It’s time to announce the winner of November’s Lawyer of the Month competition. Our five contestants all made the news recently for their deeds of derring-do, be they on the bench on the bike path. As usual, one of them stole the show, both in your votes and in national media coverage.
From Above the Law, to the Huffington Post, to the New York Times, November’s winner rocked the legal profession and caused many to reevaluate their lives — and ultimately, their happiness. As it turns out, sometimes the wonderful world of Biglaw isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
One of my favorite recurring columns on Above the Law is the “Departure Memo of the Day.” Elie Mystal hit a nerve last week when he published a particularly depressing departure memo from a harried mother at Clifford Chance who was struggling, unsuccessfully, to balance the demands of parenthood and Biglaw. The departure memo lit up Twitter and even the Huffington Post decided to weigh in.
At many Biglaw firms, departure memos have become an ingrained part of the culture. Why are departure memos so ubiquitous, especially in Biglaw? The New York Times put it best:
“The ‘departure memo’ is a fixture at many large employers, and nowhere more so than at big law firms. Departures, particularly of young associates, are built into the business model. Not everyone is supposed to stay, and many never planned to stay, so leaving is often celebrated. Many of the ‘Departure Memos of the Day’ published on Above the Law fall into that category. Excitement at the next opportunity, and a little bit of glee at leaving, is completely acceptable, as is a little thumbing of the nose at the firm. Creativity isn’t unusual.”
The Clifford Chance departure memo struck a chord with many lawyers because it openly grappled with the struggle for work/life balance so familiar to so many of us. But it also raises bigger issues regarding the purpose intended by such missives….
Since we published, the story has gone everywhere. The Huffington Post weighed in, and so did the New York Times. I’m glad so many people are finding out that working at one of the top law firms in the world is really difficult. Welcome to our world — they’re not paying people $160,000 and up to work from 9 to 5.
But one disturbing trend in the coverage of this story is the move to blame the husband. Ms. X’s husband only appears once in her tick-tock:
7:45pm: Negotiate with husband over who will do bathtime and bedtime routine; lose
That line has led to rampant speculation about the deadbeat loser Ms. X must be married to. Vivia Chen of The Careerist had one of the more restrained slams on this guy: “Not to be presumptuous, but I think we should all chip in for some negotiation courses for this poor woman. I realize we don’t have all the facts, but her husband seems to be getting away with murder.”
Well, you know what? I’ve been a Biglaw associate, and a Biglaw spouse, and let me tell you, it’s not as easy as it looks. Just because a lady “loses” the negotiations on domestic chores doesn’t mean that she’s married to a sexist pig, and it doesn’t mean the guy is “getting away with murder”….
Not pictured: the Biglaw train barreling towards this family.
I’ve read this departure email three times this morning, all while a sleeping six-week-old snores up at me. It’s a departure memo where a Biglaw associate kind of admits that she can no longer juggle the demands of parenthood and the demands of being a Biglaw lawyer. In a way, it’s heartbreaking. I don’t know this woman, and I don’t know what her hopes and dreams are or might have been, but it shouldn’t be so damn hard — in the richest country on Earth — to have a big-time job and be a loving parent. The struggles highlighted by this woman make me sad as a new parent myself.
In another way, this memo is uplifting. You can’t have it all. When you finally come to accept that, it’s liberating. You don’t have to feel like a bad employee or a bad parent for not being able to do it all. As Al Pacino says in the Devil’s Advocate: “Guilt is like a bag of bricks, all you gotta do is set it down.”
So, take a look as one woman bows out of the rat race….
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.