I’ve now written more than 250 columns at Above the Law; I’m invoking a point of personal privilege.
Neil Falconer (of Steinhart & Falconer in San Francisco) passed away last week at the age of 91. He was an extraordinary lawyer, a fine man, and a mentor to anyone who had the sense to listen. Between 1984 and 1989, I learned from Neil what it meant to be a lawyer – “be a sponge; soak up the law;” “never tell a small child not to stick peanuts up his nose;” “you take as long as necessary to solve the problem; let me worry about the bill” – and I later dedicated The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law to him. I expected to shed a tear when I read his obituary, but I didn’t expect to be dumbstruck. Words are a terribly feeble way to encapsulate a life. And sometimes you’re paid back, years later, for even the smallest of gestures. Here’s a link to Neil Falconer’s obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle. Rest in peace, Neil. And thank you.
Thinking about Neil caused me to reflect on the decision that I made, 30 years ago, to work at a small firm (of 20 lawyers) on the West Coast.
Everyone told me that I was nuts: “You can always move laterally from a big firm to a small one, but you can’t move laterally in the other direction!” “You can always move from a big New York firm to a firm in California, but you can’t move west to east!” “You have to start by getting the ‘big firm experience.’ Then you can always move to a small firm.” “Go to a big firm! That’s how you keep your options open!”
The conventional wisdom isn’t always right . . . .
One of the most common soft skills issues that comes up in every environment, whether work, home, or play, is how people deal with others’ negative perceptions or criticisms of them.
When we receive negative feedback from others, most of us go autopilot into some level of defensiveness. We’ll tend to find excuses for our behavior (“I was really overworked at that time,” “I was preoccupied by personal issues,” “That wasn’t my intent,” etc.). Or we’ll blame the other person (“She wasn’t paying attention,” “He’s always so closed-minded,” “She doesn’t get the big picture,” etc.).
Even if any of the explanations above are true, there are other ways of responding to criticism and negative feedback that can be lot more helpful….
* The panel investigating the Bridgegate scandal gave Gibson Dunn until the end of the week to turn over all materials relied upon to clear Gov. Christie from wrongdoing. Thankfully, the governor was too busy working out to be upset. [New Jersey Star-Ledger]
* Penn Law has named Wendell Pritchett, the chancellor of Rutgers University-Camden, as interim dean to take over for Michael Fitts, who is leaving to become Tulane’s president. What an incredibly deanly name he’s got there. Congrats! [Philadelphia Inquirer]
* New York Law School is launching an in-house institute — the first of its kind in New York City — to help corporate attorneys solve their problems and law students learn about life inside a legal department. Gee, this idea sure sounds familiar. [Corporate Counsel]
* Rachel Canning, the New Jersey schoolgirl who recently dropped a lawsuit against her parents, was caught partying with the boyfriend who was the cause of the entire affair. Tsk tsk, bad girl! [New York Post]
I recently had dinner with the dean of a law school. To give you a sense of this person’s perspective, I’ll say that he (or she, but I’ll use the masculine) is responsible for a law school that U.S. News ranks somewhere between 50 and 100. His school has thus been hammered by the Great Recession and the decrease in applications to law school, but the school is not (yet) thinking of turning out the lights.
I didn’t actually pry into what was happening at his school. He simply volunteered that his life was far different now than it had been a very few years ago. I guess that’s no surprise, given the tumult of the times.
Anyway, what are law school deans doing these days?
Duke: national champions when it comes to law school softball.
* According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the legal sector added 2,300 jobs in 2014. Our sincere condolences go out to all those who are still “too overqualified but too under-experienced,” all at the same time, to get hired. [Am Law Daily]
* This lawyer protested jury duty by emailing the judge to say she’d “blame the plaintiff” for making her work nights and weekends for her client, but she can only blame herself for having to spend the night in jail. Oopsie! [Daily Report (reg. req.)]
* “Would it be great if all unpaid internships paid really well? Sure. It would also be great if my dog made breakfast for me every morning, but I am not going to file a lawsuit over it.” Yep. [Los Angeles Times]
* The law school transparency movement has come quite far since its inception, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. Encourage your school to hurry up and “publish what it has at its fingertips.” [Law.com]
* UVA Law held its Softball Invitational this weekend. A Duke Law dude emailed us to say his school sucks at basketball, but it’s awesome at law school softball. Sweet accomplishment, brah. [Newsplex]
* Sonia Sotomayor has been dubbed as the “people’s justice” in a law professor’s article recently published in the Yale Law Journal Online. If only RBG had appeared on Sesame Street, the title could’ve been hers. Sigh. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]
* It’s a “procedural game-changer”: Virginia’s class action lawsuit against same-sex marriage has been stayed pending the outcome of the Fourth Circuit’s decision in the case that struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage. [Legal Times]
* “They’re certainly going to be very careful about biting the hand that feeds them.” Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, the firm behind the “Bridgegate” report that cleared Gov. Christie of wrongdoing, received $3.1M from New Jersey last year. [New Jersey Star-Ledger]
* Now that approximately 60 percent of compliance officers are women, in-house insiders are starting to wonder if the position is being reduced to “women’s work” — and not in a good way. [Corporate Counsel]
* Everyone involved in this case is dead, but it’s been hanging in the courts for more than a decade. Soon we’ll find out if Anna Nicole Smith’s ex-stepson will be sanctioned in the grave. [National Law Journal]
April Fools’ Day is a terrible day to be in this business. Every tip that comes in requires an extra layer of scrutiny because even longstanding, trusted sources are trying to troll. It’s really not all that funny to make up false but entirely believable stories and pass them off as real. That’s why the Daily Currant isn’t funny.
