Lawyers

Just a typical lapsed lawyer (J.D., Northwestern ’68)

Lawyers turn into ex-lawyers for a host of reasons. The transition can be voluntary or not. We all know that erstwhile attorneys have successfully gone on to become, among thousands of other things, consultants, teachers, writers, and entrepreneurs. Late last year, in partnership with our friends at Adam Smith Esq., we reached out to lapsed lawyers to ask them their personal stories. Why did they choose the law in the first place? Why did they leave? What are they up to now? Do they regret leaving the practice of law? (A whopping 93% said “no” to that last question.)

We were quite pleased with the level of response to our survey: 430 former (or “recovering”) lawyers shared their stories with us. The tales they told us bring to mind a sort of inversion of Tolstoy’s line about happy and unhappy families. Those who were positive about their time spent practicing had a diverse range of experiences; those who were unhappy mostly tell the same story.

Read on for the details.

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Paul Cravath does not approve of this post.

Light years away and in the distant future, perhaps some alien grad student in Defunct Planet Studies will stumble onto the ATL archives. He’ll conclude, not unreasonably, that the legal industry was a sort of oligopoly. That there were only a handful of firms: Skadden, Cravath, Latham, Quinn Emanuel, Tannebaum Weiss, and those few others that get such a disproportionate amount of our attention. And of course, there were only 14 real law schools.

This singular obsession with “prestige,” this mindset that the most elite firms and schools are the only worthy ones, is detached from the experiences of the vast majority of lawyers practicing at the 50,000 other firms and the students at the 180+ other law schools. Back in December, we had a little debate about the effect of prestige in the legal industry. In the spirit of the “prestige obsession is bad” side of that argument, we thought it would be worthwhile to see which firms and schools outside of the very top tiers are, according to insiders, great places to work or learn.

Over the course of 2012, we received close to 10,000 responses to our ATL Insider Survey, where lawyers rate their firms based on compensation, culture, morale, training, and culture, and students and alumni rate their schools based on academics, social life, clinical training, career services, and financial aid advising. Based on our survey, the most highly rated firms and schools also happened to among the most prestigious (e.g., Stanford, Davis Polk), but there is certainly not a correlation between prestige and insider rating.

After the jump, we’ll see which schools outside of the T14 and which firms outside the Vault 50 were rated the highest by their own people….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, in the second installment of a two-part series (you can read the first part here), Joshua Stein gives some practical advice on how manage your workflow.

When your work feels overwhelming, you can take some specific steps to help break through the panic and get it all finished. The first installment of this article offered about a half dozen techniques. This installment completes the list.

A. Start. If you feel like you have too much on your plate – spilling over onto the table and the floor — sometimes you respond by freezing, not knowing where to start. Or you do know where to start, but you aren’t quite ready. You think about problems that might arise. You keep postponing the pain. But your best strategy will often consist of just starting the job. Even if you’re not quite ready and even if it’s not all lined up nicely, just dig into it. Start anywhere. Of all the suggestions in this two-part article, this one seems the most obvious. But the obvious suggestions are also the ones most likely to get forgotten when you get overwhelmed.

B. The Blank Screen. If you will produce written work, then you don’t need to start writing at the very beginning. That’s often intimidating. Instead, start with your second or third paragraph or a list of the bullet points you intend to cover. Fill out your memo, report, or other project and then go back to the beginning….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, from Ross Guberman, a look at lawyers’ ethical breaches and their consequences.

Quick: List all the ways you can get into ethical hot water while writing a brief, and then list all the things judges can do to you in return.

Sometimes lawyers go too far, but do judges ever overreact?

I interviewed Judy Fischer, author of Pleasing the Court (affiliate link), on wayward lawyers and the angry judges who penalize them:

In your short and fascinating book, we meet all sorts of wayward attorneys who are in some way punished by courts for something they’ve done in a brief. One attorney called the members of an administrative board “monkeys” and compared their pronouncements to the “grunts and groans of an ape.” Another attorney neglected to mention an unfavorable case even though he himself was counsel in that case. Yet another referred to opposing counsel as “Nazis and redneck pepper-woods.” And various other attorneys drafted a proposed order with a first sentence that’s nearly four pages long, filed a complaint that the court called a “hideous sprawling mess,” cited a dissent as controlling authority, or copied another lawyer’s brief.

When you compare all these alleged ethical breaches with the penalties they provoked, what are a few of the behaviors that seem to irk judges most?

Read more at the ATL Career Center….

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, in the second part of a two-part series, Casey Berman gives some practical advice to attorneys considering a corporate in-house counsel position.

While some are viewed as a valuable resource, many non-lawyers in the company automatically stereotype company attorneys as mere red tape, as an expense, or as an obstacle to be avoided (or derided as the “Department of Sales Prevention”). “Often, lawyers are considered overhead in a corporate situation, and to be a success, it really helps to be able to show how you contribute to the bottom line or at least don’t add significantly to it,” says Katie Slater, former Assistant General Counsel at AEI Services, a Houston based energy company, who now runs Career Infusion Coaching, a career management firm for lawyers.  In-house attorneys always have to manage expectations and demonstrate over time how their legal skill set contributes to the collective goals of the company.

The best way to demonstrate this value is to be able to communicate and express ideas in a quick, clear way in order to give guidance and ideas for next steps. “Bottom-line communication ability — can you say things in three bullet points or less, and in plain English?” says Slater.  “Being able to break down a legal issue simply and coherently to get to why this is an issue from a business perspective is a huge skill that will be valued.  Can you give ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers, and, if the answer is ‘No,’ can you come up with alternatives or work-arounds?”

