I’m an in-house attorney at a large company. I used to be an associate at a big law firm, but was a stealth layoff victim and had little contact with the firm after that (and I’ll admit, I’m still somewhat bitter about the layoff). My current employer still works with my former firm sometimes, though the firm didn’t do anything to help me get my current position.
Recently, the firm realized that (1) I once worked there, and (2) I now work at a client. However, they failed to remember why or how I left, and thus have been contacting me as a firm “alumnus” to invite me to client and industry-type things, as well as firm events.
How should I respond to this attention, especially since I’m in a relatively small legal community, and my bosses do have some relationship with the firm?
People seem to have online amnesia these days. You can be sworn enemies with someone in real life, but somehow it’s perfectly natural to want to add them on Facebook. Just had a soul-crushing breakup with an asshat? Start monitoring your inbox for his LinkedIn request. It’s really unbelievable. Some people just don’t understand that grudges are for life, and they’re held offline and online…
I recently had lunch with a guy who had worked at a law firm, gone in-house, and later returned to a law firm. (It’s actually more than that. This guy’s bio is: assistant U.S. attorney; associate at K&E; partner at Bartlit Beck; deputy general counsel at Bank One; and now at his own small firm. That’s called either “done it all” or “can’t hold a job.” Because this post will share with the world an idea that he proposed, I’ll credit him publicly: He’s Lenny Gail of Massey & Gail, a small shop based in Chicago and D.C.)
Lenny asked at lunch, as folks frequently do, what I’d learned about business development by having gone in-house. I answered honestly, as I occasionally do: When I was outside counsel, I always thought that business development was a game of chance. You tried a hundred different things, with no clue what might pay off, and then random chance struck and business arrived inexplicably, out of the blue.
As in-house counsel, my view hasn’t really changed: If you’re on our list of preferred counsel and we use you regularly, we’re likely to hire you again. If you’re a newcomer, there’s not much you can do or say to draw that first retention. Everything you say at our introductory meeting simply repeats what some other guy told us about his firm last week, and virtually nothing you’ve done is so breathtaking as to make you irresistible.
Lenny nodded, and we drifted back into our iced teas.
The real problem with getting retained is the first nibble. As outside counsel, once someone retained us for one case, it was a lock that they’d retain us for another. The client would come to know our people, our firm, the quality of our work, and the results we obtained. Parlaying one opportunity into many was easy; the hard part is getting the first chance. As in-house counsel, that continues to strike me as true for many (but not all) firms.
Some big law firms are like the mob. They do ugly things, but prefer to avoid “ugliness.” The partners, like the capos of major crime families, have delicate constitutions.
Ugliness could result from ill-considered communication. For that reason, a capo – or a partner – isn’t going to tell you what he really thinks. That would be indelicate. It could lead to misunderstandings.
You, in turn, shouldn’t tell a partner what you really think. That could lead to sleeping with the fishes.
My client recently received a lesson in partner communication…
Few folks use proposals for co-authorship to advance their careers. More should.
What am I suggesting?
Come up with a thesis for an article. Call somebody who matters to you, and propose that you write the article together. Write a first draft of the article, send it to your co-author to solicit revisions, and then publish the piece.
For whom might this work? Anyone who’s looking to curry favor.
For business development purposes, an outside lawyer might call a client or potential client and suggest co-authoring a piece in the client’s field of expertise. For career development purposes, a law firm associate might do the same with a partner, or an in-house lawyer might do the same with a business colleague or a supervisor. Few people would be offended to be offered co-authorship credit for an article, and many would be delighted to be given the opportunity and later to take partial credit for a published piece.
Talk to almost any black woman and ask her what kind of discrimination she runs up against the most: prejudice against minorities, or prejudice against women? She will probably say, “Gender discrimination, you stupid, stupid man.” I imagine you’d get a similar answer from non-black female minorities as well.
You’ll see a lot of crap if you are a minority male trying to excel professionally in this country. But a lot of it is subtle. When society craps all over women, there is no subtlety. “Show me your birth certificate.” > “Show me your [breasts].”
A new study from Corporate Counsel Women of Color (CCWC), which we mentioned in Morning Docket, confirms what would be obvious to any man married to a woman of color (indicating). What’s slightly more surprising is that things are marginally better for minority women lawyers when they are in-house as opposed to when they’re working at a private law firm.
Actually, when you think about it, of course the in-house environment provides slightly fewer obstacles to minority females….
Last week’s Am Law 100 list revealed publicly a trend that partners at big law firms have been feeling acutely: The largest law firms have de-equitized partners in the last two years in an unprecedented way. In the words of one of the articles, “Equity partner head count alone slipped 0.9 percent last year, after dropping 0.7 percent in 2009.” That trend may undermine the business models of some law firms.
