When we hire a new team member, we want them to fulfill a gap or develop an opportunity for our business, or perhaps a little bit of both. Some hires are an immediate role that performs tasks the business requires, but some hires are also an investment in that person and a new component of your business. In other cases, this person can go on to enhance processes, operations, and even the culture and vision of your organization. It can depend on how intentional you are with the influence people can have on a team, department, or entire company.
In a remote world with a pool of team members growing larger every day, diverse backgrounds continue to be an opportunity to expand the breadth of expertise we can provide to clients and challenge the legal status quo with a traditional air of rigidness. In this podcast, we talk about other disciplines, studies, and values that young lawyers may be able to adopt to potentially “bring more to the table” than astute legal comprehension and ability.
What does a background in cryptocurrency and NFTs do for a law firm, besides potentially navigating accepting it as a form of payment? Does a high degree of Computer Science knowhow mean a lawyer is going to be able to build you custom case management software, or expound insight on a cybersecurity lawsuit? Diversity of experience and education isn’t just the ability to execute within certain technical parameters; it is the ability to speak and think in potentially abstract or literal fields to assist without completely capitulating to the legal protocol at every juncture.
The following interview has been transcribed for our readers from rev.com. Please excuse any discrepancies from the transcription.
Today in Legal Mastermind podcast, we have Juyoun-Han, she’s going to take us through ways that young attorneys can establish themselves as experts early on in their career. And welcome to the Legal Mastermind podcast Juyoun.
Hi, thank you for having me.
For listeners that aren’t familiar with who you are or what you do, can you give us a brief background?
Sure. I’m a partner at Eisenberg & Baum. We’re a private boutique law firm based in New York City. I’m also a fellow at NYU Law Engelberg Center. And the kind of practice that I have built up is essentially civil rights litigation that’s focused on technology. So it’s broadly encompassing algorithmic bias and discrimination, data privacy, and some art and NFT and intellectual property issues that come up.
That’s very cool. I know when I was starting my career in marketing, it was just kind of when digital was coming out and the only person that I knew that was working digital marketing was Ryan. And so I went to interview for a job and I’m like, “What is this?” And he’s like, “This is what a clickthrough rate is.” And so it was easier to break into the industry when 80% of the public didn’t understand it. And even though the jobs posting says “must have 10 years digital marketing experience.” It’s like it doesn’t really make sense because it didn’t exist as it is. So I’m sure that translates now when you’re talking about NFTs, talking about data privacy, talking about AI, because that’s evolving very rapidly. So go ahead.
That’s really interesting because when you say digital marketing, it’s such a broad field now. And I could imagine when you were starting out, it must have sounded like such a niche field that nobody really knows what it is unless you’re an expert or some Yoda in that field. And similarly, I think technology and litigation, data privacy concepts, and cryptocurrency, what have you, there’s a lot of jargon associated with these fields, but when you look at it a layer below or maybe on a little bit of a macro level, it’s something that we’re all very accustomed to in some ways. I think about how I would often ask my high school interns about gaming platforms. I ask about social media platforms and they are experts. They can call themselves experts in the field without getting a computer science degree on the field.
And so how you define expertise, how you define familiarity and how you put yourself out there as an expert, I think is a very creative concept. I would not want to say that you can oversell yourself in any way, but I think you can creatively develop how you can tell another person here’s what I’m familiar with, and here’s my area of expertise and interest, and passion. So I kind of relate to what you say. And I think technology sets a threshold, but essentially, it comes down to same issues, same risk, same business models, and just put differently in a more creative sphere. So I would want to kind of dispel any kind of expertise-related nerves out there when it comes to technology.
It’s funny what you were mentioning about expertise. And it makes me think about, especially when it comes to cryptocurrency, NFTs, all these emerging fields, but a buddy of mine sent me a link and said, “Oh, I’m going down to Miami. I’m going to like the biggest cryptocurrency conference in the world.” And you look at the panel and you see some people that look authoritative, whether it be how they present themselves or whether it be if has anything to do with seniority from like a age standpoint or their title, you have this panel and it’s supposed to be a panel of experts. And a lot of the people on it are graphics of like an animal or like a wizard, but they’re on the panels and they’re presented as experts. So it’s so interesting to see that this perception of expertise is and someone being an expert doesn’t have to be so traditional, especially in spaces like this.
