Last year, St. Martin’s Press published The Partner Track, the debut novel of lawyer Helen Wan. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, I praised the book for being engaging, suspenseful, and — unlike so many legal novels — realistic. The paperback edition of The Partner Track became available last week.
I enjoy fiction about lawyers, as both a reader and writer — my own firstnovel comes out in a few weeks — and I’m deeply interested in how other writers work. So I interviewed Helen Wan about her book, her approach to writing, and how she managed to write a novel while holding down a demanding job as an in-house lawyer for Time Warner. I also asked for her advice on how women and minority lawyers can succeed in Biglaw.
Here’s a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our conversation.
We all dream of a world in which collegiality matters.
Partners at law firms are . . . well . . . partners. They look out for each other. They build each other’s practices. They work for the common good.
Perhaps that firm exists. I wouldn’t know.
From my perch here — as the guy who left a Biglaw partnership for an in-house job, and on whose shoulder other Biglaw partners now routinely cry — the view is pretty ugly. (Perhaps my perspective is distorted because of an obvious bias: Partners happy with their firms don’t come wailing to me.) What I hear these days is grim: Guys are being de-equitized or made of counsel; they think they’re being underpaid; they’re concerned that they’ll be thrown under the bus if they ever lose a step.
Several recent partners’ laments prompted me to think about something that I’d never considered when I worked at a firm. (Maybe that’s because I’m one of those guys who was perfectly happy laboring for the common good. Or maybe it’s because I’m a moron.)
In any event, here’s today’s question: I want to wrestle effectively with my own law firm. I don’t want to be nasty; I just want to be sure that I have implicit power when I negotiate with the firm. I want the firm — of its own accord, without me saying a word — to treat me right. How do I wrestle my own law firm to the ground? How do I pin my partners?
I have several different selves rattling around inside. No, I’m not suggesting multiple personality disorder. I’m alluding to the varied interests and aptitudes that have led to different careers over time.
My nurturing, playful self became an elementary school teacher. She was followed by the brainy, kick-ass self who became a lawyer. Then the creative, reclusive self came forward to write my legal thriller Terminal Ambition (affiliate link). Now the compassionate, wise self is stepping up as a coach to guide clients through growth and change.
Just as Harry Potter discovered that he had a “good self” and a “bad self,” each of us has many selves.
A lawyer may be hiding a self who longs for deeper connection with others and a helping role as a therapist as well as another self who longs to be an academic and another self who longs to be a chef.
Ed. note: Please welcome our newest columnist, Professor Joseph Marino of Marino Legal Academy, who will be writing a bimonthly column about law school and legal education.
Your first year classroom experience is not all that different from the classroom scenes in the well known 1973 movie, The Paper Chase.
“Look to the left, look to your right. Because one of you won’t be here by the end of the year.” It sounds like an urban legend, but it’s not that far off from reality. According to the ABA, roughly 5,000 1Ls across the country will not come back for their second year of law school.
By now you should be familiar with case briefing and the Socratic method, the decades-long dominant pedagogical approaches for teaching first-year students. It is dramatically different from the days of rolling out of bed after a night out partying and acing the exam that you were used to in college. Unlike college and high school classes where your professor taught you the subject area, in law school you have to take responsibility for your own education….
I thought now would be a good time to give a progress report on my job search. It’s been a little over five months since the race began, and I still have not reached the finish line. All of the jobs openings I applied to have been filled. By someone else.
Recently, I wrote an email to an attorney named Stephanie whom I have known for many years and think of as a role model. Since I have been feeling discouraged and cynical lately, I thought it would be best to be direct with her and not beat around the bush. I was curious what kind of response and advice she would have, if any.
You may have heard about a behavioral science experiment involving monkeys and a ladder with a banana at the top of the ladder. When one monkey would try to climb the ladder to reach the banana, the researchers would spray all of the monkeys with a hose. After a while, when a monkey tried to go towards the ladder, the others would stop him so that they wouldn’t get hosed. The researchers then switched out one of the monkeys with a new monkey who didn’t know about the hose. When he would go towards the ladder, just as before, the others would stop him. The swapping continued, and the new monkeys would join in stopping newer monkeys from going towards the ladder, not knowing about the hose treatment, but learning from the example of the original monkeys that going towards the ladder is bad. The researchers eventually swapped out all of the monkeys so that none of the original monkeys were together, but all of the new monkeys would try to stop each other from going towards the ladder.
There is some debate online as to the origins of that experiment, or whether it ever happened, so I’ll just call it the “parable of the monkeys who just do what everyone else does without understanding why” — or, for short, “the parable of the associate.” If you work in a law firm, you probably recognize the above fact pattern and can analogize it to your colleagues.
