Negotiating a salary; a response to Forbes’ recent article.

no I photo

I recently read an interesting article on negotiating salaries.  While simplistic in many ways, the take-away point was that it is often best to refrain from using “I” statements when negotiating salaries.  Too many people talk about what they want when negotiating salaries.  They’ll say ‘I want this and I want that’.

According to Forbes magazine, the problem with using these personal statements is that your ego gets in the way.  It’s a natural tendency to get defensive when you’re negotiating something you want. Your ego gets involved and that makes negotiation difficult. Forbes interviewed several hiring authorities and suggests that if you simply cut the “I” from the negotiations and substitute “we” that you will get better results. Instead of telling an employer about what YOU want, talk instead about how “we should reach a solution”.

While this article contemplates a handy blanket rule to use, at Sand Search, we firmly believe that in salary negotiations, blanket statements or rules rarely apply.  You must be able to clearly articulate your salary desire and be able to justify that request.  You should be specific in your request (see,  Further, you should be able to articulate that you are ready and able to accept a satisfactory offer if one is conveyed to you.  Once this has been established, I have no problem with the negotiations proceeding with a “team focus” rather than an individual focus.

Remember, it is your salary and career that you are negotiating.  Some of the focus has to be on you.  Once you have some baseline information on the table, try to make it collaborative with the employer.  That positive experience goes a long way – if your negotiations are successful, you’ll be spending a lot more time with those folks!


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Seeing Spots: QR Codes Do Not Belong On Legal Resumes


It was bound to happen. Once LinkedIn started pushing the QR code links to its pages, it was only a matter of time before they started popping up on legal resumes.  They are supposed to make you look hip, tech-savvy, and give the reader an opportunity to look at a “second” resume if they want.  In reality, they are cumbersome, unlikely to be read and, in some instances, can annoy the reader (where the goal is always to impress the reader).

For those of you that aren’t familiar with QR codes, they are those square black boxes that look like they are partially filled in with other black boxes – sort of a Rorschach test in square form.  They work like a website address and a user can scan this “code” only after downloading a “reader” application on their phone, tablet or computer.

When I see a legal resume with a QR code, I never open it.  Period.  I assume that hiring managers do the same and avoid opening it.  Let’s discuss why:

First, many folks will not download an app to open some extraneous marketing materials about a candidate.  Many law firms limit what their employees can download on their firm-issued cell phone, anyway.  For me, I’m not limited in what I can download, but I choose not to have a QR reader on my phone.

Secondly, I’m a skeptic by nature and my computer is my life.  To my knowledge, no one can infect my computer/phone/tablet with a virus by scanning one of these codes, but let’s be honest: if Matthew Broderick can hack into the WOPR supercomputer with a telephone line and less computing power than is in my alarm clock, I just assume someone with today’s technology can put spyware on my computer by linking the QR code with a shady website. (I’m referencing War Games – there’s your 80s movie reference for the day, folks).

Finally, I don’t want to be “tricked” into reading more about a candidate.  I know that with 99% likelihood the QR code will take me to a candidate’s LinkedIn page (which every hiring manager knows how to find on their own), but it might also be a link to writing samples, transcripts, etc.  No matter where it goes, I want to be in control of what I am reading.  I don’t follow blind links on websites and I don’t want to have a blind link placed on a resume.  If your resume is well-written, there is absolutely no reason to need a link to more information.

A solution to this is that if you think you need to have extra materials submitted with your resume, or there is something so compelling on your LinkedIn page that you need a reader to see it, then just add a normal website address to the resume and let the reader decide to go there.

At the risk of sounding like an old curmudgeon, I strongly believe that QR codes fall into the same category as photos, family information, fancy/frilly paper, colored ink and confidential information – they are all things that should NOT be on a legal resume.

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Silence Is NOT Golden: Why Don’t Candidates Ask Questions?

The interview is over and you’ve gleaned a little bit of insight on the potential new firm.  When the questions end and the interviewer asks if you have any questions, please don’t sit there and say nothing.  This is your chance to engage the interviewer, get information about the firm and show that you have done research (and have a genuine interest) in the firm.

So what do you ask?  Ask what you want to know – it’s as simple as that (so long as you aren’t asking a boneheaded question that could have been answered with a little research).  “Does your firm have a litigation department” is a boneheaded question.  “Why did the previous associate leave” is a perfectly acceptable question. Other acceptable questions depend on your “station” at the firm.  A junior associate might not be able to ask to see the firm’s financials, but a lateral partner would be well within her rights to request such information (especially if a buy-in is being discussed).