I completely agree with it. And I think this is when I say this. I mean, technology is a space where younger up-and-coming artists, up-and-coming video gamers, entertainers, influencers, individuals can really thrive in this field and really dismantle our conception of expertise having to do with advanced degrees, for example, or having done decades of work in a certain area, which in and of itself is very valuable but it has to be connected to the realities of the future industries or current industries. And really, the expertise in current and future industries are people who mingle there and people who find enjoyment in that space. So I do want to tell you a little bit about my tech expertise. I grew up in a public school in Chicago, and in my second grade when I was seven or eight years old, I did an afterschool program there called Tech Talk. And we essentially learned how to type up an essay on a computer and print it out and play some very rudimentary games. And it was amazing.
That was like eye-opening experience in technology. And unfortunately, that was also my final academic degree in computer science, but it was enough for me to be so interested in the internet. I got my Yahoo email address and I did my research on Britannica. Do you remember this encyclopedia?
And I was so fascinated by the concept that I can just type in something and there’s information out there. And even though I didn’t understand the information, the fact that I can search for it really gave me a lot of adrenaline rush, so to speak. And so growing up with that very close ties to the internet, the primitive forms of it, the way that we can use technology, I think was always something that made me excited. And so when it came to looking at technology topics and now it is a field that I cannot even put my arms around, it’s AI, it’s machine learning and these data-driven concepts are truly scientifically sophisticated. So I’m not even going to say that I know anything about that, but I know how it can be used and I know the consumer side of it, and I know the industry insights of what drives innovation.
And I think that relatability is where I find areas that I can assert an expertise as a lawyer. And I think it’s not just me, it’s not a unique way to establish expertise, I think that everybody has a way to do it. And it really goes back to the concept of relatability. And so I think that’s kind of the general concept of how I would think about where we can find expertise.
That’s some great insight as far as focusing on what you’re passionate about or something that interests your peaks like you were saying with when you were a kid, the internet just peaked you, but now it’s like everybody speak by the internet. But having that passion for an NFT or a certain cryptocurrency or AI or machine learning, there’s… I’m not too familiar with the industry, but I’m sure there’s specific degrees that just focus on machine learning. So if you were starting off right now, two part of questions. So let’s say at your firm right now, you’re a young lawyer, you’re trying to make a name for yourself at your firm and you’re big into crypto. Like what’s the best way to present to the manager, the partners or your boss, like, “Hey, there’s a gap in the market here. I think our firm can serve these needs.”
There are a couple ways that we can go about it. And this is something that I work on with interns in mind. So whenever we have a project and we cook up something in our minds and we wonder, is this going to relate to some of the practices that we do in our firm or not? Some things can be a really good niche area that’ll fly. And others can just become a sensation for the moment and then not really turn into a product or a service that’s really needed in the market. And so to try it out, I always do three things. First, I really ask my clients the existing clientele that we have. I asked them about if we had provided services like A, B and C, would you be interested? And number two, I then asked them, what kinds of things do you not know that you would ask a lawyer about?
And then I triage some of the questions there. And then the third thing that I would do is I would sit with my interns or my junior associates and I would create something like a very simple publication, like a one-sheet summary of where those questions can be answered. Of course, it’s not an exhaustive legal advice or anything, but it’s more of a cheat sheet of where we find some solutions for the problems posed. And then we just give out information. I think lawyers are first and foremost information hubs. And once that information is out there, then it collects the common minds of folks who need that information. And then you have a community of people who are interested and then they bring to you more and more problems to solve. And once you have a vehicle of problem-solution, problem-solution, then you have a practice area. And that’s how I see it.
Sometimes, that process is very rapid. That means that the market is very on point. Other times, it just becomes a fringe market. And it’s not something that is really required for the kind of client base that you serve, or maybe you have to look for a different client base. Maybe I have to go to Florida for your friend and try to see if folks there would be more interested in the kind of practice that I’m building, but being an information hub gives you where the information needs are and you provide information to people who need it. So it’s kind of like a feedback channel. So I think that’s how I would try out a lot of things.
But now, I’m speaking from the perspective of a partner who’s developing her practice. So as a junior associate, if you were to come and try to pitch an idea to a partner, you would have to come with some kind of plan in mind. And say, “Hey partner, I want to do this project. And here’s what I have created like a pre-drafted publication and say if we were to host this on our website and we try it out for a month and see what kind of information is collected, how many people are interested. And then if we make a decision about how to grow this area, I would love to head this project.”
