How has your practice evolved in the last few years?
My career consulting practice began when I was trying to find a way to work part-time as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. I researched and got involved in career issues by helping to found and grow a Chicago Bar Association committee and then a national group to promote alternative work options for lawyers. It quickly became clear to me that there were many career and work-life issues that needed to be addressed that included, but went beyond, part-time work. I began to write and speak about these issues and started meeting with lawyers who had career problems.
At first I met with clients in restaurants like Au Bon Pain, but one day when I asked one of my clients to tell me her dreams for her future career, she burst into tears in the middle of our lunch meeting and I realized I needed to have a private office! I had been a social worker before going to law school, and I could see that the counseling model I had as a social worker was useful for career counseling. In 1990 I formally opened my practice. Since then I have counseled and coached over 3,500 attorneys (and some other professionals and new graduates). I work with everyone from new lawyers to mid-career to senior lawyers with a wide variety of career problems.
I have seen remarkable changes in the profession from my vantage point. The field continues to evolve. We are experiencing a contraction in the market that has occurred because of the economic downturn as well as new models for the delivery of legal services–such as Legal Zoom and other Internet-inspired modalities–as well as new pressures on law firms to conform to client demands for changes in billing structures and price reductions. Finding opportunities for work and finding clients in this shifting terrain is both challenging and daunting, but also exciting. What I have seen is that it is no longer enough to be a good worker as a lawyer. It matters a great deal that you also have good people skills and emotional intelligence. If you have those additional abilities, your opportunities will be far more extensive and your success will be greater.
If you could offer one piece of advice for young lawyers, what would it be?
The advice I would offer is, as you work your way to your goal, be generous and helpful to others. Connect people with each other and do your bit to make the world around you better. I tell my clients, when they are meeting with someone, always try to figure out what they could do to make this person’s life a little better. Give small gifts to others: gifts of information, connection, support, help, listening and affirming. It may seem sometimes that some of the nastier people in the world are getting ahead, but watching careers over many years, I can say with certainty that what goes around comes around. Those who are helpful to others, do better in life. This approach is what I term rapid relationship and trust building and it teaches job seekers how to use emotional intelligence and generosity on a quest for a job. This approach is consistent with research that shows that only about 3% of jobs are found through online portals and over 70% of jobs are landed by insiders, namely people already known and trusted by the potential employer.
What is the one technological device you could not function without daily?
My cell phones – one business line and one personal line. Oh, and my computer and iPad. I guess one is not enough. I need four devices!
How has civility made a difference in your practice of law?
Civility is absolutely crucial. Even in a big city, the legal community is small. People know (or can easily find out) who is ethical and who is not. People know who is a solid citizen and who is not. There is a buzz in the legal “neighborhood” and if you want to be successful, you want the buzz about you to be positive.
What do you do for fun?
I love spending time with family and friends, going to movies with my husband, playing tennis, watching House of Cards, Game of Thrones, The Daily Show, and other fun TV series.
Sheila Markin Nielsen has been counseling attorneys for thirty years. Now, in her role with Nielsen Career Consulting, Ms. Nielsen has been an invited speaker for numerous law schools, bar associations and legal organizations. She has written for the Illinois Legal Times as a career columnist and contributed to various published works. Ms. Nielsen has been honored for her commitment to alternative work options and currently works with large and mid-sized firms across Chicago with outplacement and executive coaching needs.