Going to law school is a smart choice for many people. It’s not a smart choice for all people or probably even the majority of people who end up going, and it’s not a decision to be entered into lightly. But if you want to be a practicing lawyer, based on an informed view of what lawyers actually do, and if you’ve concluded that law school is right for you, after a rigorous process of psychological and financial self-examination, then by all means, matriculate.
(We are not uniformly anti-law-school here at Above the Law. I’ve written many times in defense of going to law school, provided you’ve done your research. See, e.g., here, here, here, and all of these law school success stories. And Elie’s on vacation this week, hahaha….)
The question then becomes where you should go to law school. It’s a timely topic, since now is the time of year when prospective law students or “0Ls” must decide where to put down their deposits. So help a brother out and offer some advice on the following situation….
If you follow the world of large law firms, then you are probably familiar with the incisive and candid commentary of Steven J. Harper. Over at his blog, The Belly of the Beast, Harper offers excellent insights into the world of Biglaw.
Harper knows so much about that world because he spent his entire legal career in it. He joined Kirkland & Ellis after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1979. He practiced litigation at the firm for about 30 years, until his retirement in 2008, at the early age of 54 (which you can afford to do when you’re an equity partner at a firm as lucrative as K&E).
In addition to blogging, Harper has written four books. I spoke last week with Harper about his latest book, The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis (affiliate link), and about his views on the worlds of Biglaw and legal education….
I’ve finally plucked “big firm mediocre” out of my life.
First, I left Biglaw, so I’m no longer revising lifeless drafts that arrive either up through the ranks or from co-counsel.
Then, my corporation entered fixed fee deals for virtually all of its litigation work. We invited only firms that do good work to compete for our business, and the winners have performed as expected: No brief arrives at our doorstep until it’s been reviewed by someone who can write.
But we still have a few strays: There are cases in oddball jurisdictions or involving unusual specialties where we select counsel on an individualized basis. And we still have old cases lingering from before our fixed-fee days staffed by an assortment of counsel. Once in a long while, I still run into briefs written in the “big firm mediocre” style.
What’s funny is how consistent it is. Although the briefs address different subjects in different jurisdictions, and they’re written by different people, “big firm mediocre” constitutes its own distinct literary genre. Care to write in that genre (or assess whether you already do)? Here are the characteristics:
The answer to the question of where you should be with just a couple of weeks until finals is “it depends.” Of course, every law student knows that almost every question can be answered with “it depends,” so the following will discuss what it depends on and why.
First, it depends how you learn. What I mean by that is that while most law students are busy outlining, the students I coach (at lawstudentcoach.com) are doing a variety of activities, some of which include outlining. Why do law students outline or study from outlines? The simple answer is that your exams will require you to show that you can work with the law and use the law in a manner that is structured and well thought out. It makes sense, then, to prepare in a manner that forces you to examine how the rules of law fit together, that forces you to categorize and to make decisions about what rules are related and how they are related. Creating an outline can thus be a very valuable study activity.
The downside of an outline, however, is that it works best for those who think in straight lines. In a traditional outline, things are related in only one or two possible ways. Concepts are either separate enough to be side-by-side or one concept is a subcategory of another. However, legal concepts often have a more complex relationship….
Now that my wife and I have a baby, people keep telling us that we shouldn’t just find a bigger rental, we should buy something and put down roots. My wife, politely, laughs and says, “We’re thinking about it.” I angrily roll my eyes and say, “Why don’t you think about going and f**king yourself.”
You see, we are both law school graduates who debt-financed our educations and now live in New York. Property ownership is not something that will happen for us… unless we just want to give up and move to an oil-soaked subdivision in Arkansas.
But I am not alone. A law professor has crunched some quick numbers and determined that at least half of the class of 2011 wouldn’t be able to own a home….
Ed. note: Welcome to the latest installment of The ATL Interrogatories, a recurring feature that gives notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as information about their firms and themselves.
Don Lents is chair of Bryan Cave LLP. His practice focuses on M&A, corporate governance, and securities law, with particular emphasis upon multinational and domestic mergers. He has been an adjunct professor at the Washington University Law School. He received both his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard.
I don’t want to alarm you, but this is going to be bad news for some of you — possibly even a lot of you. The last few days have been tough for all of us. Emotional. Controversial. Traumatic, even. News like this comes along once, maybe twice, in a lifetime. Obviously, I’m referring to the treatise that was recently released in Princeton University’s student newspaper, the Daily Princetonian, in the form of a letter to the editor addressed to “the young women of Princeton.”
The author of this editorial, noted socio-anthropological scholar divorced former housewife and Princeton alum, Susan A. Patton, caused quite a stir when she implored — nay, demanded — that the young women of Princeton “find a husband on campus before you graduate” because “for most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you.” She then drove the point home by noting that she recently completed a “horrible” divorce, after 27 years of marriage, to a man whose “academic background was not as luxurious as mine, and that was a source of some stress.” Indeed.
Susan A. Patton, while I admire your grammar, I have to respectfully disagree with you. Because you failed to cite one obvious point: Even if a young lady has managed to escape the wilds of New Jersey without nailing down a trip to Zales, she still has one more shot: law school. Well, let’s be clear — a T14 law school….
