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Employer Due Diligence, Part 2-What Do You Need to Know?

The flippant response to this question is: everything. Since that is not achievable, you need to focus your investigation on learning as much as you possibly can.

Breaking that down by information categories, your filter for these specific indicators should be the following: data that are signposts to the present and future stability, viability and prospects of the employing organization. This data is not going to be the same for every job candidate, every employer or every employment “transaction.” Job candidates are likely to give different weights to different factors they consider depending on their own unique requirements and needs.

Similarly, employers are all different and situations will vary with features such as:

  • the size of the employer. Large employers may require less due diligence than smaller employers for which information is harder to find. As a rule, the larger the employer, the more information is available…in fact, you may be afflicted with “information overload.”
  • The prominence of the employer. Employers that are “household names” generally require less due diligence than other employers since they are scrutinized much more closely by both their regulators and the media. Thus, their triumphs and missteps are much easier to identify.
  • the nature of the employment sector. Public sector employers are usually “open books” for which a great deal of publicly available material is accessible. Private sector employers, even those that are publicly-traded and subject to extensive reporting requirements, are not. However, if a private sector employer is publicly traded, you will be able to find more information than if it is privately held. Nonprofits fall somewhere in-between insofar as transparency.

Caveat: Uncovering information about U.S. government agencies and offices has become a bit more difficult under the Trump administration. Much data that was readily available prior to January 20, 2017 has been removed from federal agency websites.

The Due Diligence Baker’s Dozen Plus One

Using the following “Due Diligence Baker’s Dozen Plus One” groupings as a guide should unearth the basic material that you need to inform a decision about whether you want to work for a particular employer. I’ll summarize them here and go into greater detail about them in ensuing blogs in this series.

  1. Financials
  2. Employment Trends
  3. Employees
  4. Marketing
  5. Technology
  6. Industry Trends
  7. External Influences
  8. Other Employer-Specific Vulnerabilities
  9. Competition
  10. Clients
  11. Legal Exposure
  12. Assets
  13. Reputation
  14. Staying Power

Some of these categories do not apply to certain types of organizations due to the nature of the employer. For example, public sector employers generally do not have competitors. Even in government, however, there are exceptions. The military services compete with one another every year for their respective chunks of the defense appropriations pie, which is often a zero-sum game. Whenever government goes into one of its rare moments of concern about “efficiency” and discovers that functions are being duplicated among agencies, it’s possible that it might execute a reorganization that either eliminates certain offices or merges them. A third scenario results from the occasional urge to deregulate something. In 1995, Congress deregulated the trucking industry and terminated the Interstate Commerce Commission, suddenly throwing several thousand people out of work. Consequently, even if you contemplate a public sector job or career, you may need to factor such possibilities into your due diligence investigation.

Some categories may not be capable of discovery by you. Closely-held corporations are notoriously secretive when it comes to their financials, for example. Absent a highly-publicized lawsuit by a third party, unearthing their financials may be out of the question.

Some items can be ascertained by “eyeballing” the organization’s premises, furniture and equipment. If you are confronted with threadbare appointments or less than state of the art computers, that could be a signal that you need to factor into your employment decision.

Some items will require responses from interviewers or organization management. They will require you to pose good questions to at either the interview and/or job offer stages of the hiring process. You need to be mindful, especially at the interview stage, not to get too far ahead of yourself. Asking penetrating questions at this stage could risk your job candidacy.

A good bit of your due diligence can be initiated even before you and your prospective supporters get serious about one another.

Next: Employer Due Diligence, Part 3-Financials

Employer Due Diligence, Part 1-Introduction

This is the first blog in a new LegalCareerView.com series on employer due diligence, the importance of which for legal job seekers cannot be over-emphasized. We live in an era when law practice is undergoing massive disruption thanks to technology, globalization and political turmoil. Staid and formerly stable organizations are subject to sudden uncertainty resulting in reorganization and, in the worst case, abrupt demise. Law firms, companies and even government agencies and nonprofits are not exempt from upheaval.

The American Bar Association says that 21st century law graduates will change jobs seven times during their careers. If that does not put a premium on doing employer due diligence, I don’t know what does. With organizations suddenly merging, reorganizing and even imploding, it behooves job seekers to find out as much as they can about prospective employer stability and viability before signing on to what might be a very temporary stopping-off point, if not a soon-to-sink ship.

What Constitutes Due Diligence?

“Due diligence” is an expression that arises most often in the context of a transaction between a seller and a buyer of a business. It consists of an investigation or audit of a potential investment or acquisition by the buyer. Due diligence is designed to confirm all of the material facts of the transaction. The buyer wants to make sure that its investment is sound and supportable, that it is not about to buy a pig in a poke.

In the employer-employee context, both parties are buyers. Savvy employers perform considerable due diligence before they make an employment offer. You need to do the same investigation before you accept a job offer.

Why Do It?