So start from a very small project in mind, give a trajectory to the partner about how we can test this idea and then make it sellable. If it’s a bite-size project and you don’t need to put in a ton of work and the publication is already pre-drafted, there’s no reason why your firm’s partner would say no to that, because it will add value anyway. And the loss is very minimal. So I would say be prepared with something of a project and a trajectory and a draft in mind, and just presented in a manner that would be saleable and scalable for the existing client base that you have.
Living in New York City, I mean, you’re exposed to all sorts of different experts. You have so many different mediums. I mean, you can’t even go like an hour without an opportunity to see someone speak or go to some sort of networking event and do all those kinds of things. I know things have been very different in New York City, especially with COVID opportunities to do that but do you find that people going outside of their normal circles in the legal field and going into other networks that they otherwise wouldn’t go to has been beneficial for them coming back to the firm with other ideas or other influences that may benefit the firm?
So I guess I can speak from my experience of being in the technology field. I think the most valuable insights and information that I gain really come from academia. It comes from journalism, investigative journalists. It comes from technologists who work in the field. It comes from interdisciplinary centers that will put on workshops and projects and things like that. And it also comes from just speaking to students and younger people. It really opens up a different door for me to think about technology and its use and implementation. So your question is really on point and I would say absolutely, yes. I mean, a lot of the things that I gain by talking to other lawyers, that’s also very valuable, but you can also get it from your online research and LexisNexis and what have you, but speaking with people who live and work in the industry, I think gets you a step ahead because before other lawyers know about it, speak about it, teach about it and then learn about it, you’re learning from the direct source.
One of the examples that I like to think about is how I got familiarized with art law. So we had an art law department at my firm for a while, where we had a very exciting case involving street artists in New York City. And it was so exciting for me. I am not at all an art person. I do not know anything about visual arts. And I seldom go to museums here. The met is always an intimidating place for me and I’m in and out within 45 minutes. But when I was working on this one case involving graffiti arts and copyright law, I learned a tremendous amount from my clients about why they do art, what is considered art, and how the course should determine the value of work, and how does the industry determine, how does the art community determine the value in artwork?
What does it mean to have an artwork that’s ephemeral in nature versus something that’s in the Louvre, preserved for decades or even centuries. And a lot of these types of insights really then are reflected in the way that digital arts have emerged and why people want to preserve it in the digital space, why people want the authentication of it, and why people want to even trade digital art that can be in some ways reproduced on another screen. And so a lot of these concepts I’ve learned by just speaking with artists who are patient enough to inform me about the ABCs of art, who are kind enough and social enough to take me to museums to allow me to understand and appreciate art a little more.
And so these are really eye-opening experiences that has then now drawn my attention and passion toward cryptocurrencies, NFT arts, and what information is lacking in terms of the legal space that need to be communicated more transparently between regulators, between artists and investors and other consumers. So it kind of goes full circle. You start from the people that you serve, your client base. You get a lot of more information from it. And as you understand the industry, you get to apply the law in a way that is more creative, that is more innovative, and then you build a new practice and then you meet the clients again. So it goes full circle. And I think it’s very cool to see that happen.
If you could take a look back, what would you tell yourself if this is your first year at your firm, like right out of law school. What’s a piece of advice you would tell yourself if you could put in the time capsule, put it back and open it up? What would you say?
I think young attorneys really need to get into the habit of complaining more. I see first-year associates, and I was one of them at a larger law firm really trying to get up in the morning, do the work 14, 15 hours a day, hit the billable hour mark, make sure that no mistakes are made, and have no life at all. And we’re so focused on doing things in the way that we’re told to do and doing that is exhausting enough, but I feel like we need to complain more and complain to one another and hear other people complaining more. And then there are going to be common pain points.
And I think that’s where we owe it to ourselves as younger attorneys to say, okay, this is not just my problem. It’s a problem within the way that firms are structured, that the legal industry is structured and the future lawyering is not going to have these pain points. We got to go above that, and to actually see and identify that as a problem of the market and not just force yourself to comply within the contours of what the market demands and then to make it better. I think younger attorneys need to complain more.
