I was chuckling with a client the other day about the insanity of trying to please a partner with a piece of written work.
The trick, she said – I’ve heard this before – is to adopt the voice of the partner. That’s what he wants – something that sounds like him. It doesn’t matter if your style is better than his. He wants to hear himself.
My client can imitate the writing styles of five partners. That includes whatever quirks – run-on sentences, rudeness, biting sarcasm, unnecessary adjectives, circuitous explanations – capture that partner’s unique gift. It’s a piece of cake: assemble substance, add ventriloquy, and voila! – a happy partner…
Please think for a second before you hit “send” and launch your next e-mail.
There are actually a bunch of things you should think about before sending your next e-mail, but today I’ll rant about just one: the “subject” line.
My rant comes in three parts.
First, the “subject” line has the potential to be helpful. At a minimum, an intelligent subject line can get my mind in gear for the information that I’m about to read, and perhaps can give me some sense of the urgency of your communication. At a maximum, an intelligent subject line can convey an entire message.
So use the thing! Please don’t send me e-mails with subject lines that are entirely blank. You’ve missed an opportunity to make communication easier, and you’ve forced me to pop open your e-mail to learn what you’re writing about. Put a few words in the subject line, to tell me what’s coming.
Second, please remember who I am and who you are. If you work at Kirkland & Ellis, it wouldn’t be too helpful to receive many e-mails with subject lines that read “Kirkland & Ellis.” That subject line wouldn’t distinguish one e-mail message from the other. You are Kirkland & Ellis; you don’t need to be told that every e-mail is about Kirkland & Ellis….
I don’t want a chorus of, “But that’s common sense! Tell me something new! Complain about bonuses!”
Of course it’s common sense that you should put yourself in the other guy’s shoes. But few people do it.
You call an IT guy for help because your !!%@! computer isn’t working. And the IT guy starts blathering on about IT gobbledygook. Interface this and reboot that and a bunch of gigabytes.
Gimme a break: I don’t want information technology; I want magic.
Just make the damned thing work. I’m not interested in your job.
You call the internal training folks and tell them that you have to revise the training module about discrimination or overtime pay or insider trading or whatever. And the training person starts blathering on about approvals and launch dates and other training modules and personnel schedules.
Gimme a break: I don’t want logistics; I want magic.
A business person calls a lawyer and asks how to accomplish something. And the lawyer starts blathering on about statutory this and precedent that and whether Smith is distinguishable.
Give the business person a break: He doesn’t want law; he wants magic.
I did a podcast a while back with the ABA Journal. The topic was “work/life balance.” You can listen to it here.
It was a weird experience – like living on another planet.
I was the sole male. The other panelists and the moderator were women. That’s fine, but somehow, faced with the topic of “work/life balance,” everyone turned into Gloria Steinem circa 1971.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a shrill, strident feminist committed to full equality for women, and I have no beef with Gloria Steinem.
But how is work/life balance in the legal world strictly a gender issue? Women are admitted to law schools, and graduate from them, like men. They go to the same law firms, make the same money and take the same abuse…
I like what Steven Harper’s doing these days. After 30 years at Kirkland & Ellis, he retired from the fray, and he now comments on big law firms from an outsider’s perspective, at The Belly of the Beast. Although Harper’s critiques are often cutting, I think they reflect his underlying concern, not animosity, about law firm life.
But, to my eye, Harper recently missed a trick. In a recent column at the AmLaw Daily, Harper speculated that big law firms may prefer lockstep compensation to merit-based systems because merit-based reviews require partners to invest nonbillable time thinking carefully about associate performance. There’s no incentive for partners to invest that nonbillable time, says Harper, so firms settle for lockstep — and firms thus delay giving meaningful (and ultimately helpful) guidance to associates.
I think it’s worse than that. I think there’s actually an invidious incentive for partners at large firms to mislead associates about their performance. Why?
Back in April 2010, we bestowed Lawyer of the Day honors upon Jonathan Moss, former in-house counsel to Gucci. There was a question, however, as to how much of a “lawyer” Moss was.
During his seven years working at the luxury fashion house, Moss did not have an active law license: he was a graduate of Fordham Law and a member of the California bar, but with “inactive” status. As a result, during the discovery process in some trademark litigation, opposing counsel from Guess? challenged Gucci’s assertion of attorney-client privilege over communications to and from Moss. The reasoning: because Moss wasn’t entitled to practice law in any jurisdiction, due to his inactive status with the California bar, the attorney-client privilege did not extend to communications with him.
A federal magistrate judge sided with Guess, concluding that Gucci’s communications with Moss weren’t privileged — and subject to disclosure. Yikes. After conducting an investigation that confirmed Moss’s inactive bar status, Gucci fired him in March 2010.
