I can’t lie, I have a pretty good job. As director of industry relations for Avvo, I connect with key people and organizations inside and outside the legal industry and try to get them to know and, I hope, like me and my employer. I use Twitter regularly for my job (really!) and a usual week is filled with writing blog posts and articles, collaborating with internal colleagues on strategies to build relationships and expand our presence in important markets, talking to lawyers and legal leaders throughout the country, coffee and lunch meetings with local folks and people passing through Seattle, and thinking about who Avvo is as a company and how we want to be represented to lawyers. The billable hour is a fast-fading memory, and “success” is getting our name and brand in front of lawyers in various geographies and key practice areas throughout the country.
But I didn’t get here on good looks alone. Nor was it my only networking deft and professional acumen. While I chalk my landing a great spot up to dumb luck, a few pieces of key advice and some important decisions played a role in my transition from the formal practice of law into a non-traditional role.
I’ll share three of those:, Jim Carrey; “Doing;” and Twitter.
Like many lawyers who have left or aspire to leave traditional law practice, I didn’t have to practice for very long—less than two years—to know that traditional law practice wasn’t for me. However, also like many lawyers, I had no idea what I wanted to do instead of practicing. This is where Jim Carrey comes in.
Six or seven years ago, Jim Carrey made a movie called Yes Man in which he is rendered unable to say “no.” The story arc of Yes Man is the transformation of Carrey’s character as he learns to accept the good things that can come by saying “yes” and by denying the natural tendency to say “no.” The movie also includes a fabulous scene in which Carrey’s prior willingness to take a guitar lesson comes in surprisingly and hilariously handy.
A key starting point to transition out of the traditional practice was adopting a Yes Man philosophy of saying “yes” to professional development opportunities when I normally would have said “no.” Not unlike Jim Carrey in some silly situations in Yes Man, I said “yes” when there was only a sliver of reason to do so. And the results were great. Two examples:
Not long after I adopted the Yes Man philosophy, I received a cold email from the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) membership asking for volunteers to create CLE programs that would be marketed specifically to new lawyers. I wanted to say “no.” I wasn’t particularly excited about developing CLE programming or recruiting faculty members to present the programming. Besides I was a busy lawyer with a young family. But, I was passionate about trying to ease the pain of new lawyers and helping them navigate their first few years in practice. I also knew I wanted to do something else and this opportunity looked marginally interesting. I said “yes” and volunteered.
The committee was great! I learned how to organize CLE programming, which is some of what I do now, but I also made great connections at the WSBA. These connections led to my appointment to a subsequently organized commission on the future of the legal profession. And it was on this commission that I first met the CEO of Avvo, which was a big piece of my landing my current job.
I also said “yes” to a solicitation to join the American Bar Association Law Practice Division (LP). This, too, was a response to a cold email from the LP. At the time, LP was called the “Law Practice Management Section” and I remember thinking, as others have expressed about the group’s unfortunate name, that the group was only for law firm managers. I wondered if I, a lowly associate at a small firm in Seattle, would even be allowed to join. But I also thought to myself, “Well, if there is a group in the ABA that I would want to join, this is probably it. And, as it looks like they’re talking about things that are interesting to me, and they’re asking me to join, I might as well toss my hat in the ring.” So I did.
They accepted my application and, as it turned out, LP was open to people like me joining. My connection to LP has been very valuable. I’ve traveled to a number of its meetings, gotten some money to do so, connected to a great national network of legal technology professionals, and published a bunch of my writing.
I found these opportunities, and many others, because something somewhat interesting came my way and I, like Jim Carrey in Yes Man, chose to be open and say “yes.”
Around the same time I began to imitate Jim Carrey in Yes Man, I had a networking interview with a friend of a friend named Larry Hoffman, who does organizational development for Amazon.com. I had initially reached out to Larry because I was exploring organizational development as a possible career path, and that’s where the interview began. But, perhaps not surprising given Larry’s background in OD, we ended up discussing my career direction more broadly. Larry gave me lots of great advice but one piece has stuck with me. He said:
“The best way to figure out what you want is to do something. Whatever it is, just start doing something. You’ll learn more by actually striking out and doing something than you ever will from thinking about doing or even talking to lots of people about doing. Instead, just get started.”