You will have to use your best judgment on each question.  It may be premature in the first interview to discuss money, but talking about when, in a perfect world, the firm would like someone to start would be an acceptable question.  Obviously anything that smacks of a what’s-in-it-for-me attitude should be avoided (in this category is the “what is the vacation policy,” “what is your paternity leave policy,” and “how many hours do I REALLY need to bill.”)

Also, stay away from hokey canned questions that you find on the internet.  If you ask things like “is there any reason that you can see why your firm wouldn’t hire me” you can be sure that the answer you receive is going to be equally useless.  The truth is that they will hire you only if you are the candidate whose skills/personality/experience exceeds all other potential candidates.  You can’t outsmart an employer into offering you a job and you really can’t expect honest feedback from a silly question like that.  It puts the interviewer in an uncomfortable position and you don’t want that.

It is always appropriate to ask about next steps and when it would be appropriate to follow up.

Finally, if you have not provided references or any other information that is typically requested (official law school transcripts, past performance evaluations, etc.) you can offer those up at the end of the interview.

Having a few questions ready before you enter the interview, will put your mind at ease and take some of the stress out of the interview, but don’t stick to them exclusively.  You’ll want the end of the meeting to be conversational rather than you reading off a list of prepared questions.  Just relax, ask a few questions and knock ‘em dead at the interview.  Trust me, it’s far better than asking yourself “why didn’t I ask any questions” after the interview!

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The All-Important Thank You Note

This is an actual thank you note I received from an attorney after an interview. It doesn’t quite send a message of professionalism (but did remind me of Rowlf the dog from the Muppets).

“Please” and “thank you” go a long way.  We learned that in kindergarten and the lesson hasn’t changed since we graduated law school.  I was recently reminded of this when a friend’s son graduated from high school.  My wife and I made sure that we sent a thoughtful card with the gift that all high school graduates want: a check.  Since then, we haven’t heard anything from the graduate – no acknowledgement at all of the gift.  The graduate’s failure to send a thank you note has ruined his chance of future gifts.  Why?  Because everyone wants to think that the things they do for others is appreciated.

We’ve done blog posts on this topic, but it’s worth revisiting because we hear time and time again from employers that they never hear from candidates that they interview after their meeting is over.  A simple note acknowledging that someone took time out of their busy day to meet with you is always appropriate.

What to send

The email:  I always suggest that someone send an email to everyone that they met with immediately after the interview.  This can be a quick note to let them know that you appreciated their time and that you are processing what you learned in the meeting.

The letter:  After the interview, it makes sense to send the interviewer a note by mail (yes, the one where you need a stamp). This should have more detail than the email, but it should reiterate your appreciation for the time someone spent with you.  A typewritten letter is good, but if your handwriting is legible, a hand-written note is more thoughtful.

The hand-written note:  A note on professional stationary is what should be sent after the interview to those who met with you.  Your handwriting doesn’t have to be perfect, but it needs to be legible.  Please note that it should be on professional stationary (meaning not notebook paper) or on a thank you note (the bulk thank you notes form Target are probably just fine).  Avoid gimmicky or childish thank you notes.  The oddest thank you note I have received after an interview is pictured above: it’s a dog playing the piano.  What that has to do with finding a job in the legal career is beyond me, but it made me think that the candidate didn’t have the professionalism needed to be an attorney.

When to send it

We live in a society that expects instant gratification.  That’s why sending the initial email as soon as you get back home from an interview is important.  It provides instant gratification to the interviewer and gives them a chance to ask any immediate follow –up questions of you.

The thank you note you send through the US mail should be sent within 24 hours of your interview. This serves two purposes: you again show your appreciation and interest in the position and, maybe more importantly, you get the interviewer to think about you 2-3 days after your interview – at a time when they might be making a decision about hiring!

Who to send it to

You should send the thank you notes to everyone who took time to interview you.  The office manager or receptionist who simply showed you into a conference room can probably be left off the list.

Also, you should send these notes to anyone who assists you in your job search along the way.  This could be anyone who gives you an informational interview, a referral, recruiting or resume assistance and of course those who serve as your references.  If you are in doubt – send them a thank you note!


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Working With An Attorney Recruiter: Know Where Your Resume Is Going.

