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Interview with Marc Luber

Marc Luber Founder, JD Careers Out There

Marc, among other activities you are Founder of JDCOT. “Best Career Site” just one year after your launch, according to the ABA Journal annual poll. What inspired you to start this career site? In what way does it differ from other career sites? And what do people (your clients) notice from this?

I started JDCOT to help lawyers choose career paths that fit them so they can enjoy what they do and feel fulfilled. As a lawyer who has always enjoyed my work, I wanted to see others get to experience the same.

I’ve always used my law degree in alternative ways beyond the traditional practice of law. After originally working in the music industry doing a variety of things that included music licensing, I later became a legal recruiter. I first worked at a search firm in Los Angeles and then opened my own search firm.

As a recruiter, the number of unhappy lawyers I talked to every day was eye-opening. Way too many people told me they felt stuck in the wrong path. I felt their pain since I had been through that crossroads of concluding that Plan A wasn’t right – and I knew how hard that could be both emotionally and logistically.

Emotionally because, for a variety of reasons, we as lawyers tend to feel like failures when we conclude that law practice isn’t the right fit. And logistically because it’s not easy to figure out what you want or how to navigate your way to getting hired doing what you want.

Since I had put a ton of work and thought into both of my career changes, I learned what works and what doesn’t work. I knew if I could find fulfilling careers, other unhappy lawyers could too. And I knew I could make life easier for them by being their guide.

The topic of what careers people choose, what they actually do all day and why they like their work has always been a major passion of mine. I concluded that I could help people by combining that passion with my experience from working on my high school’s cable TV show as a news host and editor. Thanks to internet video, I could now create a talk show focused on careers. So I did.

First came Careers Out There, where I interviewed people from a wide variety of careers: from an OBGYN doctor to a paramedic to an economist to a carpenter. This led to a partnership with the McGraw-Hill Education Company, where I provided career interview videos for high schools across the U.S.

Then I decided to return my focus to lawyers, and JD Careers Out There was born. That name is a mouthful, so I copied IMDB and nicknamed it by saying each letter: JDCOT.

JDCOT’s original focus was the career path video library, featuring video interviews I conducted with lawyers working in a wide variety of careers both in and out of law. The video guests share everything you would want to know about their career paths – from what it’s really like to how to get hired in those paths. They also share general career advice in other videos across the site. This TV show format is probably what has made JDCOT differ from other career sites and led to our success with that ABA readers’ poll.

My audience has included senior lawyers, junior lawyers, law students and law school career centers. Subscribers to the full video series and those who have watched the free material have expressed their appreciation over the years for the exposure to the wide variety of careers, the honesty of the interview guests, and the thoroughness of the interviews. Practicing lawyers often tell me they wish they had learned in law school what they learn about careers from JDCOT. It’s always great to hear from the people who engage with the content.

You take an entrepreneur approach to offering career advice to legal professionals. You offer self-assessment tools, a video library, a guide for unemployed lawyers etc. Could you possibly elaborate a bit more on this approach?

My mission is to help people get unstuck and get to their happy place via a fulfilling career. Since different people learn differently, I offer a variety of ways to help them. Some people like human interaction, some don’t. Some like reading, some like watching and listening, some like data and test results. So I offer phone and Skype sessions with me, the video library, the Myers-Briggs personality testing, my own self-assessment questionnaire….I’m trying to help people however they like to be helped at a variety of price points so they can choose what best works for them.

I’ve been helping lawyers with their careers since 2003, which is the year I first became a legal recruiter. Thanks to what I’ve learned from that experience and my own career changes, I’m a big believer that everything starts with taking a good, hard look in the mirror. For a variety of reasons, this is something that lawyers don’t tend to do without some pressure. And I’d equate that to trying to navigate your way through a city with a blindfold on. So that’s why my approach pushes people to engage in self-reflection.

Recently you launched JD Refugee, a first-of-its-kind online course that serves as a step-by-step guide to career reinvention. What made you start this program and what does it bring to attorneys?

