Anonymous Partner

Anonymous Partner is a partner at a major law firm. You can reach him by email at atlpartnercolumn@gmail.com.

Posts by Anonymous Partner

Last week, I wrote about face time considerations for associates. In Biglaw, face time is important for partners as well, albeit in a different way, with a significant exception for “pure” service partners.

Service partners are like associates when it comes to face time, with one major difference. In contrast to the often large constituency that associates need to please, your typical service partner needs to focus more exclusively on the specific rainmakers who provide them their work. That is why you will frequently find a service partner who is dependent on a particular rainmaker trailing that rainmaker around the office like a faithful Lab trailing a treat-bearing little kid. Or never leaving until the rainmaker leaves for the day. Vacations? Either timed to the rainmaker’s vacation, or planned with the idea that one would be perfectly accessible should the rainmaker call. Most of the time, this behavior by service partners happens naturally. When you have limited sources of work, it is folly not to stay close by those sources on a constant basis.

As important as face time is for senior and mid-level partners, it is even more important for junior partners….

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Shave, get dressed, grab your gadgets (firm-issued Blackberry, personal phone, tablet, etc.,) and head out the door. Car, train, ferry, subway — whatever it takes to get you to the office. Log into your computer, connect your phone for a charge, and head down the hall for a cup of coffee from the pantry. Throw out “good morning” as you pass people along the way. Grab your coffee, sneak a look at the vending machine, decide against starting your day with an 800-calorie cinnamon-glazed “bun,” and head back to your office. Dive into your morning inbox triage, and hope no one bothers you until your first conference call in 30 minutes. Congratulations on making it in for your next day in Biglaw’s Class A splendor.

Eight to fourteen hours later (depending on your seniority, amount of work, and level of domestic tranquility), it is time to pack up. To do it again the next day. You may not be happy with how things are going for you career-wise, and you may get jealous when your tech-sector friends brag about their 5:30 p.m. “after-work” pedicure and pastis-tasting session, but at least you were present at work for the day.

Face time is a concept that has gotten more media attention than it probably deserves. But let’s give it a little more….

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Very few people work in Biglaw for the thrill of being surrounded by lawyers. Nor are Biglaw refugees heard lamenting, on the odd chance they are lamenting leaving Biglaw at all, the fact that they are no longer surrounded by fellow attorneys. What do they miss, if anything? The money.

Biglaw refugees are not the only ones stirred by the thought of Biglaw’s outsized profits. Those profits are the nectar that draws the droves of worker-bee law students into the welcoming embrace of law schools. And the gruel that sustains the overworked bodies and minds of Biglaw’s associates and junior partners as they slave in the mineshafts hoping for their day in the sun. Biglaw’s millions are also the elixir that lubricates the arthritic joints of senior partners who insist on staying in their positions of power well past the expiration dates that their forebears adhered to. More than ever, it is about the money….

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Summer is supposed to be relaxing. Biglaw partners are familiar with the concept of summer relaxation, primarily from hearing about other people relaxing. Sample July client exchange: “No rush on that project, we are heading up to the Cape for the weekend, and when we get back we are taking the kids for a week to Basque country for a wine and ham festival. Actually we might hit Marbella on the way back for the weekend. Tell the other side I’ll be available after Labor Day for a deposition. Let my secretary know if there are any emergencies. Thanks. I’ll buy a bottle of Priorat for us to share when we win this case.”

In Biglaw circles, this summer has been anything but relaxing. By now, everyone has an opinion on the New Republic article that announced to the literate masses the upcoming end of Biglaw. Hard-thinking Biglaw lawyers have already forming opinions on the various opinions circulating around the Biglaw water cooler. (We need an industry conference to hash all this out, maybe with some clients to give their input. The electronics companies have CES; we needs a massive industry event of our own.)

Back to the end of Biglaw. The media, consistent with our human tendency to draw generalizations based on examples that are outliers, is very skilled at highlighting human interest stories at the margins of an issue. So in the New Republic article, we were treated to a description of the impact of a Biglaw firm’s glories and travails on rainmakers (who, if London-based, apparently have the pull to get an audience with the royal baby’s nanny at minimum) and displaced associates — people on opposite poles of the Biglaw power spectrum. Interesting stories, and easy to write about.

Ultimately, however, we need to explore the purpose of the grand Biglaw experiment before we can proclaim whether it has succeeded or failed. And for that we have to look at how Biglaw has treated perhaps its most important, if much-maligned, constituency: the service partner….

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Before David emailed me late Sunday night alerting me to the New Republic article that is the topic of the day (as it should be), these were the lead paragraphs to my column this week:

“I used to run to work a lot. Not for exercise. And not because I was late. Because I was excited to get to the office. I don’t know if I was the only one in my group whose pace would quicken as they got closer to the office. I know mine did. Maybe that enthusiasm contributed to my making partner when many other talented attorneys went (sometimes willingly, most times not) in a different direction. I actually loved being a Biglaw lawyer. There were cases presenting problems to solve, and I was grateful for the opportunity to be a part of trying to accomplish that for high-end clients. More often than not, the days when I would be hustling to get to work would be good days. Purposeful days.”

“To be clear, I was never one of those people who was in the office at 6:30 a.m., pretending that I had gotten so much important work already done by the time everyone else rolled in. (As an aside, these types are usually insufferable or desperate, and thankfully no one is seriously suggesting that the solution to Biglaw’s problems is an earlier average start time.) As I got more senior, my typical start time got later. Mornings were the only time I could reliably spend with my kids, and as busy as things were, I could never be assured that I would not be handling more work after my wife went to bed. So I took advantage of the Biglaw perk that is the exclusive province of Biglaw ‘timekeepers’ (attorneys and paralegals usually) — the ability to show up at an hour that for most corporate employees is when the lunch pangs start kicking in….”

