Associate Advice

Tom Wallerstein

Success in Biglaw often is measured by the size of an attorney’s “book of business.” Not surprisingly, having a book of business is also the best way to ensure the success of a private practice. The bigger the book, the greater your exit options. So whether your goal is to make partner or to open your own firm, everyone knows that the key is to develop a book of business.

That is easy to say, but virtually impossible to do in a big firm setting. Many big firms handle only matters in which the amount at stake is in the millions of dollars. This means that the prospect of an associate landing such a case is slim; a client would never entrust a multi-million dollar dispute to an un-tested associate. Associates are told to attend networking events, but what is the prospect of meeting someone who just so happens to have a ten million dollar dispute laying around, and who has not yet staffed the matter, and who is willing to entrust the matter to a junior associate he just met?

Once upon a time, mentoring relationships were strong, and firms were loyal to their associates. A loyal associate could hope that the partner for whom he or she worked would encourage clients to develop a relationship with the associate and allow the associate to claim ownership of future engagements from that client. If nothing else, a loyal associate could expect to inherit clients from a retiring partner.

Alas, the traditional method of building a book of business no longer works for most associates. Firms now sometimes go so far as to actively discourage associates from forming too-strong relationships with clients, lest the associate leave and take the client with them. And even if an associate is fortunate enough to get client contact, clients are likely to develop loyalties to the partner on the matter, even if the associate is doing most of the work. Unfortunately, just because you do good work doesn’t mean that over time you will magically develop that elusive book of business.

To make matters worse, it’s often impossible to predict future business, especially for litigators. If a client hires you for a patent dispute and pays you $1 million in fees in 2011 before the case settles, does that mean you have a $1 million book of business, even if you have no reason to expect any business from that client in 2012? How can you guarantee repeat business from any client, especially in litigation? Do you need a three or five year average? Those are long time frames for associates.

With all these challenges, how can an associate ever hope to make the rain they will need if they want to open their own firm?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “From Biglaw to Boutique: Looks Like Rain”

Now that Thanksgiving is almost upon us, some of you may already be thinking ahead to the winter holiday season. That’s precisely what you should be doing if you want to take more time off than just your firm’s designated holiday days. For some associates, the holidays are a good time to use your vacation days, but you will need to plan ahead if you want your vacation to be a real break from work.

The Career Center, brought to you by Lateral Link, has compiled a list of the top five tips to help you have a happy holiday season away from the office….

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I told you last week that today’s column would focus on “how to get my attention.” And I’ll let you know in a bit.

But first, let’s play “Which Biglaw Anecdote is True?” Here are the options:

(1) A partner at Law Firm A regularly has his briefcase sent to his home in a limo;
(2) Law Firm B is chock full of lawyers of all faiths and backgrounds, but holds its summer outing at a country club known for being “restricted”; or
(3) Attorneys at Law Firm C take a helicopter from the 34th Street heliport in Manhattan to a hearing in Connecticut — and then bill the client for it.

Which story is true?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “House Rules: How To Get an In-House Lawyer’s Attention”

We enjoy giving our readers the occasional peek behind the Biglaw curtain. Last month, for example, we shared with you the internal interview manual that Sullivan & Cromwell provides to its attorneys who conduct on-campus interviews at law schools.

Today, in a similar spirit, we take an inside look at the annual review process for attorneys at Skadden Arps. We’re into the fourth quarter of 2011, so these reviews are not far away.

In this special report, we’ll provide general observations on the Skadden review process, highlight noteworthy comments from leaked attorney evaluations, and show you a few reviews in their entirety (redacted to remove lawyer and client names). This information should interest Biglaw associates who want to know what partners look for junior lawyers, and it should also appeal to partners at other firms who want ideas on how to structure annual reviews.

If you’re interested in learning more about performance reviews at one of the world’s biggest and best law firms, please keep reading….

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As some of you may be aware, it is the Jewish New Year. This means that I get two opportunities to reflect on the past year and make resolutions. Indeed, I have now resolved — for the second time — to eat less carbs. The problem with these kinds of resolutions is that they usually do not work. I think it has something to do with putting way too much emphasis on one day (New Year’s Day, or I guess Rosh Hashanah), rather than working towards a goal consistently throughout the year.

