Year-end is fast approaching in Biglaw. For litigators, the last two weeks of December are usually some of the calmest of the year. Even the hardest of adversaries are apt to adopt a “Christmas Truce” and halt the lobbing of discovery grenades at each other. Courts start to slow down, and most everyone is happy to “pick things back up” after the turn of the year. But like all things Biglaw, complacency at year’s end is impossible for a Biglaw partner — even when work is relatively quiet. Why? One word: collections.
For tax and other corporate structure reasons that your firm’s comptroller will be happy to explain to you (if you dare to actually engage a non-lawyer in conversation about the business of your law firm), most Biglaw firms want to have every single drop of revenue possible in the door by December 31st at 11:59 p.m. While your typical partner is fairly insulated from money matters at the firm all year, and mostly just wants no surprises when it comes to their compensation, at year’s end everyone is recruited and expected to give their all. To what? Collections!
Last week I wrote about how making partner can be a vehicle for making positive personal changes. I was not kidding. As a partner, I want my fellow partners to be happy with their personal lives. Much better for business that way. We all know that the pre-partner years are rough on personal lives, so the heady days immediately after making partner may be the best chance someone has to make any necessary course corrections on the personal front.
I don’t believe that Biglaw partners are any more capable than anyone else in insulating their work performance from the goings-on in their personal lives. Trouble has a way of spilling over. No one is saying that relationships are easy in Biglaw, even for partners. So why continue to dump emotional energy into relationships that are not satisfying? Better to take stock, and fix what needs fixing. Earlier is better than later, especially from your fellow partners’ perspective.
So let’s talk a bit about the financial ramifications of making partner. I’ll concentrate on a few aspects….
Congratulations to the newly minted Biglaw partners out there. Despite Biglaw’s current problems and murky future, it really is a signature professional achievement. So take a night, or a week, or even two to celebrate. And then get ready to start re-evaluating your entire life, top to bottom. You may not get a better chance, ever.
What am I talking about? Simple. In order to make partner in today’s Biglaw, you have made numerous sacrifices. Whether it be your student debt, your relationships, your waistline, or anything else, your sacrifice has now been validated. You now occupy a new professional status, and the nature of making partner is such that no matter how badly you screw up the rest of your life, you have accomplished something very rare. It is a life milestone, on par with getting married or winning the lottery in terms of its immediate alteration of your identity. A minute ago, you were single. Now, married. A minute ago, you were just another Biglaw associate. Now, you are a partner. Beautiful.
I am not discussing here the “professional” aspects about making partner, such as the need to start building a book of business, and how to handle yourself at the office. You will learn most of what you need to know on that front at your new partner orientation — a gloatfest galore, typically — and you will then spend a career figuring it all out.
Rather, I want to address some of the “personal” ramifications that hearing the good news of your “election” or “promotion” will lead to. Because it would be a shame to waste this golden opportunity to change the things about your life that you are less than perfectly satisfied with….
Silly season is almost upon us. I am not a big fan of Biglaw holiday celebrations. As readers know, Above the Law loves holiday parties, which often lead to good stories. But what is good for ATL sometimes does not match up with what is good for Biglaw.
I have never had a good time at a firm holiday party. You end up seeing things you can’t unsee. Like the weird guy from tax trying to hit on one of the marketing girls. Or your managing partner dancing. Horrible sights. For no reason. Thankfully the Biglaw Breakdown has led to a scaling back of firm holiday parties. Mostly.
In some ways, the amount of money your firm spends acts as a sort of prestige barometer. A black-tie night, with plus-ones invited, at a ritzy hotel? Congratulations — your clients are not cheap and get into a lot of legal trouble. Some cheap champagne, beers, and low-grade sushi in the big conference room? Welcome to Biglaw 2012. If the party is going to be worse that a night at a restaurant, why bother? At least at the restaurant I get to choose my wine, my food, and my company….
Last week I discussed the associate bonus process from your typical partner’s perspective. I want to talk a bit more about ways firms can take advantage of the glut of prospective associates out there, while increasing the odds of finding those rare jewels who will make partner — with each associate making less, but getting a better lifestyle (and a shot at a Biglaw career) in the bargain.
Some caveats. First, the ideas below are not intended for the Simpsons — thisSimpson, not those Simpsons — of the world. They will continue to attract the very best, and should continue their current structure. Why? Because the Cravath model that the elite firms instituted makes for great partners and strong law firms. The problem is that almost every Biglaw firm adopted the Cravath model, and not all of them should have. Most firms do not have the institutional client base of the elite firms, and therefore don’t need the tremendous fixed costs and inflexibility with respect to associates that the Cravath model brings. As firms expand, contract, or just struggle to stay afloat post-Biglaw Breakdown, it seems like a great time to try some new approaches to talent structures and compensation. There is nothing wrong with some experimentation, as long as the protocols are transparent, and management is prepared to cut bait quickly if things are not working out.
Now over the years we have seen firms experiment with their junior associate hiring models. Most of these programs involved trying to turn junior associates into some form of quasi-apprentices. None seem to have taken root. And in my mind there is no sense in implementing a drastic, global overhaul of your associate model, before trying some more limited changes on the practice group level.
Hello associates. It is almost bonus season. For most of you, your main hopes this time of year are (1) to get a bonus and (2) no surprises. What kind of surprises are you looking to avoid? Unwelcome ones. Like your firm going from lockstep associate compensation to a “merit-based” system. Or the firm implementing a different bonus hours target at the last minute. That two-week-long summer trip to Barcelona and Ibiza? The one that cost you about a hundred billable hours? Congratulations. That one hundred hours is now costing you twenty grand in bonus money. Thanks for playing the Biglaw associate game.
