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Marie Ann Hoenings, Zeroing in on a Specialty [by Teresa Talerico] The time to experiment with different specialties and interests is early in one’s career, says Marie Ann Hoenings, a recruiting partner at the New York-based L’Abbate, Balkan, Colavita & Contini. Those who do so should also realize that it takes time to establish oneself in a particular area.

“If you’re going to dabble, it’s better to do it

investigate my partner. I was so taken with

usually aren’t interested in unless there have

when you’re younger and you don’t have as

having my own law firm with my own name

been no cases on the issue.

many obligations,” she said. “It takes a very

that I didn’t give enough consideration to the

long time to establish a reputation in a par-

type of work and whether the work itself was

ticular area. There’s that painful period when

going to be fulfilling. That might be a mistake

you don’t have the reputation and you’re

that a lot of people make because they’re so

struggling—work wise and financially—and

anxious to have a job or so enamored with

ing skills. When they first start, that’s really

if you don’t have the luxury of time, it makes

either a title or a dollar value. They don’t re-

the bulk of what they’re going to do. One of

Q: What’s your advice for new associates? A: They need to have good research and writ-

ally understand the number of hours that are

the biggest stumbling blocks is not taking

going to have to be dedicated to it. If you’re

the job or deadlines seriously enough and

A 1985 graduate of Hofstra University School

miserable or you don’t like what you’re doing,

realizing the impact. There’s not really an ap-

of Law, Ms. Hoenings specializes in civil

it’s going to make things very difficult for you.

things exceedingly difficult.”

litigation, but also handles everything from

preciation for the impact upon the client if the deadline is not met.

real estate to employment issues. She has

Q: How easy is it to switch specialties once

also worked in the New York County District

you’re actually practicing?

Attorney’s Office.

Q: Who’s your favorite lawyer in books, movies, or TV?

A: Within the first five years, you need to Q: What’s the biggest mistake new graduates

make a decision. At that point in time, you’re

A: I loved Ally McBeal. I thought that was

make while job hunting?

still very liquid; and if you have good core

the most realistic law firm atmosphere just

skills, then you’ll be able to switch. Litiga-

because it had the combination of personali-

A: I would say the lack of preparation and

tion is litigation, whether it’s litigation of

ties. They might have been magnified, but

being untruthful during the course of an

a malpractice action or litigation of a real

it showed how there was this combination

interview. I’ll ask simple questions like “why

estate matter. If you’re a good litigator, you

of different personalities and quirks and

did you go to law school?” and I can tell

can learn the underlying laws. I don’t think

oddities, and they all seemed to function in a

whether or not it’s a made-up answer they

that it’s difficult. If you spend seven years

successful law firm.

think I want to hear, as opposed to something

just doing transactional work, it’s going to

that’s truthful. My own answer is I couldn’t be

be difficult to do litigation. But if you want to,

Q: How does your firm work to prevent new

a teacher, so I wanted to be a lawyer. Saying

you could probably do it with a cut in pay. But

associates from becoming disillusioned?

they grew up always wanting to do insurance

you’re not going to make a lateral move.

coverage work because that’s what we do—

A: We try to mix up the assignments so that

it’s a wonderful field once you understand it,

Q: What’s something law schools should

a first-year [associate] is not only doing

but you don’t go to law school because you

teach, but currently do not?

research. I try to show them from experience

always wanted to do insurance coverage.

that we have ebbs and flows, we have good A: The practical aspects of the law and how to

days and bad days. Nobody likes the paper-

Q: If you could go back and do anything over

function in the workplace. We hire first-years

work that we shuffle. You do get to do the

again, what would you do differently?

that come in, and their first work product is

trials and depositions, which gets the adrena-

always very academic. They’ll be inclined to

line running and wipes out the bad parts.

A: For a brief period of time, I went out on my

do law review articles, citations, things that

own in a partnership and didn’t thoroughly

clients aren’t going to pay for and judges


Q: How can lawyers avoid burnout?

continued on back


hink what causes the greatest burnout is trying to compare yourself to other people and measuring where you should be based upon where somebody else is, whether it’s the types of cases they’re doing or the salary that they have or the clients that they have. My advice would be to sit back and see if you’re satisfied with yourself and what you’re doing and, if not, put into place things to change just that, as opposed to trying to keep up with the attorney, partner, or associate in the office next to you.


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Marie Ann Hoenings, Zeroing in on a Specialty  

Marie Ann Hoenings is a recruiting partner at the New York-based L.Abbate Balkan, Colavita and Contini. The biggest mistake new graduates ma...

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