Which is why when Citi Private Bank issued its First Quarter report on the confidence of managing partners across the legal landscape and declared that managing partners have a rosy outlook, it earned a double take on this end. After all, wasn’t it just a few months ago that managing partners were telling the American Lawyer that it was all gloom and doom on the horizon?
So is this result real? It is, but the headline isn’t the end of the story….
I didn’t appreciate it before I moved in-house, but law firms are remarkably meeting-free. I suspect this is for three reasons: First, law firms are not public companies, so they aren’t obligated to perform many bureaucratic tasks the law imposes on public companies. Second, most law firms bill by the hour; when time is literally money, few people tolerate non-productive meetings. Finally, law firms have flat organizational structures. Although partners cooperate to varying degrees within firms, partners (or, at a minimum, partners who generate business) are largely independent actors. A partner is retained for a new piece of business, assembles a team to handle the work, and starts working. The team is typically fairly small (two or three lawyers are plenty to handle most legal matters; a team of 25 lawyers is large, even at a big firm; a team of 100 means you’re defending the largest of the mass torts). There’s no real organizational structure within the firm. A partner in charge of a practice or an office may technically oversee another partner’s work, but “oversight” in that sense means only making sure the partner’s bringing in enough business and billing enough hours. “Oversight” does not mean, for example, having weekly one-on-one meetings with the partner to manage his performance; no senior partner would stand for that nonsense (and waste of time).
Corporations are different. They’re publicly traded. They’re often much larger than law firms. They’re divided into operational divisions with pyramidal structures, with many people reporting to fewer people who report to fewer people still who report to someone near the top. Put that all together, and it means meetings. And meetings. And meetings. And meetings. In fact, to my eye, there are four types of corporate meetings . . . .
Ed. note: Please welcome Above the Law’s new poet-in-residence, Qui Tam. You can read the rest of his law-related poetry over here.
I realize the title of this column may seem a little incongruous given it is not even published on a Friday, but I hope this week’s efforts are nevertheless relevant for many lawyers, for whom TGIF is pretty much meaningless anyway…
Aasif Mandvi accepting his Justice in Action Award last night at the AALDEF 40th anniversary celebration.
Last night, I had the privilege and pleasure of attending the 40th anniversary celebration of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF). Forty years is a remarkable milestone, so everyone was in a celebratory spirit. Here’s my account of the evening, which also honored several leaders within the Asian-American community….
Professor Joel P. Trachtman has developed a unique, practical guide to help lawyers analyze, argue, and write effectively.
The Tools of Argument: How the Best Lawyers Think, Argue, and Win is a highly readable 200-page book, available for about $10 in paperback or e-book. Chapters focus on foundational principles in legal argument: procedure, interpretation of contracts and statutes, use of evidence, and more. The material covered is taught only implicitly in law school. Yet, when up-and-coming attorneys master these straightforward tools, they will think and argue like the best lawyers.
For most attorneys, time spent managing the books is a necessary evil at best. Yet it is undeniably a crucial aspect of running a successful practice. With that in mind, we invite you to view or download a free webinar by Above the Law and our friends at Clio to learn how to better manage your finances.
Take this opportunity to learn what it takes to streamline your accounting and get the most out of your time. The webinar agenda:
● The basics of accounting for lawyers.
● How legal accounting differs from regular accounting.
● Report and reconciliation issues surrounding trust accounts.
● How to pick and integrate the best accounting tools for your practice.
● Steps to prepare your tax return for your firm’s income.
Do not miss this crucial chance to optimize your accounting practices. Save time and get back to billing!
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 seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please note that Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney are still in Hong Kong and will stay FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS WEEK. We still have a handful of available slots for meetings with our Asia Chronicles fans. If we have not been in touch lately, reach out and let us know when we could meet! There is no need for an agenda at all. Most of our in-person meetings on these trips are with folks who understand that improving a legal practice through lateral hiring is an information-driven process that takes time to handle correctly.
Regarding trends in lateral US associate hiring in Hong Kong, we of course keep much of what we know off of this blog. Based on placement revenue, though, Kinney is having one of our most successful years ever in Asia. We are helping a number of our law firm clients with M&A, fund formation, cap markets, project finance, FCPA and disputes openings. These are very specific needs in many cases, so a conversation with us before jumping in may be helpful. As always, we like to be sure to get the maximum number of interviews per submission, using a well-informed, highly targeted, and selective approach, taking into account short, medium and long-term career aims.
Making a well informed decision during a job search is easier said than done – the information we provide comes from 10 years of being the market leader in US attorney placements at the top tier firms in Asia. There is no substitute for having known a hiring partner since he/she was an associate or for having helped a partner grow his or her practice from zip to zooming, and this is happily where we stand today – with years of background information on just about every relevant person in all the markets we serve, and most especially in Hong Kong/China/Greater Asia. So get in touch and get a download from us this week if we can fit it in, or soon in any case!