Today’s blog is more of a rant than an analysis of the legal market or the job search.  I belong to a number of online groups focusing on legal recruiting and this week there was a topic that made my blood boil.  The topic of the day was “Do you trust your candidates enough to tell them the name of the firm their resume is going to?“  I was absolutely shocked to see recruiters post that they oftentimes refuse to tell their candidates where their resume has been sent.

Apart from the rare (and I mean VERY rare) instance where a search is confidential and the person in the position may not know that they will soon be vacating the company/firm, I can’t think of a time where a recruiter shouldn’t tell an attorney where their resume is being sent.  If they don’t trust you enough to tell you the name of the firm/company, then you shouldn’t trust them with your resume.

The only way to ensure that your resume is being submitted to companies/firms where you would actually be a fit is to request demand that your recruiter disclose the name of the firm where s/he sent your resume.   There are great recruiters out there who trust their candidates enough to ALWAYS tell them where their resume was sent, but the online discussion showed me just how far our profession has to go.  Find a recruiter who you can trust and who trusts you.  They’re out there – trust me (pun intended).

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An open letter to those who didn’t graduate from Harvard Law School. Sell your abilities and don’t focus on the “blemishes” on your resume.

I get it.  You went to a law school that isn’t causing the employers to beat down your door.  Or maybe you have an ominous gap in your resume.  Or maybe you have some other blemish on your resume.  My advice for you is to please stop beating yourself up about the “blemishes” on your resume  The truth is that you really can’t do much about it now (going back to law school for an advanced law degree from a “more prestigious” law school is rarely a good option).  Work with what you have.

Borrowing an idea from Seth Godin, you have to realize that oftentimes people don’t make decisions purely on the metrics you believe they will; they make decisions on whether they will have peace of mind if they make the decision one way versus another way.  Certainly having a well-drafted resume with many academic and professional accolades on it will help.  But if you don’t have it, sell your story and (most importantly) your ability to do the job.

According to Godin, people say they want the “best” in a category, but rarely follow through with it.  No one I know drives the FASTEST car, owns the MOST EFFICIENT refrigerator or drinks the HIGHEST RATED bourbon.  We may want to, but we are limited by reality and resources.

Godin gives an example of how this works when “hiring” someone.  Say you and your spouse are due for a night out and hire a babysitter to watch your child.  You don’t hold out to hire the singular person who knows the MOST about child CPR or the one who has the GREATEST ability to teach your child how to read, but instead you hire a competent babysitter based on a recommendation.  You hire someone who has a “story” (a friend liked him/her, they are a neighbor kid, etc.).  When the babysitter arrives (10 minutes early) and is dressed appropriately and agrees to text the parents every 90 minutes with an update, the babysitter has sold her “story” (that she is going to do a good job) and something else – peace of mind.

So relating this to the gap in your resume, you don’t have to have the BEST resume but you have to get your foot in the door and have a serviceable story as to why there is a gap, why you went to that fourth-tier law school or why you can’t get a recommendation from your previous firm.   Focus your energy on showing why you can do an excellent job in the position and you are offering the potential employer what they really want – peace of mind that you can do the job and that the blemishes are not indicative of your future performance.

(An additional bonus is that “selling” your abilities like this also works for generating clients!)

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Everything Went Wrong: A Case Study

Yesterday I received a call from a good friend who has his own law firm.  His firm has several partners and a couple of associates.  He let me know that he just let one of his associates go, and in the course of telling the story, I quickly realized what was wrong with their employment relationship (spoiler: everything was wrong).

The associate apparently wasn’t happy.  When he was approached and told that he was being let go, the associate quipped that the appellate brief he was “working on” hadn’t been touched because he expected to be fired.  Further, he complained that there wasn’t a mentoring system in place and that was why the relationship hadn’t worked.  (An important piece of information is that this associate had NEVER asked a single question during his tenure at the firm).  Next, the attorney said that he had billed significant time to some of his files and therefore he knew he was being underpaid by the firm.  He concluded by stating that if he were replaced, no new associate would be able to last at the firm.  With that, he packed up his desk and walked out the door.

When I asked my friend about the associate’s billings, he said the associate was a very heavy biller to flat-fee criminal files, billing incredible time to files where most of the time needed to be written off.

While there are always two sides to every story, it appears that there are a few lessons we can glean from the associate’s behavior.

