Michael Haugen 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Perspectives of Tomorrow’s Leaders In the world of law and litigation support, company profiles range from sole practitioners to firms with hundreds of staff, managers and partners. Industry leaders who guide these firms worked their way from the entry-level ranks to the positions they hold today and tomorrow’s leaders will do the same. While a senior management or ownership role in a firm is an admirable aspiration, the reasons, path, and experiences each professional endures to get there is different. In this article some of the sharpest legal and forensic accounting “Young Guns,” loosely defined as persons on the cusp of becoming future leaders of their firms, come together to share their perspectives on career choice, getting started in their professions, transitioning into a leadership role and what it means to network without the benefit of having the “grey hair” that comes with more years of experience. It is not uncommon for attorneys, when asked why they decided to practice law, to wittily respond before discussing what truly drew them to the profession. Alison Christian, of Christian, Dichter & Sluga, P.C., joked that she decided to become an attorney because of a “genetic disorder her father passed on” before discussing that she was attracted to the legal profession because it is “intellectually challenging, fast-paced, and diverse.” And although the intellectual aspects of practicing law are a central reason to why many attorneys join the profession, such challenges represent only a portion of the many moving parts that led Kurt Maahs of O’Connor & Campbell, PC to practice trial law. Mr. Maahs stated, “I found that the ability to argue in front of a jury was the most exciting part of the law for me. The challenge is much different than just the intellectual challenges that face lawyers in offices across the country on a daily basis. Trial law is a unique merging of the intellectual challenges of competing theories, rules and cases, and the interpersonal relationships forged between attorneys, witnesses and jurors, the combination of which truly gives the law life.” Pursuing a career as an attorney or a litigation support consultant, and actually joining either profession, are two very different ideas; the former being more akin to a choice and the later more of a goal. Both professions require extensive higher education and professional licensure to become a Young Gun. Trey Lynn, of Schneider & Onofry, noted that “entering the legal profession was much more difficult than [he] had anticipated” and how “the experience taught [him] a great deal about perseverance and hard work.” Stories like this demonstrate how the legal arena is not for those that are faint of heart. Due to the barriers inherent in entering the legal profession, many Young Guns had to think outside the box to land their first opportunity. Paul Sheston, of Renaud Cook Drury Mesaros, P.A. recalled, “In order to get my first summer associate position at a law firm, I offered to work for free for the first half of the summer. I told the partners that if after the first six weeks they didn’t like my work, we would go our separate ways with no hard feelings. However, if after the first six weeks they wanted to keep me, I would have to be paid for the second half of the summer. What I didn’t mention at the time was that I needed six weeks of unpaid internship hours to get the credits I needed to graduate early from law school. After the first six weeks, the firm elected to hire me on for the rest of the summer. I eventually had to come clean about the unpaid credit because I needed them to sign the forms for school. We all had a good laugh about it.” It is not long after entering the post-collegiate world before a disconnect between academia and the real world becomes evident. Tim Tribe, of Epps Forensic Consulting, noted how in the first six months of his career he would “look at work [he] was expected to complete and think – I have two degrees in accounting and still don’t know what I’m looking at.” Although it wasn’t long before Mr. Tribe was producing deliverables unsupervised, the fact of the matter, and it goes without saying, is that Young Guns will not have all the answers. Knowing this, senior managers play an important role as mentors for tomorrow’s leaders. Paul Kular, of Potts & Associates, spoke to this when he said “…as a young lawyer, I was very fortunate to have the guidance and support of many people, who helped me with my understanding and learning of the practice of law.” Mr. Kular joined the State Bar of Arizona Mentor Committee in 2011 to reciprocate the support he once received, to new attorneys. As much as guidance from senior management will tailor a Young Gun’s professional development, so too will their own experiences. Without an extensive background of the “do’s and don’ts” in their respective fields, entry-level experiences for both attorneys and litigation support consultants can be some of the most memorable and influential. Mr. Maahs told one such story, “My third jury trial was as a prosecutor in a small Midwestern town. I didn’t fully understand the concept of an attorney relating to jurors until that trial. The defense attorney showed up in a sports jacket, topsiders and a tie with a tiger on it. He didn’t look or talk like what I thought a lawyer should look or talk like. Throughout the trial, his personality shined. He became his client by being his mouthpiece. When the jurors thought of the client, they thought of his attorney. He also earned their trust. That experience has forever embedded in my mind that a successful trial attorney must connect with the jury on a visceral and emotional level.” First time experiences like this are not limited to learning only the hard skill sets of a profession. Young Guns are challenged daily by managing expectations of working for multiple senior managers. And while learning how to meet such expectations can be difficult, it is mandatory to succeeding as an associate attorney or staff consultant. May Lu, of Tiffany & Bosco, P.A., shared her insight that as a new attorney one of the most difficult positions to be placed in “is [to] have the same deadline for two emergency projects from two partners.” She continued to discuss that her success in meeting both partners’ expectations, without jeopardizing work quality, was accomplished by communicating the convergent deadlines with the partners and developing an action plan as a team. After gaining years of experience, Young Guns begin transitioning into leadership roles. Some of the challenges faced as an entry-level associate fade, only to be replaced by new challenges that come with the added responsibility – in today’s competitive environment “networking” might be chief amongst them. The efforts Young Guns make towards networking are going to be different from senior management’s. Not only because of demographic differences, but also because Young Guns do not have years’ worth of relationship building behind them. The fact of the matter, as Flynn Carey, of Gallagher & Kennedy, P.A. put it, is that “networking is a long-term commitment, and it is unreasonable to expect immediate results.” The key to networking as a Young Gun is to get out there and practice. Everyone will have their own style; what works for one person may not work for the next. For Dave Sutherland, of Epps Forensic Consulting, he “enjoys learning about the individual; for example, their hobbies, families, and interests.” He feels it is important to build a foundation of trust because “let’s face it; you are not going to work with someone you do not know.” The good news is that transitioning into a leadership role as a Young Gun takes time; and it is during this time you build the skills needed to manage the added responsibilities. Ms. Lu discussed how she didn’t just walk into her office one day to begin managing cases, but that the transition came about over time as senior management instilled confidence in her and she began coaching new attorneys. Ben Himmelstein, of Wong Fujii Carter, PC, speaks to this timeline by reminding Young Guns that the transition into a management role does not happen overnight. He encourages entry-level professionals to “stay focused and positive. Rome was not built in a day.” As a Young Gun of Epps Forensic Consulting, looking at a future career path of 35 plus years can be intimidating. As exciting as the challenges are from my viewpoint today, I know that my experiences will change my perspective as a forensic accountant. It is with that understanding that I find it important to remember where I have come from to better understand where I am going. After all, today’s Young Guns are tomorrow’s leaders!
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