I started the JD Refugee class to help lawyers find and break into work that fits them where they could apply their legal skill set and background – whether that means doing something closely related to law or far removed from law. I often heard from people who loved learning about the different career possibilities from the JDCOT career video library, but they really wanted step-by-step help to get from point A to point B. Since I had learned so much from going through my career changes and devised a system for success that I applied my second time around, I concluded it was time to turn that into a step-by-step program so I could help others get results and save them time and frustration from what could be a challenging and confusing process.

The JD Refugee class helps attorneys do the serious self-reflection that law school should have helped them do. A holistic approach is used to help participants determine who they are, what they want and what they have to offer. Then we focus on connecting those profiles to career paths that fit. The class then shifts its focus to helping people communicate about themselves with employers, meet with people to determine their true interest in a career path, and network with people to navigate their way to getting hired without having to send their resume into a black hole.

The JD Refugee class is a mixture of videos, downloadable writing and thinking exercises, and optional group calls led by me. Scripts are even provided to help with getting and attending networking meetings.

If you have to choose 3 unique selling points which 3 should you choose to describe your business as an expert on career advice and why?

I am my clients. I’ve been through what they’re going through – and successfully found fulfillment on the other side twice. I’m a lawyer who chose not to practice law, had to figure out what type of work to do next that would be fulfilling, and had to fight my way into the right opportunity. Two times. I’m not just teaching theory or something I’ve read in a book.

Lawyers of all levels and backgrounds feel comfortable working with me. I’ve helped lawyers from the world of BigLaw and the top schools as well as from solo practices and unranked schools. As a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Chicago-Kent College of Law, I’m not personally a top law school grad or a BigLaw alum. But I know that world well thanks to my years of legal recruiting, where I was a trusted consultant for both lawyers and employers. I build all of my programs with the entire legal spectrum in mind and adapt live conversations to the specifics of any individual’s situation.

I listen and I care. That’s something you’ll hear a lot from lawyers who have interacted with me and my programs. Lawyers tend to be a skeptical type, so I think they expect that I’ll just take their money and leave them hanging! But I’m really here for them – and without judgment. I don’t know if Myers-Briggs personality types mean anything to you or your audience but I’m an ENFP. ENFPs are often entrepreneurs, career counselors, and psychologists. They are empathetic, outside-the-box thinkers who are oriented to the future and able to see the possibilities in people and things. This means it’s basically in my DNA to be doing the work I’m doing and providing the help I’m providing.

What’s your overall opinion on current legal education, the way law firms in general are organized (partnership model etc) and upcoming (innovative) tech strategies? How does that effect lawyers, their careers and the legal job market in general? Do you see differences between the Asian, American and European market?

There’s a lot to unpack there! I think the current legal education system needs to incorporate more career education into the curriculum. Many schools have a great career center filled with team members eager to help the students, but that career center essentially lives in a separate silo from the rest of the student’s education experience. Career center teams have to bribe students with pizza (often unsuccessfully) to get them to attend an event. Students often don’t connect the dots between the curriculum and their careers until after it’s too late. President Obama said a few years ago that law school should be a 2-year program. I feel if it’s going to continue to be 3 years, then the equivalent of a year needs to be devoted to learning the realities of a wide variety of careers and connecting the dots between the legal skillset and those realities.

As for how law firms are organized, I think business owners need to do what’s best for their businesses. But I will say that I fail to see how it’s good for morale for any organization to overwork their associates, provide a lack of feedback on their work product, and keep them in the dark indefinitely as to their status at the firm or their potential for partnership. These are issues I saw all too often at too many organizations. I think firms that have adapted to accommodate flexible schedules, parenting and feedback are doing a good thing for the careers of their teams, the happiness of their teams and I would assume the financial health of their organizations. But I haven’t reviewed any data on this, so I’m speaking only from gut.

Innovative tech strategies are of course continuing to shake things up. Some will look at this and say it’s going to wipe out legal jobs and others will look at it as opportunities for those who want a more tech-friendly job. My law school, which is affiliated with the Illinois Institute of Technology, is particularly strong in the area of preparing future lawyers for a more tech-oriented legal world.