  1. 1.        If things aren’t going well, DO SOMETHING.

Apparently this associate knew things weren’t going well.  The important brief that is due next week has languished on his desk and remained undone because he assumed he would be fired before it was due.  Besides showing an incredible lack of initiative, this associate really needed to do something to improve the employment relationship.  In my experience, if you think you are going to get fired, you probably are going to get fired.  Before things get that bad, do something to improve the relationship.  Ask the partners how to improve.  Ask for help if you need it (more on that below).  Get started on big projects before they become an overwhelming time crunch.

  1. 2.       If you don’t know how to do something, SAY SOMETHING.

Mentoring programs are great, but are rarely available at any firm besides the largest firms in town.  While an associate is expected to work to figure out issues before asking questions, there are times that asking questions is your best course.  Rather than spinning wheels on a procedural matter, asking how to do something is the best course.  If you need help, ask for it.

  1. 3.       Think like an owner – try to understand your value to the firm.

The associate had a fundamentally different view about what his value was (and what his hours spent on files were worth) to the firm – he failed to think like a partner/owner.  To me, this is the most egregious error the associate made.  He never thought about how he “earned” his salary.  He never took a step back and thought about whether his billings actually brought money in the door.  He never thought about how, at the end of the month, this attorney had brought so little into the firm coffers.

In the end, this associate probably is better off not being at the firm, but he will have an incredibly hard time finding a new job.  Most legal communities are small, so his reputation might precede him when he seeks another position.  This attorney should have been focusing on doing good work AND been looking for a job.  It is far easier to find a job when you are employed and can get a good reference than when you are unemployed and will not be able to use your past employer as a reference (a serious red flag for all future employers).

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The “Other” Resume. Remembering Your Online Presence.

Consistency is the hallmark of good pitching in baseball, a golfer’s short game and a good resume.  Employers are not just looking at the document you submit to them, but are looking at other information, what can be considered your “other resume,” and inconsistencies are going to be scrutinized.

An example of a seemingly innocuous discrepancy is the “gap” that is explained in one place, and addressed in another.  In the past, we’ve addressed gaps in resumes.  Deciding how to explain gaps in your resume is a difficult (and important) decision.  The wrong way to deal with a gap is to leave it blank on your resume but explain it elsewhere (i.e., online).

The bottom line is that you must remain consistent.  If there is a gap in your resume from when you stayed home to watch your children, but your LinkedIn profile shows that you weren’t actually home, but instead bounced between a couple of jobs, that is a significant issue.

Similarly, if you claim to have incredible litigation experience on your resume, but your LinkedIn profile shows pretty pedestrian litigation tasks, you can expect to be called out for the inconsistency.

The bottom line is that employers are going to initially rely on the resume you submit, but they are undoubtedly going to verify the information through various means including a background and reference check, a Google search and a review of your LinkedIn profile.  If there are inconsistencies, you are going to be digging yourself out of a hole instead of negotiating a start date.  Make sure that you are in control of your online presence and that you remove outdated, incorrect or old accounts (see, for help).

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Yes, but what do you DO?

“I’m an attorney.  More specifically, I’m a litigator.  Even more specifically, I’m a products defense attorney.”  Great – that’s the type of law that you practice, but what do you DO?

The general type of law that you practice is important to start a discussion about a new job, but it doesn’t answer the question of what you DO – which is imperative to think about when contemplating a job change.

We recently came across the upstart JobTea blog ( where Melissa Cupp, an attorney, always asks exactly that – what do you do?  It’s an insightful question that often goes overlooked.

Thinking about your job in terms of what you actually do is important because it forces you to evaluate your specific skillset when considering a new job and can get you out of your comfort zone in your current job.  It can force you to see deficiencies in your resume and can get you out of a career rut.

We recently worked with an attorney at a big firm.  She is a litigator at a large, national firm and for the past seven years she has been comfortable doing what she has been asked to do – reviewing documents and researching case law.  She was recently passed over for partnership and is now wondering why she isn’t attractive to other employers.  She never stopped to ask what she actually did.  She assumed she was a litigator.  She assumed that other firms would always want to hire her because she was “litigating”.  Because she never really thought about what a litigator actually does (compared with what she actually did on a day to day basis), she never thought to expand her skillset to make herself more marketable.  She also learned a powerful lesson (and the topic of a future blog post) – don’t rely on your firm to advance your career; YOU need to make sure that you have the skills you need to advance.

