to pay a fortune to keep licenses. If you wouldn't pay your doctor the same rate you'd pay a Wal-Mart cashier, then you'd better not be doing that to a lawyer. I don't care how much you hate lawyers.