One day it will happen to you. Whether you’re at a firm or in government or in-house, there will come a time when someone in your workplace will get a promotion who doesn’t deserve it. And unfortunately, we’re not talking about you. This person may a poor communicator, a terrible manager, or maybe just kind of a jerk to work with. But one day, it will happen. And when you receive news of the promotion, your mouth will drop in disbelief and you will shake your fist at the heavens, crying, “Why, wretched office gods, why….?!”
Is it the Peter Principle at play? This is a fascinating theory suggesting that employees keep getting promoted until they reach the levels at which they’re incompetent. Once an employee reaches the first level of professional incompetence, the promotions stop. Now imagine this happens with every employee. Basically, the only way to move up levels is to go over to another organization that’s unaware of your incompetence and hopes in vain that you’re more competent than whomever they’ve got over there.
Or maybe it’s the effect of the Dilbert Principle. Cubicle guru Scott Adams proposed that the least competent people in a company tend to get promoted to higher levels because companies need the smarter, skilled employees to do the actual work. Instead, the less-skilled incompetents are moved up to levels where they perform tasks that less vital to production, such as demanding that their underlings perform their real work harder, faster, and better. Picture Michael Scott of The Office. Only not so smart.
These principles were originally proposed as satire, although they sound kind of compelling, don’t they? But perhaps there’s something more sinister at play. Something darker…like we’re failing…to understand the entire picture. (*Thunder boom and lightning crash.*)
* Rob me once, shame on you; rob me twice, shame on me? Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was robbed for a second time, but this time as the victim of a burglary on May 4. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]
* Dewey know when this ship is finally going to capsize (so we can stop making these puns)? Two of D&L’s Hong Kong partners have decided to defect to DLA Piper, and more may be joining them soon. [Asian Lawyer]
* He might’ve been a “bad husband,” but that doesn’t mean he’s guilty. The jury in John Edwards’s campaign finance trial will begin deliberating today. Let’s see if they convict him of being more than an adulterer. [CNN]
* After his citizenship stunt, Eduardo Saverin can look forward to being defriended by the United States — not like that’s a bad thing, because to be honest, the movie version of him is much cuter. [New York Daily News]
* And this is why lawyers shouldn’t try to be funny. Safeway’s General Counsel, Robert Gordon, is being branded a sexist for telling a recycled joke about pigs and D.C.’s most powerful women. [Corporate Counsel]
* A three month suspension has been recommended for a former Treasury Department attorney who attempted to steal ties from Nordstrom. What, he couldn’t spring for a Neiman’s run? [National Law Journal]
* If you bought those stupid ass Skechers Shape-Up shoes in the hope that your booty would look like Kim Kardashian’s, you can get a piece of the $40M settlement. Not bitter, not at all. [Los Angeles Times]
In the early 1980s, Robin Williams performed in a nightclub. His performance was taped and later broadcast by HBO. During the performance, Williams spied on-stage a wine glass filled with a clear liquid (which was, in fact, water), and Williams was off and running:
“There are white wines. There are red wines. Why are there no black wines?
“Reggie wine! It’s a m*therf*cker! Goes with meat; goes with fish; goes with any damn thing it wants to.
“I like my wine like I like my women — ready to pass out.
“We’ll get Mean Joe Green to advertise the stuff: ‘Reggie wine! Drink this sh*t or I’ll nail your ass to a tree.’”
After HBO broadcast the performance, an African-American winemaker named David Rege (pronounced “Reggie”) sued Williams and others in California state court, claiming that Williams had damaged Rege’s reputation and adversely affected the sales of his wine. (You knew there was a lawsuit tucked in here someplace, didn’t you?)
I work in a highly competitive sales market. Underhanded deeds, though never perpetrated by my clients, are de rigeur in this field. There seems to be an ethical handbook for sales folks that has a theme of “ethics smethics –- close the deal at all costs.”
At quarter-end, or worse, year-end, this mantra can infect an attorney’s most rigid values. It is at these times when we must be on guard against the pressure to close. The pot at the end of the rainbow will look rather less shiny when tarnished by an ethics violation. None of this is news to most in-house folks.
With an economy on a slow crawl back to health, and internal pressures from all sides to cut costs and maximize revenue, shenanigans from sales people are rife in war story lore. But what of bad behavior by customers? I can tell you that after my years in-house, when I thought I’d already seen it all in private practice, I was quite wrong….
I won’t burden you with the subject of my remarks (regular readers of this column could probably guess), but I’ll share the sublime. Judge Easterbrook said one thing, and he failed to mention another topic that he often raises.
