Marshall Lichty is an advisor to Minnesota entrepreneurs, startups, and small businesses. He also loves sharing everything he knows...
In this episode, Minnesota lawyer Marshall Lichty explains why mentoring is important, how lawyers can find a mentor, and how experienced lawyers can find a mentee. Also, it turns out Marshall taught Sam to tie his shoes, like this:
Marshall Lichty is an advisor to Minnesota entrepreneurs, startups, and small businesses. He also loves sharing everything he knows about law practice with students and young lawyers to help them meet their people, find their thing, and love their job.
Speaker 1: Welcome to The Lawyerist Podcast, with Sam Glover and Aaron Street. Each week, Lawyerist brings you advice and interviews to help you build a more successful law practice in today’s challenging and constantly changing legal market. And now, here are Sam and Aaron.
Sam Glover: Hi, I’m Sam Glover.
Aaron Street: And I’m Aaron Street, and this is episode 123 of The Lawyerist Podcast, part of the Legal Talk Network. Today we’re talking with Marshall Lichty about mentors and mentoring and the proper way to tie shoes.
Sam Glover: Just listen. Today’s podcast is sponsored by Spotlight Branding, which wants you to know that having a new website designed for your law firm doesn’t have to suck. Spotlight Branding prides itself on great communication, meeting deadlines, and getting results. Text the word, “Website,” to 66866 in order to receive a free website appraisal worksheet.
Aaron Street: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Freshbooks, which is ridiculously easy to use and packed with powerful features. Try it now at Freshbooks.com/Lawyerist, and enter, “Lawyerist,” in the how did you hear about us section.
Sam Glover: Today’s podcast is sponsored by Ruby Receptionists and its smart, charming receptionists who are perfect for small firms. Visit CallRuby.com/Lawyerist to get a risk free trial with Ruby.
Aaron Street: So, as we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we have officially opened up applications to our third TBD law conference, which will be at the end of August at a summer camp retreat center outside of St. Louis.
Sam Glover: I think a summer camp retreat is a good way to describe it.
Aaron Street: Yeah, so we’ve promised camp fires. Probably s’mores. No trust falls. Maybe.
Sam Glover: Hopefully not. Well, maybe. I don’t know.
Aaron Street: Hopefully no trust falls. Seriously.
Sam Glover: All right, deal.
Aaron Street: So applications have been open for a couple of days now, and we’ve already sent out invitations to a bunch of people, and we are running out of open spots. So if you’re at all interested in joining a select group of invite-only, creative and forward-thinking small firm lawyers to help figure out the future of your practice and the future of law practice, we would love to see an application from you. You only have probably a few days left to get into the application pool while there are still a few invitation spots left. So if you’re interested in applying, you can either go to Lawyerist and click on the TBD link in the menu, or you can just go to TBDLaw.co and that will take you to that page. You can submit an application and we will figure out a way to get a hold of you so we can chat about whether you’d be a great fit.
Sam Glover: And I guess it’s worth saying that we are asking everyone to apply, we’re requiring everyone to apply. And the reason is that we’re trying to get people there who get it, who understand what we’re going to be talking about and the conversations we’re going to have there. How do you know? Well, the lawyers who are going to get the most out of TBD Law, and the lawyers who are probably the best fit are lawyers who have a general understanding of the trends that are shaping the future of law practice and take a strategic view of their law firm as a business. Or, at least really want to do those things. We’re not interested in having lawyers there who need to be persuaded that the practice of law is changing, because those people aren’t going to really be valuable contributors to the conversation, because those aren’t the conversations we’re going to have there.
So if you are open-minded and understand that practice is changing, maybe you’ve experienced some of those changes but you aren’t sure what to do about it, then you might be a good candidate and we’d like to have you there. But as Aaron said, I’ve already sent out a little under half of the invitations that we are going to sent to TBD law, and so if you want to go, you need to get to our website and apply. The easiest way to get there is to type TBDLaw.co into your browser, and that will take you to the landing page for TBD Law. There’s a big red button there to get to the application form. If you get it, and if you’re listening to this podcast, there’s a decent chance you do, we’d love to have your application and follow up with you. So do that now.
Aaron Street: Yay.
Sam Glover: And now, here’s my conversation with Marshall. And don’t worry, the part about tying your shoes properly is right up front. And I’m going to throw a video of doing it Marshall’s way in the show notes, because I actually haven’t been able to find another video on YouTube, and I think that the world is a poor place without more people tying their shoes in the way that Marshall says. Although, that has nothing to do with the bulk of our conversation.
Aaron Street: I fear our podcast just jumped the shark.
Sam Glover: It did not. This is the greatest thing.
Aaron Street: Okay.
Sam Glover: Here it goes.
Aaron Street: Uh-huh.
Marshall Lichty: Good afternoon, Sam and everybody out there in the Lawyerist community. My name is Marshall Lichty. I’m a lawyer in Minneapolis, and I’m a partner in a small law firm that we call EntrePartner. I’m an advisor to entrepreneurs and start ups and other small businesses, with a general practice, mostly general counsel services, and I help to create stable companies, help them grow into stronger companies, and then to protect them from their surprises.
Sam Glover: I just realized, Marshall, that you taught me how to tie my shoes. Do you remember that by any chance?
Marshall Lichty: Is this the double loop?
Sam Glover: Yes. Marshall-
Marshall Lichty: I don’t remember it, but it’s appropriate because I’ve just got a kid who’s learning how to tie his shoes.
Sam Glover: Marshall and I went to law school together. He was a year ahead, and we served on the law council together, which is the student government. And I don’t know, one day we’re sitting around in the law council office, and you told me I was tying my shoes wrong, and you showed me how to do it properly. And ever since then, I have tied my shoes that way, including the ones that I have on my feet today, which is hilarious.
Marshall Lichty: That is glorious. Added value, I’ll chalk it up.