I’ve come across a bunch of lawyers since I started my legal career ten years ago. Some of them were really good, some were really bad, and most of them were just somewhere in the spectrum of not being memorable. The lawyers who were bad were all bad for about a thousand different reasons, but the lawyers who were good, almost always shared one quality: they were outside-the-box thinkers….
With the kids heading back to school, it’s a good time to think about how education is changing — especially for lawyers. Our profession prizes continued education, and of course mandates it for those lawyers who otherwise would be too focused on billing or finding clients to learn. Both the way lawyers learn and for some the way they teach have been completely changed by technology. It may be trite at this point, but this is really the golden age of access to information and learning opportunities for everyone, lawyers included.
While on balance the development of the technology that has created the current state of information access has been a wonderful human achievement, there are downsides. Information overload can be paralyzing, and the speed at which information can be found and deployed creates stresses for those required to keep up. But if someone wants to learn something new, they can. And more than ever, for free.
As easy as it is to learn using today’s technological resources, that same technology has changed how a lawyer can teach others just as dramatically. When I gave my first CLE less than ten years ago, it was for lawyers within my firm, in one of the conference rooms, perhaps with some lawyers from other offices “joining” by speakerphone. For many years in Biglaw, that was how CLE was given and consumed. The biggest differences between sessions was the speaker and the size of the conference room. That changed over time, as firms started subscribing to audio or even video recordings of CLE from outside providers. With that development, it became easier than ever for lawyers to “consume” their CLE, often at group lunches sponsored by the firm. “Come for the food, stay for the CLE,” or something like that. Those lunches were a good way to make a dent in CLE requirements, especially if you aimed to get to one every month or two.
As busy as Biglaw lawyers often are, it was not uncommon for my colleagues and me to encounter a “CLE scramble” as registration deadlines approached….
I enjoy reading Alex Rich‘s informative, comical, and sometimes depressing posts about life as a contract attorney, particularly in the world of document review. While I have no desire to do full-time doc review, I can see how the “bill and chill” nature of the job could appeal to some people. But in my world, there is more to being a “contract attorney” than being a coder.
Contract work is basically working for an attorney for a limited purpose. It ends once a task is accomplished or after a fixed period of time. Common contract-work projects are court appearances, document review, legal research, drafting or editing motions, and even trial. If you know the right people and have a certain skill set, contract work is not a bad way to make a lawyerly living. But for most new solo practitioners, contract work serves as a supplemental source of income (along with other interesting and strange side gigs) while they try to get their practice up and running.
Today, I want to talk about a rare contract attorney position: a temp-to-hire arrangement where your employer/client hires you on a contract basis and may offer an associate position in the future. I will talk about how to spot such a position and make the most of it. Finally, I will discuss whether it is better to accept the associate position or remain a contract attorney.
In case you haven’t heard, over the weekend a whole bunch of celebrities got hacked and nude photos of them leaked onto the internet. Let me just start out by saying that hacking into a celebrity’s phone and stealing her nude photos is just a horrible thing. It’s not a funny joke. It’s not something hackers should be high fiving over. Celebrities have the right to live private lives like everyone else and they have the right to take and keep private photos. On top of the embarrassment of having their private photos available to their parents and all of their fans and every pervert with an internet connection, it could seriously damage their careers. This should be another big warning slap in the face to everyone who stores private or confidential things on the internet, especially lawyers.
What lessons can lawyers learn from this unfortunate episode?
OmniVere’s delivery of end-to-end technology & data consulting to position the company as a true differentiator in the global legal technology and compliance space.
CHICAGO, IL, September 29, 2014 – OmniVere today announced the creation of the company’s technology & data consulting arm and the addition of several industry-renown experts, including the former co-chairs of Berkeley Research Group’s (BRG’s) Technology Services practice, Liam Ferguson, Rich Finkelman and Courtney Fletcher.
This new consulting practice will provide and expand existing OmniVere eDiscovery consulting services to corporations, law firms and government agencies with a special focus on compliance, information governance and eDiscovery. This addition of this top talent now positions OmniVere as a true industry leader in the technology and data consulting space offering best-in-class end-to-end services.
Ferguson, Finkelman & Fletcher are nationally recognized experts and seasoned veterans in the areas of overall technology, electronic discovery, and structured data. At OmniVere, the team will be focused on all global consulting activities with respect to legal compliance, complex data analytics, business intelligence design and analysis, and electronic discovery service offerings.
The Trust Women conference is an influential gathering that brings together global corporations, lawyers and pioneers in the field of women’s rights. Unlike many other events, Trust Women delegates take action and forge tangible commitments to empower women to know and defend their rights.
This year, the Trust Women conference will take place 18-19 November in London. From women’s economic empowerment to slavery in the supply chain and child labour, this year’s agenda is strong and powerful. Speakers include Professor Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate and founder of the Grameen Bank; Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women; Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of Women’s World Banking and many other influential leaders. Find out more about Trust Women here.