Judge Easterbrook explained that, as a young lawyer, he had sent a brief to the Third Circuit for filing. The clerk rejected the brief and mailed it back. Easterbrook called, and the clerk’s office explained that it had rejected the brief because the back cover was the wrong shade of blue — a shade specified by an unwritten local rule. Easterbrook asked if there were any other unwritten rules, and the clerk said he wasn’t sure. Easterbrook mailed a revised version of the brief, which the clerk’s office again rejected — this time for violating a different unwritten local rule. On the third try, the clerk’s office finally accepted the brief. Easterbrook swore that, if he were ever the chief judge of a circuit, all of the rules would be in writing. Easterbrook then told the assembled crowd that (1) the Seventh Circuit’s written rules are fairly comprehensive and (2) the clerk’s office is extremely helpful if you call for advice, so there’s no longer an excuse for not complying with appellate local rules.
Judge Easterbrook last week chose not to discuss a different subject. One of the other folks who attended the breakfast meeting told me that the judge often raises this in his talks . . .
At large law firms, unless you’re interviewing for a small practice group, nobody’s losing sleep over whether you’ll fit in. They’ll take you so long as you’re smart, willing to work crazy hours, and not obviously a jerk. (Although if you’re a rainmaker jerk, they can’t seem to roll out the red carpet to the corner office quickly enough.)
You’ll tend hear the concern about the “right fit” voiced more often for in-house than Biglaw job openings. When you interview for an in-house position, your technical and substantive abilities certainly need to pass the bar (every possible pun intended). But after that, there’s a broad and maddeningly vague analysis regarding how good a “fit” you are….
Why is that? I submit that there’s a generational divide in legal humor.
When my daughter was in first grade, and her classmates were all losing their baby teeth, I picked up Jessica’s arm one day and felt around in her armpit. “Hey, Jessica,” I asked, “are any of your classmates losing their baby arms yet?”
Jessica didn’t laugh. Instead, she gave me a look that said, “I’m pretty sure that he’s kidding — but if he’s not, this really sucks.”
I had my first biopsy yesterday. Now, I have to wait ten days to hear whether my life will change dramatically, or whether worrying for a week and a half was a waste of time. This is one time I surely won’t mind “negative” feedback.
As I have contemplated this situation, it struck me that fear is an unnecessary component of our work lives from the time we apply to law school. Fear can drive us to obtain top grades, or to over-study for the bar exam, even though we’ve been specifically advised by BAR/BRI — as well as countless other attorneys who’ve been there and who we trust — that you only need to follow the program and you’ll pass. Fear can cause us to take jobs we don’t want because we just need a job, and fear can implicate itself into our daily work routine, so much that we cover our asses out of fear.
The fact is, as attorneys, we’re “maximizers” — folks who know fairly quickly, and usually correctly, that there may be a perfectly good solution to a question, but we can’t stop the obsessive, “What if?!”
Those what-ifs can metastasize into an ungodly blob of fear that resides in the pits of our stomachs. Especially at smaller in-house shops where counsel are expected to know everything all at once. That type of pressure is a breeding ground for all kinds of fear. The best practice when you’re faced with a task of knowing it all is to admit defeat at the outset. You cannot possibly know everything required of you. Your duty is to the company, and to do the best job of which you are capable. Beyond that, have the wisdom to seek assistance, internally or from outside counsel, and to know when to put your foot down and say “enough”….
For a couple of centuries, we thought that American elections were precise: People voted; the government counted each vote; we knew which candidate received how many votes.
In the year 2000, we learned that elections are approximations. Votes are miscounted; chads dangle; we don’t in fact know precisely who received how many votes. Elections are a human process after all, and they can’t bear the weight when we insist on precision within the margin of error.
So, too, with litigation. I recently spoke to one of our outside litigators who had seemingly vanished from the face of the earth for several weeks. He told me that one of his clients had run into a now-typical e-discovery disaster: His client had overlooked some documents; a computer system had automatically deleted some other documents; when the client corrected the situation, it did so imperfectly; the judge (who came from a government background and had no experience in private civil litigation) was quick to spy “bad faith.” Why, this outside lawyer asked, don’t judges appreciate the difficulties presented by e-discovery?
My thesis (for today, anyway) is that e-discovery is like elections: It’s an approximation, and participants in litigation (parties, counsel, courts) should understand that it may not bear the weight when the judicial system insists on precision within the margin of error . . . .
Well, it is turning out to be a bad week for all kinds of terrible bosses. On Wednesday, a senior in-house attorney at a global financial services firm was sued by his former secretary for gender discrimination and creating a hostile work environment. Or in layman’s terms, allegedly being an über-jerk, and then some. We have snippets from the suit after the jump, but first, quiz time:
According to the lawsuit, this in-house boss from hell allegedly flung which of the following at his hapless former secretary:
A) a cup of hot tea
C) degrading verbal insults
D) all of the above
Answers, as well as some expletive-laden invective from the lawsuit, below….
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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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