Though they graduated only one year apart, Franci J. Blassberg '77 and Valerie Ford Jacob '78 never spoke during their time at Cornell Law School. But they became friends years later, after working opposite sides of a transaction in New York City, and now that they're founders and partners in Big Law Coaches, they returned to campus to share some tricks of the trade.
"It's not like law school," said Blassberg, of counsel and retired partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, talking in Myron Taylor Hall on November 6. "You have to show up every day wearing your game face. You have to keep making eye contact, which is one of the most important ways to show your commitment to the job. And if you can't fit comfortably into your firm's culture, you need to rethink your plans."
"You are the asset, and every hour you're at work, you need to be focused and efficient," said Jacob, partner and co-head of the Global Capital Markets Practice at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, discussing the economics of practicing law. "Lawyers are professionals, but law firms are businesses. Get into good habits on recording your time, be proactive, and have the confidence to take on as much as you can."
In September, Blassberg and Jacob inaugurated their business in midtown Manhattan with a day-long "Big Law Basic Training," presenting a crash course in the transition from successful law student to successful law associate. With two lifetimes of experience, they offered practical, unvarnished advice on acclimating to law firm culture, finding your best practice area, developing presentation skills, working with staff members, understanding how associates are evaluated, and gaining from the wisdom of your colleagues.
In the coming year, they'll host two more New York City workshops, with one in May for summer associates and one in August or September for new associates. For each participant, Blassberg and Jacob provide a one-on-one coaching session as a follow up to the basic training, and offer ongoing mentoring for associates who'd like to continue working together.
"We've been doing this informally with friends and friends of friends for some period of time," said Blassberg, talking after the lecture. "It's important for young associates to have experienced lawyers guiding and grounding them in the realities of working at a law firm. Many firms already do a good job teaching substantive skills, so our approach is really different. We're teaching people about expectations that go beyond the quality of their work, about the best ways for people to approach their work. And because we're independent, we're able to give opinions that are less focused on the firm and more focused on the lawyer."
"There are very few mentoring opportunities like this available to associates, whether they're at big firms, small firms, or medium-sized firms," said Jacob. "Franci and I are very different, and we bring a breadth of experience that people may not be able to find elsewhere. Whatever environment they're in, or whatever environment they want to be in, our goal is to help them succeed.
"If you want to be specific," she added, "it's a labor of love."