I was on the other side — the law firm side — of the business development coin for 25 years. And those 25 years taught me this about generating business: Raise your profile; stay in touch with people; and get lucky.
I was never once retained by dint of good looks or charm. (Anyone who’s seen or met me won’t find this to be surprising.)
And I don’t play golf.
So what’s a lawyer to do? What business development efforts worked for me, and what might work for you?
I’ve spent my whole life watching my ignorance be exposed.
When I worked at a small firm in California, I thought the whole litigation world was my oyster: We handled all civil cases (other than immigration or family law matters) in all state and federal courts in California.
I moved to a huge firm in Cleveland and lost my bearings: I now held myself out as being able to handle any civil case filed in any court in the United States. (This was a big change. When I worked in California, at least I knew what advance sheets to read. Cleveland set me adrift at sea.) Now, surely, the world was my oyster.
Wrong again. Now I’ve gone in-house, and I’m ultimately responsible for all litigation filed against my company anywhere in the world. The world is my oyster….
Think for a minute about business development for law firms.
Your firm wants to expand its litigation presence in a particular practice area.
What do you do?
Many firms figure they’ll march out their superstars and knock a potential new client’s socks off.
The firm will look to its heavy-hitters, none of whom have ever tried a case in the field in which the target client does business, or given a talk or written an article in the relevant field, or given the subject a moment’s thought.
But the heavy-hitters will go into the conference room and explain that they are the world’s finest trial lawyers, they have great trial experience, and litigation is, after all, just a toolkit. A person who can try one case can try ‘em all. Hire us.
Which lawyers are important at large law firms? Let’s set aside for a moment the guy who controls the tickets to the loge at the Lakers’ games, and think more generally. Who matters at law firms?
First, partners with big clients. Those folks have power. They influence decisions within the firm, have the capacity to push new people into the partnership, and have work to share with others, which keeps the others busy.
Partners with clients count. Who else counts?
Great lawyers. Sometimes, you just need a really smart person to help you solve a problem for a client. Good lawyers are generally adept at identifying great lawyers. If you’re a great lawyer, your colleagues at a big firm will come to you for advice.
(Sometimes, the lawyers with big clients are also great lawyers; sometimes, not. That should be self-evident. It is, in any event, grist for some other mill.)
When I moved in-house ten months ago, my phone started to ring off the hook — and not just from folks I hadn’t spoken to in years, who thought that I’d now be itching to retain them. I also got a few calls from people who were simply curious about the difference between working in-house and working at a law firm.
One of the differences is self-evident: You arrive at work on your first day at a corporation, and you devote that day entirely to ministerial crap. You spend an hour completing immigration forms, spend an hour having your photograph taken for various ID cards, fill out your health insurance and retirement benefit forms, create passwords for a dizzying array of computer databases, set up your computer to receive corporate training, and then realize that everyone is heading home.
Ouch! Another wasted day! You didn’t do a minute of billable work. You might as well have been on vacation today, because you did nothing that could legitimately be charged to a client.
Some time ago, we solicited applications for a new position here at Above the Law: a columnist to cover the world of in-house counsel. We received many outstanding applications, and we thank everyone who applied for their interest.
Today we are pleased to announce the launch of the new column, entitled Inside Straight (for the poker aficionados among you). As its name suggests, the column will cover the world of corporate counsel with all of the candor and insight that you’ve come to expect from ATL.
Our columnist — a former law firm partner, current in-house lawyer, and author of a well-received book on legal practice — should be familiar to longtime followers of the world of legal blogging….
‘Tis the season for… salary surveys. Earlier this week, we discussed the results of Washingtonian magazine’s D.C. lawyer salary survey. The upshot: lawyers in the nation’s capital are doing quite well for themselves.
Just like some of the government lawyers and judges discussed in the D.C. salary survey, it seems that corporate counsel have pretty sweet gigs. They earn well into the six figures, without the soul-crushing requirement of billing 2000 or 3000 hours at a sweatshop law firm.
So let’s get to it. What’s the 2010 average base salary for in-house lawyers?
If you think about it, rules that prevent lawyers from practicing law in other states are kind of anachronistic anyway. This isn’t 1810. We’ve got planes and trains and automobiles. Clients can have legal issues in many jurisdictions, and it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to require that they use a different lawyer in Oklahoma than they do in Texas.
With that in mind, this suggestion from the New York State Bar Association is a no-brainer. They propose that in-house lawyers shouldn’t have to pass the New York State Bar Exam in order to practice in New York State. Instead, they suggest that out-of-state, in-house attorneys simply pay a registration fee.
Because this is New York — rules bore us, but money talks…
Even in the economic heyday of a few years ago, making partner at a law firm was never a guaranteed outcome for every associate. But at large law firms today, partnership prospects look worse than ever. Whether you want to pursue that elusive partnership goal or opt out to work in-house, one thing is certain: you can’t just expect everything to fall into place; you have to take control of your career.
Last month, the Career Center’s Miami Professional Development Panel provided insider perspectives on how associates can increase their chances at making partner or landing an in-house job. Panelists included:
Adolfo Jimenez – Partner, Holland & Knight
Tiffani Lee – Partner, Holland & Knight
Albert Dotson, Jr. – Partner, Bilzin Sumberg
Jonathan Jaffe – Director & Associate Counsel, Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd.
What does it mean to be “newly admitted?” To us, it means endless possibilities!
We recognize that you already possess the ability and intelligence to succeed in a variety of legal professions. Our job is to expose you to various practice areas in a way that ensures those very attributes are successfully applied. Our seasoned and successful faculty present unique programs that provide an approachable and practical understanding of the avenues of achievement available as you launch a fruitful, enjoyable and promising career.
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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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