June 6, 2014
by Ellen

Learning to Fall

My daughter is a gymnast. She’s just five years old (“five-and-a-half, which is really more like six,” if you ask her), so she’s still learning the basics. Watching her class last week, I realized something – her coaches are teaching her how to fall.  They’re teaching her how to turn a wobbly handstand into a somersault, how to hold her body and fall backwards into a pit, how to do a handstand on the beam and fall off onto a mat, how to flip around the bar and slowly lower herself to the ground. Sometimes she loses control and falls wrong. Sometimes it scares her. But her coaches pick her back up and she tries again. She’s learning how to overcome her fear of falling, the instinct to freeze, to panic, to flail, to lose control before she hits the ground. She’s learning what to do when it all goes wrong and she’s learning how to keep trying — because falling is inevitable in gymnastics. Even Gabby Douglas learned how to fall before she learned how to flip.

Sitting there, it dawned on me that how to fall is something we all need to learn. A “life lesson,” if you will, and a good one to have as you enter your professional career. When you start your first job, you’re afraid to make mistakes. You don’t want to look stupid, you don’t want to lose your boss’s respect, you want to be perfect. You’re afraid to fall. Maybe you freeze. You’re too careful, you don’t take risks, you never put yourself out there, you do exactly what’s expected of you, no less, no more – and you never get “noticed” by the higher-ups. You have an ordinary career with ordinary success and never reach the top. Your fear of falling keeps you from climbing higher.

Or maybe you do take a risk. Maybe you do put yourself out there — and fall. It may even be an epic fall, and you don’t know what to do. You could panic, you could lose control.  Or you could keep calm and control the fall. Admit your mistake. Ask your boss for help. Mitigate the damage. Then learn from it and try again…and again…and again. I’ve fallen a lot. I’m sure I’ll keep falling, and I’m sure I’ll be humiliated and feel like a total idiot many more times in my life. But that’s ok — I’m always better for it.

My first year out of law school, my firm was acting as local counsel for a firm in Chicago (I was still practicing in California at the time). We were representing a corporation in a lawsuit by the EEOC. One afternoon, the EEOC attorney called me a few minutes before 5pm, asking for an extension on a filing deadline that would run in less than an hour — they were having trouble with their copier. They couldn’t reach counsel in Chicago because of the time difference. I called Chicago myself but couldn’t reach anyone. I walked down to my boss’s office, but he had left for the day. It was up to me. In my experience, it was a professional courtesy for attorneys to cooperate on things like this — I had asked opposing counsel in other cases I handled for extensions and vice versa – so I agreed to a 24 hour extension. The next morning, Chicago counsel called me…. Apparently, opposing counsel had asked them for an extension earlier in the day and they had refused — it was a strategic move. My stomach sank. I felt like an idiot. I may have cost my firm a client, and I didn’t know what to do. As humiliated as I was, I went to my boss, told him about my mistake, and asked for help controlling the damage. While we couldn’t do anything about the extension, he was able to smooth things over with Chicago counsel so we didn’t lose the client. It could have been much worse.

When you make a mistake, especially a big one, it’s hard to get past it. You may find yourself dwelling on it or wanting to give up and never take a risk again. But that would be foolish. The beautiful thing about mistakes is that you can learn from them — they actually make you better. My mistake taught me to be more skeptical. Coming out of law school, having learned so much about ethics, I believed other attorneys would have the same standards — going into it, most young attorneys are a little naïve. My experience quickly disabused me of this notion and actually prepared me for another case I handled just a few months later, this time as lead counsel. Opposing counsel on that case would prove to be the most unethical, underhanded attorneys I ever dealt with, but having learned my lesson the first time, I never fell for their attempts to gain an unfair advantage. I succeeded because of it.

Falling down, getting back up, and learning from the experience made me a better attorney. My subsequent success also overshadowed my initial mistake — a year later, that same Chicago firm recruited me. If I had given up or withdrawn into the background, forever unsure of myself, I never would have gained that opportunity.

We all make mistakes. We all fall. It’s how we fall and what we do when we hit the ground that determines our fate — not the fall itself. Don’t let the fear of falling keep you from trying, and don’t let your mistakes devastate you. Learn from them and move on. If my five year old can do it, so can you.

May 28, 2014
by Ellen

Your First Day

Many of you are starting your internships in the coming days, so here are five things to think about for your first day:

1. Map and test your commute. Know exactly how to get to your office and where to park, and try it out during the morning rush hour to get the timing right. Then, on the day of, leave earlier than you think you need to — by at least 15 minutes. It’s one of those laws of the universe that the one time it is absolutely necessary that you get somewhere on time, disaster strikes… so be prepared. You may even want to plot an alternate route, just in case. If you get there too early to head up to the office, you can always sit at Starbucks for a bit and collect yourself.

