Lawyers are supposed to read. The best lawyers are usually the most voracious readers. One of the tragic consequences of life as an associate is the loss of time for leisure reading. Except for that hard-earned four-day vacation around Thanksgiving time. Or that quick beach jaunt in late August when you realize that not only are all the partners gone for their yearly family vacations, they are not even bothering to answer emails or calls. So you may as well take a long weekend yourself. Pretend you have a life. Endure your friends talking about how their corporate “Summer Fridays” are already tired out, and how they long to get back to a regular schedule after Labor Day. Admit it — you are not doing any serious reading on the beach, or in the airport, or sitting on someone’s pool deck with a homemade margarita. More likely, your brain is fried, and the appropriate level of reading material for you at that stage is a “men’s periodical” or some celebrity rag.
Partners have it a little better. The intellectual ones rekindle their loves for serious fiction, or Ulysses Grant biographies, or even high-priced gardening books so they can converse semi-intelligently with their illiterate (but highly skilled and inexpensive) landscaper. Other partners read junk, or choose not to read at all, only buying glossy magazines for the pictures of high-priced items they are thrilled they can now afford. Or for the cocktail recipes, now that the liquor on their “drink rack” is of better quality, all while their need for a nightly drink or two or three goes up. Leisure reading, or not, however you like.
But there is another kind of Biglaw reading. The type that all partners really should engage in. Daily if possible. It is accessible. Via browser. That’s right — legal blogs. Biglaw partners (and ambitious associates) need to be on top of what is going on in our industry. You know, the one that is changing rapidly. Where there is a battle for survival going on, even between firms that would normally be considered extremely successful, and that in and of themselves are many times larger and more successful than at any point in their own histories. Information is power on this battlefield. Get reading. Some suggestions….
I always start my day with a review of at least four Biglaw-related sites. Takes ten minutes or so. To start, I like to check the Am Law Daily, the American Lawyer’s newswire-style collection of information from the Biglaw world. As I discussed a few weeks ago, this time of year usually sees at least one or two firms reporting on revenues. Important to see how the competition is doing. There is also usually a news item discussing the latest lateral moves, providing additional competitive intelligence. Always good to keep a mental picture of which firms seem to be investing, and which are leaking. You will obviously focus most on movement in your practice area, since there may be variations from the general Biglaw flow when it comes to your area of practice. The Am Law Daily typically also runs a piece or two each day on big lawsuits or deals — unless they involve my practice area, I skim them for the mentions of who handled the work. Finally, there is often an opinion piece, whether by Steven Harper (a modern Biglaw traditionalist) or someone else discussing a topical Biglaw issue. These pieces usually preview or follow up on headline-type news in the print American Lawyer, so they are good to read for general background knowledge.
Next up, I usually check both the ABA Journal Legal Rebels blog for any new entries, followed by Adam Smith, Esq., for its irreplaceable insight into the pulse of Biglaw — managing partner-style. The Legal Rebels stuff tends to be a bit formulaic and general, but worth a quick read to make sure you are on trend when it comes to issues like value pricing and alternative fee structures. My sense is that clients still mostly fear those, but see it as déclassé if their outside counsel is unable to at least have an intelligent discussion about them. (I’ll discuss these more in the future, but the short answer is that they work for some situations and not others. But they need to be in the toolbox. Shocking, I know.) So the Legal Rebels blog is good to make sure you are current with the buzzwords regarding the New Normal and the like. Biglaw is changing, remember?
I could do a whole fan column about Bruce MacEwan’s site, but I won’t. I’ll just point out that Biglaw is a never-ending competition — on many levels. Internalizing Bruce’s observations will help you succeed in Biglaw. The Biglaw of today, and the one that is coming. Putting aside his willingness to directly address the real issues facing Biglaw today (and call out firms engaging in “suicide pricing” and other destructive behavior), the truth is that Bruce enjoys a level of access to Biglaw-decision makers that is unparallelled, and probably historic. Remember, the idea of Biglaw as an “industry” is a relatively recent one. And while former managing partners like Old School Partner may have talked amongst themselves about their firms, I don’t recall ever seeing an outsider (not from the banks lending Biglaw) having the kinds of conversations that Bruce seems to have. And that he shares with his readers. (I also recommend Bruce’s talks on Bloomberg Law with Lee Pacchia. In fact, I like Lee Pacchia. He brings an outsider’s sensibility that Biglaw-types need to learn how to respond to. Because no one outside Biglaw gets as wrapped-up in the real and imagined prestige gradation comparisons that everyone in Biglaw uses to substitute for critical analysis a lot of the time.)
Finally, I always wrap up my morning coffee reading with a visit to Above the Law. I may not check it a few times a day like I did in my associate days, but I will always visit at least once more in the day, and make sure I read my favorite columnists. And Lat’s pieces — especially the ones about Biglaw. ATL offers even non-combatants a taste of Biglaw. Sometimes direct from the source and sometimes indirectly (through tips and such). It is always worth a visit. And ATL is getting better with age, in my opinion.
The above is an idiosyncratic list, and you definitely should also be checking out your practice group-specific blogs as well. But if you are not at least reading, then you are definitely not participating in the big conversation. The one that will define, at least in some measure, your career. Might be worth the effort.
What is on your personal Biglaw blogroll? More important, what is missing in the current offerings? Let me know by email or in the comments…
Anonymous Partner is a partner at a major law firm. You can reach him by email at [email protected].