Sam Glover: So among his other talents, if you want to learn how to tie your shoes properly, in a double knot that doesn’t look like a double knot, talk to Marshall. That was a completely goofy digression, but, tell us more about the practice that you have today. You represent entrepreneurs, and you did that after jumping ship from a larger law firm if I remember correctly.
Marshall Lichty: I did, yeah. So a little back up. I graduated from law school at the University of Minnesota law school in 2002. I did a clerkship for a year afterwards. I did that in Alaska, went to Anchorage, Alaska for a year, which was an extraordinary experience, and I recommend clerkship to everyone. And for people like me, who were not academic superstars, you’re probably talking about a trial court clerkship, which means it’s probably relatively fungible, and so go do it somewhere cool. Which I did, and it was great.
After that wrapped up, I moved back down to the cities, and joined a firm called Mayor and Gear in downtown Minneapolis, and ultimately was there for between six and seven years doing medical malpractice defense. I jumped ship from there in 2010, went to a small law firm doing plaintiffs medical malpractice work, and I did that for about three years. Ultimately, I had kind of had this sense for sometime, but ultimately realized that litigation wasn’t my particular jam, and was trying to find ways to reinvent myself, including all options, which included maybe not practicing law, maybe doing something ancillary to the practice.
Sam Glover: I think you and I had coffee around that time, and you were really waffling on what to do.
Marshall Lichty: Yeah, I really was. And I have a very dear friend of mine, now my business partner, he was then a law school classmate, and we lived together. And he had just taken over a small shop and desperately needed somebody to do operations related stuff. So he needed somebody to run the firm, make sure his bills were getting paid, make sure he was billing his clients, which he hadn’t been doing as frequently as maybe he would have liked to. Then, in the transition, then I would learn my transactional practice and support him in a variety of ways while growing my experience and book.
So that happened in 2013, and we’ve been going strong ever since. We’re now growing. We’re two lawyers at the moment. We’ve got an associate joining us. He just graduated. He’ll be taking the Bar and will join us as that transition happens. Then, we’re in talks to bring on some other lawyers as well. So we’re growing and the practice is wonderful, and interesting, and we have a cool space in a cool part of town and it’s great. So it’s been a nice rebirth.
Sam Glover: How much time do you spend on that administrative slash management stuff versus practicing law these days? Is that even a meaningful distinction?
Marshall Lichty: You know, it ought to be a more meaningful distinction than it is. Right now, because my practice has transitioned reasonably well, and I’ve got a pretty substantial book of clients, I’m now mostly a lawyer. I struggle to find time to run the firm. I think in an ideal world, that would be more clearly defined, and I would have time blocked in my calendar every week, day, month to do the things that I need to do. Plus, rather than just reactionary stuff, some more strategic work and some proactive stuff that would be useful to clean up ops and would really like to have some more automation and systems in place that make things more efficient and things like that. Because there are element of our practice that really are about volume and about churning out documents that don’t require a ton of time, but it’s just that repeated, repetitive stuff that you kind of have to go through. And if had somebody who was actively engaged in automating and making that more efficient, it would benefit us all, but it kind of gets away from me unless you’re really intentional about it.
Sam Glover: I sometimes feel like systems work like that is it’s easy to de-prioritize it because there’s always more important stuff to do. And it makes me think about building an exercise habit or something like that. You know you should do it, and you know that it’s investment in your future, but until you actually just buckle down and do it, you don’t. And I don’t know what it is that everybody has a different switch that kind of trips their trigger and gets them over the top to actually start doing that stuff. Yeah. I mean, I think so many firms are in that position, and at least you know what you would do when you have time to do it.
Marshall Lichty: Yeah, and I think it comes down to whatever that decision quadrant is. I don’t know if it was seven habits or whatever, but you’ve got the urgent and you’ve got the important, and wherever it falls on how urgent it is or how important it is is what you have in front of you, and if you don’t spend time on the stuff that is important but not urgent, then it gets swept. So that’s the challenge is figuring out a way to make that primary at least some part of the day.
Sam Glover: So, we were going to … You and I planned to talk about mentoring and maybe we should switch gears and talk about that. We haven’t addressed mentoring on the podcast. We’ve talked about it a little bit on the website. And I am curious, like … Start with what is your relationship to mentoring? Have you had good mentors? How has it made a difference to your practice, and what does that look like for you?
Marshall Lichty: Yeah, so maybe just a quick background. One of the things that I most enjoy, and this has been true for my entire practice, is just talking with people about what their practice is and what they want it to be. I’ve always enjoyed it. It’s when I’m most in flow. It’s when I sit down with people and say, “Okay, where are you right now and where do you want to be?” And it’s one of the things that very early on in my career I identified as sort of systemic problem in our profession, that there don’t seem to be strong tools or significant infrastructure, whether it’s in law schools or at law firms or in the legal community as a whole, around mentorship. I probably have some thoughts on why that is, but I don’t know that they’re necessarily important, other than to say that it was always something that I identified as a gap, and because I enjoy it so much, it something I’ve always done.
So I’ve done it both with my undergrad institution, at [inaudible 00:12:10], both in formal and informal ways. And then, at the University of Minnesota Law School in formal and informal ways. And for me, I have had some strong mentors in my life, although I wouldn’t say that I’ve had strong mentorship relationships in my career, other than to a certain extent, my partner now. He’s been an extraordinary mentor in transitioning out of a personal injury litigation practice into a business transactional practice. So he has been a mentor. But even that, not so much formalized. And we’re peers, so it’s kind of a strange dynamic. He would probably bristle if he heard me call him a mentor.
Sam Glover: Well, when you say a strong or a not strong mentor, what is it that makes somebody a strong or a good mentor in your mind?
Marshall Lichty: I think the first thing that seems to permeate all of the successful mentorship relationships that I’ve had is some consistency in communication. Mentorships are strange relationships. Usually, they’re contrived at the beginning, and they start with either one or both people being sort of doubtful about the why and whether it’s going to be beneficial, and so there’s kind of this strange feeling out period.