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Which Way Will You Run? Some Thoughts On The New Republic Article About Mayer Brown”

Today is Tisha B’Av (lit. the 9th day of the month of Av), the “heaviest” day on the Jewish calendar. It is a day of national mourning, observed through the adoption of Jewish mourning customs, such as not shaving or wearing leather shoes, among others. It is also a fast day, meaning no eating or drinking, and one that is similar to Yom Kippur in its 25-hour duration.

For Jews, the tragic national events underlying this day are unfortunately plentiful, from the destruction of the two ancient Jewish temples to the mass expulsion of Jews from the Iberian peninsula in 1492 — and more. In contrast to Jewish mourning customs upon the death of a person, where the severity of the mourning customs decreases as time passes from the burial of the deceased, the period immediately preceding Tisha B’av sees an increasing adoption of displays of grief, culminating in the observance of the day itself. In short, the mourning is experienced, as well as reflected on.

Interestingly, this sad and mournful day is also considered a holiday — suggesting there can be positive aspects to putting oneself “in the mood” by experiencing and reflecting on the message of the day. Many in Biglaw are familiar with the general contours of the Jewish holidays, considering the outsized presence of Jewish lawyers (of varying observance levels) at many firms, particularly in those cities with large Jewish populations. One way of categorizing those holidays is to relate them to different aspects of the human condition: Passover celebrates the human need for freedom, Yom Kippur the need for repentance and a fresh start, and so forth. Mourning is a universal human experience as well, and thus deserving of its own special day, to be visited on an annual basis. A holiday implies an active process for its celebrants, in contrast to simply recalling a tragic series of events.

The question becomes, what is the value in experiencing a “taste” of loss every year? Let us relate our discussion to Biglaw….

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Overcapacity. The Biglaw word du jour. Too many lawyers working in Biglaw to meet demand. Or is it too many lawyers in Biglaw to foist on that subset of clients still willing to pay those rates that guarantee profits-per-partner increases? Either way, the word is out. Biglaw is suffering from overcapacity. Something must be done.

Some firms will undoubtedly send out the message that every single one of their lawyers is in great demand. Debate among yourselves whether or not these firms are “stealth layoff” candidates.

Other firms have already taken action (e.g., Weil Gotshal) — sweeping, public action. Hopefully they did not enjoy what they were “forced” to do too much. The first cut is the hardest, as they say, and who can say that one of these firms won’t decide to wield the layoff katana like a sake-infused samurai?

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Last week, I shared some thoughts regarding Biglaw summer associates. I thought it would be interesting to interview a current summer associate, and I was happy to hear from some brave volunteers.

The summer associate who is the subject of this interview has an impressive résumé and is off to a solid start at their highly-rated law school. That their credentials are strong is not surprising, considering the challenging job environment for those hoping to land a summer associate position in the first place.

The words of our interviewee are unedited, except to protect their anonymity. I’ve added some responsive parenthetical commentary after each response. I thank our interviewee for their candid observations and thoughtful opinions in response to these questions….

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Summer is finally here, and the halls of Biglaw are more clogged than usual. But it is not because the partners have been hitting the desserts harder at their monthly meeting in an attempt to look even worse during bathing suit season. Nope, the guys and gals walking the halls do not look like your typical Biglaw legal eagle. They are too young, too fit, and too excited to be there.

Yup, it is summer associate season. A new crop of recruits, eagerly brandishing their 1L transcripts as evidence of their legal ability, ready to conquer Biglaw. Or at least to eat as much good free food as they can, while pretending to “work” in between breakfast with the real-estate group, lunch with the litigators, and a social event after-hours with whatever motley crew of “presentable” lawyers the firm can pull together.

There were strict rules as to which lawyers were allowed to interact with the summers. It usually came down to looks/personality, and enthusiasm for the firm. Everyone wanted the summers to leave with a good impression. No firm wanted to be lowly-ranked on the summer associate surveys that would follow summer associate season. “Uh-oh, our five summer associates in Miami gave us a 3.8 out of 5 on their happiness scale. This is a crisis — next year we need to rent a party boat for an impromptu cruise to Key West, and make everyone take the survey while still happily boozed up.”

Quaint as it now seems, that kind of thinking (if only a bit exaggerated) was normal for Biglaw in the go-go late-90s and 2000s. Oh how times have changed….

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General Spoiler Alert: You may not want to read this column if you have not yet finished reading “A Storm of Swords” (affiliate link) or finished watching season three of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Care has been taken to eliminate any spoilers, but by definition spoilers are personal, and I don’t want to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of the books or show.

Imagine a conference room. Filled with lawyers, in this case an Am Law 100 law firm’s D.C.-based bankruptcy practice. Fifteen lawyers in total. Four partners, two senior counsel, and nine associates of various experience levels. All came to the firm four years ago, when the then-nascent mega-firm picked up an entire D.C.-centric firm in a merger. The bankruptcy guys decided to go with the new outfit, choosing to remain with old colleagues and hoping for some exposure to the new mega-firm’s promised synergies. Business has been okay, even as the current year has been a little soft. In their minds, it also would have been nice to have more fellow bankruptcy practitioners in other offices, but despite their relative isolation (in geography and practice area), the group has managed to pick up a big matter or two via referral from other groups. Things are plodding along.

The head of the practice is about to turn the reins of the meeting over to one of the associates — who will be summarizing some recent case law out of Delaware. It is a spring Tuesday, and everyone is eating, drinking, or doing the smartphone stare. All of a sudden, the door swings open. In marches the office managing partner, flanked by the office manager/HR liason, and one of the D.C.-based members of the executive committee — who closes the door and locks it….

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