To judge by the accoutrements of “the profession,” lawyers, as a group, maintain an inflated self-image. They think they’re all that. It’s easy to get sucked into this mindset – especially fresh out of law school. Perhaps, when you’re not “thinking like a lawyer,” you’ve spent a few minutes admiring the little “Esq.” printed after your name on an envelope from school or a law firm — or some company in Parsippany trying to sell you a genuine mahogany and brass pen holder featuring a statue of “blind justice” for only $59.99 with free shipping.
Back when I passed the bar, I was offered the option by New York State to purchase a printed document – “suitable for hanging” – to memorialize the event. I figured what the heck and blew the twenty-five bucks. The “parchment” arrived in a cardboard tube, and it was huge – like a royal proclamation. I felt ridiculous, rolled it back up and stuck it in a closet, where it remains.
It’s hard to imagine accountants (who usually make more than lawyers), or bankers (who always make more than lawyers) laying on the pretension to quite the degree lawyers take for granted…
Associates at big law firms don’t normally burn out right away. They arrive bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, raring to go. This is their moment! Grasp the golden ring!
If you look closely, though, you’ll notice a few poor souls who burn out immediately – sometimes within a few weeks. These folks look awful almost from Day One, dread coming to work, don’t talk to the others, can’t sleep and wonder how to get out – like, immediately.
That’s because they’ve been sexually harassed.
I know. Sexual harassment is a drag of a topic, the stuff of tedious lectures by gender theorists and “Human Resource professionals.” Nothing new to say, just standard material: wince-inducing scenarios, tired platitudes about respect and crossing the line and what’s appropriate in a workplace blah blah blah…boring, scary, boring.
I hear about sexual harassment all the time from my clients, so it’s a little less boring for me, and a lot more real. There is stuff worth talking about. But I’ll keep it quick.
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…
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…
Every guy with a family feels the urge to pack a bag, get in the car, and drive. At least, sometimes.
A client told me that – a straight guy with kids. I don’t think it’s a straight thing, though. It might not be a guy thing, either. It can be a lawyer thing. Any lawyer with loans experiences the impulse to hit the highway.
When you’re “The Provider,” you do constant battle with the itch to hightail it out of town.
Who’s “The Provider”? It’s someone you morph into. A character from an Updike novel… or maybe it’s Cheever. Maybe it’s Mad Men. You become a cliché from 1950′s or early 60′s tv shows: Dad, who arrives home, pecks the wife on the cheek, tousles the kids’ hair, then collapses into a La-Z-Boy and reads the paper while the golden retriever fetches the bedroom slippers.
Except it sucks bad enough that you’re feeling the urge to pack a bag, get in the car and drive….
I was kidding around with some of the guys at my gym, tossing around the question – would you fight Mike Tyson for $3 million?
One of them joked – I think he heard this on Howard Stern – that he’d fellate Mike Tyson for $3 million. He could spend the first $1 million on mouthwash and retire on the rest.
Then another guy spoke up, a sometime professional heavyweight boxer. (I’m not making this up, he really has boxed, for big money, not too long ago – and has plans to do so again.)
“It’s not worth it. Mike would destroy you. There would be no retirement.”
He went on to explain what he meant. He knew from experience – this guy had been in the ring. You’d have more than bruises – you’d have concussions, brain injuries, damaged bones and joints. You’d never be the same – and it wouldn’t be worth it. You’re better off not having $3 million but appreciating the finer things, like being able to walk and talk and think.
I saw his point.
Biglaw is also not worth it, even for big money. That’s because it, too, destroys you – just like Iron Mike…
Hipster plays in jazz band with Lawyer. They have the same academic advisor, and fall into a casual friendship.