Sam Glover: It sounds like dating.
Marshall Lichty: Right? I think it is a lot like dating, because at first, you don’t know if this is just a coffee. “Maybe we’re just having coffee and talking, and we’re gonna share with each other for half an hour, 45 minutes, and then we’ll never talk to each other again.” And that is not a mentorship.
Sam Glover: And I guess it’s almost a transactional thing at that point too.
Marshall Lichty: It is. Because one of you-
Sam Glover: It’s not a friendship yet.
Marshall Lichty: Yeah, exactly. And one of you has identified the other as somebody who is worth engaging with, and so there’s usually an ask in there somewhere. And when there’s an ask, then it puts the mentor on the defensive. “Well, what if I can’t offer you a job?” Or, “What if I don’t have anything to give you?” And so they kind of are anxious, or a little nervous, and the student doesn’t … Or whoever it is, doesn’t really know what they want, or what can come out of this, or what’s appropriate to ask, or how frequently, or those things. So I think, to answer the question, it’s very important to have free flowing communication and to develop a habit of doing that, whether it’s by email, or on the phone, or in person, by Skype, whatever technology you want to use to do it.
And I’ve done all of those things with varying degrees of success, but the most successful relationships I’ve had are ones where we peg a period of time and follow up consistently. And as the mentor, it’s useful for me to have something on my calendar that just says, “Okay, don’t forget to call Joe. Or have Joe call you.” And having that blocked on my calendar so that I don’t schedule around it. But then of course, like anything, if something comes up and you have this longstanding relationship, it’s totally appropriate to say, “Hey, let’s bump it. Or let’s skip this week. Nothing really to report.” Or whatever. So for me, that’s the biggest part. It’s forming a communication habit, and then letting that grow into an organic relationship. Because it comes from a very weird place, but it can end up in a much cooler place.
Sam Glover: Well then maybe we should back up even further, which is how do you even find a mentor in the first place? A lawyer recently explained to me that they went up in front at a conference, and they went up in front of the room and asked for a show of hands. They said, “How many people want to be a mentor?” And all of the older lawyers, or the more experienced lawyers let’s say, raised their hands. So on the one hand, it seems like it shouldn’t be all that hard, but I often hear from new lawyers that they aren’t really sure how to find one or where to start.
Marshall Lichty: So, I’m going to try to respond to that without letting this devolve into huge critique of the law school education industry as a whole. One of the things that occurs to me is there is a real lack of education. I don’t necessarily mean formal even, but education around the idea of building organic relationships. Usually, when this term gets thrown around at the law schools, it’s called networking, and they say, “Make sure that you go network.” And they tell these law students to go stand around in a conference room at the law school where they’re going to be representatives from nine of the largest firms in town, and they’re going to have a cocktail, and they’re going to awkwardly hand someone their poorly made business card, and say, “You know, thanks.” And then, “I’ve networked and I did my thing.”
And then it will never come to anything because there was no relationship formed, and it was contrived, and whatever. So part of the response is I don’t think that law schools are guiding students toward the idea of mentorship. And even that phrase kind of makes me bristle right now, because I think it’s about more than that. It’s about encouraging students to form organic relationships with real, live lawyers. And some of those relationships may evolve into a mentorship relationship, and some of them with just be really useful, organic friendships to have where they can get data, gather data.
Sam Glover: As soon as you start talking, like I’ve got strong feelings, and I think you and I are standing on the same soapbox about networking, and I think as soon as you call something networking, it ruins it almost. Because so many people have such an artificial idea of what networking ought to be, and it’s showing up with a stack of business cards and handing them out to people you’ve never even … You know like, I’m thinking of the networking events where somebody just passes around a stack of business cards as if, “Networking. We’ve networked now.” And that drives me crazy. And I almost think mentoring might even be similar where you don’t … Maybe you do. You tell me, but I feel like I’ve had mentors, even though we’ve never really formally named it that. But I don’t think I’ve ever reached out to somebody and said, “Hey, would you be my mentor?” And maybe that’s just my style. It feels a little artificial to me, but maybe it’s like networking, where as soon as you call it that, you kind of ruin it. I don’t know. What are your thoughts on that?
Marshall Lichty: I think there’s a lot to that. And I think this goes back to the idea of starting these relationships with communication. One of the challenges for law students is they don’t know what’s appropriate. They don’t know what boundaries there are around asking a lawyer for his or her time to sit and kibbutz, and brainstorm, and talk through things. And that doesn’t happen accidentally. And so it has to happen in a different way, and there are formal and informal ways to do it. So addressing maybe quickly the formal things. University of Saint Thomas Law School, for those of you that are listening from elsewhere in the country, University of Saint Thomas Law school was the fourth law school that came online in the Twin Cities Metro Area.
It’s a huge number of law schools for a relatively mid-size legal market. And a lot of people probably thought that they shouldn’t be in the game. And one of the things that they did right out of the gate was they formed a formal mentorship program. Because it was a brand new law school, they didn’t have any mentors. There weren’t any people who had an affinity for the University of Saint Thomas Law School to tap to be mentors for this mentorship program. So they went out and they poached people, for lack of a better word, from other law schools that lived in the Twin Cities community to be mentors to their students.
And so they made it a part of their culture from day one, and they’re now, I don’t know how many years on is that? 10, 15 years on for Saint Thomas Law School, and they’ve done it well, and they’ve done it ever since, and they have a bunch of resources at the law school on the administrative level, dumped into that priority of theirs. So that formal method, again, is a bit contrived, but at least there’s direction around it. And it demystifies what it means to be a mentor. You have people on both sides saying, “Yes, I want to opt in.” And then there’s some … I wouldn’t call it programming, but at least there’s some guidance around what it looks like. “Here’s what you should talk about. Here’s some ideas for conversations. Here’s some activities that you can do together. Here’s how frequently you should be in touch.” Things like that so that people kind of come in with those expectations.
