According to George Will, “Pessimism has its pleasures. Ninety percent of the time you’re right, and ten percent of the time you’re delighted to be wrong.”
That’s how I go through life.
What made me a pessimist? Nature or nurture, perhaps? (Should I blame my parents’ genes or their parenting skills?) Decades defending litigation, which forced me perpetually into a defensive crouch? (If that’s the reason, then plaintiffs’ lawyers must be optimists.) Or my preferred explanation: Keen observation of reality, coupled with endless experience, naturally breeds pessimism.
As an outside lawyer, my pessimism meant that I presumptively expected the worst (or, at a minimum, the least) from colleagues, opposing counsel, clients, and courts. Those folks generally performed precisely to my expectation, reinforcing my pessimism.
As an in-house lawyer, how does pessimism infuse life?
When I tell people that I really love my job, I get various responses. Most of them are something like, “Wow, that’s great,” or “I hate you.” Or sometimes, “That’s very nice, ma’am. May I take your order now, please?” When people ask why I love my job, my response is kind of lame. I tend to say it’s a lot of “fun” and then go on to describe a couple of types of matters I work on. Yeah, not all that insightful.
So for this week’s post, I decided to figure out more specifically (than “umm, so…the social media thing is interesting…”) why a lawyer may love her job. The reasons I came up with are mostly common sense and one reason actually has nothing to do with my job per se….
I’ve recently heard two seemingly related thoughts: (1) lawyers’ legal skills deteriorate when they go in-house and (2) this makes it harder to move back to a law firm.
I doubt that the difficulty in moving from an in-house job to a law firm (if that difficulty exists at all) has anything to do with one’s skills having deteriorated. Although one headhunter recently told me that it’s hard to go back to a firm after you cross the in-house Rubicon, he insisted that was because most in-house lawyers won’t naturally bring a book of business to the firm that hires them. (I stuck the qualifier “most” in there intentionally. Some in-house lawyers move to a firm, bring the corporation’s legal work with them, and do quite well. But that’s not the typical situation.) It’s no surprise that lawyers who bring clients with them find jobs more easily than lawyers who do not. In-house lawyers often can’t guarantee that business will travel with them, so it’s possible that in-house lawyers are less attractive candidates for firms.
But that’s not my main point today. I also don’t agree that moving in-house automatically causes a lawyer’s skills to deteriorate. How going in-house will affect your skills depends on the nature of your in-house position, how your corporation works, and what skills you’re thinking about . . .
As an in-house attorney, listening to Jamie Dimon’s Capitol Hill testimony this week caused me no shortage of agita. How in the world does a sophisticated shop like JPMorgan engage in trading that “it didn’t fully understand?” We’re not talking about tranches of junk mortgages; this appears to be basic hedging that went awry to the tune of two billion dollars. Oh, and after this occurred, Dimon was re-upped as the top gun at JPMorgan and given a nice raise. I am sure that there are a raft of attorneys in-house and otherwise advising JPMorgan on this situation — and how to deal with it — but I am more interested in how these trades came to be approved in the first place.
I presume, without knowing, that JPMorgan’s traders have a gauntlet of approval processes to run before implementing new initiatives, and one of those processes surely involved legal approval, or at least legal “go ahead.” Legal surely reviewed the initiative or trades, or whatever the proper term of art may be, before passing it up to the sales floors, and this is the most troubling aspect for me. Assuming that the public testimony is accurate, (and yes, I know what happens when I assume), then the folks responsible for actually trading did not understand what they were doing. Wow. Just wow….
Since I began writing this column, I have been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. After speaking with so many small-firm attorneys who talk excitedly about the challenges and rewards of owning their own businesses, I have toyed with the idea of doing the same. Because of my love-hate relationship with the practice of law, however, I have been trying to come up with other small business ideas. My latest brilliant business venture is a summer camp for unemployed people. Unfortunately, my dreams were dashed when a friend pointed out that my business was destined to fail because my target market had no money to spend on, well, anything. Boo.
Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with two attorneys who have identified a way to take advantage of the bad economy in a way that, unlike my plan, made financial sense. The idea is simple: offer in-house counsel seeking to reduce their legal fees reduced legal fees for the same high quality work. Yet another idea I wished I had come up with (note: I firmly believe that I created Pinterest because I started clipping stuff out of magazines in 1992)….
Breaking news to lawyers at firms: In-house, we have these things called “business plans.”
Our business units prepare those plans at least annually. The plans typically contain both general objectives (such as achieving a specified level of organic growth, or margin, or whatever) and concrete steps that the business will take to achieve those objectives (such as introducing new products, controlling specified expenses, or whatever).
In-house law departments may create those plans, too. We commit to implement controls, or improve response times, or give a specified number of training sessions to a specified number of people, or the like. Depending on the corporation, a lawyer may be paid less than his target bonus if he doesn’t achieve his objectives and perform according to plan. A system like that is pretty good at grabbing folks’ attention and causing things to be done.
