Practice Pointers

When my first son was born we happened to live next door to one of the cameramen for Law and Order. The original Law and Order, not “Law and Order: Poughkeepsie” or whatever.

Anyway, if you live or practice in New York City you have undoubtedly run into an active L&O set, as they film exterior shots on location as much as possible for more realism. One of the sets happened to be down the road from our house and David invited me, my wife, and son to visit. I will always remember the great Jerry Orbach and Jesse Martin being completely unassuming nice guys as they cooed over my little boy. It was a real treat.

The point to this anecdote is that I overheard someone say that a small table immediately behind me needed to be moved a few inches before the next shot. As I reached down to slide the table, David sharply whispered to me not to touch it, as “it was a union job” and one of “them” had to move the piece. I had to laugh, as it was foreign to me that someone had a designated job of table-moving. But, as I moved through Biglaw, I became aware that the same mindset applied to associates as well as partners – unless there was money to be made from a new matter, then a Labor partner could transform into a Patent partner in the blink of an eye….

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Some of you might be old enough to recall the “comedian” from the mid-80’s who went by the moniker of Yahoo Serious. He had a nominal hit movie and his career died out soon after. He even tried to collect from Yahoo! for trademark infringement — yeah. Anyway, when learning the news of Marissa Miller’s recent edict (she’s the one with a nursery in her office) that Yahoo!’s telecommuting is about to end, my initial thought was, are they serious?

Now, I don’t know Tom Wallerstein — I know for sure I am no Tom Wallerstein in the writing department — but I will take on this issue of working from home, and its benefits.

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I was working on an agreement yesterday with a contract specialist. Many companies have contract “specialists,” especially in the procurement area, who vet language and negotiate with vendors or buyers up to and until the point where legal assistance becomes necessary.

The problem with this model is that as these specialists, especially in procurement, become proficient in their positions, they can fall into the trap of thinking they are lawyers….

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I kicked a hornet’s nest last week by bloviating about an anonymous someone else’s contrary opinion to mine regarding clerking. I banged out a column that I thought was interesting, and furthered my argument that taking a clerkship in this economy is better than being unemployed.

However, at the same time, I unfairly attacked someone with a differing opinion, and for that I am sorry. I have apologized to this person over email, and am doing so now in this column.

Foot in mouth disease seems to follow some of us like the cloud behind Pigpen. I can remember all the way back to sixth grade making fun of Mark something-or-other, for his constant coughing in class, only to be sternly told by the teacher that Mark had a serious illness. I recall making fun of the cashier in a hotel bar (whose bank count was always off) where I was employed in accounting, only to learn that he was a “Mainstreamed” employee. And then, of course there was last week’s column….

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Some of you went to law school knowing exactly what kind of lawyer you wanted to be when you grew up. You watched Law and Order or Boston Legal and decided that duking it out against an evil opponent in the courtroom (while engaging in inappropriate trysts on the side) is your thing. Or you may want to work on billion-dollar deals and attend fab closing dinners with high-level business executives. If so, you probably won’t find this article very useful.

Others of you went to law school because, well, the pre-med thing didn’t pan out and you figured there was nothing better to do. Or maybe you went because your parents really, really wanted you to, but arguing in court sounds intimidating and you really don’t care about negotiating fancy-pants deals. Or maybe the only thing you really care about at this point is landing a decent-paying job. And if it involves some upward mobility and you can also make use of your law school degree, well heck, that would be a plus. If any of this describes you, read on….

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I am well aware of the basement-dwelling commenters who make a bloodsport of decimating each column written here at ATL. Heck, sometimes they make a good point, or more rarely, are funny. But, I admit that I was surprised upon learning that a legal recruiter out there was taking issue with my column regarding experienced lawyers taking clerkships. I looked up this person, who appears to be still in her 20s, and thought to myself, are you kidding me right now? This is 2013, not 1999.

It should have been readily apparent that I was referring to clerking as an alternative to being unemployed. If it was not clear, then mea culpa. My bad. However, I read some of this recruiter’s tweets and was curious if there wasn’t a more nefarious motive behind advising lawyers to think twice about clerking mid-career — specifically, with government positions, no recruiters need apply.

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I was fortunate enough to clerk twice. My judges, and hence my clerking experiences, could not have been more different. I am unable to give factual details, but I can certainly pass on some observations. I am also going to attempt to give you job seekers some tips.

More than any other type of correspondence to my Gmail are queries about jobs. How to get one where I work, how to go in-house, how to leave a firm, when to go back to a firm, how to obtain a clerkship, etc. I want to focus this week on clerkships because I believe they are overlooked by the vast majority of job seekers. I am not preaching here to 3Ls. Future grads have their own system set up by the career center in which blast applications are sent out, only to be thrown in the trash (sorry, I meant filed for safekeeping) by existing clerks. No, I am speaking to the experienced attorney who has found themselves in the midst of a hellish job search. Do not underestimate the clerkship….

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Being somewhat of a jam band aficionado, I inevitably came across the 2003 film “Festival Express.” The film documents the 1970 East to West tour by railroad across Canada featuring the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, and Mashmakhan. I mention the latter because, in my opinion, the relatively unknown band puts on two of the more electrifying performances in the movie. However, while the headliners went on to rock immortality, Mashmakhan broke up after only two albums. After the tour, the trajectories of a pool of very talented musicians diverged, some due to drugs, some to luck, and others for reasons unknown.

And so it goes with law — some to drugs, some to luck, and others for reasons unknown….

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Think good deeds are only for good people? Every once in a while, an uncommon opportunity comes along in which even grinchy, ol’ meanies can contribute positively to society. On occasion, jerks are mistaken for people who actually care about others and, if they’re lawyers, they may be asked if they would be willing to do a mock interview for a law student or junior attorney.

If you’re a jerk, I have good news for you. Your natural grouchy demeanor could make you an ideal candidate to give mock law interviews. This is your chance to fully exhibit your abominable self and earn the sincere appreciation of others at the same time. It’s a true win-win situation!

Because when it comes to practice interviews, many interviewers try to pretend that they’re the ones who are actually interviewing someone for a real job at their law firm or company. Silly counselors….

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I wrote last week about ideas to build a book of business. My main point was to start small and branch out from there. I mentioned how, as a young and naïve (ok, ignorant) associate, I was quickly disabused of the idea that I would soon be able to waltz into Pfizer and pick up some strands of litigation.

Then I received the following email in my Gmail account. It is a well-written counterpoint to my argument. A partner in New York City argues that starting small is a recipe for staying small.

I reprint his email (largely unedited) below….

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