As you can likely tell, I am fascinated by terminology. I understand the importance of using language to market and promote your firm. I had never thought, however, about the use of terminology within a firm until recently.
The word that inspired this revelation is “project.” Project is used in many ways and with multiple connotations:
(1) “She is my pet project.” This means that “she” is a disaster and needs help. Project is used to demean.
(2) “I am undertaking a house renovation project.” This means that “I” am boring. Project is used literally.
(3) “Do not tell anyone about Project X.” This means those who are a part of Project X are either CIA agents, criminals, or my mother (Project X = Project Val). Project is used mysteriously.
(4) “Hi Val, you are going to be in charge of the data gathering project.” This means that I have a terrible assignment to complete. Project is used insincerely….
For the next few months, I am working and living in San Francisco. It’s not surprising, but I have met some interesting folks since I moved here. And, I have learned not to sit down on any public space.
It is safe to say to that it is a different world here than in Chicago. This difference, I have learned, is present not only outside of the office, but inside as well. How? No, people do not go to work naked (at least not many). According to several small-firm attorneys, this difference manifests itself in a work culture that stresses healthy competition in a supportive environment.
Let’s examine this difference in a little more detail….
On July 28, I asked for readers to share their tips for success on Twitter. Several readers and social media experts have weighed in on this topic. Apparently, the way to garner a loyal (and numerous) Twitter following is the same way you make friends: build relationships, communicate and engage one another, and share information and unique insights.
Yes, Twitter is like high school, except that anyone can be a cool kid. So, if you want to be a Twar (read: Twitter star), use the following tips….
Nepotism is not a new concept. I would bet that anyone reading this article can imagine an example where nepotism played a role in one’s obtaining a legal job, rising to prominence at a law firm, or securing a client. Some people, including myself, used to scoff at those people. I thought that one should rise or fall based solely on his merit. I was wrong (and naive).
What made me change my tune? Two things. First, I recently came across a study that concluded that ants practice nepotism. The ants can distinguish who their closest relatives are and kill their more distant relations. If ants practice nepotism, that means that we should, too. As the saying goes, if birds do it and bees do it (and even educated fleas do it), we should do it, too.
Second, I recently became a part of a new ant colony. For the next three months, I will be working with my dad. After two days of working together, I can now say that nepotism rules. Screw meritocracy….
For some reason, something must end before we learn our lessons. That is precisely the reason that Sophia Petrillo from The Golden Girls attended her own funeral. She wanted to hear how much people appreciated her while she was still alive, correctly realizing that eulogies are much more valuable at a “funeral” where the individual is still alive to hear the nice things said about her.
This is also why every tech blogger and new source is discussing what we can learn from the retirement of Steve Jobs. My favorite “eulogy” is from a Wall Street Journal blog, The Juggle, recalling a commencement address Jobs gave at Stanford in 2005 about never settling. While I am pretty sure I did not listen to his advice, it is nevertheless sound. He said:
Who among us does not love bathroom humor? As we saw last week, Anderson Cooper loves him a joke about bodily functions. No one, however, wants to live a poop joke. And, according to a conversation that I had with two small-firm attorneys, they are doing just that.
I was at a birthday party last Saturday night for a woman with whom I used to work at my small firm. She has since left and is now working for another small firm. The party attendees were composed of mostly small-firm attorneys from several firms in Chicago (and yes, it was just as raucous as one would imagine given that guest list). As usually happens when a group of lawyers gather, we all started exchanging horror stories about work.
Some people lamented the lack of quality secretaries, some complained about outdated technology, and some whined about the face-time requirements at their firms. These gripes I had heard (and personally experienced) before.
Then my friend Tammi (not her real name) shared her tale of woe….
A common topic in my discussions with small-firm attorneys is whether or not to specialize. There are pros and cons to both, but one of the greatest difficulties in specializing as a small-firm lawyer is to make sure that your niche can provide enough business to serve as the sole focus of your practice. For instance, it may be possible to focus exclusively on trusts and estates matters, but it is unlikely possible to focus solely on fashion law.
There appears to be a growing area that may be worthy of a niche practice: reproductive law. Consider the statistics (provided by Andrew Vorzimer who specializes in this area and writes the blog Eggdonor): 1.5 million couples will seek treatment for fertility related issues this year and half of those will be unsuccessful with traditional treatments and likely turn to assisted reproductive technologies (e.g. in-vitro fertilization and surrogacy), which often require specialized agreements (and could lead to specialized litigation). Despite this demand for legal services relating to assisted reproductive technologies, there is a dearth of legislation in this area. Together, these seem like the building blocks for a lucrative and exciting legal specialty.