While I had already started doing a few things, Larry’s advice created in me a stronger urgency for action. Shortly after meeting with Larry, I began my blog. Although my readership was minimal to begin with (more on that later) the important thing was that I started. In this same spirit of doing, I later co-founded a local legal tech and innovation MeetUp group. It’s subsequently grown to over 300 members. More broadly, I began to ask myself more regularly: “What am I doing?” Then, as now, if I’m not actually doing anything, but instead thinking, or talking, or convincing myself I shouldn’t be acting, then I know I need to get out and, as Larry put it, start doing.
A third major turning point was my decision to start using Twitter. Twitter has had a huge impact on my blog readership and been incredibly valuable in connecting me with a network of likeminded people—a community—that I previously had no idea existed.
I initially signed up for Twitter to try to impress a “thought leader.” I was a subscriber to his newsletter and he sent an email to recruit a network of evangelists who would promote his new book. The qualifications to be an evangelist included a “healthy social media following.” While I really wanted to be an evangelist, my social media following was menial: I had a few hundred connections on LinkedIn and I had my blog. That was it. I wasn’t on Facebook and I wasn’t on Twitter.
I started with Twitter. And, while I wasn’t able to convince the thought leader to take me as an evangelist then, Twitter’s effect on my blog readership as well as my professional network has been significant. Let’s start with the blog. I started my blog in May 2011 and I joined Twitter almost two years later in February 2013. Comparing the first 20 months of my blog traffic before Twitter with only the first four months of traffic after Twitter, traffic to the blog increased more than seven-fold.
And promotion of my blog on Twitter during those initial months in 2013 was rather limited. I announced new posts (usually only one time) when they went live, occasionally shared links to older posts in relevant conversations on Twitter, and included a link to my blog in my profile.
More broadly, comparing the stats of May 2011 and January 2013 time period with the following 22 months (February 2013 and December 2014) shows an even more dramatic effect. The blog has had over 10,000 visits since February 2013, including almost 1,200 visits in November 2014 alone.
The 2013-2014 period coincided with my pursuing other strategies to drive traffic to my blog, but the influence of Twitter in “getting my name out” was significant.
Twitter also connected me to a network of people throughout the country and all over the world who were having discussions, sharing content, and attending events related to the topic of my blog. These newfound allies built my confidence by sharing and commenting on my blog posts, sharing information about events, and, in some cases, even inviting me to attend and participate in their events. I have deepened my relationship with many of these people beyond Twitter as well. We have emailed, jointly drafted blog posts, and met in person when we can. Finally, this network proved very valuable when I was interviewing for my job at Avvo. My future colleagues at Avvo saw that I already knew a lot of the people that they knew and many who they wanted to know. It was a key reason that they hired me.
I can’t say whether I would have eventually met these people or how relationships with them might have developed without Twitter but I can say this: in the time it would have taken to get to know even a half dozen of these people in person, I not only got to know hundreds of them but I was also able to share ideas with many of them over Twitter.
I can’t overstate the role that Twitter has played in my career development, at least in the last few years. Not only was Twitter a window, a portal, to connect and share ideas with amazing people, it was a megaphone of tremendous strength. It’s been a powerful tool in my career.
My career transition from practicing lawyer to legal marketer was not made on only three things. Other things like old fashioned networking, blogging, sticking my neck out, and good fortune aided Jim Carrey, “Doing,” and Twitter. While I would never go so far as to guarantee that Yes Man or Twitter alone, or even together, will have a significant impact on someone’s career development, I can guarantee that Larry Hoffman’s advice, “doing,” is a great start for anyone who wants to leave traditional practice, or, really, make any kind of transition. Come to think of it, though, being open and saying “yes” probably won’t hurt either.
About the Author
Dan Lear is the director of industry relations for Avvo, an online legal directory and Q&A forum. He can be reached on Twitter at @rightbrainlaw.