But now a federal district judge — Judge Shira Scheindlin, that delicious judicial diva of Zubulake fame — has set aside the magistrate’s order, and granted Gucci’s motion for a protective order….
Here’s an issue that outside counsel never think about, but that matters intensely to in-house counsel: How should you charge business units for litigation losses?
For some types of cases, this poses no problem at all. If a company manufactures a prescription drug and gets named in product liability cases involving that drug, it’s pretty easy to figure out which business unit to charge for resulting judgments. (At least I assume that’s true. Perhaps some reader who works in-house at a drug company can correct me if I’m mistaken.)
But think about negligence cases in the context of a service business. At first blush, charging for litigation losses seems pretty easy: The business unit that was negligent and caused the loss should be charged for any resulting judgment.
If only it were so clear. Think about the complexities here: Some clown at the business unit screws up in 2005. The company is named in a lawsuit that’s filed in 2007. The clown changes jobs and leaves the company in 2008. The lawsuit results in a $10 million judgment in 2010. How do you account for that $10 million charge internally?
Also, in case you missed them because of the holiday break, be sure to check out his recent posts on in-house compensation and bonuses.
First, a story. Then, my point.
(If I promise a point at the end, maybe you’ll persevere through the story.)
When I was a partner at a large law firm, sending out bills, I took the job seriously. I sat in a coffee shop one Sunday afternoon each month and went through every !*@!! time entry in every bill to be sure that (1) I could understand what task the lawyer had performed and (2) the time spent was not disproportionate to the work performed. Only then would I approve the bill.
Editing bills is like torture. In fact, strike the “like.” This is torture. At the end of three or four hours of editing bills, you’re ready to jam toothpicks into your eyes. So I took a lesson from Tom Sawyer and whitewashing fences: I conned my teenage son into thinking that editing bills was a very important job. He bit! (Other than falling for this, the kid is actually pretty smart.) During Jeremy’s sophomore through senior years of high school, he and I did some father-son bonding on the third Sunday of every month at the local coffee shop. I bought the kid a caramel frappuccino (“venti” if we were doing north of 500 grand in bills; otherwise, grande; always with whipped cream). He took half the stack of bills; I took the other half; we edited. (Stay calm. I didn’t charge clients even for my own time spent doing this, let alone the kid’s. This was on the up and up.)
If you hate your job, then no one can pay you enough to make going to work every day worthwhile. And if you love your job, you won’t be sitting around fretting about your pay. I understand that this is America and all that, but within very broad limits, you’re nuts to accept one job over another because of a small difference in compensation.
(I understand that you may be trapped in a job, because of student loans, or kids in college, or the like. I understand; trapped is trapped. And I understand that I personally have been awfully lucky, because I’ve never had to worry about finding money to pay next month’s rent, so I speak from a particular point of view. Despite all that, I stand by what I said — if job A and job B are meaningfully different from each other in ways that matter to you, and you’re not trapped, you’re nuts to take one job over the other just to earn a few extra grand each year. Period.)
Naturally, since I’m not interested in the subject, you can guess the question I’ve been asked most often since Above the Law anointed me an in-house counsel guru:
How does in-house compensation work, and what questions should I ask about compensation if I’m interviewing for an in-house job?
There comes a time in every big law firm lawyer’s career when things take a turn for the deeply serious. After two or three years, someone turns to you and says, “Okay – you own this” — and suddenly you’re no longer a glorified secretary or paralegal or guy/gal Friday, you’re an actual lawyer.
That’s when most Biglaw attorneys think seriously about fleeing for their lives.
For me, the moment of truth arrived after a meeting near the top floor of the skyscraper at 70 Pine Street in Lower Manhattan, one of New York City’s iconic spires…
If you think most legal technology misses the mark, LexisNexis Firm Manager® wants to change your mind. Read more about it here.
Built with input from hundreds of solo and small-firm attorneys across the country, it’s made for practitioners who’d rather build the firm of their dreams than deal with the hassles of running a business.
· Go Mobile, Stay Connected.
See all your firm’s information, wherever you are, on whatever device you’re using. Access and update client files, enter billing, search & share documents and more. It’s just like you’re in the office, only you’re not.
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…
The traditional job application and interview process can be impersonal, and applicants often struggle to present themselves as more than just the sum of their GPAs, alma maters, and previous work history. ATL has partnered with ViewYou to help job seekers overcome this challenge. ViewYou NOW Profiles offer a unique way for job seekers to make a personal, memorable connection with prospective employers: introduction videos. These videos allow job candidates to display their personalities, interpersonal skills, and professional interests, creating an eDossier to brand themselves to potential employers all over the world. Check it out today!