Hipster has trouble in school. He plays drums and guitar, but struggles to maintain the grades. It’s nothing to do with behavior – everyone likes him. The academic advisor does his best, but after failing a few courses, Hipster’s expelled. He ends up bouncing from school to school, and manages to graduate, then heads to a halfway-decent state university known for partying. He spends most of his year there jamming with his buddies and soon drops out. They start a rock band, smoke dope, wear tie-dye, collect Grateful Dead tapes and call each other “dude.”
Lawyer thinks it’s a shame Hipster got kicked out of school. His own grades are A’s. He wins academic prizes, a scholarship to study in England, and advanced placement at Harvard, where he graduates magna cum laude. He heads to a first-tier law school, and places near the top of his class. An offer arrives from a white-shoe law firm.
My tenure at Sullivan & Cromwell ended – along with my legal career – in a smoking crater. Picture scorched earth. Nuclear armageddon. The fat lady sang.
That said, I actually got off to a pretty good start. At least for the first couple weeks.
I was assigned to a rather jolly partner, fresh back from running an office in Asia. He didn’t seem a bad sort, and I was feeling on top of the world, commencing my career after a month’s vacation. Off I scrambled to the library to write a memo on a detail of securities law. The topic was complex, but I kept my cool, summarized what I found – with a touch of wit – and called it a day.
Things went swimmingly. The partner loved the memo. He deemed it clever and refreshing and pretty close to accurate. Apparently, I’d managed to lighten the mood at a key moment in a tough deal. I decided I loved him…
I asked a client how things were going at work – or not-going. She’s a junior at a big firm where it’s been dead slow for the whole year she’s been there and partners are starting to flee.
“Not horrible,” she said.
That’s a not-uncommon sentiment from to people in her position. As a junior, you’re asking for not-much. You’ve realized law school was a mistake – and the thought of your loans makes you queasy. If you get through the day without being criticized or given some god-awful assignment, you can go home and try to sleep. That’s a good day.
Not-horrible means not-unbearable, even if you hate what you’re doing, see no way out and cry alone in your office.
Not-horrible is not-unemployed. Better to not-complain.
One junior associate client has a corporate headhunter friend, who asked him to write something down and commit it to memory:
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We currently have a number of active openings for associate roles at US and UK firms in HK / China, Singapore and two new in-house openings. As always, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org in order to get details of current openings in Asia, as well as to discuss the Asia markets in general and what we expect for openings later this year. Our Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney will be in Beijing the week of March 25 and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong the week of April 1, if you would like to meet them in person.
The US associate openings we have in law firms are in the usual areas of M&A, cap markets, FCPA / white collar litigation, finance, and project finance. The most urgent of our top tier (top 15 US or magic circle) law firm openings in Asia (among many other firm openings that we have in Asia) are as follows:
• 2nd to 5th year mandarin fluent M&A associates needed in Beijing and Hong Kong at several firms;
• Korean fluent 2nd to 4th year cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 5th year Japanese fluent M&A associates needed in Tokyo;
• 4th to 6th year mandarin fluent cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 4th year M&A / cap markets mix associate needed in Singapore.
The last time I flapped my wings your way, I tried to make at least enough noise about your mobile phone to make you more than a little bit uncomfortable. I hope I did. If enough of us become anxious enough about the known and unknown unknowns and knowns in our mobile phones, then we can start making wise decisions about how to manage that information and its resultant investigations.
Today, I’d like to put a finer point on the last installment’s topic by asking a question that seemed to catch most attendees off-guard at a conference panel that I moderated last week: is there discoverable personal information in a mobile app? Our panelists’ answer was a uniform “yes” with one stating that, if he had to choose only one type of data that he could discover from a mobile phone, he’d choose app data. Why? Because there’s simply so much of it and because almost all of it is objective – not just user-created like an email – but machine-tracked like GPS, usage duration, log in and log out times, browsed web addresses, browsed actual addresses. Also, most of us seem to have the idea that data doesn’t actually “stick” to our mobile devices the way it “sticks” to our hard drives. Maybe there’s a disconnect based on the fact that our phones are mobile so we assume the data is mobile to?
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