Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series from Bruce MacEwen and Janet Stanton of Adam Smith Esq. and JDMatch. “Across the Desk” takes a thoughtful look at recruiting, career paths, professional development, human capital, and related issues. Some of these pieces have previously appeared, in slightly different form, on AdamSmithEsq.com.
Next in our series on a taxonomy of law firms are the capital-markets centric firms.
If you think this moniker roughly translates to the classic New York white shoe elite, move to the head of the class.
But, as much in our world at the start of the 21st Century, it’s not exactly that simple. Here’s what’s different about these firms.
First, recall that we’ve hypothesized seven primary species…
EXCERPTS FROM PHAIR OR PHOUL? BY JOHN DAVID ARGANBRIGHT
We’ve broken up the excerpts from Arganbright’s now-vanished blog, Phair or Phoul?, into separate slides. Click on each slide to enlarge. Brief commentary follows each slide.
Getting a summer associate job at Cleary Gottlieb: phair. Getting fired for my sex-offender past: phoul.
The continuation of Arganbright’s self-introduction, plus one sports-related post. It’s consistent with the Cleary Gottlieb “Daily Bulletin” entry — La Salle for college, Seton Hall for law school — and provides confirmation of Arganbright’s identity.
Considering that Arganbright played rugby and served as a fraternity president in college, perhaps his wild past shouldn’t come as a surprise. More surprising is his cheery, religious sign-off: “God Bless All.”
We’re following Arganbright through law school. He wrote this post a few weeks into his 1L year. So far, so good; he’s “really enjoying law school.”
Congrats to Arganbright on the A+ on his Contracts midterm. He’s obviously a very smart guy.
Seton Hall is a reasonably well-ranked law school: #36 in the Above the Law rankings, and #64 in the U.S. News rankings. But it’s not a feeder school to a super-elite firm like Cleary. It makes sense, then, that John Arganbright earned “really good” grades.
This post was published on January 30, 2012, in the middle of Arganbright’s 1L year. He ultimately did find “a cool job for the Summer,” working for Judge C. Darnell Jones II of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, according to Arganbright’s old Linkedin profile (taken offline, but available via Google Cache):
(Now, flip ahead to the next page to see some of his Pennsylvania court records….)
For about a year now, Cleary has been laying off staff. I estimate about 30-40 so far. They are doing it one or two people at a time. They have reduced staff through attrition for several years, but now they are just letting people go. They are reassigning, changing schedules, and otherwise driving staff nuts.
I understand that law firms don’t exist to provide a “jobs program,” as you recently wrote. On the other hand, it isn’t right that people are getting written up after years of employment and then being fired “for cause.”
I agree completely with this source. It’s understandable that firms want to reduce the number of secretaries and other staffers they have, in this increasingly automated age. The classy way to achieve that goal is through “voluntary separation” or buyout programs, conducted openly, and open to all personnel who satisfy certain objective criteria.
The not-so-classy way to do that is through stealth layoffs, i.e., firing perfectly capable employees on “performance” grounds. Stealth layoffs have at least two drawbacks compared to voluntary programs: (1) layoffs will affect some employees who are least able to sustain unemployment (unlike voluntary programs, where employees self-select), and (2) layoffs make it harder for affected employees to find new employment, since they were terminated “for cause.”
Which departments are being affected by the Cleary cuts? Here’s what we’ve heard:
[T]he departments getting hammered are billing, finance and IT. I’ve spoken to people there and they are literally exhausted. Secretaries have been told their attorney ratio is now 7:1. We haven’t had Staff Appreciation Day in the New York office for two years now and they even stopped the weekly delivery of flowers for the 11 reception desks two weeks ago.
And where does the responsibility lie? A source offered these opinions:
This started about a couple of years ago, when Sheldon Alster became the Managing Partner for the New York office. He is a miserable person and he brought in one Kelly Stevens as Administrator. They have really been busting chops. They even took five sick days away from staff this year from the ten [previously given].
In Cleary’s defense, I have to say it has been a good firm in the past…. Now they’re acting like the firm is in a death spiral. I don’t understand this with PPP of $2.6 million.
We reached out to Cleary for comment on the staff layoff claims. The firm responded by saying that it does not comment on staff departures.
So what does this all mean? The times, they are a-changin’. The firms that used to be known as kinder, gentler Biglaw firms, like Cleary and Debevoise, are increasingly focused on the bottom line. Debevoise ditched its trusts and estates practice, essentially because T&E wasn’t paying its own freight. And now Cleary is clearing out unneeded support staff, for basically the same reasons.
Cleary may be boring. But boring and well-fed is preferable to the exciting life of the unemployed.
Good friends and colleagues, the day has arrived. One departure memo is all that stands between me and the alumni directory. Only one more elevator ride from the 42nd floor, only one more Captivate Network sesquipedalian* to add to my lexicon. Doubtless you have grasped my meaning: today is my last day at Cleary.
Back in 2009, when I joined the firm, I was three years removed from a career as a stand-up comedian. Yet Cleary welcomed me. Eager critics pointed out that the firm was merely maintaining comedic equilibrium, since another associate had left to become a comedian just as I arrived (true story). But I believe that my story reveals something deeper about this place. If you aren’t exactly allowed to let your freak flag fly in the halls of One Liberty, you’re at least encouraged to own such a flag, and maybe even wear it around your office as a cape. Growing a beard like a rhododendron bush? Love it! Acting as Falstaff in the Parking Lot Shakespeare? We raise a glass to you! Have your work on my desk by the morning, but otherwise do your thing.