Law firms have many and varied business plans and compensation systems. But one reasonable way to run a firm is to market your most marketable lawyers — concentrate business development in the folks best able to develop business. For that model to work, however, all partners must trust the institution. De-equitization reduces the necessary trust and may kick the stilts out from under this business model.
Here’s how the model works. If a potential new client asks your firm to respond to an RFP for litigation matters, you turn to your half-dozen heaviest-hitting litigators and decide which one will be offered up as the lawyer to lead the new engagement. You know that, if you’re invited to a beauty contest, the heavy-hitter will clinch the deal, because he’s clinched so many deals in the past.
If you read in today’s Wall Street Journal that the plaintiffs’ mass tort bar has just put another industry under seige, you spring into action. Pull together the firm’s marketing materials, identify lawyers with relationships in the relevant industry, draft up outlines of motions to dismiss and oppositions to class certification, assemble an outline of key issues and proposed responses, and then have your relationship lawyers call and email their client contacts, offering to have one of the heavy-hitters meet with the client to explain the firm’s capabilities. The heavy-hitter takes it from there.
If a corporate lawyer gets a serious litigation nibble, the corporate lawyer will naturally advise the head of litigation about the opportunity, so the firm can make an appropriate pitch. The head of litigation asks one of the heavy-hitters to lead the charge.
If a client asks a junior partner in the commercial trial department about the firm’s ability to defend a multi-billion dollar case, the junior partner reports up through the ranks. The firm puts together a response that proposes a talented litigation team to handle the case — led, of course, by one of the heavy-hitters.
This approach to running a firm isn’t crazy. To the contrary: Institutionally, this system makes a lot of sense. You offer up your most impressive lawyers to handle the most important opportunities, land the business, and distribute that business among the masses to keep everyone busy. Collectively, everyone at the firm benefits.
I understand using blogging as a form of business development for lawyers. I did it when I was in private practice. It produced the sorts of returns you might expect from the endeavor. And it makes sense that it might work: If you crank out basically a short article every day on one particular substantive area of law (and the piece is worth reading), you’ll develop an audience (and a reputation) over time, and that may yield opportunities.
You can’t exactly prove your expertise in 140 characters. You can’t prove that you can write with clarity or grace. And you can’t even summarize information on the web to which you’re linking. All you can really prove is that you follow a topic and aggregate an interesting collection of stuff; you recommend things that you believe are worth reading. If you’re aggregating the good stuff in a particular field, then your followers should be clicking through your links to read what you’ve recommended.
So that’s today’s question: Are they? Do people click through and read information that someone recommends on Twitter?
I raced downstairs to break the news: I’m leaving. I got a new, non-legal job at a major online book-seller.
The reception at the firm gym wasn’t what I expected. My favorite trainer looked pensive, mumbled “good for you, man,” then gave me a half-hearted fist bump. The other two trainers, both women, exchanged looks. One grimaced, and quipped to the other, “see, I told you – the nice ones always leave.” She caught my glance, and turned serious. “Hey, it’s good news. We’ll miss you, that’s all.”
The nice ones always leave.
My client ran into this phenomenon recently. She’s a first year, assigned to a major case with two senior associates. The partner’s missing in action, so she and the two seniors are running the show…
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When Chintan Panchal decided to leave a global BigLaw partnership to start his own firm, he could only hope that he would face the high-quality problem of firm building that many had cautioned him about. Focused on the uncertainty surrounding of a new firm launch, he decided to tackle staffing needs, IT challenges, and financial planning requirements after he had built up his legal practice.
Panchal Associates LLP–a corporate/finance and outside general counsel boutique–was quickly off to a great start. Clients and matters were flying in the door, and Chintan soon had a team of lawyers and staff with a variety of operational needs. To continue building an excellent team and provide them with a competitive benefits package, to expand his physical presence to include a European practice and additional partners, and to scale his operations and IT capabilities to support this growing enterprise brought with it demands of time, money, and expertise. Chintan knew he needed help.
“With the assistance of NexFirm, we have upgraded the capabilities of our firm to meet, and in some cases exceed, the standards we were used to at our former BigLaw firms. Operationally, we can now attract and service clients we didn’t have the bandwidth to support in the past, and continue to build our team with the best and brightest legal talent in the industry,” said Chintan Panchal, adding “It has worked out quite well in our case; NexFirm is an essential partner for us.”
The holiday season is upon us, and yet again, you have no idea what to get for the fickle lawyer in your life. We’re here to help. Even if your bonus check hasn’t arrived yet, any one of the gifts we’ve highlighted here could be a worthy substitute until your employer decides to make it rain.
We’ve got an eclectic selection for you to choose from, so settle in by that stack of documents yet to be reviewed and dig in…
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