Associate Advice: Should I Keep My Office Door Open or Closed?

Hello again, Law Babe.  One of the (million) things I never quite understood as a young associate was the etiquette of a closed office door.  Should I keep my door open?  Shut it?  What about when someone else’s office door is closed?  Knock?  Come back later?  Let’s try to break it all down.

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Photo by Albert Chernogrov

When deciding whether to keep your door open or closed, you should always pay attention to the culture of your firm and take your cues from your colleagues.  At some firms, no one closes their door unless they’re in there having a serious HR conversation, while at others, doors stay closed all the time.  Of course, most firms are somewhere in between.  You should generally observe your colleagues and manage your door accordingly.

That said, here are some thoughts about closed doors:

1.  A closed door implies a need for privacy.  It signals that you’re unavailable for interruptions, so keeping your door closed shouldn’t be your default.  In most settings, you should close your office door only when you specifically need to — like when you’re having a sensitive conversation, are under a tight deadline, or are on your speaker phone. 

2.  Close the door when you’re conducting a phone conversation that you expect to last longer than a few moments.  And for the love of all things holy, please close your door if you’re on speaker phone (even if for 30 seconds).  Nothing will annoy your colleagues faster than having to listen to all sides of your conference call.

3.  If you’re new to the firm, err on keeping an open door policy.  When you’re new, your colleagues don’t know you and your work ethic yet.  It can be disconcerting to watch a new colleague shut his or her door significantly more than most of their coworkers do.  It can make people wonder what you’re doing in there and can signal that you’re out of sync with the firm’s broader culture.  It also sends a stand offish vibe, and you don’t want to create that initial impression.  So especially during your first few months, I’d default to keeping your door open the vast majority of the time.  After that, you’ll have a better sense of what associates at your professional level do with their doors, and you can take cues from them.

4.  If you need to speak with a colleague whose door is closed, tread lightly.  This next piece of advice goes particularly when you’re about to knock on a partner’s door.  If you absolutely need to speak to a partner who has his or her door closed, and you just can’t wait, there a few things you can do to make this less awkward.  First, listen at the door to make sure he or she isn’t on the phone or that there isn’t another person in the office.  If you hear any indication that the person  is otherwise engaged with someone, just come back later unless you have a true emergency (and I can think of very few true emergencies).  If you don’t hear any evidence of a conversation, knock lightly and wait for the person to invite you to open the door.  Do not be one of those people who knocks and barges right in.  The last thing you want is to walk in on something awkward!  Don’t put yourself in that position.  Plus, manners.

What do you think?  How do you feel about closed office doors?  Have you ever accidentally walked in on someone doing something awkward in the office?!

Stay Smart and Sexy, Law Babe!

xoxo.

Associate Advice: The Billable Hour Survival Guide

Real talk: these 3 words will probably always give me a little jolt of anxiety.  I read recently that the average young associate has an average annual billing target of around 1,800 hours.  My target when I was a big law associate was 1,950.

Now, I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but let’s just break that down for just a moment. Let’s say your target is 1,800.  There are 52 weeks in the year.  This means you need to bill approximately 34.6 hours each week of the year.  If you want to work just 5 days a week (ha!), you need to bill 6.92 hours each business day of the entire year just to meet your billable hours requirement. 

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Photo by Buenosia Carol on Pexels.com

What’s that, you say?  What about a vacation?  Christmas week?  A Monday off for Memorial Day weekend?  July 4th?  You need to take your hamster to the vet?  Nope.  Nope.  Nope.  Nope.  You get the point.

Any hour, day, or week you need to take off for practical matters or just your mental sanity, let alone to have any kind of fun, needs to be made up elsewhere during the year.  And once you get behind, it’s notoriously difficult to catch back up.

I consistently struggled to make my hours, as did many of my work friends, because of the feast or famine phenomenon many of us encountered.  I would be absolutely swamped for say, 2 weeks, and bill a ton of hours, only to have things completely settle down and have no hours to bill for the next 2 weeks.  It was like some kind of sick Murphy’s law, that that’s just how it always went.