When you contemplate taking a job with an employer, you want to achieve a comfort level about this important decision you are about to make, if possible. Performing a due diligence investigation of your prospective employer is an essential component of the job-hunting process. Employer due diligence is something that every job seeker must perform—but rarely does—before accepting a position. This is one time when you should be one of the few that goes against the grain.

Lack of a due diligence investigation all too often leads to a bad workplace situation that might have been avoided, not to mention a possible adverse effect on your entire career.

Don’t let you career hang on a hope and a smile (or a wing and a prayer, if you prefer that metaphor).

While you will likely never be able to get answers to every one of your questions, you will nevertheless be able to make a much better decision about your career direction if you are armed with as much due diligence information as you can muster.

Next: Employer Due Diligence, Part 2-What Do You Need to Know?

Interviewing Primer 101.10: Understanding the Interview Process—What Employers Want: The Rest of the Hierarchy-2

The remainder of the Hierarchy of Legal Employer Needs, while mentioned less and with less emphasis by employers, is still important. This rest of the Hierarchy does not lend itself to the same precision or clarity as either the “Big Six” or the “second tier” job candidate attributes addressed in this blog series. Nevertheless, the more of these qualities you are able to demonstrate in addition to the ones most in demand, the better off will be your competitive position.

These additional candidate traits that employers are concerned about are presented below in alphabetical order. My survey of employer needs, empirical feedback from legal employers and my follow-up discussions with them did not reveal a clear hierarchical order.

  • Accountability
  • Analytical Ability
  • Attention to Detail
  • Business Bottom-Line/Budget Consciousness
  • Client Development and Retention Skills
  • Flexibility
  • Follow-Through
  • Goal-Oriented
  • Initiative
  • Law School Attended
  • Leadership/Leadership Potential
  • Leading by Example
  • Meeting Deadlines
  • Mentoring Ability
    • Attorneys
    • Staff
  • Organizational Skills
  • Problem-Anticipation Ability
  • Problem-Solving Ability
  • Productivity
  • Stability
  • Well-Roundedness
  • Work Ethic

Final Thoughts about the Hierarchy

The legal job candidate who possesses all 33 traits that comprise the Hierarchy probably does not exist. Don’t be discouraged if you do not possess all of them. Employers understand that the dream candidate is not out there.

Moreover, keep in mind what I said at the beginning of this blog series: there is considerable overlap among these candidate attributes. There is no need to agonize too much over definitions.

Even if your cold-blooded self-assessment reveals that you possess only a few of these attributes, the fact that you understand the Hierarchy and respond to it in both your application documents and especially during your job interviews will make you competitive and attractive to employers.

Finally, if you feel compelled to look for a Hawking-esque “Theory of Everything,” the bottom line is probably closer to this than anything else: apply common sense and good judgment to your job campaign and the achievement of your career goals. If you do that, you should be OK.

Employer Due Diligence, Part 5: Treatment of Employees

How a prospective employer treats its employees is central to the employer due diligence investigation that is a must before you accept a job. You don’t want to work for an organization whose employees feel that they are mired in a plantation mentality or other type of toxic situation.

The following questions are part of such a due diligence inquiry:

What is the attorney turnover rate? Do lawyers stay for a while or do they move on quickly? You can certainly pose this question at your job interview. But you need to be careful that you interpret the responses correctly. If the employer has a low attorney turnover rate, you will likely be inclined to take that as a positive sign about organizational culture and employee satisfaction. And most of the time, that will be the correct interpretation. But not always.

You need to look “under the covers” and ask yourself if the attorneys are doing things the rest of society values. If not, then the reasons for low turnover may be because there is nowhere for them to go…they are not in high demand. If they want to remain gainfully employed, they have to stay where they are because there are few other options.

One of my counseling clients specialized in – are you ready for this – representation of Americans doing business in Mauretania, a West African country marked primarily by three things: sand; a barely functional subsistence economy; an impoverished population that gives new meaning to the term “underdeveloped;” and frequent military coups. The reason he became a counseling client was because he was so specialized and his specialty was a dead end.

We literally searched the globe for an employer that could use his background, talents, and expertise. When we struck out with the World Bank, the International Development Agency, the International Finance Corporation, the World Health Organization, the Multilateral Investment Guaranty Agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the few law firms that provided representation in or on behalf of other West African countries, he gave up, took a sabbatical from job-hunting and worked on a Mauritanian-English dictionary, a project for which there was also little demand. While this is an extreme example, it is hardly unique.

On the other hand, attorneys who move on with what appears at first glance to be disturbing frequency might do so because they are in very high demand by other employers. Again, you have to dig deeper in order to discern the true meaning of “move or stay.”

What is the support staff turnover rate? The answer to this question may be a better indicator of employer-employee relationships than the previous question limited to attorneys. For example, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office patent lawyers tend not to stick around very long because of huge demand from, and attractive compensation offered by, outside law firms. However, Patent Examiners, administrative and other employees do stay, lending stability and continuity to the organization. That’s a good sign.

