I’ve learned a lot in my one week here, reading comments from the anonymous miserable Biglaw associates who take a break from their “.1 review” of correspondence (e-mail) and “.3 draft correspondence” (one-sentence letter) to comment on ATL.
I learned the term “s**t law.”
I am a s**t law lawyer. I represent clients, real people with real problems. They need legal services. They need arguments made on their behalf. They need advice. They need something other than an edited “pre-bill” in the mail once a month. I love s**t law, and I love talking to Biglaw lawyers about their desire to join s**t law. And while I always thought lawyers that were smart enough to leave the confines of “.2 receive and review correspondence” law to strike out on their own practiced real law, I realize now that the Biglaw lawyers that tell me they hate their jobs, hate that they can’t bring in clients because they can only pony up $10,000 for a retainer, and want to have their own practice, are apparently all lying.
So this advice is for those of you who haven’t been brainwashed into thinking that the practice of law is on the 46th floor in a small office trying to meet the important goal of having the divorced-three-times 53-year-old partner walk by at 8 p.m. and see you there in the thick of it, preparing irrelevant motions to compel discovery for cases that will never go to trial. This is for those that can’t wait to leave, those that realize that no one can name the best Biglaw commercial litigator in their town, but can name the best of various types of s**t law lawyers. This advice is for those that want to practice law, and not feed the billable hour factory that is Biglaw….
In Feeling the Kumbaya (Part I), we looked at how different the perspectives of business clients and in-house lawyers can be. Below are a few techniques that have helped me and my clients to feel the Kumbaya for each other (or at least have helped them to not think I’m only a total loser who has nothing better to do than change all of the commas in a list after a colon to semicolons).
Prioritize. I used to suspect that there was something about going in-house that made perfectly good law firm attorneys develop permanent amnesia when it came to good drafting. It was the strangest thing. Even my husband, a supposedly respectable corporate law firm attorney, after going in-house, suddenly started to let minor errors appear in his emails. My judgment of him was quick and deliberate. He would sometimes mistakenly use “there” instead of “their,” for God’s sakes! What lawyer does that?
So you’ve moved in-house or are planning to go in-house sometime. Be ready to think less like a lawyer.
Business clients think differently. I know, crazy, right? But, seriously, one of the biggest transitions from working as a transactional lawyer at a law firm and moving over to a company is learning to understand the business client’s perspective.
At a law firm, your client is typically another lawyer, whether it’s a senior associate, a partner, or an in-house lawyer. Lawyers hold court at the top of the hierarchy and are assumed valuable until proven otherwise. Legal work reigns supreme.
At a company, your boss will probably be an attorney but, as a transactional in-house attorney, you will most likely consider non-lawyers — people in other areas of the company — to be your clients. Plus, you’ve probably shifted from your law firm throne to mingling as one of the middle-management masses. At a company, mention “legal work” and “supreme” in the same sentence and you’ll get laughed off your middle-management office chair. On the contrary, you may sometimes need to remind business people that you exist (this can be kind of awkward, really) and that you can, you know, maybe provide value once in a while….
And be careful about what you place in the trash. Law firms have paper shredders for a reason; use them. Consider this your practice pointer for the day.
Earlier this month, an ATL reader sent us a collection of documents relating to Sullivan & Cromwell’s on-campus interviewing program at the University of Michigan Law School. For the record, our tipster didn’t have to go dumpster diving for this find. The documents were contained in a black binder that was conveniently placed on top of an outdoor recycling bin, where it caught our reader’s eye. (As we all know from California v. Greenwood, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy in stuff you leave in the trash.)
So, what was in these documents? The contents will be of interest to partners and associates at other firms, as well as law students going through the OCI process right now….
Every couple of years, people need to be reminded not to have private conversations in public spaces. Who could forget Acela Bob, the Pillsbury partner who talked about firing people on a crowded train?
University of Virginia law students, that’s who. Yes, we have another installment of: when popping your collar goes real wrong. On the way back to Charlottesville from New York City, a group of UVA Law students were waiting for their flight out of LaGuardia. They started talking about how their callback interviews went. They started talking loudly.
Most of my friends are lawyers. Forrealz. To be sure, an increasing number of them, like me, no longer practice. But most of them still do, and I still like hanging with them.
When I would go to Suffolk Superior Court in Boston, or the federal district court across the channel in Southie, I would bump into classmates or colleagues more often than not. Later in my practice, it became increasingly common that I would already be friends with my opposing counsel. Some lawyers don’t like litigating against their friends, but I always did. It made it easier to get things done, and you didn’t have to waste time with unnecessary gamesmanship.
If you already had a level of trust with your opposing counsel, you could skip all the silly things that slow down litigation and make it more unpleasant. Discovery disputes, for example, drop down to zero. Settlement talks start sooner and are more meaningful. Extension requests are automatically given. Cases get resolved faster and easier.
