Sonya Olds Som: When did you first realize that you wanted to become an attorney? What first drew you to a career as an attorney? What drew you to a career in recruiting? What do you enjoy most about your career now?
John Cashman:When I received my LSAT score! I am only half kidding, but in all seriousness, that is a terrible reason to go to law school, as most of you now know. I switched to recruiting when I realized my success as a law firm partner hinged on sales. I concluded if I am going to be a salesperson, I should bill hours like a salesperson. I liked being a lawyer but I like people more.
Sonya: Have there been specific people (real or fictional) or pivotal situations/events that have inspired you, helped shape your career?
John: My first lunch with Miriam Frank to discuss exploring a career as a partner recruiter at MLA was truly life changing.
Sonya: Are there particular traits that you believe successful attorneys share? Traits that you believe you have yourself and which you look for in recruiting lawyers and recruiters? How about common traits you’ve observed in other successful lawyers and recruiters?
John: Judgment is the most important trait in a lawyer, recruiter or business person. It is the ability to make difficult decisions despite having incomplete information that separates the merely smart from the very successful. Authenticity is rare and important as well.
Sonya: What professional accomplishment are you most proud of? What would you like your legacy to be at MLA? In the legal profession?
John: Becoming President of MLA is easily the highlight of my career. I want my legacy to be helping MLA to be the most successful recruiting firm in any industry and to be the best place to work. In the legal profession, I want MLA to be remembered as not only the firm that invented legal recruiting, but the firm that truly professionalized a heretofore fragmented, and at times, less than respected, profession.
Sonya: Have you had mentors/sponsors? Have you acted as a mentor/sponsor to others? Is mentorship/sponsorship important? How? Why?
John: My first job out of college was a banker at City National Bank in Beverly Hills. I had never had a professional job, and my first boss, Don Marts, was a gentleman who was instrumental in my development as a person and a business person. I didn’t have a background where I knew how to act in the business world, and he was invaluable in smoothing the rough edges and teaching me how to carry myself in a new environment. In law and recruiting, I had no real mentors to be honest: I have tried to be a mentor to all of the new recruiters in our partner recruitment practice over the years, although our growth has made that more difficult. I think mentorship can be helpful if the circumstances are right, but I know many people who have been very successful without what I would call true mentorship. I think broad strokes in this area can be misleading. But deep, personal mentorship when it exists can be a powerful resource.
Sonya: Think about the legal profession over the course of the next 10 years. What do you see as the big changes that are coming which you believe will most significantly impact the profession?
John: I think Artificial Intelligence will replace much of the routine legal work that is done by paralegals and young associates in litigation as well as some types of transactional work. That said, I think the risk of AI to the legal profession is overstated. I often joke that people should “take the under” when it comes to change in the legal industry every time. This is a slowly evolving industry for many reasons and that is unlikely to change in my lifetime, in my opinion anyway.
Sonya: Describe a significant challenge you have faced in your life or career. How did you overcome it? What did you learn from it?
John: Moving from being a full time recruiter in the field into management was a huge adjustment. I had never managed people in any meaningful way and I was an awful leader. My approach to deal with my inexperience was to ask a lot questions, listen more than speak – something I am terrible at – read books and make many mistakes. Now I do all of those things and also surrounded myself with people who would tell me what I am doing wrong. Over time I learned that the first rule of leadership is that everything is your fault (wisdom from the movie A Bug’s Life). Once you understand that principle, then you realize that your job is to help people succeed. There are so many ways to do that and I learn something new about leadership every day.
Sonya: What does Diversity & Inclusion mean to you? How important is D&I to you personally? To MLA? To the profession? What advice do you have for those seeking to make a positive impact on the progress of D&I in their organizations and in the legal profession?
John: D&I means being a place where everyone wants to work and everyone who works there feels supported, regardless of race, gender, nationality, (dis)ability, sexual orientation, religion or upbringing. It means looking carefully at all the ways employees or potential employees can contribute. It means looking for people who can add to the culture, not just reinforce the existing culture. My advice is to be open-minded, empathetic and to listen more than speak. Look at potential new employees from the perspective of the person who wants to work for and with you, not just from the perspective of the future employer. Increasing your diversity and inclusion means more than having an open mind and heart. It means examining your own hiring, recruitment, retention and promotion processes for bias or weakness, and having a spirit of constant self-examination and improvement in every aspect of your culture. D&I is a core value of MLA and has been since our founding over 35 years ago. We remind our clients that every search at MLA is a diversity search.
Sonya: If you were not in your current role (or even involved with the legal profession at all), what career do you think you would most like to pursue?
John: If I had access to a time machine, I would have been a college football coach. I am a teacher and a motivator at heart (my siblings are both teachers) and the chance to combine those impulses with my passion for the college game, is something I might have enjoyed. Absent that time machine, I can’t imagine having any other job. MLA is in a unique position in the legal world and our ability to impact the lives of lawyers and the trajectory of companies and law firms is unequaled. We are impacting the industry one conversation at a time which is incredibly gratifying.
Sonya: Knowing what you know now about being a lawyer and a leader, if you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be? At what point in your past would you give yourself that advice?
John: Take more chances. And decide what you want to do, not what you want to be. And I would tell myself those things every day.
Sonya: Tell me something fun about yourself. A personal skill or hobby that, while not directly related to your day job, you feel makes you more well-rounded, helps you be better at your day job and/or helps relax and focus you to do your job better.
John: I love music, particularly rock and roll, and I find inspiration and peace by listening constantly to 93XRT Radio Chicago, the radio station that has provided the sound track to my life since I moved to Chicago 27 years ago (and with the advent of streaming, I can listen anywhere in the US now). The only skill I have that derives from that passion is my ability to win “Name That Tune” against virtually anyone regarding any era. I also practice Yoga 3 to 4 times a week which is vital for my mental and physical health.
Sonya: Hashtag/Brand yourself in 5 words or fewer (For example, mine is #SelfiesWithSonya )
John: #BeANavigator #OneConversationAtATime