Do law firms (or individual lawyers at firms) prepare business plans?
I worked for twenty years at the darkest of the black-box compensation law firms: No one knew what anyone else was being paid, and the firm forbade talking about compensation. Here’s the curious part: We obeyed.
I saw the raised eyebrows of partners considering moving laterally to my firm: “Right — no one talks about compensation. You guys must talk about it all the time, just like we do at my firm. It can’t be a secret.”
Wrong. We really, honest-to-God did not talk about compensation. The subject just didn’t come up.
I’ve heard second-hand that this is true for other black-box firms, too. The managing partner of a different large, black-box comp firm recently told one of my colleagues: “Once you take compensation out of the limelight and forbid people from talking about it, then people stop talking about it. The subject drops off the table.”
That sets the stage: At firms where lawyers are permitted to talk about each other’s compensation, they do. And at firms where lawyers are prohibited from talking about compensation, they don’t.
Riddle me this: In corporate law departments, we are not prohibited from discussing each other’s compensation, but we don’t do it anyway. Why is that?
Former Dewey and current Winston partner Adam Kaiser, in my opinion, needs lessons in public relations. I don’t even need to review with you who I am talking about. If you’re reading this on ATL, you already know Adam Kaiser. You also know what he is alleged to have done, and how he responded to a single comment posted on this site.
You and I know all of this information because of Adam Kaiser’s ill-timed attempts to quash the use of his name by an anonymous commenter. His poorly conceived, heat-of-the-moment demands that his name be removed from the site ultimately resulted in the reverse effect; everyone knows his name, and what he is alleged to have done. And his name, while removed from the single comment, has now been repeated over and over and over. Adam Kaiser.
The saying goes that any publicity is good publicity. I argue that unwanted publicity that could damage a career or a firm’s reputation is far from “good.” Even if Adam Kaiser thought he was doing the right thing by sticking up for himself against an anonymous comment, he effectively screwed the pooch.
I participated recently in a panel discussion at a conference, speaking with other lawyer/blogger types in front of an audience consisting largely of people from law firms and law schools. After we finished, I did the decent thing and sat and listened to the panel that followed mine. I happened to choose an empty seat next to a woman who introduced herself to me later as a dean at a law school, in charge of career placement, or whatever the euphemism is for trying to find students non-existent jobs. The law school was a small one — yes, one of those dreaded “third tier” places.
She confronted me afterwards. “I guess I’m the bad guy, huh?”
I was startled by her candor, but I knew what she meant. This was one of those people from a third tier law school — the greedy cynical fraudsters signing kids up for worthless degrees, then leaving them high and dry, unemployed and deeply in debt.
Despite her participation in crimes against humanity, I had to admit she didn’t seem so bad, in person.
Then I snapped back to my senses — and went on the attack, assuming my sacred role as The People’s burning spear of vengeance….
Hey, have you read Above the Law for like one single minute in the past month? If so, you probably know that we’re having this big blogger conference on March 14th at the Yale Club. Yeah, the Yale Club. You’ll be able to recognize me: I’ll be the only big… blogger guy surreptitiously holding a can of crimson spray-paint.
Speaking of coming, you should come. We’ve got CLE and all that. Click here to buy tickets to get CLE credit for listening to bloggers scream about stuff on the internet.
To refresh your memory, details on the panel that I’m moderating — almost entirely sober, mind you — follow.
My panel is called Blogs as Agents of Change, and we’re going to talk about whether all of these spilled pixels are actually making a difference. You know my view… just ask Lawrence Mitchell, but here are the panelists:
So you spent a considerable amount of time courting, selling and maybe even doing some friendly stalking of that attractive lateral partner candidate with a sizable book. After he or she ignored your emails and didn’t return your calls, a few weeks go by and you read a press release in the legal media announcing the recent move to a competing firm.
Rats. Another one got away from you. You cringe when you consider how much time was spent in meetings that did not bear fruit. Your heart aches when recall how you were led to believe this was a marriage made in heaven.
You have been rejected.
The sting of rejection is painful, even for fancy law firms. But you need to find a way that you can turn this disappointment into a legitimate learning experience.
No, this isn’t a pre-party before we come back next fall for the real thing. This IS the real thing. Quinn Emanuel is pushing the envelope on recruiting. The party is now. This is when you meet the partners and associates face to face. This is when we begin the dance that could land you an offer for your second summer BEFORE school starts in the fall.
First: You come to the party. Second: If you like us, you send your resume after June 1, 2014. Third: If we like each other, you get an offer.
We’re not waiting for fall. We’re not doing the twenty minute thing. This party is the real thing!
We hope you’ll join us, and look forward to meeting you.
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