2. Don’t be shy. If you’re an introvert like me, silence is your go-to response in new situations. But you have to resist the urge to retreat behind the walls of your cubicle. Instead, pretend like you’re actually comfortable in the new environment. If you’re really freaked out, think about someone you respect who is really outgoing and confident in any setting — do what you think they would do. After a few successful introductions, you’ll start to feel better. And if you have a question, ask!

3. Accept the lunch invite. I guarantee you that someone will ask you to lunch on your first day. It may be your boss, a few new colleagues, or both. At one of my first jobs, it was actually a “welcome lunch” in the conference room with all of the partners and just one other new associate — a very nice gesture that felt more like being interviewed (and totally killed my appetite). But no matter what the lunch hour brings, accept it with a smile, order something that won’t drip down your chin or get stuck in your teeth, and enjoy yourself. (A note on paying: Be sure you bring enough cash for lunch in case you go somewhere and need to split the check. If they want to buy you lunch, protest a little at first, but then accept if they insist –and don’t forget to say “thank you.”)

4.  Don’t leave early. You probably won’t have enough work to keep you busy for a full workday, but leaving early doesn’t leave a good impression. If your boss hasn’t assigned you a task, ask for something. If there really isn’t anything for you to work on yet, spend the time getting accustomed to the firm’s IT setup. How does the email work? What about the calendar? Is there a research system you need to learn? Where are the office supplies? Do you need anything for your desk? Does your desk phone work and how do you use it? Of course, the answers will require some asking — take the opportunity to get to know the people you work with. Then, when everyone else starts to go home, you can follow their lead.

5. Accept the after work social invite.  Have a clear schedule for after work because, as with lunch, a few of your new colleagues may want to get to know you better over drinks. That’s cool, you should go. But whatever you do, don’t get sloshed. You may want to, since you did just survive one of the most stressful days of your career, but resist the urge. Don’t be afraid to stick with soda (you do have to drive home after all), and if you do drink, just have one and nurse it. Also, be friendly and stay 100% positive — don’t complain about your day or say anything bad about anyone you met, even if that’s what everyone else is doing. You need to keep all doors open — it takes more than one day to figure out how to fit in, and you don’t want to provide gossip material.

For more great advice on how to make your first day count, check out Jacquelyn Smith’s “19 Things You Should Do On Your First Day Of Work” ( http://www.businessinsider.com/what-to-do-your-first-day-of-work-2014-2#ixzz332DeMa2H ).

May 23, 2014
by Ellen

What NOT to Do at Your New Job

Congrats to the class of 2014! You guys are finally starting the next phase — welcome to the “real world.” Maybe you accepted an offer from the firm where you did your internship or maybe you’re headed somewhere else, but either way, there are some things (some obvious, some not) you should avoid. Here’s a paraphrase of a few suggestions from Margaret Steen, a career advisor at Monster.com:

1. Going in “guns a-blazing”: Don’t try to take the initiative too soon. You need to get settled and observe how things are done before you start trying to offer new ideas for how to make it better. Otherwise, you’ll look presumptuous and arrogant.

2. Hiding in your cubicle: While you should make waves right away, you also shouldn’t be so quiet as to not get to know your new environment and the people in it. Introduce yourself to everyone you come across, ask to join others who sit near you for lunch, be an active observer.

3. Crossing a line you didn’t know was there: You need to learn the unspoken rules — can you listen to your iPod at your desk? Can you use a laptop during meetings? How long should you take for lunch? These are the kinds of things that you need to know before you embarrass yourself or make a bad first impression.

Check out the full list: “Eight Mistakes to Avoid in Your First ‘Real’ Job: What Not to Do When Entering the Professional Workforce for New Grads (and Everyone Else)”: http://career-advice.monster.com/in-the-office/starting-a-new-job/eight-mistakes-to-avoid-in-your-first-real-job-hot-jobs/article.aspx .


May 16, 2014
by Ellen

Launching Your Grad School Career

It was great to see everyone at the LMAS Launch on Wednesday! I hope you enjoyed the activities and made some new friends. In the next week or so, we will post some pictures and other notes, so stay tuned.

Many of you are entering the program directly from undergrad, but it’s important to know that grad school is different — it is a whole new ballgame, so to speak, and requires a new approach. Here are ten nuggets from my own experience (some of which I wish someone had told me!):

1. You want to be here, you chose to be here, so act like it. Grad school is where you learn how to be a professional. This is the foundation for your career, so take it seriously.

2. Do all of the assigned work, and do your best. Don’t cut corners. It is actually important that you learn the material because you will need it when you get out into the real world (and take the CPA).

3. If you don’t get it, ask your professor. Don’t be afraid to talk with your professors — they want to help you. Plus, they’re all great people (I know because I’ve met them) and will be an invaluable resource now and in the future.

4. Make friends. Join a study group and student organization(s), go to all the department social events, talk with the people in your classes. This is called “networking” — something you will have to do in your career, if you want to maximize your success. Learn how to do it now, and it will be easier later.