At work, the equivalent of the New Year’s Resolution is the year-end review. All of ones strengths and weaknesses displayed in the prior year are discussed during a thirty-minute conversation that often ends with a bonus check and/or tears. The year-end review, like the New Year’s Resolution, does not work. Rather than getting feedback only once a year, you should make every day New Year’s Day. Well, maybe not every day….

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In today’s Career Center Tips Series, Lateral Link’s Frank Kimball, legal recruiter and former hiring partner, discusses the challenges that new attorneys face in today’s world.

No matter what the differences will be a decade from now, it is safe to say that young lawyers will always have similar personal and professional concerns as they jump the hurdle from education to practice. Those concerns will be similar without regard to the school attended, the corner of the profession chosen, whether you are the first or one of many lawyers in your extended family, and whether you are “going home” to the city where you were raised, or moving to a city you have never lived in before.

But that being said, this generation of law school graduates is quite different from my generation….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Career Center: Memo to New Associates – Welcome to Your Legal Career!”

Ed. note: Have a question for next week? Send it in to advice@abovethelaw.com.

Dear ATL,

One of the partners in my practice group is very involved with a charity. About once a month or so, we get hit up with various updates on the cause, requests to donate, attend charity events, subscribe to newsletters, etc. He’s even made a few presentations about the charity during practice group meetings. This charity has absolutely nothing to do with legal work and frankly it’s getting really annoying.

As an associate, is it OK to unsubscribe from his charity’s email (not sure how I was signed up in the first place)?  Will he know?  Will it affect my partnership chances?  Am I obligated to donate?  Will he know?  Will the other partners know?

-Hit ‘Em Up Style

Dear Hit ‘Em Up Style –

Part of the reason they pay you associates so much is that your exorbitant salaries already factor in the bullsh*t expenses that come with the job: student loan payments, business wardrobe, personal training, late night online electronics purchases, therapy, top shelf alcohol so as not to be totally incapacitated when you get a work email the next day… and partner pet projects. And yes, they’re watching….

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Recently I talked to a fourth-year-associate friend of mine who’d been working at a new small firm for several months. When I asked him how it was going, he said “great” in a way that suggested anything but. So I pressed him for more. The work was fine, he insisted. The clients were fine. His associates were cool. Great, I said. So what was the problem?

Well, he finally let on, there was this partner.

OK, I said. What about this partner?

Well, he said, he’s making my life a living hell. In fact, my friend said, it was so bad, he was thinking of leaving the firm.

What made this partner so horrible?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Small Firms, Big Lawyers: Supervising Partners and Teaching Partners”

Stop me if this sounds familiar to you:

The managing partner of your firm tells you and your colleagues that you all need to “do more marketing.” What that vague phrase means is unclear, but the partner feels it’s imperative. It’s the only way to bring in more business. Someone — maybe even you — ventures to ask for ideas on what kind of marketing you all should be doing.

Your fearless leader looks nonplussed for a moment, then shakes his head quickly like a dog drying himself and sputters, “Network. Get out there and network.” Meeting over.

Now you and your colleagues are left trying to divine just how to go about “marketing” and “networking.” There were no courses on these arcane arts in your non-T14 law school. (Fear not: The T14 law schools didn’t have those courses either.)

Finally, one of the group members — maybe even you — recalls getting an email blast about an upcoming networking event that you can all go to at the local chamber of commerce. “Great,” you chorus. But what are you supposed to do when you get there?

Don’t worry. Here are the six best tips for attending networking events:

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Small Firms, Big Lawyers: The Best Advice for Networking Events”

I tried to be a good boss over the years I ran my law firm. Some of my lawyers might tell you that I succeeded; others might be less charitable in describing my managerial skills. But I always made an effort to have my employees feel valued and respected. I gave them autonomy in their work, and I let them push back if they disagreed with the course of action I had chosen. When there was a problem with someone’s work or attitude, I dealt with it discreetly and sensitively; I never called anyone out in front of a coworker. And when someone had a good day, I made a big deal of it and made sure that everyone else knew about it.

I made sure that we celebrated every employee’s birthday, and we always recognized big events in people’s personal lives. And for a while, I gave a shout out to people for celebrating an anniversary with the firm.

Until one day, when I suggested going out to lunch to celebrate a junior associate’s second anniversary.

And she started crying.…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Small Firms, Big Lawyers: Thinking of Quitting? Read This First”

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