What do employees in comparable positions earn? There is a lot of useful information online about what people earn in jobs comparable to the ones you might be seeking. If you are looking for public sector positions, you can usually pinpoint this information down to the penny. The U.S. Government, for example, publishes its salary scales at www.usajobs.gov and www.opm.gov. While the same is not true for every state and local government, this information is often contained in vacancy announcements advertising specific positions. If not, you can usually obtain it by contacting the relevant personnel office since government compensation information is a matter of public record.

While comparable private sector information is more difficult to uncover, it does exist in the form of compensation surveys undertaken, published by organizations such as Payscale.com. There are also outfits like Altman Weil that regularly conduct compensation surveys and sell this information. A number of trade and professional associations can also provide such data about member pay.

If you are seeking private sector employment with a small employer, this information is more difficult to obtain. Your research here may have to focus on individuals who have worked for these employers or local law school or university career services offices that might collect such information, either systematically or ad hoc.

How are employees treated?  You may not be able to discern very much about employee treatment during visits for job interviews. Your best source for this kind of information will be former employees, provided that you can locate them. A handful of large law firms actually publish alumni/ae directories. In addition, there are a number of databases – such as the Directory of Corporate Counsel – that are good sources of information about the employment histories of attorneys who now work for companies, but formerly worked for law firms.

How do the employees feel about their employer? A walk around the office might be indicative. Look for telling signs, such as how employees maintain their work spaces – neat, sloppily, chaotically? Do they appear busy and engaged in their work? If they are playing video games or online solitaire, they either do not have enough to keep them busy or they find their work less than stimulating, both signs of low morale. Similarly, if they are not dressed professionally (mindful of “dress-down” days), that may also be a sign of low morale.

Personal traits of potential colleagues. Your due diligence should not only be limited to finding out information about the firm. You should also attempt to apply the concept to individuals within the firm with whom you would be working day-to-day. This is not easy to do, since your only personal contact with them will likely be the brief time you spend at job interview(s) and perhaps during any telephone time. Google them and see what information you might be able to unearth. Be on the lookout for the following traits, while acknowledging that you are unlikely to be able to gather complete information:

  • Decisiveness
  • Risk-Taker (or Risk-Averse)
  • Persistence
  • Tough-Mindedness
  • Perception by employees
  • Perception by co-workers
  • Real world orientation
  • Common sense
  • Balanced in their personal lives
  • Money sensitive
  • Do they like what they do?
  • Do they take criticism and rejection well?
  • Are they interested in the ideas of their subordinates and colleagues?
  • Do they know their own strengths and weaknesses?
  • Do they know when they need help?
  • Are they ethical

Incorporating the treatment of employees is a key determinant of whether a prospective employer is worth your commitment.

Risk Management: Last One Out, Turn Out the Lights


When we published Risk Management: The Indispensable Profession, Volume 11 in our 18-volume 21st Century Legal Career Series (available from Amazon.com and the National Association for Law Placement, we noted that no fewer than 20 percent of risk management professionals were armed with a law degree and that the number of organizations that saw the advantages of either employing risk managers or contracting out for them as consultants was growing rapidly. That has not changed in the three years since the booklet came out. If anything, both phenomena have escalated.

Risk management is the indispensable profession, or as close to an indispensable function as any profession can get. It has become virtually essential to most large organizations and has been “trickling down” to occupy the same lofty position in many smaller one. In today’s environment, where the dangers confronting business success and even survival are vast and complicated, an organization that does not employ or engage risk managers ignores them at its own…risk.

Demand for Lawyers as Risk Managers

As indicated above, a substantial percentage of risk managers are attorneys. In fact, it is a frequent occurrence that organizations often send their risk managers to law school if they are hired without a law degree. Assessing and managing risk involves a great deal of law and understanding of law and regulation and their interaction. Legal training is thus a big plus. If you think about it, attorneys are trained to evaluate and mitigate risk on behalf of their clients, be they individuals or companies. In addition, attorneys, like risk managers, have to absorb a large amount of information about a wide variety of matters and be able to apply that knowledge.

Compelling Numbers

The number of U.S. risk management jobs at the end of 2018 was 729,000, about 60 percent of the U.S. attorney population. Three years ago, there were only half as many risk managers as attorneys. However, risk management positions are growing at a rate of more than 50,000 per year and climbing, which far exceeds attorney job growth (static at best). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects this impressive growth rate to continue for a long time. BLS says that the risk management profession has been growing by 7 percent a year since 2014 and is predicted to continue that impressive rate of increase for at least the next five years. Compare that to the attorney growth rate of 0.6 percent a year for the same period. In other words, the risk management profession is expanding at almost 12 times the attorney growth rate.


Median risk manager salaries are not yet quite on a par with median attorney compensation, but are rapidly catching up as more and more employers realize the tangible and often measurable contributions risk managers make to their organizations.

Job Security

Here there is no contest. Attorneys, as we have sadly observed now for many years, are often deemed expendable. In today’s environment, great uncertainty attends legal job continuity. That is not the case for risk managers. Their job requires them to know every nook and cranny of their organization, where all the bodies are buried and which closets contain the skeletons. That is what makes them well-nigh indispensable. There is no one in the organization quite as up-to-speed and essential as the risk manager(s).


