If there was ever a place where your self-esteem could be crushed just by stepping into an airport, Los Angeles is it. Being a New Yorker, I had the high-minded misconception that New York was the mecca of beautiful people, especially in summer. Wrong. I’ll end this tangent with the statement that I saw more perfectly tanned, toned, muscular, and ridiculously in shape people in the 15 minutes it took me to walk to baggage claim in LAX, than I have in my entire time in the Big Apple.
I was in L.A. to present at ACC’s Corporate Counsel University (“CCU”). CCU is a two-day nuts to bolt immersion program for folks who are new to in-house positions. It’s relatively small compared with the Annual Meeting, 200 or so attendees, but I have enjoyed presenting at this conference more than any other, because I can so readily identify with being new to in-house and feeling overwhelmed about how much I did not know….
Remember Green Acres, that fish-out-of-water comedy wherein Eddie Albert drags Eva Gabor out to live on some tumbledown farm in the middle of nowhere? She’s a Park Avenue socialite, but he’s the husband and the penis-haver and it’s the 1960′s — so what he says, goes. If he’s jonesing for fresh air and farm living, she has no choice.
I don’t remember much more than the theme song and opening credits, but the concept — giving it all up, packing your bags and fleeing for the sticks, spouse (and maybe kids) in hand — resonates with my lawyer clients. Some are beginning to sound like aspiring Eddie Alberts.
I’d like to say there’s a great lawyer return to the land on the way — driven by a love for nature and the outdoors. To some extent that’s true. But mostly, it’s a product of desperation. The big themes are escaping Biglaw misery, seeking adventure, looking for a healthier lifestyle… and fleeing school loans. One client’s story weaves these themes into a magical tapestry of personal growth, spiritual awakening, and debt avoidance.
He was suffering modestly at a Biglaw firm in L.A. Then he got posted to an office in Asia, where he happened to speak the language. There he discovered how bad bad can be. The U.S. office dished out standard-issue Biglaw brutality. Nothing could have prepared him for the Asia office. The cruelties committed by the local staff and attorneys would make Hieronymus Bosch wince. In their laser-beam-like focus on punishing my client for speaking their language and attempting to work in their homeland, they achieved new plateau of sadism on a weekly basis. He developed insomnia, migraines, then panic attacks — and was fired a year later, without comment.
That’s when the Green Acres theme began playing in his head….
One day it will happen to you. Whether you’re at a firm or in government or in-house, there will come a time when someone in your workplace will get a promotion who doesn’t deserve it. And unfortunately, we’re not talking about you. This person may a poor communicator, a terrible manager, or maybe just kind of a jerk to work with. But one day, it will happen. And when you receive news of the promotion, your mouth will drop in disbelief and you will shake your fist at the heavens, crying, “Why, wretched office gods, why….?!”
Is it the Peter Principle at play? This is a fascinating theory suggesting that employees keep getting promoted until they reach the levels at which they’re incompetent. Once an employee reaches the first level of professional incompetence, the promotions stop. Now imagine this happens with every employee. Basically, the only way to move up levels is to go over to another organization that’s unaware of your incompetence and hopes in vain that you’re more competent than whomever they’ve got over there.
Or maybe it’s the effect of the Dilbert Principle. Cubicle guru Scott Adams proposed that the least competent people in a company tend to get promoted to higher levels because companies need the smarter, skilled employees to do the actual work. Instead, the less-skilled incompetents are moved up to levels where they perform tasks that less vital to production, such as demanding that their underlings perform their real work harder, faster, and better. Picture Michael Scott of The Office. Only not so smart.
These principles were originally proposed as satire, although they sound kind of compelling, don’t they? But perhaps there’s something more sinister at play. Something darker…like we’re failing…to understand the entire picture. (*Thunder boom and lightning crash.*)
I work in a highly competitive sales market. Underhanded deeds, though never perpetrated by my clients, are de rigeur in this field. There seems to be an ethical handbook for sales folks that has a theme of “ethics smethics –- close the deal at all costs.”
At quarter-end, or worse, year-end, this mantra can infect an attorney’s most rigid values. It is at these times when we must be on guard against the pressure to close. The pot at the end of the rainbow will look rather less shiny when tarnished by an ethics violation. None of this is news to most in-house folks.
With an economy on a slow crawl back to health, and internal pressures from all sides to cut costs and maximize revenue, shenanigans from sales people are rife in war story lore. But what of bad behavior by customers? I can tell you that after my years in-house, when I thought I’d already seen it all in private practice, I was quite wrong….
At large law firms, unless you’re interviewing for a small practice group, nobody’s losing sleep over whether you’ll fit in. They’ll take you so long as you’re smart, willing to work crazy hours, and not obviously a jerk. (Although if you’re a rainmaker jerk, they can’t seem to roll out the red carpet to the corner office quickly enough.)
You’ll tend hear the concern about the “right fit” voiced more often for in-house than Biglaw job openings. When you interview for an in-house position, your technical and substantive abilities certainly need to pass the bar (every possible pun intended). But after that, there’s a broad and maddeningly vague analysis regarding how good a “fit” you are….
I had my first biopsy yesterday. Now, I have to wait ten days to hear whether my life will change dramatically, or whether worrying for a week and a half was a waste of time. This is one time I surely won’t mind “negative” feedback.
As I have contemplated this situation, it struck me that fear is an unnecessary component of our work lives from the time we apply to law school. Fear can drive us to obtain top grades, or to over-study for the bar exam, even though we’ve been specifically advised by BAR/BRI — as well as countless other attorneys who’ve been there and who we trust — that you only need to follow the program and you’ll pass. Fear can cause us to take jobs we don’t want because we just need a job, and fear can implicate itself into our daily work routine, so much that we cover our asses out of fear.