Many business types think lawyers are put on earth to tell them “No.” To combat this, successful in-house attorneys are responsive (even if they are still working on an answer), and provide the business units with alternatives to mull on and consider. This interaction can build trust and shows that the attorneys is indeed on their side and contributing to business persons personal goals and the overall growth of the company.

Read more at the ATL Career Center….

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, in the first of a two-part series, Joshua Stein gives some practical advice on how manage your workflow.

As your work piles up, you will often feel as if you can’t possibly finish it. Each project seems overwhelming when you think about it in the abstract. And as soon as you start work on a new project, and figure out what it will actually require, it can become even more overwhelming.

This article and its sequel share a few techniques I use to help gain some control over my workflow. Few of these ideas are original, but I’ve included my own variations and suggestions.

A. Managing Everything. You will feel less overwhelmed if you protect yourself from feeling physically overwhelmed by the projects on your plate. For example, don’t cover your desk with piles of active tasks. For each active task, collect the various pieces of paper in a folder. Put all your folders away. Keep a “to-do” list of all your active tasks — every one of them — without writing other reminders to yourself anywhere else. Your to-do list should include everything. My own to-do list consists of a Word document with three columns: client work; other work; and personal projects. First priority tasks go to the top of each list. Some people use Outlook or even dedicated software. In any case, keep track of what you need to do and your priorities in a way that you don’t unintentionally leave anything behind. You should, however, also stay flexible in reordering and adjusting the list as you go. Regardless of format, a to-do list will help you feel more in control of your agenda, inviting you to set priorities and take each job one at a time. It’s far better than living with a chaotic physical mess that constantly taunts you about what you haven’t done….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “From the Career Files: Getting Your Work Done (Part One)”

Ed. note: This is the tenth installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, in the first of a two-part series, Casey Berman gives some practical advice to attorneys considering a corporate in-house counsel position.

For many lawyers looking to leave the law firm or explore other legal careers, in-house counsel often arises as a favorite option. Some of these attorneys want to be happy in their job. Others want a job that is anywhere but the firm. Others like the idea of fewer hours and a flexible schedule. And still others are attracted to expanding their responsibilities and broadening their business exposure.

This article explores just what it takes to be an in-house attorney, the expectations and demands of the role, and the potential career paths. While these positions are often coveted and hard to get, it takes critical analysis (of one’s personal skills and the job’s duties) to ensure that this role could be the answer to an attorney’s job hunting prayers.

Read more at the ATL Career Center….

Ed. note: This is the ninth installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Desiree Moore gives some practical advice to new associates on delivering work product to their supervising attorneys.

As a new lawyer, you will be expected to deliver assignments in a variety of ways. For example, you may be asked to do an oral presentation of the results of your assigned research, provide a “marked up” copy of a case or statute or contract for the assigning attorney, or create written work product. In all instances, be sure you are clear at the outset when you receive the assignment as to how you will be expected to deliver it. Listen carefully, take notes, and be sure to remit your work exactly as expected.

Where an assignment calls for written work product, think carefully about how you will deliver it. The ideal method of delivery is to hand a hard copy of the assignment to the assigning attorney in person, and offer to follow up with an electronic copy of the assignment for his or her files.

However, if you are unable to connect with the assigning attorney in person, as is often the case, follow these five steps to ensure he or she receives the assignment in a manner that is both convenient and helpful.

Read more at the ATL Career Center….

Ed. note: This is the seventh installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, we have some great advice for newly minted attorneys from Joshua Stein, the principal of Joshua Stein PLLC, a prominent commercial real estate law practice in Manhattan.

When you start out in any professional career, you will probably soon have someone to help you do your job, such as a paralegal, a secretary, or other assistant. Having that assistant can make your life easier, and help you do a better job — especially if you know how best to work with your new assistant. Here are some suggestions for working with any assistant, but particularly a secretary or a paralegal. Many but not all of these suggestions also apply to working with junior associates or other professionals who report to you.

A. Clear Instructions.
Your assistant doesn’t know what’s in your head. You have to tell them, at least until you’ve worked together long enough that your assistant develops a good sense of what you need done and how you like it done. Until that happens, make your instructions as clear as possible. Think about where things might go wrong, where your instructions might get misinterpreted. What steps did you forget to mention? Prevent problems by foreseeing them. Even if you can legitimately say the problem was “someone else’s fault,” it’s better if you can prevent the problem through foresight and by taking even more care than you might strictly think necessary. And make sure you define the project you want your assistant to complete. Don’t leave them guessing. What exactly do you expect them to accomplish, beyond “please take care of this”? What’s the “deliverable”?

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Ed. note: This is the fifth installment in a new series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, we have some advice, aimed at new lawyers, from Desiree Moore, an experienced Biglaw attorney and President and founder of Greenhorn Legal, LLC, on dealing with generational differences in the workplace.

These days, in almost every legal practice, practitioners range in age from 25- to 80-years-old. New lawyers are starting their careers younger and younger and attorneys are retiring later and later. As a result, there are significant generational differences between the youngest and oldest attorneys within the same legal practices and often these differences can lead to misunderstandings, frustration, and other negative consequences.

New lawyers may misunderstand what is being asked of them; older lawyers may misunderstand the information that is being communicated, or the manner in which the information is being communicated. This is generally not the most productive way for working relationships to be built or work to get done.

Read more at the ATL Career Center….

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