I can’t really speak to differences in the Asian and European markets other than to say that European lawyers have written to me to express their appreciation for what I’m doing.

Do you think that Law Schools understand the need to change the traditional curriculum or at least give more attention to the business of law, including HR related topics like professional development, career planning etc.

It is essential that schools give more attention to the business of law. I would say that if law school continues to be a 3 year program in the U.S., that the business of law must be an essential part of the curriculum. The number of associates I encountered as a recruiter who had no idea about business development or how their lack of doing business development would negatively impact their careers was stunning. Many firms are so hush-hush about their business that the associates don’t learn the economics of a law firm. If MBA programs can teach networking and the economics of running a business, so can law degree programs. And they should.

As for professional development, I do think law firms have gotten much better at this since the 08 crash. It’s essential to morale to engage in professional development programs and training - starting with giving associates feedback on their work product. Systems need to be in place so that people know how they are doing, why they are doing what they’re doing, and what their efforts mean to the big picture (the client’s business, the firm’s business, etc.). Then there is the component of training for improvement – how to be better at lawyering, how to be a future leader, how to develop clients, how to nurture the clients you have, how to be a good communicator, how to communicate better with your team members both up and down the ladder, etc. All of this is key. It’s an area that interests me greatly.

When I worked in the marketing department at a record label, they had all of us spend a day working in a record store. This way we were able to see the customers who bought our music, see the sales people who sold our music, see the operation of the business that sold our products, etc. It’s really key to any business to understand the 360 degree view. Law schools and firms can both improve in this area. But I do think law firms have been moving toward the corporate world on this topic over the past decade.

As Law Schools are the breeding ground for lawyers, do you feel that changing the curriculum could help lawyers do a better job of thinking outside the box with respect to their careers?

One of the reasons that lawyers struggle to think outside the box with respect to their careers is the law school curriculum. I do believe that if the curriculum focused more on the variety of ways one can use their law degree, that opening of minds early on would go a long way in getting law grads to accept change and accept the idea of taking their law degree in different directions. If the curriculum focused on what skills are being developed as well as how those skills are in demand both in and outside the law bubble, it would open some mental gates that are otherwise padlocked. I also think that simply learning career path realities could go a long way. Many go into litigation because they liked a trial ad class, or a moot court program, or debating. But many end up finding the actual life of being a litigator to be too combative and petty. Learning realities before someone goes down the wrong path could save them from needing to make a change in midstream.

Another thing that I think should change is how school rankings in the US News & World Report are tied to the number of grads who get jobs requiring a JD. This downplays alternative careers and incentivizes schools to shepherd their students down the path to BigLaw or law firm life in general, regardless of whether that’s the best fit for the individual student.

What advice can you offer the young legal professionals about starting a legal career? And what to aspiring legal entrepreneurs about starting a company and working for a legal startup?

To anyone starting a legal career, I would advise them to stay in touch with their classmates from high school, college and law school. This is a painless way to always be networking. You never know who in that bunch could be your future client or lead you to your future client or next employment opportunity.

When you’re at work, don’t just focus on keeping your head down and getting through your work. Build relationships with the people around you – whether they’re older than you, younger than you or not even practicing law at your organization. Being a likeable team member goes a long way. And while you always want your work product to be good, the relationships you build will go a longer way in making your day-to-day and long term more fulfilling.

Never be afraid to ask for feedback. You deserve feedback – it’s in the short and long term best interest of the firm and the firm’s clients that you learn how to be better at what you’re doing.

As for aspiring legal entrepreneurs, I’d say let go of your risk aversion and fear of failure. It’s rare for any business venture to go exactly as planned. Entrepreneurship requires embracing risk and failure is how you’ll learn and grow. Be able to go with the flow, wear many hats, and pivot where and when you need to.

Do you have a closing remark?

I look forward to helping anyone reading this who is interested in exploring their career options.

You can check out the JD Refugee class here:

You can also learn more about the class and get some free guidance on making a career transition by watching this webinar: Thanks again.

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