But do you know who doesn’t like it when opposing lawyers are friendly with each other?
Find out who — plus big news about this column — after the jump.
During my 25 years litigating at law firms, I fretted about two words: “winning” and “losing.” (As one old-timer put it: “They don’t pay you twelve dollars a minute to lose.”)
Now I’m in-house, and I’m still fretting about two words: “probable” and “estimable.”
The accounting rules require corporations to take a reserve (which causes an immediate hit to revenue) when a “loss contingency” (which is accountant-speak for lawsuits, among other things) becomes probable and estimable. If it’s likely that you’re going to lose, and if you can estimate the amount (or, at least, the lower bound of the amount) of the loss, then it’s time to take a reserve.
When is a litigator thinking most keenly about a specific witness’s testimony?
There are two days: The day you’re taking (or defending) the deposition of the witness, and the day — months or years later, if ever — when you’re examining the witness at trial. So when should you be making notes about the witness’s testimony and your reaction to it? That question answers itself: You should make quick notes of key points during the deposition, and you should write notes to yourself immediately after the deposition ends. “Immediately after”: Not later in the week; not the next morning. Now, when your brain is fully engaged.
Those notes don’t have to be comprehensive, but they have to memorialize the things that you noticed during the deposition that you’re likely to forget by either the next morning or the day, a month later, when you’re reviewing the transcript. The notes are quick and easy. Write an e-mail to yourself that says: “Today I took Smith’s deposition. These were the highlights: (1) He admitted A; (2) He denied B; remember to create some other admissible evidence on that point; (3) He evaded on C; there’s something fishy going on there; (4) Opposing counsel started interrupting when I got near D; we should press harder on that point; (5) His testimony opens up issue E; let’s do some legal research.” There might be a half dozen points; there might be a dozen. But the key is to record immediately the fleeting ideas that you had while your brain was most in gear.
During the deposition, you’re as attentive as you’ll ever be. Don’t lose the moment; capture it.
There’s a reason why people get crotchety when they get old. People forget about things that went right in their professional lives; that’s like water off a duck. But people remember things that got screwed up; that’s what sticks in their craws.
You personally are not necessarily incompetent. But you’re tarred by the ghosts of incompetents past. When your elder — a partner, a boss, a client, whoever — asks you to do something, the boss assumes that you won’t do it. The boss doesn’t assume this because she knows that you’re irresponsible; she assumes it because the clown she asked to do something six months ago was irresponsible, and she has to hedge against you being an irresponsible clown, too.
So Lat calls me up all excited about some Biglaw Midsummer Bonus or something, which I totally ignore, and also about some hysterical dicta that Judge Kozinski wrote, which I also ignore (although it probably was pretty funny), and then he starts asking me about my law career. Which, you know, ended. And he points out that I failed to get ATL approval of my decision to close my small firm, which means technically, my column should just be called “Big Lawyers,” which is a whole other kettle of fish.
Then Lat says he knows how we can fix it. “Go on,” I say. Lat says that I can tell our readers exactly how to start pricing their legal services instead of just billing their time. “But Lat,” I plead, “I can’t give away my secrets. I have a whole new consulting firm to tell people these secrets in exchange for scads of dollars.”
Lat is quick to admonish me. “We don’t keep secrets from our readers, Jay. That’s why our readers know all about my obsession with all things Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld and why they all know that Elie is as jovial as an Ewok in real life.” Then his tone sharpened: “Plus we can always get Staci to write your column in a tenth of the time it takes you. And we can even have her use your name as a pseudonym.”
Well played, Mr. Lat, well played. So here then are the secrets to pricing your legal wares in eight easy(ish) steps.…
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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.
In a land that is right here and in a time that is right now, a technology has arisen so powerful that it can replace basic human document review. Is it time to bow down before our new robot overlords?
First, here’s a little story about me: my life in the legal world began as a paralegal. My first case was a GIANT patent infringement case that was already six years old and had involved as many as five companies, multiple US courts, the ITC and an international standards committee. I knew nothing about any of this.
On my first day, my supervisor (a paralegal with at least eight other cases driving her crazy) sat me down in front of a Concordance database with a 100,000+ patents and patent file histories. “Code these,” she said. I learned that “coding”, for the purposes of this exercise, meant manually typing the inventor’s name, the title of the patent, the assignee, the file date, and other objective data for each document. I worked on that project – and only that project – for at least the first six months of my job. After a week or so, time began to blur.
What I know, in retrospect and with absolutely certainty, is that as time began to blur, so did my judgment. So did my attention to detail. If you could tell me that I did not make at least one mistake a day – one inconsistent spelling, one reversed day and month, one incorrectly spaced title – I frankly would need to see your evidence. I would not believe it. The human mind is trainable but it is not a machine.
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