As the profession matures, subspecialties begin to proliferate. Today, it is possible to find risk managers that focus on very specific matters, including:

  • Insurance
  • Finance
  • Healthcare
  • Specific Geographic Areas
  • Cybersecurity
  • Privacy
  • Business
  • Climate
  • Crises
  • Legal
  • Political
  • Mortgage
  • Job Hazards
  • Trusts
  • Elder Abuse
  • Geography

Risk management is now a global phenomenon. Opportunities are no longer limited to the United States.

Employer Pool

The largest employers of risk managers include:

  • Financial services
  • Healthcare providers
  • Insurers
  • Charities
  • Commercial businesses
  • Energy companies and utilities
  • Engineering and construction
  • Municipalities
  • Special purpose districts
  • Colleges and universities
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Medical device firms
  • Law firms
  • Consulting firms
  • Government


While a law degree is a strong headstart toward securing a risk management position,, you can position yourself even better if you supplement your JD with a risk management credential. This does not have to be a daunting exercise or exertion costing a great deal and taking a long time. There are many certificate and comparable programs available, a growing number of them that are specialized (e.g., healthcare, disaster risk reduction, financial industry, information technology, construction industry, etc.), and an increasing number of them are online, that enable you to quickly enhance your resume. Three of the best-received generic risk management certification programs are listed below:

More Information

A Job/Career Self-Assessment Exercise: Part 3

The final part of this Job/Career Self-Assessment Exercise poses Specific Job/Career Questions. Once you have responded to all three components of this exercise, you should have a fairly well-defined direction that prepares you for your actual job search or career change.

Specific Job/Career Questions

Where and for whom do I want to work?

  • Private Sector
    • Law Firm
      • Large, Midsize or Small
      • General Practice or Boutique
      • My Own Solo Practice
    • For-Profit Corporation
      • Fortune 1,000, Smaller or Startup
      • Publicly-Traded v. Closely-Held
      • Type of Industry
      • Domestic v. Multinational
    • Non-Profit Corporation
      • College/University
      • Hospital
      • Museum
      • Foundation
      • Public Interest/Advocacy Organization
      • Trade or Professional Association
      • Labor Union
      • Other
    • Consulting Firm
    • Other Organization
  • Public Sector
    • Federal, State or Local Government
    • Special Purpose District (e.g., airport authority, utility district, etc.)
    • Public-Private Partnership
    • Government Sponsored Enterprise (e.g., Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Federal Home Loan
    • Banks, Farm Credit Banks, Farmer Mac)
    • Self Regulatory Organization (e.g., FINRA), Stock Exchange, Public Company Accounting
    • Oversight Board)
    • International Organization (e.g., UN, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Pan
    • American Health Organization, World Trade Organization, World Intellectual Property
    • Organization)

What kind of “trends analyses” do I have to do?

  • Industry
  • Type of employer
  • Type of position
  • Other

What job-affecting circumstances beyond my control do I need to be concerned about?

  • Economic Uncertainties, e.g.,
  • Interest rate fluctuations
  • Energy prices
  • Takeover risks
  • Potential industry or employer collapse (viz. Lehman Brothers)
  • Unsustainable public debt
  • Legislative/Regulatory uncertainties
  • Globalization
  • Outsourcing potential
  • International competition
  • Technology impact

Whom do I need to talk to?

  • Law school career office
  • Professors
  • Industry
  • Industry consultants
  • Trade and professional associations
  • School alumni/ae
  • Employer/industry alumni/ae
  • Others

What do I need to ask or say to these people?

Who will be my references?

When do I need to initiate contact with my references?

Who are my networking contacts?

Who are my contacts’ possible contacts?

Am I executive search/“headhunter” material?

  • If yes, which headhunters should I approach?
    • Legal
    • Executive Search
    • Industry
    • Other

Should I pursue supplemental credentials?

  • LLM
  • Other degree program
  • Certificate or comparable program

If yes, what specific credentials make sense?



A Job/Career Self-Assessment Exercise: Part 2

Part 1 of this self-assessment exercise finished with an iteration of the Background Questions a legal job seeker should be asking before plunging into a job search. In Part 2 of this exercise, we’re going to look at the next set of key inquiries, the Generic Job/Career Questions.

Generic Job/Career Questions

Why do I want a new job/career?

  • Dissatisfaction with my duties and responsibilities
  • Dissatisfaction with my employer
  • Dissatisfaction with my supervisor(s)
  • Dissatisfaction with my co-workers
  • Dissatisfaction with my subordinates
  • Lack of promotion opportunities
  • Seeking a new challenge
  • Aligning with my background
  • Aligning with my interests
  • Overwork

What do I want to do?

  • “Mainstream” law (law firm, in-house counsel, government, solo practice)
  • Law-related/”JD Advantage” work (work for which a law degree is not required, but is an advantage).
  • Something else

How hard do I want to work?

  • Threshold question: How important to me is work/life balance?