And I think those relationships, even though they’re a little strange or contrived at the beginning, can be effective because everybody comes in with their head up. And so one of the things that I often encourage the other law schools to do is to create a formal mechanism to form those relationships. But what I think you’re talking about, and what I actually think is a much more effective tool comes from a different place. It comes from probably not naming it mentorship, and probably it starts out as, and again here we go labeling, starts out as sort of an informational interview. Kind of like, “Hey, I think what you do is really cool. I’m really interested in learning about your practice and hearing you tell me if you had to do it all over again, what would you do if you were in my shoes if I wanted to do your thing?”
That’s usually a pretty easy ask. There are a lot of lawyers in town that will do that. So that’s the way it starts is by finding somebody who does what you think you want to do and asking them about it. Testing your theory that, “Oh yeah, I want to be a litigator at a big, huge law firm.” And then you talk to a litigator at a big, huge law firm and figure out what they love about their job and what they hate about their job, and if they had to do it all over again, what would they do or not do?
“Should I be in a journal? Should I be in a moot court? Should I, you know, start attending COE’s? Should I be involved in a section through the Bar Association? What blogs should I read? What publications should I read?” Things like that. That kind of stuff is really the guts of a good mentorship relationship, whether or not you call it mentorship. It’s that free flowing communication about guidance, and brainstorming, and iterating on an idea, and opening a network to say, “Oh, you know, I don’t do that. And I’m probably not the best person to talk to about it, but I know seven people that do. You should call my friend Joe. Joe really loves this stuff.”
Sam Glover: Lawyers love talking about themselves, and so if you sit down and ask a lawyer, “How can I become as successful as you?” Assuming you do it with a little more art and grace than that, it’s likely to form a positive first impression as well, and maybe get them interested in helping you.
Marshall Lichty: Yeah. And heres the magical thing about it. If you invite some practicing lawyer to a coffee, if you’re a law student, or a new lawyer looking to transition to a different practice, and you ask some lawyer to do that, and you sit down and basically ask questions that let them talk to you for an hour, that lawyer is going to leave that meeting saying, “That was a great meeting. That was a great … You know, we have a great relationship started,” because that’s just kind of how it goes. And so then-
Sam Glover: I remember reading about a rainmaker and essentially, they were saying, “My only secret is that I ask a lot of questions.” And yeah, people, if they’ve done nothing but ask questions, they feel like they’ve had a great conversation, even if you have barely contributed anything.
Marshall Lichty: Yes, yep, exactly. And so the challenge then is to take that and do something meaningful with it. One great coffee is really meaningless in the grand scheme of things unless you figure out a way to make that relationship more significant, more meaningful. And so when I talk to kids about … Kids, students, anybody really about this, I have them think about sort of who they are when they’re their best … In their best friend mode. “How are you the best friend to your friends?” Well, it’s you probably think about them sometimes. You probably, when you read something in the newspaper, you probably mention it to them the next time you see them. You might see an event that they would be interested in and remind them about it. You might ask them a question here and there. “Hey I’m thinking about X, Y, and Z, and I know you care about that kind of stuff. Do you have any thoughts about it?”
When you reengage that person, preferably shortly after your initial meeting, that’s when you start forming a relationship instead of the weird informational interview slash coffee meeting. And so that’s what I think a lot of students have a hard time doing is following on the initial meeting and trying to formulate some plan to be friends with these people. And that’s the problem is if it requires formulation of a plan, you’re struggling.
Sam Glover: Let me take a couple minutes to hear from our sponsors, and when we come back let’s talk about that follow up and how you should sort of pursue a mentor. We’ll be right back.
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This podcast is supported by Ruby Receptionists. As a matter of fact, Ruby answers our phones at Lawyerist, and my firm was a paying Ruby customer before that. Here’s what I love about Ruby. When I’m in the middle of something, I hate to be interrupted. So when the phone rings, it annoys me, and that often carries over into the conversation I have after I pick up the phone, which is why I’m better off not answering my own phone. Instead, Ruby answers the phone, and if the person on the other end asks for me, a friendly, cheerful receptionist from Ruby calls me and asks if I want them to put the call through. It’s a buffer that gives me a minute to let go of my annoyance and be a better human being during the call.
If you want to be a better human being on the phone, give Ruby a try. Go to CallRuby.com/Lawyerist to sign up, and Ruby will waive the 95 dollar set up fee. If you aren’t happy with Ruby for any reason, you can get your money back during your first three weeks. I’m pretty sure you’ll stick around, but since there is no risk, you might as well try. Okay, we’re back. And Marshall, I sometimes laugh at myself because sometimes I meet somebody and I think they’re really cool, and I decide I’m going to be friends with that person. And I sort of go after them, and it almost sounds like you’re suggesting that for a mentee at least, you probably need to pursue your mentor a little bit. Not that it’s going to be hard necessarily, but that the ball might be in your court to move that relationship forward. So is that right? And if so, what’s the best way to go about that do you think?
Marshall Lichty: It’s been my experience that it’s right. And the diagnosis is that lawyers have a whole bunch of stuff going on. If we talked at the outset about me trying to do operations within my own law firm and how that gets pushed down the priority list. And if you sent me an email two weeks ago, and for some reason, it kind of fell down my inbox, and I didn’t really respond to it, now it’s two weeks later, and I don’t know if … I feel uncomfortable about responding because it’s late and blah, blah, blah, and I might not respond to it. And it’s not because I hate you, it’s because I have other things to do. And then, it just kind of goes quiet.
And so the job of a mentee, or anybody looking to form a meaningful relationship, whether it’s dating or anything else really, is to take the ball into their court and make some non-invasive invitations. Another ping. “Hey, you know when we talked last week, you mentioned that I should do X, Y, and Z. I wanted to let you know that I did that, and I met Joe, and he was really sweet. Here’s what we talked about. It was great. It was exactly what you said.”