5. Take care of yourself. The workload in grad school is typically double or even triple that in undergrad, so you will be studying long hours. That’s a good thing, but be sure to keep yourself balanced. Now is the time to break the undergrad, “party as much as possible” mentality. If you try to maintain that lifestyle, you will fail, big time. Instead, focus on being healthy — get in shape, be mindful of your eating habits, and get enough sleep. Basically, give your brain what it needs for optimal performance.

6. Subscribe to a professional journal. You should start acquainting yourself with the accounting world — what are accountants talking about these days? What are the issues you may be expected to know about? This is “dinner party” conversation material. Ok, you may not go to many dinner parties, but you get the idea — learn the topics you need to know to have a good conversation with (and impress) a future employer or a potential contact.

7. Think long term and prepare accordingly. What’s next? The CPA. How will you study for the CPA? Read my post about studying for the CPA, then start the skeletons of your outlines. As you cover the material in your classes, fill in the outlines accordingly. This will not only make studying for the CPA easier, it will also make studying for your exams easier — you will have one more opportunity to go through and master the material. Plus, it will reveal to you where you need more information or what you’re not quite clear on, and you will have the perfect opportunity to talk it over with your professor while the material is still fresh in your mind.

8. Start building a professional wardrobe. Ok, I know this sounds weird, but have you noticed just how expensive nice, professional attire is? If you start now, you can buy things bit by bit — a suit here, a dress shirt and some nice shoes there…. You get the idea. When you start your internship or enter your first real position, you will still be a poor grad student who eats ramen noodles every night – not exactly in the position to spend big bucks on a wardrobe. To avoid that, start now and build it gradually.

9. Use all of the resources available to you. There are a lot of people here to help you. Take me, for instance. I am in the LPDC M/W from 9am-3pm every week and Clare is here T/TH 10am-4pm. Come see us! I can help you with pretty much anything (except the technical stuff, of course). I’d be happy to go over your writing and presentations with you. I can also help you devise a study plan or personal schedule (I love structure). I can help you brainstorm ideas for your assignments. I can just sit with you and chat, too. Seriously, come on in and say hello. Jen, Jeff, and Barry are also here to help, so don’t hesitate to contact them, either.

10. Smile. Attitude is everything — in school as in the workplace, people who have positive attitudes are more successful and more respected by their supervisors and peers than those who act indifferently, or worse, like they don’t want to be there in the first place.

One more thing: CONGRATULATIONS!!!! You’ve made it through college and have reached the next level. You should be really proud of yourself :)

May 7, 2014
by Ellen

The Economics of Climate Change

The long-awaited “National Climate Assessment,” which “summarizes the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future,” was released this week. “A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences.” Their conclusion: “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present…. While scientists continue to refine projections of the future, observations unequivocally show that climate is changing and that the warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases. These emissions come mainly from burning coal, oil, and gas, with additional contributions from forest clearing and some agricultural practices” (You can read the entire report here: http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report )

The major focus of the business community has been the economic impact of both climate change itself and the proposed solutions. As Alicia Mundy and Colleen McCain Nelson explain in their Wall Street Journal blog post, “Five Things to Know About the Climate Change Report,” “the big takeaway from the National Climate Assessment released Tuesday morning is that man-made climate change is affecting the U.S. economy and the everyday lives of Americans. The congressionally mandated study says extreme weather has already cost the U.S. billions of dollars, and it will only get worse” ( http://blogs.wsj.com/five-things/2014/05/06/5-takeaways-to-know-about-the-climate-change-report ). This certainly is a conundrum: ignoring climate change and continuing business as usual will hurt the economy as we are exposed to more severe weather events, but taking the measures necessary to mitigate immediate effects and reduce future harm isn’t exactly free, either, and would require some of the most established industries (oil, coal, and gas) to change their practices, possibly reducing their profits.

There is no lack of economists putting forth ideas for how to address climate change in a way that would minimize harm to or even benefit the economy. For example, Henry Jacoby, an economist at MIT’s business school, suggests that the best way to solve the problem is to tax carbon emissions. While he acknowledges that such a tax would increase the cost of oil and other carbon-emitting energy sources, which on its face appears to harm the economy, the tax — because it is a tax — would raise revenue that could be returned to the economy in the form of tax cuts in other areas (i.e., income taxes) and ultimately be neutral, or even beneficial, to the economy (http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2013/06/28/196355493/economists-have-a-one-page-solution-to-climate-change ). And there are many, many more solutions being put forth by economists, liberal and conservative alike.

Which brings me to the point — why should you care? Because the economics of climate change is one of those “current events” type issues that may come up in conversation with your colleagues (“dinner party conversation,” if you will). You should be able to talk intelligently about it – do some reading, understand the arguments, and be ready to weigh-in should the opportunity arise.

Current issues of the Wall Street Journal  are a good place to start. Check out this article: “Climate Change Is Harming Economy, Report Says,” (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303417104579545510182551226?mod=mktw ), and then follow the links to additional articles on the same topic. You may find that the economics of climate change are more interesting than you thought!