And who would you complain to? Because I’m sure that it’s very intimidating someone hearing that like right out of college, they got this huge job they’re expected to work 15 hours a week. It’s not sustainable. And then you complain to somebody and they think, “Oh, Juyoun’s not a good worker because she complains.” We want to avoid that. So who would you complain to?
So as I said, I think people should exchange what they’re complaining about. So I complain to my cohort of junior associates if I’m a junior associate. And then when it’s a legitimate concern, if it’s not just me saying something that’s unique to my role but I exchange with my office mate and find out that it’s a common problem. And then I exchange complaints with junior associates in different departments. And we all find out that it’s a common pain point, then at that point, then there’s a legitimate problem and a concern. And so maybe there’s a way to solve that so that everybody’s more happy in their work life. Of course, there are seniorities and hierarchies in mind, but I always appreciate the level of concern that people have about how management is happening at an organization because every organization has failures. There are ways to improve it. And I just really appreciate the open space and safety that more junior attorneys can bring up ways to address those concerns.
And so I think that a lot of it has to do with like team building and building up a safe space for those complaints to be channeled properly, and not to be discouraged when changes are not happening on the go, but just to keep everybody updated about how the changes are being addressed, how they’re being thought about, and the fact that their comments are appreciated. I think it’s so much of an environmental setting so that complaints can be flushed out, but also it is a role for junior attorneys to take that initiative and to voice it out in a manner that’s productive.
Thank you so much for your time. Are there any parting words you want to leave with our listeners?
Yeah, I think there are some common things that you can look out for both in a smaller law firm setting and the large law firm setting. And I think there are three things that I would pick out in mind first is as a junior attorney, really be keen on trying out new areas and new things. And at a larger law firm, it’s an ideal place to try to get yourself on a new deal or a new project or a new case because every case needs like a junior attorney staffed on it. And there are many cases that are within the firm’s docket. So that’s the benefit of trying out new things at a larger law firm. You have more of a diverse case docket to choose from. At a smaller law firm, it’s similarly an ideal place to try out new things because there’s more flexibility in going about and searching for new areas.
I think it just takes a little bit more of a entrepreneurial energy at a smaller law firm to actually find and identify those new cases and then bring it to the people who are more senior to you or what have you, your team, but really, the common element in both small and large firms that junior attorneys can look out for is to look for new things.
The other area that both small and law firm attorneys can look out for is getting to know the industry, and at a larger law firm. Although your client interaction may be less direct, you can always ask your marketing team who’s there dedicated to your growth to plugging you into industry associations and industry leaders, trade associations, and what have you. And it’s a smoother channel to be in the pipeline and be more associated with the industry. Similarly, at a smaller law firm, you can know your clients better. You can hear them out better. You can hang out with your clients and get to know what their business is all about and become part of their team. And so you can get to know their industry in a more direct hands-on sense.
And then the third thing is really be meticulous as a junior attorney about picking your team. I know that often the conception of how we think about teams is as a junior attorney, you want to be picked, you want to be picked to be on a bigger deal, like a more significant deal at the firm, but really, it’s you picking a team as well. You chose a law firm to be at after graduating law school and taking the horrendous bar exam and everything. You chose to situate yourself in a certain position of a career. And when you’re picking a team, make sure there’s somebody there who is interested in how you are developing yourself, and not just interested in using you as a means to reach a goal.
And oftentimes, it’s both, you have to contribute and add value to the team and make other people’s lives easier, but also, ask yourself, are those people also interested in making my life easier? And if there is a reciprocity there, then that’s a very good team, I think. And I think having somebody be interested in your career development as a young attorney is so important. I’ve had the privilege of working for judges as a law clerk. And the judges that I worked for would sometimes schedule lunches or coffee with other people that are within their networks, who may be interested in hiring me in the future, or may be interested in imparting advice to me so that I can grow better as an attorney. And I so appreciated that. I had law professors who would give me calls to check in and see where I am in my career path, or when I was job-searching as a [inaudible 00:24:45], they would help me out, ask me if I needed recommendations.
And these are law professors that I were working as research assistant for. And so I would always look for a team where there’s a reciprocal help going back and forth. You can find that a larger law firm because there’s a lot more people you may vibe with, some people more than others, and you have a choice to make. And at a smaller team, there’s more intimacy and there’s a greater opportunity to get to know people on an in-depth level. And so I think those are all common things that you can look out for in both smaller and larger law firm settings.