Law and Conversation

October 11, 2012

Speaking trip to University of Illinois College of Law!

I had a great time today speaking on lawyer ethics and social media to students at my legal alma mater, the University of Illinois College of Law, and the East Central Women Attorneys’ Association. I focused on three areas where lawyers occasionally get into ethical trouble on social media: client confidentiality, false or misleading statements or conduct, and using other people. The turnout was good and the students and fellow lawyers were a great audience. I got to recommend two good books to them: “I Know Who You Are And I Saw What You Did,” by Lori Andrews, and “The No Asshole Rule,” by Bob Sutton, which I wrote about here.  As a bonus, I got to catch up with my moot court partner from law school, who invited and introduced me! After my talk, she provided me with encouragement to reread the first volume of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, which I read with another bookloving friend in the legal profession a few years ago and, sad to say, found a bit of a slog.

Time to think about #fridayreads on Twitter, which I like to, but don’t always, participate in. I currently have two books going as rereads: the beautifully and honestly written “Minor Characters,” by Joyce Johnson, a memoir focusing on her relationship with Jack Kerouac, which I’ve reread several times but not for quite some time, and a title published by Europa Editions, “Clash of Civilizations Over An Elevator in Piazza Vittorio,” by the Algerian-Italian writer Amara Lakhous. The latter left me lukewarm the first time around, but after reading others’ more enthusiastic reviews on The Europa Challenge Blog as well as Lakhous’s more recently published “Divorce, Islamic Style,” which I loved, I’m eager to give his first one another chance.

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August 6, 2010

Churls!

I recently called up a few of the most professional lawyers I know and asked them how they’d suggest dealing with the churls that we all run into from time to time.   The result was a fun and, I think, useful article, “Uncivil Action,” the cover story in this month’s issue of the Illinois Bar Journal.  Though directed to the litigation context, my sources’ advice is good for any area of life where churls may appear.

One of the lawyers I interviewed recommended reading “The No Asshole Rule,” by Robert I. Sutton.  I did so, and could see why she recommended it. 

Sutton, a management consultant, writes about the harm churls do in the workplace and beyond, illustrating his thesis with vivid examples and providing practical coping recommendations.  He advises against going to work for a company populated with churls, for example, because of the heightened risk of becoming a churl oneself.  There’s a good reason we’re known by the company we keep.

What I found particularly memorable about Sutton’s book was his use of multiple examples of his own behavior to make the point that we all have the capacity to behave badly, even churlishly, at times.  It speaks well of him or anyone else, in my opinion, to have examined his own behavior, reflect upon it, and publicly acknowledge that it was wrong.  Sutton’s point should also remind us that most of the churls we encounter in our lives are not completely evil monsters, but, rather, imperfect people who may not be so different from ourselves.

The British Victorians were really good at depicting extreme versions of churls:  easy-to-hate bullies with no redeeming qualities.  Even the names that Charles Dickens gave to his churls tell us right away what sort of people they are:  Wackford Squeers in “Nicholas Nickleby,” Mr. Bumble in “Oliver Twist,” and Mr. Murdstone in “David Copperfield.”  In “Jane Eyre,” Charlotte Bronte also depicted some memorable churls, the Reed family and Mr. Brocklehurst.  Hardly less disagreeable are Anthony Trollope’s Mrs. Proudie and Obadiah Slope in “Barchester Towers.”

More recently, Khaled Hosseini created such a churl, Assef, in “The Kite Runner.”  Far more interesting a character in Hosseini’s wonderful novel, though, is his chief protagonist, Amir, who behaves very dishonorably—churlishly—for the first part of the novel and spends the rest reflecting on and atoning for his actions.  I can imagine that Amir’s character was more difficult to write than Assef’s, but Amir, a complex and well-rounded character, is much closer to most of us than the sociopathic Assef.

What fictional churls have you found interesting and memorable?

December 10, 2009

Online job applications

Today I read an article on searching for jobs online that contained such advice as “be professional,” “don’t apply for jobs for which you’re not qualified,” and “remember that you have competition.” 

The article got me to thinking about online job applications and how the internet does make it at least somewhat easier to find out about available jobs and apply for them.  But I was wishing that it had told readers something that wasn’t obvious and that they don’t already know. 

I wrote “Shakin’ The Pink Slip Blues,” the cover story for the May 2009 issue of the Illinois Bar Journal, on job finding fundamentals for lawyers and others in this dismal economic climate.  You can access it here if you’re a member of the Illinois State Bar Association:  http://www.isba.org/ibj/2009/05/230_career_planning.html .  I interviewed two Chicago area career counselors, Sheila Nielsen and Marilyn Moats Kennedy, and got some terrific commentary and solid suggestions from them for how to conduct a job search.  I also included a sidebar with some really helpful external links, including one of my current favorites for career and life advice, Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/ .   Some of my links and my sources touched on online job applications, but I had room to treat that subtopic only briefly.

So after reading the other article I ran across today, I started thinking about online job hunting some more and came up with some questions to which I’d love to see some concrete, helpful answers.  (And would love to write another article including them, too.)

Online job applications require all fields to be filled out, but the questions may be vague or otherwise poorly crafted and permit only a limited number of characters for response. Readers, how would you suggest handling these common online job application questions?

1) “Why did you leave your last job?”

The answer to this question may be manifold and complex, and is far easier discussed in person.  Is a nonspecific answer such as “Wanted to explore other opportunities” sufficient to avoid the online application’s being weeded out? 

2) “What is your minimum salary requirement?”

I’ve never found a good suggestion for this one, whether it’s presented online or in person (though Penelope Trunk comes pretty close when she writes about it in the in-person context at http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2003/12/11/4-tips-for-salary-negotiation/  ).  The employer never discloses the range, so candidates are presented with the unattractive option of lowballing what they would like and ought to be paid for fear of having their applications thrown out. I suspect that online programs won’t permit submission of the form without a dollar figure in the field, but I haven’t tested this to find out.

3) “What percentage of time are you available for travel?”

Well, what percentage is the position expected to travel?  Like salary range, the employer probably hasn’t revealed this, either, or candidates may be submitting their applications for consideration for any available position for which they’re qualified—as many employers invite them to do.  Is the employer looking for how flexible you are—i.e. any day of the week for any length of time—or total amount of time that you’re willing to be on the road?  If you say “20%,” will your resume be weeded out without an interview because the application program or the employer interprets this response to mean only 1 day a week when the job actually requires weeklong trips now and then, so the correct answer is 100% even though the position does not require the candidate to be on the road 365 days a year?  Is the correct answer ALWAYS 100%?

If you’re an HR professional or someone with responsibility for hiring, please think about your application process.  You might be unintentionally weeding out some  terrific candidates by some poorly crafted questions or less than sensitive procedures.  If you’re a person without a job and/or without health insurance, my heart goes out to you on this chilly December day.  There but for the grace of God go all of us. 

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