So Lat asked me to give some insight into what partners think about associate bonuses. From what I can tell, the overwhelmingly majority of partners don’t think at all about associate bonuses. The reality is that nearly all Biglaw decisions are made by a very small group of partners (increasingly with the help of professional non-lawyer administrators). The ones on the Executive Committee. With an assist (on this issue) by the Associate or Compensation Committees.
I like talking about partner compensation so much, I wrote a three-partseries on the topic. It was nice to hear from Jeffrey Lowe, the Global Practice Leader of Major, Lindsey & Africa’s Law Firm Practice Group and the brains behind the MLA partner compensation survey, who graciously expressed both his enjoyment of my treatment regarding the survey results and an invitation to contact him directly with follow-up questions.
In response, I proposed a written email interview, which you can read below. Thanks again to Jeffrey for his yeoman’s work on the survey, and his willingness to offer some additional commentary on the always scintillating subject of partner pay….
Partner meetings should be better. As I discussed in last week’s column, Biglaw firms tend to hold glorified lunches, sprinkled with some generic info-passing, instead of real informative meetings for partners.
It does not have to be that way — even if your Biglaw firm ascribes to a “partners are just our highest-paid employees” ethic. And especially if your firm is serious about involving partners in the firm’s business as much as possible in these days of behemoth Biglaw firms.
What kinds of improvements to partner meetings would I advocate implementing?
Every firm has them. And partners dutifully show up. Mostly for the free lunch. This month we are serving Tex-Mex. One percenters’s loading up on the free food like a Soviet-era pensioner given the keys to the potato warehouse. It can be a gruesome scene.
So what happens at these monthly gatherings of Biglaw’s barons and baronesses? Nothing important. (You want important stuff, you need to crash an Executive Committee meeting. Or for the increasingly common Biglaw dictatorships, you need to bug Chairman Mao’s office.) At least at the scheduled monthly partner meetings. “Special” partner meetings are a different story. You want those to be boring, like calling for a vote on a group of laterals. “Exciting” special meetings, while good for Lat, are not good news for the average partner usually. Stability is one of the biggest draws of a Biglaw partnership. Stability means no shocking announcements, over which you have no control.
Anyway, here is how the typical monthly partner meeting goes….
For many Biglaw firms, by the time mid-October rolls around, year-end activities are already gaining momentum. Planning for collection drives, a push to get potential laterals interviewed, and financial performance numbers-crunching are all usually well under way. Biglaw’s increasingly centralized administration and management means that most partners are spared from any involvement in those activities. Your typical partner may get an update email or two, or hear about the gear-up for year-end at a partner’s meeting, but that’s it.
But every partner is asked to play the review game. Every year. For everyone from assistants, to paralegals, to associates, to even fellow partners sometimes. And some partners are subjected to 360-degree reviews from their charges. I have a hard time seeing the value of those.
The whole process is thankless, time consuming, and generally useless. It is more akin to “security theater” at the airport than an actual system for providing effective feedback and incentives to Biglaw participants….
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Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deal flow has clearly picked recently up for most US associates, counsels and partners in Hong Kong/China and Singapore. We are on the phone with a lot of these folks on a daily basis, many of whom we have known for years. Further, the head of our Asia team, Evan Jowers, and Kinney’s founder and president, Robert Kinney, frequently meet in person with leading US partners in Asia to assess their needs and keep on top of the inside scoop at as many firms as possible. The need for legal recruiting help in Asia from experienced recruiters appears to be live and well. In March, Evan and Robert were in Beijing at such meetings, in April, Evan was in Hong Kong, and for half of June Evan will be in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Thus its pretty easy for us to tell when there has been an across-the-market pick up in capital markets and corporate work.
On an average day in Asia when Evan and Robert visit firms, they typically have 5 to 9 meetings a day, mostly with US partners in the market. The reason they have these meetings is not simply because Kinney makes a lot of US attorney placements in Asia and that a particular firm may have openings; instead these are just visits with friends. After years of working together as business partners, the folks at Kinney are actually these peoples’ friends. The firms Kinney work closely with in Asia (which is just about every law firm – call us if you want to know the one firm in the world we will never place anyone with again, ever, and why) look forward to the visits, or at least act like they do. After seven years in the market, many of the client partners are former associate candidates. Also, these US partners see Kinney as a very good source of market information as well, because they know how deep their contacts are in the market and how frequently they are speaking to counterparts at peer firms.
In a land that is right here and in a time that is right now, a technology has arisen so powerful that it can replace basic human document review. Is it time to bow down before our new robot overlords?
First, here’s a little story about me: my life in the legal world began as a paralegal. My first case was a GIANT patent infringement case that was already six years old and had involved as many as five companies, multiple US courts, the ITC and an international standards committee. I knew nothing about any of this.
On my first day, my supervisor (a paralegal with at least eight other cases driving her crazy) sat me down in front of a Concordance database with a 100,000+ patents and patent file histories. “Code these,” she said. I learned that “coding”, for the purposes of this exercise, meant manually typing the inventor’s name, the title of the patent, the assignee, the file date, and other objective data for each document. I worked on that project – and only that project – for at least the first six months of my job. After a week or so, time began to blur.
What I know, in retrospect and with absolutely certainty, is that as time began to blur, so did my judgment. So did my attention to detail. If you could tell me that I did not make at least one mistake a day – one inconsistent spelling, one reversed day and month, one incorrectly spaced title – I frankly would need to see your evidence. I would not believe it. The human mind is trainable but it is not a machine.
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