Am I a workplace loner or do I crave interaction with colleagues, clients, etc.

Am I more comfortable if I have rules to follow?

Am I entrepreneurial/intrapreneurial?

Next: A Job/Career Self-Assessment Exercise: Part 3

A Job/Career Self-Assessment Exercise: Part 1

A central component of job search planning is the ancient Greek maxim first uttered 3,000 years ago by the Delphic oracle: “Know Thyself.” If you don’t know who you are and what constitutes your life goals, you are doing yourself a disservice by plunging into a job search or seeking a career path without answering those questions.

Knowing who you are and what you want to do—

  • enhances the effectiveness of your search for the right career and position,
  • hones your ability to recognize it when you find it, and
  • improves your ability to “present” yourself and perform well when competing for the position.

Having a clear vision of your goals is the key to success in any career transition.

Having clearly in mind what you want to do, however, does not mean that, when you begin your job search, you will know what the specific job is or where it can be found.

What it does mean is having a lucid picture of:

  • the substantive nature of your ideal work, what tasks you would be performing, and what skills are required;
  • what your ideal work environment would be; and
  • what compensation and rewards you can expect to receive in return for your efforts.

In this multi-blog series, we’ll examine how to do this.

This career assessment exercise is designed to help you clarify your career goals. The result of this inquiry can be a useful profile of the type of work you would find enjoyable and in which you would be productive and suitably rewarded.


First, a few general guidelines:

This is a brainstorming exercise, so resist the temptation to be judgmental about your answers to the questions – just record whatever comes to mind.

Think broadly about your responses to the assessment questions. For example, work environment may include such considerations as geographic location, commuting time/distance, size/type of office, office furnishings, smoking prohibition, etc.

Compensation/rewards might, in addition to salary, include such things as having your name on the letterhead, having a reserved parking space, being reimbursed for costs of advanced education, specific employee benefits, etc.

In answering the self-assessment questions below and in the following blogs in this series, be open to your feelings as well as more objective criteria. For instance, it may be that feeling challenged in your work is just as important to you as having direct client contact. Include in your answers the feelings you wish to experience with respect to your ideal employment.

Here’s how to do the exercise:

Use a separate sheet of paper or word processing page for each major set of questions: Background Questions, Generic Job/Career Questions, and Specific Job/Career Questions.

Read the question and write down whatever comes to mind. Revisit the question from time-to-time in order to flesh out your responses. Think broadly about each question. Brainstorm each question in the same way. Ask yourself: “What is important to me about….?” until nothing further comes to mind. Then, leave the exercise for a day. When you come back to it the following day, review your notes on each area and ask yourself: “Is there anything else that is important to me about this? Anything that I have left out?” Also, try framing your question in the negative, for example: “Concerning my substantive work, what do I definitely want to avoid?” Upon reflection, you might realize, “I want to avoid sitting at a desk indoors all day long.” Your answers might lead you to discover other things that are important to you.

When contemplating your response to specific practice questions, consider not only the substantive response, but also the “process” nature of your activity: research, writing, litigating, negotiating, teaching/training, analyzing, etc.

This self-assessment will help you to be more effective in your job search and more discerning in evaluating employment opportunities that arise. You will be in a stronger position to judge whether a job is right for you and to know what things to negotiate to make it even better.

Background Questions

Who am I?

  • What is most important to me?
  • What are my “essentials?”
  • What are my strengths?
  • What are my weaknesses?

Where have I been in my career?

  • Legal positions
  • Other positions
  • Internships/Externships
  • Summer Jobs

Where am I now in my career progression?

  • Exactly where I want to be at this stage
  • Above where I thought I would be
  • Not where I want to be

What is important to me about the work I do?

Where do I want to go from here?

  • My career goals
  • My financial goals
  • My “lifestyle”/work & life balance goals

What are my most important personal values?

What are my core workplace values?

Am I more verbal than cerebral?


Next: A Job/Career Self-Assessment Exercise: Part 2

How to Tell Your Story?

You have four opportunities for storytelling when job hunting. Two are obvious; the other two not so apparent:
On Your Resume
Resumes rarely tell stories. The overwhelming majority simply recite numbingly boring job descriptions. Consequently, the handful that go beyond this are usually the ones that resonate with employers.
Depending on your qualifications, there are five ways in which to render a resume a good story:
The Opening
Beginning with your first line—your name—you can begin to impress an employer if, in addition to your law degree, you bring another “value proposition” to the table. For example, if you have a certificate in risk management, your resume should include, in addition to your name, the fact that you have a law degree as well as a value-adding certificate, e.g.,
“Jane Doe, JD, ARM”
Note: “ARM” stands for “Associate in Risk Management” and is the most prestigious risk management training available.
Another example, one very timely for the current legal job market:
“John Doe, JD, CIPP/US”
Note: “CIPP/US” is short for “Certified Information Privacy Professional/U.S. Private Sector” and is the “gold standard” of data protection training.
Adding something like this that will interest an employer enhances your chances of being invited to a job interview by several orders of magnitude.

