Ed. note: Frank H. Wu is the Chancellor and Dean of the University of California Hastings College of the Law. He shares some of his thoughts about legal education and the legal profession here on Above the Law from time to time.
I was talking to a reporter the other day about changes within the legal profession. She had called me to ask what types of jobs were opening up. I disappointed her. She wanted specialties offering positions that were sexy, new, and numerous.
I explained there were indeed more jobs. But I did not know any of them that satisfied all of her criteria.
There were many possibilities for her article. None of them were everything she was looking for.
That would be true for the individuals obtaining those roles as well. I recall a former colleague who used to say in response to the extravagant expectations that young people express about their careers: “That’s why we call it ‘work.’” She meant that there isn’t any reason to believe it will be fun. It is more likely to be boring, stressful, or both boring and stressful by turns if not simultaneously.
By the journalist’s standards, unless it is sexy, new and numerous, it does not register at all. That isn’t the best understanding of the universe of possibilities. Law is not intrinsically sexy….
When it comes to Biglaw word-processing jobs, Williams Lea is the grim reaper. As we’ve chronicled in these pages, numerous leading law firms have outsourced their word processing and proofreading functions to this prominent provider.
This has led to layoffs — lots and lots of layoffs. Some affected employees have been sad, and some have been angry. One complained of the “callous disregard for the welfare of long-time Foley [& Lardner] employees” that a Williams Lea takeover displayed.
But could these changes be beneficial — not just for law firm bottom lines, but for the affected individuals? The latest law firm to outsource its WP and proofreading functions, one of the most prestigious and profitable firms in all the land, makes the case….
The hits to the legal industry just keep coming. Every time you think you have mastered the new normal, there is a new issue that needs to be addressed. Yes, this is probably because law firms were so entrenched in the way they do business that they refused to change and are only now seeing the landscape change around them.
But the reality is that all our jobs are heading to India. Right? There’s many a project manager who likes to threaten the review team when they aren’t coding fast enough, “If you don’t code faster they’ll send this case to India!”
These days, despite news of record numbers in terms of gross revenue, it seems we can’t even make it through one week without news of layoffs coming from within Biglaw’s hallowed halls. In fact, last week brought even more lamentable news from large law firms (on top of the double-digit IT outsourcing at one top firm).
Which Biglaw firm is pink-slipping employees en masse in favor of outsourcing this time?
Of all the different Biglaw constituencies, legal secretaries have probably suffered the most in terms of recent layoffs. In this technological age, lawyers do their own typing, don’t give dictation as much, and can use voice-recognition software when they do. Shorthand isn’t as valuable a skill as it used to be.
So what should a legal secretary facing a voluntary buyout or an involuntary layoff do with himself? Assuming he’s not ready to take the money and run (or retire), he should find new employment. And that might require obtaining new skills, ones that are in greater demand in 2013.
Some might tell a displaced legal secretary, “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Technology.” If technology taketh away jobs, it can also giveth, right?
Well, not so fast. Even techie types are getting laid off, as the latest layoff news demonstrates….
While summer associates are present, certain subjects are off-limits. Don’t talk about that group of partners with a huge book of business that’s going to defect any day now. Don’t talk about that salacious lawsuit against the firm that’s still pending.
And don’t talk about layoffs — of staffers or lawyers or both. Reductions are such a buzzkill….
* It looks like it’s time for yet another rousing game of Biglaw musical chairs. This time, 11 of Bingham McCutchen’s securities enforcement partners are hightailing it over to Sidley Austin en masse. [DealBook / New York Times]
* This week in on-shore outsourcing: there may be a job waiting for you at Kaye Scholer’s new operations center (so new we bet you didn’t know about it), so hurry up and apply, because the interviews are soon. [Tallahassee Democrat]
* “We’re trained in the law and persuasion, not firearms.” But maybe you should be? After the targeted killing of attorneys in Texas, prosecutors are now on high alert. [New York Times]
* When looking at the current law school model, Paul Caron of TaxProf Blog urges law deans to take advice from Jimmy McMillan because “law school tuition is simply too damn high.” [Businessweek]
* Change our admissions practices amid the worst legal economy we’ve seen in decades? “Ain’t nobody got time for that,” scoffed Sarah Zearfoss, director of admissions at Michigan Law. [AnnArbor.com]
* Drexel Law will accept applications for its two-year law degree program in May 2014. The higher-ups at the ABA are scheduled to laugh their asses off on or about the same date. [Philadelphia Inquirer]
* “[F]or James Eagan Holmes, justice is death.” In a move that shocked absolutely no one, the prosecution in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre case is seeking the death penalty. [CNN]
I reported several weeks ago that I had been solicited to write an article about the future of Biglaw firms. But it was actually better than that: The invitation came from the “Sunday Review” (formerly “The Week In Review”) section of The New York Times, which is a pretty cool place to ask you to write.
Unfortunately, and apparently unbeknownst to the editor of the “Sunday Review” section, the Times ran a “DealBook” section on the fate of large law firms before my ditty could appear in print. This preempted my article (or at least that’s what the editor said, although maybe she was just sparing my feelings). So instead of having a piece in the NYT, I’m just another schlub typing away at Above the Law.
But if I took the time to write a 1,200-word piece on the future of big law firms, then I’m sure as heck going to get some use out of it. So here you are: “The Assault on Biglaw,” by yours truly, which damn near appeared in the Sunday Times….
In light of the possibletrouble that may lie ahead for large law firms, it should come as no surprise that some of them are battening down the hatches. One way to prepare for a tough economic climate is to reduce one’s expenses. And one way to reduce expenses is to conduct layoffs, of attorneys or of staff.
But the work, the work that generates revenue for firms, still needs to get done. One way of reducing expenses while still getting all the work done is to outsource certain functions to an outside service provider. This effectively gets job positions “off the books” of the law firm, which no longer has to pay salaries or benefits for the lawyers or staffers in question; the law firm just has to pay the vendor. (This could be viewed as a form of financing; as you may recall, cash-strapped Dewey used vendors for many services — vendors who are now its creditors in bankruptcy.)
Let’s learn about the latest firm that is reducing the ranks of its staff in favor of relying on an outside company….
The evolution of relationships between the genders continues. Currently, in law firms, there is an interesting conundrum; balancing the desire for a gender-blind workplace where “the best lawyer gets the work and advances” and the reality of navigating the complicated maze created by the fact that, in general, men and women do possess differences in their work styles. These variations impact who they work with, how they work, how they build professional connections and how organizations ultimately leverage, reward and recognize the talents of all.
Henry Ford sat on his workbench and sighed. A year earlier, he had personally built 13,000 Model Ts with his own hands. Fashioning lugnuts and tie rods by hand, Ford was loath to ask for help. Sure, there were things about the car that he didn’t quite understand. This explains the lack of reliable navigation systems in the Model T. But Ford persevered because he knew that unless he did everything, he could not reliably call these cars his own.
“Unless my own personal toil is responsible for it, it may as well be called a Hyundai,” Ford remarked at the time.
The preceding may sound unfamiliar because it is categorically untrue. And also monumentally stupid. Henry Ford didn’t build all those cars by hand. He had help and plenty of it. Almost exactly one hundred years ago, Henry Ford opened up the most technologically advanced assembly line the world had ever seen. Built on the premise that work can be chopped up into digestible pieces and completed by many men better than one, the line ushered in an age of unparalleled productivity.
Today, an attorney refers business because he can’t do everything the client asks of him.
There are three reasons why this is way dumber than a made-up Henry Ford story…
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: [email protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months, and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.