Each day I’ve spent here has left its mark on me, as have many of the nights. Listing the lessons I’ve learned and the people I’ve learned them from would try your patience no less than searching for acrostics in a mass-distribution e-mail. Luckily, there are certain conventions of the departure memo that must be observed. Onward then! Let’s jump ahead to my plans.
I would love to tell you that I intend to walk across the country with my dog or stay put with my partner the pop singer. Fair to say, on the Mount Olympus of departure memos, those inhabit the loftiest peaks. Each departure memo has its place in the genre, however. And this is my humble contribution.
Quenching my thirst for adventure has always been a priority of mine. Underwater adventure most of all. A few short hours after I relocate to South Florida, I will commence my training as a professional diver. The legal work will continue, of course, but as I hope to keep this memo light, those details can remain in the background.
I’ll be happy, I’ll keep in touch and there’s only one other thing you need to know. Cleary, I will miss you.
Continuing our annual tradition honoring March Madness, Above the Law is running a law-related bracket, advancing law firms or law schools based on the outcome of reader polls. If you’ve been around for a while, you know the drill. But remember, I’m the new guy, so I’ve made a couple changes to the format this year.
This year, it’s time to talk about law firms. Specifically, your collective editors pose this question: Which law firm has the brightest future? The economy is still fragile and people are writing books with scary titles like The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis (affiliate link). The firms in our competition may look healthy today, but we all could have said the same thing at one time about Howrey, Brobeck, Heller, or Dewey.
What firm’s future is so bright their senior partners gotta wear shades?
Client service. The heartbeat of Biglaw. The area where every firm has to improve. Perpetually. Biglaw hamsters in overdrive. All to make the clients happy. Sit back and admire your Biglaw firm’s willingness to go the “extra mile” by listening to its clients. We might even see a client paraded before our partners once a year. (See my column on improving partner meetings by having guest appearances from clients.)
We are taught happy clients are well-paying clients. And clients that will refer their dissatisfied colleagues at other companies to experience our brand of Biglaw magic. We love clients. Almost as much as the consultants do on House of Lies, a show that provides outrageous, if funny, explorations of the client-service provider dynamic in modern-day America. (A fun business development-training program would involve watching a series of client-interactions from the show and learning from them. Better than listening to Rainmaker X pretend the reason for his multimillion-dollar book was not his maternal grandfather’s business dealings and connections.)
Truly thinking about client service can be all-consuming, especially for a younger partner like myself. No one is giving me clients. I have to fight for them in the marketplace. I love it, but it is difficult and you need patience.
But rather than focus on the process of developing clients, let’s discuss the art of “superpleasing” clients….
Even though I was more than an hour early for the 2 p.m. hearing, I was worried about getting a good seat in the courtroom, given the keen interest in the case in the legal and financial communities. My concern grew when I noticed news vans parked across the street from the courthouse:
And a crowd of people and cameramen massed in front of the courthouse:
I ascended the steps and entered the courthouse. I hadn’t been in the building for years — not since 2005, when I argued a case before the Second Circuit — so I hadn’t seen the results of the court’s six-year renovation.
It’s nothing short of magnificent. The restoration preserved the building’s historic beauty while at the same time giving it a wonderfully refreshed feel. And I haven’t seen this much white marble outside of Italy. I bumped into Judge Robert Katzmann (clad in a shirt and tie, no suit jacket, no robe), and we chatted about the splendid renovation.
My worry about getting a seat was warranted. The courtroom itself was already full, so spectators were being directed to a first-floor overflow room. Every seat in the large room was either occupied or claimed by a coat or bag; it was standing room only. I walked to the far side of the room and found an unclaimed section of wall to lean against.
I surveyed the crowd, which looked like a mix of finance folks, lawyers, law students, and journalists. Many wore suits, but there were also a fair number of tan, handsome men in expensive shirts, no ties, unbuttoned to mid-chest. Hedge fund managers, or Argentinians?
The room buzzed with conversation in both English and Spanish. As more and more people arrived, even spots for standing grew scarce. One man, a hedge-fund type, joked about auctioning off seats.
At the front of the overflow room was a large screen divided into four panes. Three of the panes would show the three judges on the panel — one judge per pane, sort of like Hollywood Squares — and the fourth would show arguing counsel. Even though the argument hadn’t started, the cameras were live, so we could see the gallery of people who were lucky enough to make it into the courtroom (and Ted Olson, hitching up his pants).
(As it turned out, I was fine being in the overflow room. The sound quality and picture quality were good for the most part, and we were also more free in the overflow room to laugh at funny exchanges. And the crowd wasn’t all hoi polloi; I later learned that the overflow audience included Lee Buchheit, the Cleary Gottlieb corporate partner who has been decribed as the “guru” and “philosopher king of sovereign debt”; Professor Mitu Gulati, one of the legal academy’s leading experts in international financial law; and Felix Salmon, the noted financial journalist.)
* Dear professors, please try to understand that most people who experience normal, human emotions are more concerned with the future of American law students than they are with whether or not American law schools can survive by bilking the hell out of foreigners. [PrawfsBlawg]
* In Canada, they raided somebody’s Super Bowl party to bust up an illegal gambling ring. They never would have done this during the Grey Cup. [CTV News]
* Apparently some kind of law something happened on Downton Abbey last night? I missed it, because staring at a dark stadium is literally more interesting than that freaking show. [Law and More]
* Thomson Reuters is getting out of the academic book publishing business. If only law professors would do the same thing. [TaxProf Blog]