A.k.a., “Summary of Qualifications”
No resume should be without this section, which should immediately follow your identifying information or, if you are one of those rare candidates seeking a sea change in your career path, the “Objective.”
A Profile is always useful and can do much to advance your candidacy.  It is also an extremely flexible device.  You can use it to—
– grab the employer’s attention immediately and entice him or her to read on.
– bring key points that may be buried deep down in your resume up close to the top where they will be seen early on. Foreign language skills, for example, are always good for this kind of up-front treatment. If your Education section will follow Experience, then this is a good place for announcing that you attended prestigious academic institutions and/or performed brilliantly in school. This way you can make certain the employer sees your important selling points at the outset, before Attention Deficit Disorder sets in.
– emphasize your most compelling selling points regardless of where else they might appear. It never hurts to inform someone more than once about your triumphs.
imprint your distinctive qualifications on the reader. This is a great place to tout your Nobel Peace Prize or Olympic Gold Medal in Modern Pentathlon.

Keep your Profile succinct and to the point: a few lines and sentences only. Avoid subjective statements such as “outstanding legal researcher.” Employers do not “trust, but verify.” They want objective proof of your capabilities. Experienced resume readers are almost always skeptics, made that way by having read hundreds of resumes and having been subjected to thousands of bloviating, exaggerating and over-the-top assertions. Their constant reaction while reading through resumes is “prove it.”

Order of Presentation
Where you present the substantive material about yourself in a resume also tells an employer a story about you, one that can make or break your candidacy. Where you position key information speaks to your judgment and ability to reason, and employers pick up on this quickly. They can learn a lot about your judgment and organizational skills just from where you put things. (For more on the decision-making that goes into positioning. See “Order of Battle”)

Work Experience
Your goal here should be to personalize your work experience descriptions by taking what I call the “OAR” approach: Outcomes…Achievements…Results. Move away from a recitation of your position descriptions to describing your prior jobs, to the extent possible, in terms of your OAR. That is far more interesting and telling to an employer.

Resume Addendum
Adding a narrative addendum (preferably one page in length) to your resume is a great way to go beyond the constraints of a resume and show an employer how your brain works to solve problems. It is your opportunity to distinguish yourself once more from your competitors.

I have yet to encounter an employer who told me that a resume addendum violated any perceived rule about resume length. An addendum is your chance to story-tell. The best way to craft a compelling addendum is to describe a problem you were called upon to solve, at work, in a volunteer position, or elsewhere, and go through the steps you took to analyze it, recommend a solution, implement the solution, and evaluate the results.

The Interview
A job interview offers you two opportunities to story-tell.
When, during the interview, the interviewer cites a matter that is related to something specific you have done successfully, this is a good time to bring that up and describe your work and result(s). Aligning yourself with the employer’s “problem” is always a winning strategy.
Great Questions
When it comes time during the interview for you to pose questions to the interviewer, make sure you have memorized 5-7 questions that are designed to (1) set you apart from your competition, and (2) imprint yourself on the interviewer as a serious individual with the “big picture” in mind.

Reference List
After you indicate the name, title, organization, and contact information for each reference, include a brief note about something you did in collaboration with, or under the auspices of, the reference that will bolster your candidacy. Not only does this make for a good story; it also gives you partial control over what the employer and your reference will talk about.

If you do all of these things—and I strongly recommend that you do—you will find yourself in a much stronger position with respect to legal and law-related job-hunting and launch your campaign with a much greater chance of success.

Storytelling Your Way to a Job

Let’s be honest…law is not the most thrilling occupation. Most of it, in fact, is rather hum-drum. Unless you prosecute or defend axe-murderers, you are not likely to enthrall fellow cocktail party attendees with riveting tales of your profession. Nonetheless, we all have our stories and anecdotes. Where they come into play as valuable assets is during job hunting.

The Critical Importance of Storytelling
Two of the most important steps you can take in your quest for new legal or law-related employment are to:
differentiate yourself from your competitors; and
make yourself memorable to the key people who can move your career along—prospective employers, contacts, and references.

You can accomplish both aims by becoming a storyteller. This may sound foolish or frivolous, but it is very serious and is a key to getting noticed.

Why Tell Stories?
If you don’t think what people do for a living is dull, take a few job descriptions home with you from your human resources office and try to concentrate and stay awake while reading them. Then, next morning, see if you remember anything about what you read the night before.

This is what the overwhelming majority of resumes read like. And why having to read them is considered an ordeal by virtually every employer. In other words, they are leaden, boring, tedious, uninteresting, dry, and lackluster. Overlay that with being trite, hackneyed, commonplace and overused, and you have a formula for coming across just like everyone else in addition to being eminently forgettable.

In the miraculous event that such a resume actually garners you a job interview, at which you explain yourself in much the same way, and by the time you walk out the door, you will likely leave nary a footprint in the room.

In contrast, if your resume and interview are rife with anecdotes and stories about how you handled yourself in specific situations, you immediately become (1) much more interesting than your job competitors, and (2) are likely to imprint yourself and your capabilities on a prospective employer when the bulk resume review ends and then again when you walk out of the interview room. You will have made yourself memorable.