Even that kind of a quick little email note or whatever is sometimes enough to build rapport, and build the beginnings of the building blocks of a relationship. So I think finding a way to follow up in a non-smarmy way, relatively quickly is really important. And maybe you do it a couple, two, three times, and if you’re not getting any traction on it, you move on. And you have to be comfortable moving on and knowing that it’s not you and it’s not an indictment on you as a person, or your interest in a practice area, or anything like that. It’s just that sometimes people aren’t in a position to be helpful.
Sam Glover: I want to interject here and with a little bit of a warning. And that is that there are a lot of tools out there designed to make it easier for you to stay in touch with people. Like Contactually is one that comes to mind. Or, I don’t know, Nutshell. They’re all called CRMs, contact customer relationship management tools. Some of them are awesome. Like Contactually, I love. It can help you remember to keep in touch with somebody. So for example, if you have somebody who you want to be a mentor, you dump them into a bucket that says, “Try contacting this person. Make sure you get in touch with them every 30 days.” The risk, I think, is that a lot of those tools also let you put email templates into them. And I am at the receiving end of a lot of those templates. And some of them are just so bad and just …
If you really are the kind of person who would send me an email out of the blue that just says, “Hey, what’s new with you?” I’ll probably respond. Like, Marshall, if you sent me that, I’d probably respond. But there are people who are less acquainted, I am less acquainted with them. And I get those emails like clockwork every 60, or 90, or 45 days. And I’m just like, “Oh, fuck you.” Like that’s not effort. And you can tell. Humans are phony detectors, and that stuff is phony. It doesn’t play. So that’s my warning is don’t make it too easy. Sometimes you actually need to just do this stuff manually.
Marshall Lichty: Man, I can’t agree more. So I agree both on the initial premise, which is using tools to help you do this is really, really important. And it’s not business card anymore. It’s not … I don’t know what the best way is, but I tend to agree with you that it’s probably some type of CRM. Even if it’s just your own Excel spreadsheet or Google sheet that you’re using to kind of track these relationships and figure out who referred you to that person in the first place, or whatever, having some tool is really, really useful. And I also agree with the second part of the premise, which is you can’t automate relationship … You can automate organic relationship building.
There is always going to be an important piece of it that’s about personalization. And I think that there’s a space for trying to systematize that in a way, but it’s usually about reminders and about sort of, “Hey, it’s now been 30 days since you met with Bill. It’s really time that you either shit or get of the pot. Call Bill, email Bill, or it’s going to go cold and we’ll take him off of our list of people to follow up with.” But the actual work of following up with-
Sam Glover: At least you haven’t just forgotten about it at that point. You’ve made a choice to let it go.
Marshall Lichty: Yeah, exactly. And some of that is just figuring out what your style is and what you’re comfortable with. Some people don’t like sending and email before two weeks out. And some people are comfortable sending one right after, you know, whatever. And so that’ll just be something that you get more comfortable with over time.
Sam Glover: I have to share a tool that my wife and I came up with which is my wife is a very analog person, and I sometimes am as well. People know I carry a notebook and pen around. But Moleskine makes these, because I’m a Moleskine fan, makes these great little pocket sized folders, kind of like a red rope, but in a little notebook. And so my idea is to I take that around with me, and I dump business cards in the front, and that’s my inbox to like follow up with all those people. Once I’ve had a meeting with them, I stick them in the back, and I go through that periodically to see, “Is there anybody I need to meet with?”
And then I stick them … I move them back forward to meet with them. You can do the same thing with like Evernote notebooks. You can do the same thing with you email inbox if you want to to have folders for people to follow up with. You can have a system in a lot of different ways. I love CRMs. I think they’re cool as anything, but there’s a lot of different neat ways to do that. So, sorry. Digression there, because I love to geek out on tools.
Marshall Lichty: Totally great.
Sam Glover: Especially paper.
Marshall Lichty: Yeah, but I think tools are a really important part of this. And one of the reasons is because if you do this … If a mentee does this … And I say, “Mentee,” sort of definitionally. It’s important to think anybody who’s looking to change, anybody’s looking to grow clients, anybody’s looking to change firms, change practice areas, to decide whether to go to law school in the first place, there’s a whole bunch of input, and there are a lot of people out there willing to share it and having a way to systematize that process is super helpful so that if for no other reason than you say, “Hey, Julie. Your friend Bill recommended that I get in touch with you,” and then remembering later on that Bill recommended you to Julie and having that be a part of the conversation in the future, it’s just a good thing to have as part of your practice.
The key, I think, is to make it more about organic than about relationship. None of this happens effectively if it isn’t coming from a place of sincerity. Relationships aren’t transactional. They aren’t one way relationships. They require give and take from both sides, and so if you know something about Julie and her practice, and you stumble across it, maybe she’s seen it before, but maybe not. And if you think of her and say, “Wow, Julie would really appreciate this,” sending it along to her does nothing but solidify the organic nature of that relationship. “I was thinking about you and now I’m telling you that I was thinking about you.” That feels good to Julie. So I think that’s a big part of it. The other thing that I would say, and I want to go back a little bit to the problem with the number of people who are willing to be mentors and the problem, or perceived problem, that students don’t think they need mentors.
Sam Glover: Right, because that’s the flip side of what I mentioned earlier was if you ask who wants a mentor, it turns out that very few younger lawyers raise their hands, and it’s not clear whether they have given up, or don’t see the value, or what’s going on there. Maybe you have some insight into that. I’m not really sure what’s going on.
Marshall Lichty: I’m not either other than I think a lot of it is partly based on fear, and I think a lot of it is also just the myopic approach that a lot of students take to the law school experience. They’ve been told from the beginning that they way to get the job that you want is to be an excellent law student and the rest will come later. And while that might be true for some percentage of a law school class, if you’re in the top X percent, then we know based on historic averages that you’ll probably not have a hard time finding a job at one of these law firms that you’ve been told that you want to work for.