The fact is, as attorneys, we’re “maximizers” — folks who know fairly quickly, and usually correctly, that there may be a perfectly good solution to a question, but we can’t stop the obsessive, “What if?!”
Those what-ifs can metastasize into an ungodly blob of fear that resides in the pits of our stomachs. Especially at smaller in-house shops where counsel are expected to know everything all at once. That type of pressure is a breeding ground for all kinds of fear. The best practice when you’re faced with a task of knowing it all is to admit defeat at the outset. You cannot possibly know everything required of you. Your duty is to the company, and to do the best job of which you are capable. Beyond that, have the wisdom to seek assistance, internally or from outside counsel, and to know when to put your foot down and say “enough”….
When I launched The People’s Therapist, my intent was to get stuff off my chest — process a smidgen of psychic trauma. I’d write a column or two, exorcise the odd demon, piss off Sullivan & Cromwell, and call it a day.
It never occurred to me I’d be deluged with lawyers as clients.
If you’re an attorney in a mid-sized or large law firm, the phrase “people manager” means as much to you as the phrase “spring bonuses” means to me (both of which situations are exceedingly unfortunate). You’re lucky to receive support from a group of under-appreciated administrative assistants, paralegals, and attorneys junior to you. The group supports other attorneys besides you, and in an ideal world, each such attorney would take efforts to manage and train the group.
But, since such things as Dewey puns exist, we obviously aren’t living in an ideal world. In this stark reality of pink slime and the Socratic method, what usually happens in a shared support situation is that some attorneys take the time to train the support group, and others don’t.
Here’s the thing. The attorneys who invest the energy to train the group members don’t end up reaping the full benefits of their investment. This is because the employees they’ve specially trained spend an annoying amount of time engaging in behaviors like supporting other attorneys. So the lazy lawyers at the firm receive an “unjust enrichment” of sorts — they gain the benefits of working with skilled employees, yet they haven’t expended any effort to impart those skills. In fact, the more you spend time training someone, the more likely it is that others will seek that person’s assistance, and that you’ll need to compete for the employee’s support. “D’oh!” would pretty much capture the appropriate response….
The Dewey debacle is unfolding in real time on this and other sites. People’s lives are being shattered as a firm gets shuttered. It is not the first, and certainly not the last, time that a major law firm with thousands of employees will disappear into so much ether. I look back on my OCI days, and can rattle off several former NYC firms that have either merged into unrecognizability, or disappeared like Dewey is in the process of doing.
Likewise, not far from where I now sit, is the shell of Eastman Kodak — a company that built a large part of this town, and will likely become a shameful case study in the annals of business school textbooks. And yesterday, news went out that my own company is beginning another round of VRIF severance offers.
Regardless of whether you are sitting comfortably in-house, collecting pay from Biglaw, or wondering how in Hell you’re going to find a summer job, news like that mentioned above is disquieting. The main reason is that there isn’t anything that can be done. One day you’re employed, and then, well, you may not be. And there is really no place for schadenfreude in a “there but for the grace of God” economy. Careers can be dissolved as quickly as Dewey.
So, when you are forced to enter an applicant pool of thousands of other attorneys looking for a break in a seemingly unsolvable code of hiring, what can you do to set yourself apart? One possible strategy that has become a hot button issue in the past days is to claim minority status on your application. The obvious dilemma that you face as applicant number two thousand twenty-eight is whether to check such status if your lineage may or may not support the claim….
Business relationships are kind of like marriages. In the beginning, everyone’s excited, and life is fresh and full of promise. “Things are really going to change around here,” you think. You know that you’re going to need to make some adjustments, some compromises, but it’s all going to be worth it. You ignore small warning signs, such as the fact that your partner sometimes seems to spend a lot on discretionary items. (But at least he only bought nine pairs of Prada shoes during the trip to Italy instead of the 23 he really wanted.)
Then, as you settle into a routine, you may find that, well… things aren’t exactly as you had expected. There are minor annoyances — things that make working together take more time, communication, and effort than you had thought.
And unfortunately, like some marriages, one or more parties figure out that the benefits of the relationship don’t outweigh the negatives, and decide to part ways. You decide that 18,000 pairs of designer shoes is definitely an indication of a problem. Sometimes, the decision to separate is fairly mutual. Other times, one partner is desperately clawing out from under a pile of fancy footwear that the other only continues to build up.
Also like many marriages, at the start of the business relationship, nobody wants to think about how it will end. Ninety-nine percent of engaged couples won’t touch a prenuptial agreement with a ten-foot pole because they absolutely KNOW that they’re truly in love, and no way are they in the group of the more than 50% of married couples who will part before death.
Similarly, nobody likes to think about the business “prenup” (i.e., the termination/transition provisions in a contract) for more than a few microseconds. For example, there’s the uber-lazy version of a catchall survival provision that makes it into some contracts. It basically says as follows: “Everything in this agreement that’s intended to survive termination will survive”….
A college graduate without student loan debt is akin to reading a kind quote about Kim Kardashian in a tabloid—it’s rare.
In the past eight years, student loan debt has nearly tripled to a whopping $1.1 trillion, and in the past 10 years, the percentage of 25-year-olds with such debt has risen from 25% to 43%
It’s gotten so bad, in fact, that New York Fed economists warned last month that the burden of student debt could stilt consumer spending by twentysomethings, as well as further hamper the recovery of the housing market and economy.
To get a better idea of what massive student loan debt (we’re talking over $100,000 massive) looks like, we talked to an attorney who graduated with a large student loan debt. We also consulted LearnVest Planning Services CFP® Katie Brewer to see just how their repayment plans stack up.
S. Fischer, 36, Attorney Graduated: 2001
How Much I Borrowed: $100,000
What I Still Owe: $45,000
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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.
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