Who Needs to Hear Your Stories?
Employers, obviously.
But the listener universe does not end there. It must also include your references. By waxing anecdotal with them, you are providing them the necessary meat to flesh out who you are and what you can do when they are contacted by prospective employers.
Finally, your networking contacts also need to hear your stories of professional prowess and accomplishments. Having those in their stables will make any intermediation they undertake with either would-be employers or additional contacts much more compelling, while also providing them with the information necessary to understand who you are and guide you in the right direction.

Up Next: Storytelling Part 2, How to Tell Your Story

Employer Due Diligence, Part 4—Tracking Employment Trends

This element of employer due diligence will result in a combination of information that is easy to identify with data that is more difficult to uncover. It requires asking both “macro” and “micro” questions:

Are the number of employees increasing or decreasing?

You need to ask this question of the industry in which your prospective employing organization is a part as well as the specific employer in which you are interested.

Getting the answers to the broader industry question is easy. There is a host of such information available from multiple sources, e.g., the Bureau of Labor Statistics, trade and professional associations and private survey groups.

If you want to determine whether a specific practice area is growing, static or declining, looking at the recent growth trends of its practitioner membership organizations is telling. Groups whose member rolls are growing impressively, such as the National Employment Lawyers Association or the American Immigration Lawyers Association provide strong indicators that these are practice areas that are on the upswing. That should give you some comfort in casting your future with an employer for whom you would be doing such work.

In examining the macro part of the picture, however, you need to be careful not to make unwarranted assumptions based on broad tendencies. For example, if the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that attorney employment is growing nationally, that information is likely meaningless for your research into specific employers.

Similarly, if you find that a practice area growth curve is trending upward, that does not mean that every organization with that practice area is doing swimmingly. For example, the hospitality and recreation sector is performing very well right now. However, one company that has a number of both such property types is not doing well: the Trump Organization (with the exception of the Trump International Hotel a few blocks from the White House). This is an example of how you need to delve further into specifics even if broad industry data favors a type of employment.

When you drill down to the micro questions, i.e., those about employment trends vis-à-vis a specific employer, the data is not so readily obtainable. You can look at online commercial and trade publication data about specific firms, but that information generally does not get down to specific practice area levels. Just because a law firm, for example, might have suffered a 10 percent decrease in its attorney population does not mean that your practice group at the firm is also in decline. The answer may be quite the contrary.

There may also be other reasons for a staff decline. Technology substituting for human workers. The “snaking away” of practitioners in your practice group by a rival organization.

Remember, all the information you glean is, absent careful analysis, just raw data.

Is the organization hiring steadily…and if yes, then why (go back at least 18 months)?

Organizations usually hire additional staff because they are growing. There may, however, be other reasons why they are on a hiring binge that are unrelated to long-term growth. During financial crises such as the Savings and Loan collapse of the 1990s and the Great Recession that began in 2008, for example, law and consulting firms actually saw net hiring increases to secure contracts to advise and assist the government’s takeover of failed thrift institutions (S&L collapse) and to help with the massive bailouts resulting from the Great Recession. This was, however, a short-term bonanza that, once “victory” was declared, went away. When that happened, only a short time after the hiring binge, law firm hiring went into net negative territory.

Has the organization laid off employees in the last two years? If so, why? And what are the implications of the layoff?

-Again, you need context in order to accurately interpret the raw data you uncover. It sounds counter-intuitive, but employers that have steadily laid off staff in recent years may actually be more stable and secure than comparable employers that did not. Say, for example, that Big Box Retailer, Inc. cut its employment rolls by 10 percent last year, while Bigger Box Retailer, Inc. kept its staff at the same level or even grew some in the past year. Without a proper analysis of the reasons why Big Box cut staff and what it means both currently and in the near term, you cannot arrive at a conclusion about taking or rejecting a position with the company. Perhaps because Big Box cut staff a year ago, it is now in better shape financially and in a better position to compete in a tough retail economy than its competitors.

In contrast, Bigger Box, although on the surface appearing to be in better shape because it did not downsize, may be in a weaker position by virtue of being overstaffed. Context here could make a huge difference in your employer assessment.

Moreover, the 2000s have been an era of great instability across virtually all industries and professions. It has seen a substantial increase in merger and acquisition activity, in many cases where the takeover target has been a huge company formerly impervious to such phenomena. That means that potential M&A has to be considered in any employer due diligence effort. The reason being that when a target company, law firm or even nonprofit corporation is absorbed, the employment retention consequences for its employees are often adverse.

Next: Employer Due Diligence, Part 5—Treatment of Employees

Employer Due Diligence, Part 3-Financials

Financial information about a prospective employer is key to deciding whether to accept a job offer. If you contemplated going to work for Sears, JC Penney or a comparable large retail operation in 2019, a glance at their securities filings or even just exposure to the daily news might have prompted you to say “no thank you.” If you discover – and confirm – that your prospective employer is doing famously, you can feel more confident about accepting an offer.