But for the rest of the folks, having that myopic vision and then ending up in the third quartile of your class can be devastating because now you don’t have the grades that get you the job, but you also haven’t spent any time cultivating organic relationships that will actually result in work. And so there’s a statistic that I heard, and I don’t know how accurate it is, but they say that somewhere around 80% of jobs are never posted to any publicly available job database. 80%. And even if that’s 60-
Sam Glover: It’s probably higher than that in small firm practice.
Marshall Lichty: I think that’s right. Yeah. And in the economy at large, outside of legal practices too. And so the takeaway from that is if you are not building the scaffolding to take advantage of those 80% of the jobs that aren’t readily visible, then you’re going to be stuck in the position where you hop on Simplicity, or whatever your law school’s job board is, and you are one of 400 people who apply to some job for some small firm you’ve never heard of, and you try to make the case that, “Oh my gosh, this is the job for me. I’ve been thinking about being a worker’s compensation defense lawyer since I was just a wee lad. And I can’t believe the serendipity that this came across my job board and here’s my application.”
If instead, you’ve done a bunch of work, and usually it’s working with a mentor, whether formally or informally, and you’ve met people who are in that practice, and you read all the blogs that work comp lawyers read, and you maybe have gone to some section meetings for the local Bar Association, and you’ve done a bunch of other stuff, then when you write your cover letter, you say, “Dear John, you know it’s funny, I just talked to your partner three weeks ago, and he actually recommended that I apply for this job. And heres who I am, and here’s what I’ve done, and here’s why I’m a great fit for your firm.” You come at it from a wholly different place, and it becomes a much different job search than sort of just the throwing darts at stuff that comes up.
So I think there’s a whole bunch of work that happens before you get a job, or are in the position to search for a job, that should be really attractive to law students, and any other job seeker out there, or anyone who’s looking for anything really. And it’s the work of meeting a bunch of people and testing your hypothesis. “Hey, I want to be a work comp defense lawyer. Okay, talk to 15 work comp defense lawyers.” Figure out what they love, figure out what they hate, figure out if it’s a good fit for you and your skills. And if it’s not, then you iterate, and now that first person that you talk to, you say, “Yeah, we originally talked about me being a work comp defense lawyer, but I’ve done a bunch of due diligence and you know what? I don’t think that’s right for me. But what I do think is right for me is social security disability work. It’s different, but it’s kind of the same, and I think I like it better because it’s more X, Y, and Z.”
And now you’re pinpointing your search in a much more useful way, both in terms of the job search itself, but also because it’s going to be a better fit for you. You’ve done the work of figuring out whether or not that’s a job that you actually want, and now you’ve built a network of people, there’s that word again, but now you’ve built this diaspora of people who know what you want and why you want it, and it becomes that much easier when you find a posting or find an opportunity to then activate that group of people and say, “Hey, do you know Johnson, Johnson, and Smith? I know that they’re hiring. If any of you know a partner over there, would you please put me in touch? I want to put myself in the best position to get this job.”
Sam Glover: And once you have a relationship, that’s kind of an incentive for them to help make that happen for you. People love to make things happen for other people, because it enhances their relationship as a connector.
Marshall Lichty: They love it.
Sam Glover: Yeah, but out of the blue, “Who are you? Why do I care?”
Marshall Lichty: Exactly. And so all of that work happens beforehand, and that’s where a mentor … Any mentor that’s worth their salt is helping with that process from a very early stage. Helping you figure out what you want, introducing you to people in their network who would help advise you about that hypothesis that you have, helping to iterate on that hypothesis, and then introducing you to more people once the new idea comes to the fore. So I really think that that’s why students ought to be interested in mentorship.
It’s not about teaching me the technical skills of being a lawyer. It’s about the soft stuff. “Why do I want to be that kind of a lawyer? Help me punch holes in my hypothesis here and figure out what the right fit for me is. And then once we figure out what that right fit is, helping meet people who can put me in the position to get that job and do that work.” And then, the great thing about this is then once you have the job, now this entire group of people that you’ve been leveraging, or interacting with over time, is now going to be your referral base. They’re going to be the next job that you get. They’re going to be the people that you ask when you need a new lawnmower. “Okay, buying a new lawnmower. What do you think about the Toro?”
Sam Glover: So I guess we should flip sides, because we’ve talked a lot about the mentee side, how to find a mentor, how to start that relationship. I don’t want to de-emphasize that, because like I’ve mentored people both through law school programs, through community programs, and informally. And as we’ve been talking, I’ve been thinking about some of them, and there’s one guy I mentored who can’t even remember his name, I think it was John, which is maybe why. But I haven’t heard from him since. Like I haven’t heard from this guy in eight or nine years, and I’m ready and willing, but I guess … And maybe that’s on me. Maybe I fell down and should have kept up with that. But I’m also, I would have loved to hear how he’s doing, to keep up with him.
I’ve heard from very few of my former students from the five years that I taught appellate advocacy at the law school. There are a few that I keep up with and stay in touch with, but by and large, people haven’t taken me up on it. When I speak, I used to always invite everybody out to coffee, especially to law students. If I spoke to groups of law students, I would say, “I’ll take every single one of you out to coffee.” And inevitably, one person maybe out of a room of 50 or 100 people would take me up on that. And so I don’t want to completely take the load off, but I feel like the mentee maybe does have the bulk of it, but from the mentor side, how can we find somebody if we want to be a mentor? But more importantly, how can we be better at it? Because now that I’m saying all that, I’m starting to feel like maybe I’ve been actually a shitty mentor.
Marshall Lichty: So I think a couple things. First of all, you’re not a shitty mentor. What you are is a busy person who can’t make primary all of these connections that you’ve made, and I think that that’s totally normal. And that’s why there is-
Sam Glover: Well, thanks for letting me off the hook.