Now that I’ve vented, here’s my number one tip for billing hours: make sure you capture every second of your time worked on a matter!  Once I began to focus, really focus, on accurately capturing my time, I discovered that I had been losing out on a significant amount of hours.  I promise that if you make tracking your time a priority, the tiny increments of time will add up significantly.  You should not be letting any .1 slip away from you without recording it.  An email here, a voicemail there… it all counts.  And trust me, whether they’ll admit it or not, your competition (other associates in your firm) are recording their time down to the split second.  My senior partner once said to me, verbatim, “If you don’t accurately capture your hours, the only person you harm is yourself.”  And he was right!  Whether it’s your path to partnership, your job security, or even your annual bonus, the only one who gets punished if you don’t accurately capture your time is Y-O-U, Law Babe.

I also found (to my dismay, because I really enjoyed staying involved in firm activities) that to meet my hours, I had to decide which firm events I attended with greater scrutiny.  Yes, showing up to firm activities is important.  But no, you likely do not need to attend every CLE or cocktail hour the firm hosts, especially when they tend to begin at 4:30.  I found that packing it in even just a little bit early for these events was really cutting into my hours.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, don’t beat yourself up over the billable hour.  Hours stress everyone out.  It’s all going to be ok, and there is absolutely no reason to lose sleep or experience anxiety over your hours.  If you don’t make your hours for the day, month, or even for the year, life goes on.  This I can tell you with 100% certainty, because I’ve been there.  I survived, and you will too.  I promise.

How do you cope with the billable hour?  Do you have any tips or tricks to share?

Stay Smart and Sexy, Law Babe!

xoxo.

Beauty Files: Perfume Etiquette and 5 Office Appropriate Perfumes

Let’s talk about perfume etiquette today, Law Babe.  Every one of us has encountered a coworker who subscribes to the “more is more” philosophy when it comes to perfume.  An overpowering scent is distracting and can even make you sick.

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Let’s touch on some rules when it comes to perfume in the workplace:

1.  Less is more.  You already know this, but it bears repeating.  The cardinal rule for perfume in the office (and everywhere, if you ask me) is that a little bit goes a long way.  Please do not take a bath in your heaviest perfume.  A light spritz will do just fine.  Others should only be able to smell your perfume if they come within a foot or two of you.  If your colleagues can smell you before you come into a room or after you leave, you need to put the bottle down.

2.  Stick to a light scent for the office.  The office is not the place to debut your new bottle of Chanel No.  5.  Save the heavy/musky/sexy/grandma scents for date night.  Light floral and citrus scents are best for the workplace.  Similarly, you may wish to wear an eau de toilette rather than an eau de parfum, because the eau de toilette has a lower concentration of aromatic oils (and therefore a lower risk of offending everyone around you).

3. Don’t reapply.  You swear you applied perfume before heading out the door, but now you can’t smell it.  Or you hit that Chinese joint for lunch and now you swear you smell like a greasy kitchen.  Resist the urge to reapply your perfume!  We become nose blind over time, so even if you can’t smell your fragrance anymore, others still can.  That extra spritz or two can turn your subtle scent into an overpowering one.

More and more workplaces have outright banned fragrances in the office, so definitely play by the rules if yours is one of them.  If not, here are five office-appropriate perfumes that smell gorgeous and won’t offend your colleagues:

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Chloe Eau de Parfum Spray ($105-$132) smells like a beautiful garden party, and is light, refreshing and summery.

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Chanel Chance Eau de Toilette Spray ($80-$130) is both delicate and radiant, with a light, fruity trail.

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Jo Malone fragrances are all amazing, but the Wood Sage & Sea Salt Cologne ($65-$135) is combination of bergamot and driftwood, making it fresh, alive, and woody.

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Diptyque Philosykos Eau de Toilette ($95-$135) was inspired fig tree in the heat of the summer in Greece.  Enough said.

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Atelier Cologne Clementine California Cologne Absolue ($135-$195) was inspired by clementines in California and is fruity, sweet, and sunny.

Do you have any favorite perfumes for daily wear?  Share with us in the comments below!

Stay Smart and Sexy, Law Babe!

xoxo.