This is not the kind of question that you can comfortably pose to either your interviewer or the individual who offers you the job. You don’t have to do that at all if you are applying to a publicly-traded company, a government agency or most nonprofits because this information is public and readily available. This blog will show you where to find financial information for these organizations.

The problem becomes more difficult if your prospective employer is a law firm or closely-held corporation, both of which are under no legal obligation to publicize their financials. We’ll tackle that challenge later in this blog.

Basic Questions

The fundamental questions you want answered – regardless of employment sector – are:

  1. Is the employer in sound economic condition? Naturally, you want to work for an organization that has a sound balance sheet and strong cash flow.
  • What does the future portend? This is a tricky question that does not lend itself to unsophisticated answers. See below for deeper insight into what you need to examine.
  • Are the financials accurate? For private sector employers, do not necessarily trust annual reports, prospectuses, SEC filings and the like since these are often “forward-looking” documents or documents that contain forward-looking statements that may – to put it kindly – cloud or even invert reality (see, e.g., Lehman Brothers Holdings rosy 8-K SEC filing dated less than a week before the firm imploded).

You need to do what you can to confirm that the information the company filed reflects reality. While legislators and regulators have made highly-publicized attempts to make public more accurate information (see, e.g., the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, a.k.a., the financial bailout bill; the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002; the Financial Modernization Act of 1998, a.k.a., Graham-Leach-Bliley), none of these has quite done the job.

Go into the financial online and print media to read whatever you can about your prospective employer. Savvy investors and interested citizens who paid attention to the writings of Yale economics Professor Robert Schiller (originator of the Case-Schiller Housing Index) would have had a much better handle on the bursting of both the dot.com bubble in 2000 and the housing bubble in 2007 in enough time to protect themselves and their investments.

Moreover, consult people likely to be in the know, such as industry officials and employees, industry trade association officers, staff and/or industry analysts and academics who focus on these issues. Caveat: filter what these individuals tell you through your own skepticism meter. They might have a point of view influenced by the position they hold, the organization they represent or whoever is paying them.

Public Companies

Publicly-traded companies are required to make public a wealth of financial information that is readily available through regulatory agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, among others. There is also a large amount of information to be found in articles about these firms.

Closely-Held Corporations

Privately-held company financial information is more difficult to unearth. Nevertheless, there is quite a lot of information available. You just have to know where to look (see below). If the prospective employer is a large company, the Internet is sure to have considerable information about it. Smaller companies are more of a mystery. Here is where you need to scan the local media in the place where the company is headquartered of located for information.


Companies registered under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code are required to file a fairly detailed financial report annually with the IRS (Form 990). These are available in a number of online locations. The Foundation Center’s 990 Finder contains the filings of many foundations, public charities and other nonprofits. Websites like Guidestar, Economic Research Institute, and Pro Publica have free search tools to access 990s.

Government Employers

Government agency financials are very easy to search. Information about budgets, authorizations and appropriations are readily available from federal websites. When contemplating a government job offer, some of the questions about financials need to be fine-tuned:

Is the budget adequate to the mission? This may be a difficult question to answer without going into detail about what the mission is…and what it might take to achieve it successfully. It also requires at least a modicum of knowledge and sophistication about the structure of government and how different missions within an agency relate to each other and to the overall legislative program and priorities of the agency and the administration.

For example, the Trump administration’s fiscal year 2020 budget proposal called for a 30 percent cut in funding for the Labor Department’s Office of Disability Employment Policy. A little Internet research reveals that the estimated unemployment rate of disabled Americans of working age is 70 percent. The Office, therefore, is confronted with a Herculean task, one that a review of articles about this subject tells you that the Office is hard-pressed to meet even at what in prior years passed for full funding levels.

Another aspect of a “state-of-the-art” approach to determining if you should accept a job offer from this agency would be to review the two prior fiscal year administration budget proposals and their congressional fate. You would have discovered that similar proposed cuts went down to legislative defeat in Congresses in which both houses were under Republican control. Mindful that in 2019 the House is Democratic, there would be a strong chance that the proposed cut will not occur.

Is the agency’s annual appropriation increasing, decreasing, flat? It is not enough to look only at an agency’s current or proposed budget and be content with your due diligence. You also have to look at trends, both past and future. For example, say you are interested in civil rights and would like to work for one of the federal government’s civil rights agencies, such as the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or the Commission on Civil Rights. You look at each agency’s annual budget and they look strikingly inadequate. You examine past budgets going back several years and observe that agency appropriations have been in steady decline. Your inclination therefore might be to search for employment elsewhere.

It is also easy to be misled by public sector budget information. Funds authorized to federal agencies, for example, are not “real” until they have been appropriated by Congress. If you go by the budget the President submits to Congress each February, or on the authorization bills Congress enacts as part of the budget process, you may still be mired in fantasyland. It’s the appropriations bills that pass Congress and are signed by the President that doles out the real money.

Next: Employer Due Diligence, Part 4-Tracking Employment Trends