Marshall Lichty: Yeah, exactly. And that’s why I think that there is a ton of impetus on the student of the mentee to really activate these relationships and keep them going. And if they do reach the level of sort of organic relationship, then it will be second nature. You’ll stay in touch, you’ll get updates, and it will be a relationship that is fruitful for both sides over the long term. So what I suspect, Sam, is that some of those relationships probably were more transactional than maybe you hoped that they were, and you helped them in some way shape or form with the thing that they needed, and neither they nor you judged that it was something worth more than that.
Sam Glover: Okay, fair enough. But if any of my previous students or former mentees are listening to this podcast, this is my invitation to you to reach out to me again and reconnect.
Marshall Lichty: I love it.
Sam Glover: So there you go.
Marshall Lichty: I love it. And the other thing that I would say is it’s astonishing because my experience has been the same. Sometimes we host relatively intimate gatherings at our firm for the Business Law Association. 20, 25 people. I usually get to have really nice chats with a lot of folks. And I do exactly what you said. “I will literally buy you coffee. Any one of you who reaches out to me, I will make time and we will have coffee and talk more in depth about your thing, and I’ll happily open up my Rolodex, even though Rolodex isn’t a thing anymore, open it up to you and help you try and find your thing, and your people, and love your job.” And uniformly, it’s a person.
So I’m astonished by that too, but going back to the original question, I think, is if mentors are interested in doing this, what do they do? And I guess I have a couple pieces of thinking on it. One of them is you would be astonished at how quickly you will be activated if you reach out to your law school in a strategic way. Find some-
Sam Glover: Well yeah, gobble you up.
Marshall Lichty: Yep, yep. Find some department, find some professor, find some office, whether it’s the advancement office, or the student services office, or whomever, and find a real body there who has a pulse and is interested in making student’s lives better and say, “I am interested in engaging. Here’s what I’m good at. Let me in.” And they will do that.
Sam Glover: I love the idea of going to a professor because if a student is known to a professor, chances are there’s a reason, and the professor might be already sort of in the position of a mentor for them and be sort of passing it on.
Marshall Lichty: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. And you’d be surprised at, you know, there are staff members at law schools who run committees. There’s an alumni committee, and there’s a student services committee, and they staff these committees and a lot of times those committees have opportunities to interact with students, to be visible in front of students. Professors, absolutely. Brown bag lunches, right? “Hey, we have a speaker coming in to talk about their business law practice today. Come hang out with Marshall.” And then you have the opportunity, introduce yourself and to give that pitch to say, “Yep, I’ll buy you coffee. Please, please, please think about reaching out to me.”
And maybe it’s only one hit per semester, but for a lot of mentors, that’s plenty. If you rack up a new mentee every semester, that’s a pretty full book in not too long. So I think that’s one way to do it is to reach out to your law school. And then, I think it really is about just engaging in whatever your world is. Sam, you’re great at engaging in the thing that Lawyerist does, and people know you as what you are within Lawyerist, and they know that they can reach out to you and talk with you and engage with you.
And when they see you, they shake your hand and catch up with you. And not everybody’s going to be Lawyerist, and not everybody’s going to have your particular personality, your strengths, or whatever. But whatever you engage in, look for opportunities to help students work through their thing, and be open to it, and let them know that you’re open to it. And they might not all take you up on it, but you’d be surprised at those that do, and those organic beginnings of relationships can be really strong ways to start in my experience too.
Sam Glover: You know, I’ve been talking with a law student recently, and it’s been awhile since I’ve really been deeply engaged with law students. We have law students who read Lawyerist. We try to publish things that are useful to them and make tools available, but I haven’t really been deeply involved in law students. Most of what I get is secondhand through Lisa, who teaches. And it’s been interesting talking to a law student again because the disconnect between what they’re learning about in law school, even if they’re in a skills program, is really profound. The disconnect between what they’re learning and practicing law. And I’m finding myself having to sort of recalibrate those conversations around a law student’s understanding of the world of law practice.
In some ways, it’s very reminiscent of what I learned and believed when I was a law student. And in some ways, there’s progress towards the reality of practice, but we all know the academy and the practice are two completely, very different places. And I suppose one of the most useful things a mentor can do, especially if you’re engaging with somebody about to leave law school or right out of law school, is help them ease that transition by offering yourself, your knowledge, and your skills, and your advice on how to get your head out of the books and into the practice.
Marshall Lichty: I couldn’t agree more. There is a gaping chasm between what law students are learning in law school and what they will need on their first day, month, year in their job, whatever it is. Gaping. And when you do that, when you engage with students and hear what they think the practice is, and why they are taking the jobs that they’re taking, what practice areas that they think they want to practice and why, whether they understand the difference between different practice areas. Even things like prevailing wisdom about who makes a good litigator versus who makes a good transactional lawyer. If you ask every law student that there is in your world what the difference is, and you’ll get the same picture painted of those kinds of lawyers.
“Oh, well litigators think well on their feet. They’re extroverted, and they X, Y, and Z. And transactional lawyers need to be chained to their desk and work on documents all day and they never interface with clients and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” I think that those are wrong, first of all, and I think there’s a ton of opportunity for students who learn that early enough and say, “Hey, wait a minute. I can think on my feet, I’m great with clients. But I’m not interested in litigating because some of that sounds really horrible. I’m interested in doing transactional work and is there a space for me?” And I think they’ll find pretty quickly that there is.
But the only way they find that is not because they’re learning it from a professor in law school. It’s because they’re interacting with mentors, again, whether that’s formal or informal, who say, “No, no, no, no, no. The best transactional lawyers we have are people who advise clients on a daily basis. They’re barely ever in documents because they leverage that down to paralegals and associates and everyone else. And they’re really about advising business owners on cool, interesting business stuff.” “Oh.” And that’s sometimes you’ll just see the light bulb in their eyes, and it’s cool. It’s added value. And then, the other thing that I would say about interacting with law students that we haven’t really talked about is there’s a tremendous opportunity for mentors to get an early lead on talent.