The Elements of Legal Style: The Chicest Affordable Flats

It’s no big secret that the legal profession is ultra conservative, but dressing for the office doesn’t need to be boring.  Welcome to The Elements of Legal Style, where The Law Babe will highlight the chicest office-appropriate style options, so that you can dress like a partner even on an associate budget. 

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Naturally, certain scenarios call for a power outfit (hello, sheath dress!) with a crisp blazer and perfect pumps.  But real talk: most of the time, you just want to wear your flats in peace while still looking polished and professional.  Flats are simple, chic, and will keep you comfortable from breakfast to cocktails and everything in between.

Here are a few shoe game tips from one Law Babe to another:

1.    Consider investing in a small shoe rack for under your desk. A few years ago, I finally got tired of the enormous jumble of shoes under my desk (honestly, it was just plain embarrassing that my under-desk area was so sloppy), and invested in a small shoe rack that sits under my desk.  Total game changer.  My space looks so much cleaner, I can actually see my shoes, and they stay in far better condition when they aren’t all piled up on one another.  Also, anytime someone crosses the threshold (i.e. awkwardly invades the space on the side of your desk where you sit), they won’t be horrified by your mess.

2.    Purchase flats on the inexpensive side, so that you can replace them frequently.  Flats tend to serve as the footwear workhorses in our professional wardrobes.  Not only will you put a lot of miles on your flats around the office, but in warmer weather you may also end up commuting to and from the office in your flats.  For me, this meant a 2.5 mile round trip walk a lot of days.  We all know the drill.  Flats don’t stay in their prime forever.  Ragged, stretched out, smelly flats are so not the mark of a Law Babe.  There are so many inexpensive options for flats, that will still keep you looking sharp and polished.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather spend $40 on a fresh pair of flats that I won’t feel guilty replacing than having to wear last season’s $250 flats long past their prime (and yes, I’m thinking specifically about a certain brand whose flats aren’t even comfortable and turn you into a walking advertisement).

3.     Dare to be a little more bold than usual with your flats.  Sure, you should definitely have some basic, neutral flats (black and camel, for example).  However, I also think that flats are an area where you can afford to get a little bold.  Fancy a pair of bright red ballet slippers?  Leopard?  Metallic gold?  In a conservative shape and style, and paired with a neutral outfit, you should feel free to have some fun.

Here is a roundup of office-appropriate flats that are flat out (get it?!) chic, comfy, and won’t break the bank:

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Sam Edelman Felicia Ballet Flat ($100)

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Gap Cinched Ballet Flats ($69.95)

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Banana Republic Pointed-Toe Robin Ballet Flat ($98)

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Lulus Emmy Camel Suede Pointed Loafers ($25)

What is your go-to flat?  Share your shoe game tips and tricks with the rest of the Law Babes out there!

Stay Smart and Sexy, Law Babe!

xoxo.

Associate Advice: A Junior Associate’s Guide to Dealing with Senior Associates

Hey, Law Babe.  Whether you’re a first year associate, a mid-level associate, or somewhere in between, there will be associates ahead of you in tenure at the firm and in years in practice (or both).

In my years as a junior associate in big law, I honestly was never totally sure where I stood in relation to the more senior associates in my group.  Should they assign me work?  Was I required to accept their assignments?  What if I was too busy?  Was it even acceptable to bill to a client if a partner hadn’t formally approved my doing so?

ballpen-blur-close-up-461077.jpgOf course, looking back, I should have taken the glaringly obvious approach, and simply asked the billing partner what the expectations were.  And that’s precisely what I recommend you do.  I know that’s easier said than done, however.  There are bound to be times when, for whatever reason (either real or self-imposed), that’s not an option.

So what happens when a senior associate approaches you and says, “Hey Law Babe, I have an assignment for you.”?  There are two potential responses here.  The deferential response would be to say “Great!  Never mind that I have a billion other assignments to tackle this weekend and I haven’t slept in 3 days.  What’s the matter number?”  The more savvy, albeit potentially more risky, response would be “Okay.  I’d be happy to help.  However, I am very busy with a number of other assignments that have been assigned to me by partners.  Has the billing partner approved my working on this matter?”

There are a few reasons I suggest that you take the latter approach in a respectful and tactful manner.