Conflict checks. A necessary evil in today’s incestous Biglaw, where every partner is a potential lateral, and client loyalty is fickle. Biglaw’s insurance companies demand them, so every firm goes through the motions — at sizable expense, given the size of your typical firm’s “Intake” or “Risk Management” department. Conflicts themselves are an old story, of course. Everyone would be a rainmaker, but for them. Blaming a lack of performance on conflicts is a time-honored Biglaw tradition. But who cares about excuses.
Let’s talk opportunities. There is plenty of information an enterprising Biglaw partner (or partner-aspirant) can glean from the firm’s hourly-daily-weekly conflicts report. Free information, as in not requiring the expenditure of political capital to obtain. (Practice tip: every Biglaw interaction is political in nature. At least you should treat them that way.)
Back to conflict reports. For many, they are simply another email to be skimmed and dragged into “Deleted Items” with all dispatch. A good percentage of Biglaw attorneys probably ignore them outright. That is a mistake. Why ignore a potentially valuable resource and real-time look into the health of your firm? Especially when your other option is to wait for the firm’s executive committee to update you on the firm’s performance — usually using financial metrics that present their own “management” abilities in the best possible light. Associates and other non-partners are not even usually dignified with any such information — but everyone gets a peek at the conflict check.
Client service. The heartbeat of Biglaw. The area where every firm has to improve. Perpetually. Biglaw hamsters in overdrive. All to make the clients happy. Sit back and admire your Biglaw firm’s willingness to go the “extra mile” by listening to its clients. We might even see a client paraded before our partners once a year. (See my column on improving partner meetings by having guest appearances from clients.)
We are taught happy clients are well-paying clients. And clients that will refer their dissatisfied colleagues at other companies to experience our brand of Biglaw magic. We love clients. Almost as much as the consultants do on House of Lies, a show that provides outrageous, if funny, explorations of the client-service provider dynamic in modern-day America. (A fun business development-training program would involve watching a series of client-interactions from the show and learning from them. Better than listening to Rainmaker X pretend the reason for his multimillion-dollar book was not his maternal grandfather’s business dealings and connections.)
Truly thinking about client service can be all-consuming, especially for a younger partner like myself. No one is giving me clients. I have to fight for them in the marketplace. I love it, but it is difficult and you need patience.
But rather than focus on the process of developing clients, let’s discuss the art of “superpleasing” clients….
Let me prove that I’ve learned a little about this blogging business over the years: Before the jump, I’ll give you my personal thought or two about introducing prominent speakers. I’ll hold the good stuff — what Fitzgerald, the famous guy, said — until after the jump. (Watch this, Lat! They’ll be drawn through the jump like vultures to carrion!)
How do you introduce a prominent speaker? You can do it the usual way: He went to school, got a job, and did some fancy stuff, zzzzzzzz.
Or you can find something offbeat about the person. I chose to introduce Fitzgerald by saying that I was afraid that our speaker had peaked too young. He had been named one of the sexiest men alive by People magazine in 2005; how do you ever surpass that? And, also in 2005, he had received an award from Washingtonian magazine for “best performance without a script.” For most people, it’s all downhill from there.
Fortunately, our speaker managed to surpass his early achievements. And then I trotted through what must be the usual litany in a Fitzgerald introduction: Led the prosecutions of former Illinois Governors George Ryan (sentenced to five years) and Rod Blagojevich (14 years) and a bunch of others.
That was my contribution to the hour. But, you might ask, what did the famous guy have to say?
Watch to find out what some of our subscribers received in their May box!
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We currently have a number of active openings for associate roles at US and UK firms in HK / China, Singapore and two new in-house openings. As always, please feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com in order to get details of current openings in Asia, as well as to discuss the Asia markets in general and what we expect for openings later this year. Our Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney will be in Beijing the week of March 25 and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong the week of April 1, if you would like to meet them in person.
The US associate openings we have in law firms are in the usual areas of M&A, cap markets, FCPA / white collar litigation, finance, and project finance. The most urgent of our top tier (top 15 US or magic circle) law firm openings in Asia (among many other firm openings that we have in Asia) are as follows:
• 2nd to 5th year mandarin fluent M&A associates needed in Beijing and Hong Kong at several firms;
• Korean fluent 2nd to 4th year cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 5th year Japanese fluent M&A associates needed in Tokyo;
• 4th to 6th year mandarin fluent cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 4th year M&A / cap markets mix associate needed in Singapore.
The last time I flapped my wings your way, I tried to make at least enough noise about your mobile phone to make you more than a little bit uncomfortable. I hope I did. If enough of us become anxious enough about the known and unknown unknowns and knowns in our mobile phones, then we can start making wise decisions about how to manage that information and its resultant investigations.
Today, I’d like to put a finer point on the last installment’s topic by asking a question that seemed to catch most attendees off-guard at a conference panel that I moderated last week: is there discoverable personal information in a mobile app? Our panelists’ answer was a uniform “yes” with one stating that, if he had to choose only one type of data that he could discover from a mobile phone, he’d choose app data. Why? Because there’s simply so much of it and because almost all of it is objective – not just user-created like an email – but machine-tracked like GPS, usage duration, log in and log out times, browsed web addresses, browsed actual addresses. Also, most of us seem to have the idea that data doesn’t actually “stick” to our mobile devices the way it “sticks” to our hard drives. Maybe there’s a disconnect based on the fact that our phones are mobile so we assume the data is mobile to?
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