There is another reason why smart, competent, and ethical lawyers should consider this specialty. This is because there are small-firm lawyers in this field like Hilary Neiman and Theresa Erickson….
When I graduated from law school, I decided that I would take a job at a large law firm because it would maximize my chances of going in-house. I had no idea what either job would entail, but it seemed like a sensible plan. And, even without knowing what it would be like to be a litigation associate in Biglaw, I suspected it would be bad enough that an exit strategy would be necessary.
A few years later, I switched my exit strategy and went to a small firm. I decided that I could not wait for three to five more years to get the skills required to go in-house. So, I went to a small firm to get “hands on experience” and position myself for my new exit strategy: a federal government job. Then, hiring for federal jobs froze, and the few openings were impossible to get unless you had the exact experience required and could figure out your grade level. Consequently, I am currently reformulating my exit strategy. I am contemplating running for president or becoming a certified yoga instructor.
I have yet to meet a lawyer who did not plan or fantasize about his or her exit strategy from law firm associate, be it Biglaw or small. I blame it on the nightmare that is billing hours — even if the requirement might be less at some places. The most common exit strategies are (1) in-house and (2) fitness professional.
Is it possible, however, for a small-firm associate to go in-house, or is the small-firm associate required to follow my path and find a new exit strategy?
When I was in Biglaw, I always dreamed of taking part in a beauty contest. I do not really understand how it goes down, but it sounded very exciting (at least more than my fifty-state-survey.) According to YouTube, it looks something like this.
When I went to the small firm, I did not hear mention of beauty contests. Clients mostly came through referrals, and any client pitches were much more informal. For instance, I heard a story about two partners trying to get an FLSA class action, so they went to the employer’s factory and donned the poultry processor workers’ uniforms (and perhaps touched some chicken parts going down the conveyor belt). Unlike the stories of the Biglaw beauty contests, there were not lawyer teams from several other small firms lined up in their chicken-suits.
If a team from Skadden or Sidley were lined up in chicken-garb, however, how would the small-firm attorneys best position themselves to win the contest? I asked some Biglaw-turned-small-firm attorneys for their best tips….
When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a princess, an actress, and a firewoman. For most, growing up means losing the “and” (and the dreams of doing something so far-fetched, by which I mean me becoming a firewoman). Indeed, for many of my lawyer friends, particularly those in Biglaw, you become “a lawyer,” no “and.” Billing hours overtakes your life. If you are lucky, you become a lawyer AND someone who sleeps occasionally (on a huge pile of money).
I recently met a small-firm lawyer who embraced the “and.” Whether it is unique to the small firms where she has practiced or is true of many small-firm lawyers, Cheryl “Cheri” Richards reminded me of something I had forgotten about lawyers: they can be interesting and multidimensional….
The evolution of relationships between the genders continues. Currently, in law firms, there is an interesting conundrum; balancing the desire for a gender-blind workplace where “the best lawyer gets the work and advances” and the reality of navigating the complicated maze created by the fact that, in general, men and women do possess differences in their work styles. These variations impact who they work with, how they work, how they build professional connections and how organizations ultimately leverage, reward and recognize the talents of all.
Henry Ford sat on his workbench and sighed. A year earlier, he had personally built 13,000 Model Ts with his own hands. Fashioning lugnuts and tie rods by hand, Ford was loath to ask for help. Sure, there were things about the car that he didn’t quite understand. This explains the lack of reliable navigation systems in the Model T. But Ford persevered because he knew that unless he did everything, he could not reliably call these cars his own.
“Unless my own personal toil is responsible for it, it may as well be called a Hyundai,” Ford remarked at the time.
The preceding may sound unfamiliar because it is categorically untrue. And also monumentally stupid. Henry Ford didn’t build all those cars by hand. He had help and plenty of it. Almost exactly one hundred years ago, Henry Ford opened up the most technologically advanced assembly line the world had ever seen. Built on the premise that work can be chopped up into digestible pieces and completed by many men better than one, the line ushered in an age of unparalleled productivity.
Today, an attorney refers business because he can’t do everything the client asks of him.
There are three reasons why this is way dumber than a made-up Henry Ford story…
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: [email protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months, and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.