First, there will be times when the billing partner has not approved your working on the matter for which the associate has requested your help.  The senior associate might be either trying to flex his or her authority muscles, attempting to take work off his or her plate, simply lazy, or whatever…without actually having the authority to assign you matters.  This poses a potential problem because a number of clients demand that they approve associates and their billing rates in advance of the associate performing any work.  Heck, some clients don’t let first year associates perform work on their matters at all.

The associate who is attempting to assign you work might not be aware of these rules.  If this is the case, it’s not going to be fun when the billing partner pulls you both aside and asks why the hell you were working on this matter and who assigned you to it.  In the worst case scenario, your time might end up having to be written off the bill if the billing partner doesn’t feel comfortable going back to client and to get your rate approved.  In case you can’t tell, this is a slightly cringeworthy true story from my days as an associate.  Everyone got over it, but it was unnecessary and awkward.  It would have been far more effective for me to simply ask the senior associate if my help on the matter had been approved prior to just diving in.

Second, when you blindly jump at the requests of a senior associate (who again, may or may not have been actually given this authority), you’re setting a precedent that can quickly devolve into a slippery slope.  The unfortunate truth is that there are associates out there who will take advantage of you and your stellar work ethic.  Next thing you know, you could be on the regular receiving end of those Friday afternoon work dumps we all love to hate.  There are, of course, also those associates who just love the feeling of thinking that they are being in charge of a junior associate.  Hellloooo, power trip.  Just remember that you’re a Law Babe and you don’t need this nonsense.  You have way too many other fabulous things to be accomplishing with your time.  Don’t buy into it.

So, if you’re approached by an associate who is senior relative to you, it might behoove you to confirm that your acceptance of an assignment has been approved by the billing partner.  You might ruffle some feathers in the short run, but odds are you’ll also earn valuable respect from both the associate and the billing partner.

Junior associates (and law students) are oftentimes unnecessarily deferential to their senior counterparts.  I’m going to go off on a slightly unrelated tangent here.  I have been called “Miss Lastname” on more than one occasion by a summer associate candidate.  This was a huge turnoff.  Please, if you are in law school, you should not address anyone as “Sir,” “Mister,” or “Miss” in an interview or a post-interview follow up.  I am going to write an entire post about this, now that I’m remembering it.  Unsurprisingly, that candidate did not get the position.  I also want to point out that the candidates who have called me “Miss” were consistently female.  I have to say that I I have a difficult time envisioning a male candidate calling his interviewer “Mister.”  Nope, men refer to their superiors in the workplace by their first names.  And so should we, Law Babes.

I think the moral of the story is to absolutely be polite and respectful, but don’t disrespect yourself in the process.  How can you expect to be taken seriously as a professional if you act like a meek subordinate?

Clients want attorneys who will take a stand for them.  You can’t learn to be a solid advocate for your clients until you learn to advocate for yourself first.  Unfortunately, you will most likely run into status-conscious associates who won’t like you if don’t blindly follow their orders, but do you really give a hoot about whether or not people like that like you?  I think not.

The bottom line, Law Babe, is by all means, be respectful of your colleagues.  But just because another associate has worked at your firm a bit longer (or god forbid, has had a license to practice law a few years longer than you), does not give them authority to blindly boss you around.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.  How would you handle a situation like this?

Stay Smart and Sexy, Law Babe!

xoxo.

Beauty Files: Top Tips for an Office Appropriate Manicure

Hey, Law Babe.  I want to talk about nails for a minute.  I have seen far too many travesties in my professional life to ignore this topic.  You are a Law Babe, and your manicure needs to reflect that.  You know when you show up to a meeting with a chipped aquamarine nail polish and ragged cuticles leftover from your 10 day old manicure? The answer is no, you don’t.  Why?  Because duh, you’re so much better than that.  Don’t ever be that girl.

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That said, let’s talk about some basic office manicure principles.

1.   Stick to neutrals.  Save the wild colors for the NKOTB rerun tour, not Tuesday’s client meeting.   I assure you that your senior partner does not give a hoot that metallic nails are so summer 2018.  Seriously, please stick with neutral nail polish.  For what it’s worth, I also think that reds and pinks are socially acceptable nail colors in a professional setting.  Sorry ladies, but this goes for toes too.  Let Debbie in receivables get wild with her nails, but please keep it basic on your end.  Plus, let’s just call a spade a spade, everyone knows that wild color nails are horrendous after the age of 12 anyway.