Had this attorney taken some time to reflect on her career – that she was still doing important work, but not increasingly complicated work on litigation matters, she would have realized that what she was doing was a thin slice of what a litigator does.  She was not, in fact, a seasoned litigator and her value to other firms was severely diminished.

What could she have done?  Maybe she could have taken on more responsibility at her firm.  Maybe she could have tried to market her practice to get some of her own clients (of which she could have taken on a larger litigation role).  Maybe she could have realized that her firm was making her increasingly unmarketable and tried to find a new job earlier.  Whatever the case may be, the best time to think about what you actually do is NOW – not later.

Another very common example of how not understanding what someone DOES can affect their chance at career change comes in the legal resume. Too often people let their job title stand alone on the resume, not putting ample thought into parsing out what skills they have learned and what accomplishments they have had in their current (or past) roles. Simply putting “litigation attorney” on your resume doesn’t make you competent in all facets of litigation.  Think about all areas of your practice and make sure they are clearly laid out in the resume.  Essentially, this is forcing you to answer the question of “what do I do?”.

With a holiday week nearly here, take some time off to really think about the question of what you do if you want to advance your career!

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The Elusive Finish Line When Recruiting New Attorneys

We typically write our blog for the attorney, but we get a lot of feedback from employers who read our blog, too.  To that end, this week’s topic is geared for the law firm or in house legal department to assist in their “on-boarding” process.  Sometimes even the best firms fail at the necessary work that needs to be done AFTER the offer has been accepted.

So, congratulations – you successfully recruited that elusive attorney for that hard-to-find niche.  When that attorney shows up in your lobby for the first day of work, they aren’t the only one who needs to work – you do, too!

The recruiting process isn’t over the day that the new hire reports for duty.  The employer needs to continue to “recruit” the attorney long after the I-9s are completed and should have a plan for integrating the attorney into the office.

THE FIRST DAY – Preparation is the key

This is a no-brainer: make sure that the new recruit knows where to be and when to be there.  Have someone assigned to assist in their transition to your office.  If clients need to be called, make sure there is a team designated to assist with file transfers and that this team is immediately available for the attorney.  If files aren’t being transferred, have a schedule for the new recruit that includes the obligatory office tour and time to fill out the necessary tax forms.

The key here is that the attorney must feel welcomed and get a sense that the firm/department is excited to have him/her there.  Walking into a clean office with office supplies stacked on it is perfect.  Walking into a recently-used office with the retort “we’ll get someone to clean this out for you” is not so great.  Unless the attorney’s transition was done clandestinely in the middle of the night, the office should be ready and the IT requirements (email accounts, computer pass codes, etc.) should be set. Also, referring to the attorney as the “new Steve” is never okay.  If they feel fungible, they are prone to leave.

Don’t worry if the new attorney is reserved when they arrive.  Remember that the office is a “tribe” and the new employee doesn’t know the customs of the group.  They are nervous and unsettled.  Make their transition easier by letting them know the customs of the group.

Also on the first day, the new firm should send an email to others at the firm announcing the attorney’s arrival.  Designating several “ambassadors” to gather folks to meet the new attorney throughout the day is a great idea.  Having a team assigned to take the attorney to lunch is mandatory.

Finally, it’s really important that there is substantive work available for the attorney to do on the first day.  If they aren’t bringing their own files, having a project or files to review should be a priority.  Again, this shows that they are wanted/needed.


Do regular check-ins with the new attorney.  Make sure that they are assimilating with the firm, utilizing resources properly and that they understand the expectations of others.  For the first few months, have a group that goes out to lunch or coffee on a semi-regular basis to make sure that questions are being answered.  The work of on-boarding isn’t done after the first week.

Why is this so important?  An attorney was looking for a new position before they joined your office.  They may have other irons in the fire – irons that are keenly aware that if you falter, they could hire the attorney.  They may still have an outstanding offer that they could accept if they think that your firm/office is not the fit they were looking for.


Finally, an employer should think about using their newest recruits as a recruiting tool.  Who better to discuss the transition process to potential attorney hires than the person who just went through it?  If their schedule allows it, think about putting your newest attorneys on the recruiting team.   Being asked to help interview for a firm/company solidifies the new attorney’s standing with the firm and often boosts their feeling of inclusion.  Just be careful not to put too much on their calendar too quickly!

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