Sam Glover: Yeah.
Marshall Lichty: Right?
Sam Glover: Absolutely.
Marshall Lichty: This is an extended job interview, right? If you’ve known somebody since they were a first year law student, you’ve seen them iterate from, “Oh yeah, I want to be a litigator,” to, “Oh yeah, this. And now this. Now this.” And you’ve known them for three years and all of the sudden, they say, “You know, it turns out that I don’t want that big, huge law firm job. What I really want is somebody who does X, Y, and Z, and that just happens to be you. What does it look like for us to work together?” If you’re in a position to grow your firm, it is a tremendous way to hire quality talent that you know, and trust, and believe in. And it’s a really non-traditional path for law students, but I think it’s one that usually is very rewarding for both the lawyer and for the new law … Or for the law student who’s coming out.
Sam Glover: Well, chances are, even if you end up not having an opportunity for them, at some point, you’re going to have developed and interest in this lawyer, and you’re going to want to help them find a position if they don’t already have one. So yeah, nothing negative about that at all. So by way of wrapping up, first of all, is there anything we forgot talk about do you think?
Marshall Lichty: I think we’ve done a pretty good job. I could talk about this stuff for days. I’m really passionate about it and I think it’s really important for people to … I don’t even like the phrase, “Give back to the community,” but there is something so rewarding about engaging with law students and people who are trying to find their way in the world. We all hear horror stories about how dissatisfied people are in their practice. It manifests itself in high depression rates, and high anxiety rates, and high drug abuse rates, and high divorce rates, and la, la, la, la, la. And I think a big function of that is because people aren’t intentional about where they end upA. And the beautiful thing about a good, strong, healthy, organic mentorship relationship is that you can be intentional about that from very early in your legal career about what you want your practice to look like and why. And I think that’s a tremendous opportunity to be a part of that, to be somebody who can help a law student come out into a job that they are passionate about.
Sam Glover: So if you’re looking for a mentor, figure out kind of what it is that you think you want mentoring about, and reach out to just about anybody and see what they can tell you about that, or if they can point you to another person. And I think it’s good practice to keep asking, “Who else should I talk to?” At the end of every meeting with somebody.
Marshall Lichty: Absolutely.
Sam Glover: And keep your meetings … Yeah, because it’s a messy process to find the right person that you click with, but when you do, go after them. Put them in a folder marked, “Follow up,” or set a reminder to yourself to follow up with that person and keep nursing that relationship until it becomes something, an organic, stronger mentoring relationship. And if it helps at some point, try and make it formal. If you’re an experienced lawyer who’s looking to be a mentor, put yourself out there. Go back to the law school, or go to the nearest law school, and ask professors, career offices, if they have an alumni relations department. Ask about opportunities to be a mentor and see what develops, and then be open to it, and don’t be like me. Do a better job of staying in touch with mentees until they make it clear they may not be interested, if that’s the reason. Anything to add?
Marshall Lichty: I would just say as sort of an inspiration, there used to be a game that film geeks used to play called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, based loosely on six degrees of separation, which is the idea that you’re only six degrees away from any person on the planet. And recently, I was looking up this statistic on Facebook, because obviously our world has changed really dramatically. That number isn’t six anymore. That number is like 3.2 or 3.4 or something like that, which I think is really inspiring.
You are literally just a couple of phone calls away from meeting anybody on the planet. If you want to be a social security disability lawyer, you are probably less than 3.4 phone calls away from somebody who would sit down with you and talk to you about that practice and tell you what is to love about it and what is to hate about it and help you work through that process. That, to me, is super inspiring. If you can get out there and figure out who those phone calls are, you’re just a couple clicks away from being with somebody who can really make your career a lot better.
Sam Glover: You know, we … I’m going to follow up with something from TBD Law, which you came to the last TBD Law, and it was great to have you there. And you probably remember we talked about unreasonable requests.
Marshall Lichty: Indeed.
Sam Glover: And unreasonable requests are requests that you have no business expecting that someone will say, “Yes,” to, but you’re going to ask anyway. And you make me think about it with the two, or three, or four degrees of separation, which is if there’s somebody that you believe would make a difference to your practice if you just got in touch with them, ask. Like, ask somebody who might be able to make that connection for you. And start out by saying, “It’s fine if you say no. Like if this just isn’t going to work, if it would be too awkward, whatever, it’s fine if you say no. But I really, really want to meet Barack Obama, and I just wanted to reach out to you in case there was any chance you could help move that along. Because I think you might know somebody, who knows somebody, who knows him.” And who knows? Maybe they’ll say yes. And then you move it along. And it’s not so much along the lines of mentoring, but yeah, from what you just said, reach out to people. There’s nobody you probably can’t reach if you really try.
Marshall Lichty: There is nothing more inspiring to me than the idea of the unreasonable request and what making that unreasonable request can unlock for you. I think it’s super exciting and if you can internalize that, it will lead to nothing but good things.
Sam Glover: Marshall, thank you so much for being with me today, catching up, teaching me how to tie my shoes properly. I’ll look forward to seeing you again soon.
Marshall Lichty: Absolutely. Always a pleasure, Sam. Keep up the great work. Lawyerist is an important part of this community and we all really appreciate the work you guys do over there.
Sam Glover: Thanks, man.
Aaron Street: Make sure to catch next week’s episode of The Lawyerist Podcast. If you’d like more information about today’s show, please visit Lawyerist.com/podcast, or LegalTalkNetwork.com. You can subscribe via iTunes, or anywhere podcasts are found. Both Lawyerist and the Legal Talk Network can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. You can download the free app from Legal Talk Network in Google Play or iTunes.
Sam Glover: The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own, and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network. Nothing said during this podcast is legal advice.
The Lawyerist Podcast is a weekly show about lawyering and law practice hosted by Sam Glover and Aaron Street.
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