2.  Keep the length respectable!  You know what I’m talking about.  Please no talons – you are a lawyer, not a stripper (NOT that there is anything wrong with that).  Conversely, you do not need to wear your anxiety on your sleeve and have bitten down stubs on display for your colleagues.  The same rules go for shape.  For god’s sake, none of those super pointy nails.  In fact, let’s just make a hard and fast rule here – if someone is going to react to your nails in any sort of surprised way (like, “ooh…wow…your nails are so glittery/long/terrifying/etc.”), then you’ve gone awry.  If that ever happens, please report immediately to your nearest CVS for polish remover.

3.  Be mindful about your nails during meetings.   Embarrassing story alert.  One time I sat in a CLE, bored out of my mind, and secretly picked the nail polish off my nails under the table.  To my utter horror, I didn’t realize that the carpet was dark, so when I got up at the end of the day my entire area was covered with bits of nail polish! I was truly shook.  Everyone probably thought I had god awful dandruff or something.  I totally learned my lesson the hard way… just keep your hands off your nails at work.

4.  You don’t need to always get your nails professionally done, but it can’t hurt to scope out a local nail salon.  If you have a local spot close to your office, it becomes much easier to run across the street to grab a quick polish change during the workday.  This is especially convenient given that most salons close by 7 during the week.  Just don’t pull this little stunt on the afternoon that your huge deal is closing, because you won’t be able to check your email for a little while (again, learn from my mistakes).

I’ve rounded up a few of my go-to nail colors that will keep you looking super polished (pun intended) at the office below:

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No surprises here.  Essie’s Ballet Slippers ($9) is a cult classic and looks beautiful on every skin tone.

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Julep’s Anna ($14) is a beautiful soft grey that will keep you on-trend, but perfectly professional at the office.

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OPI’s Big Apple Red ($10.50) is the classic go-to red for all you red nail devotees out there.  Talk about a power mani!

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Chanel’s Beige Beige ($28) is another timeless classic.

What are your favorite work-appropriate nail colors?  Leave your tips (again, pun intended) in the comments!

Stay Smart, Law Babe!

xoxo.

 

Noteworthy Article: “Female Lawyers Can Talk, Too”

 

I stumbled across this interesting New York Times Op-Ed today.  It’s a quick read, but packs a big punch.

In the article, retired New York Federal District judge, Shira Sheindin, highlights the disparity in female attorneys who play a prominent role in the courtroom compared to their male counterparts, regardless of who has actually completed most of the grunt work behind the scenes.  Sheindin notes that time and time again from the bench she witnessed the same scene unfold: a female attorney would queue up a case or argument (oftentimes authoring the brief or motion in its entirety) only to have her male counterpart make the entire presentation before the judge.

Sheindin calls on judges to initiate change in the courtroom, pointing out that judges tend to be more diverse than the lawyers arguing before them.  She suggests that judges might begin to spark change in the courtroom simply by requesting the actual author of the motion or brief to argue it.  On the client side, Sheindin suggests that clients have the power to request diverse legal teams, and should avail themselves of that ability.

It’s no big secret that change needs to happen, not just in the legal profession, but across the board.  Yes, it’s incumbent upon us Law Babes to speak up on our own behalves.  Yet, this is more often than not far easier said than done.  I’ve been in so many meetings where a senior partner (read: a middle aged white male), has interrupted me, spoken above me, or just entirely presented my portion on his own accord.  It has made think, “oh… I must not be good enough at presenting.”  No.  False.  Not true.  Generally, I don’t believe this sort of treatment is intentional, but this is the quiet discrimination that needs to stop.  Of course, the buck starts with us, Law Babes, but perhaps inviting the referees to level the playing field is a great next step.

What do you think?  Have you ever been in a setting where you have felt either intentionally or unintentionally “silenced” by a male counterpart?  How did it make you feel?

Stay Smart, Law Babe!

xoxo.