Advice

Not frilly and girly enough!

It’s not often that one associates high fashion with female lawyers. And if such an association is to be made, it usually comes in the form of an Elle Woods / Legally Blonde joke. Instead, one is quick to conjure visions of boxy ’80s power suits with shoulder pads thick enough to warrant a cringe.

You’d think that with the sheer number of fashion sense for the workplace seminars, women would have stopped making the faux pas of dressing like they were anywhere but at a David E. Kelley-created law firm — but apparently, you’d be wrong.

So let us spell it out for all of our lovely lady lawyers, as the Wall Street Journal so eloquently did last night: “The power suit is over.” These days, power looks for women contain frills, ruffles, and even hints of (gasp!) pink.

While the power suit may be a fashion no-no, is it acceptable to wear these emerging trends to work?

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'I'm ending my 1L year with a B-minus average. What's the point in going on?'

Lat here. Your Above the Law editors occasionally receive requests for advice from readers, to which we sometimes respond. Back in March, for example, Elie Mystal and I debated the merits of Harvard Law School versus Yale Law School, for the benefit of a prospective law student choosing between these two fine institutions. In case you’re wondering, he’s going to Yale.

(The future Yalie explained his decision this way: “I didn’t want to take the chance that even if I worked harder at HLS, I could still be ranked below enough outstanding students to not impress a professor, land a good clerkship, etc. I also got the impression that this risk-averse mentality was what drove many people who were on the fence between YLS and HLS to eventually choose YLS.”)

Choosing between Harvard and Yale is a high-class problem. Today we look at a situation that we’ve addressed before, in 2010 and 2011, and that continues to confront our readers. The question presented: If you do poorly in law school, should you cut your losses and drop out? Or should you keep on trucking and collect that J.D. degree?

We have two fact patterns. One involves a 1L, and one involves a 2L. Let’s hear them out, shall we?

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For a couple of centuries, we thought that American elections were precise: People voted; the government counted each vote; we knew which candidate received how many votes.

In the year 2000, we learned that elections are approximations. Votes are miscounted; chads dangle; we don’t in fact know precisely who received how many votes. Elections are a human process after all, and they can’t bear the weight when we insist on precision within the margin of error.

So, too, with litigation. I recently spoke to one of our outside litigators who had seemingly vanished from the face of the earth for several weeks. He told me that one of his clients had run into a now-typical e-discovery disaster: His client had overlooked some documents; a computer system had automatically deleted some other documents; when the client corrected the situation, it did so imperfectly; the judge (who came from a government background and had no experience in private civil litigation) was quick to spy “bad faith.” Why, this outside lawyer asked, don’t judges appreciate the difficulties presented by e-discovery?

My thesis (for today, anyway) is that e-discovery is like elections: It’s an approximation, and participants in litigation (parties, counsel, courts) should understand that it may not bear the weight when the judicial system insists on precision within the margin of error . . . .

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Since this afternoon’s big Dewey & LeBoeuf development, namely, the defection of Morton Pierce and seven other partners to White & Case, there has been some additional news. It concerns the timing of Dewey’s possible shutdown, a subject that has been the subject of much speculation lately.

One rumor had the firm closing its doors as early as tomorrow. Another suggested a date closer to Memorial Day. The truth may lie somewhere in between: according to sources cited by Am Law Daily (reg. req.), “Dewey is poised to close by May 15 and possibly sooner.”

(Also at Am Law, a very handy Dewey Departure Tracker. It lists each defector’s name, practice area, departure date, new firm, and location. It’s a great resource.)

The May 15 date makes some sense. As reported by Thomson Reuters News & Insight, on Monday the firm received a two-week extension from lenders for renegotiating its $100 million credit line. Assuming the parties can’t reach a new agreement, which seems like a good assumption right now, the new deadline would fall on or about May 15, the shutdown date mentioned by Am Law.

Compared to other outlets, we’ve been focusing a lot on the human side of the Dewey story. We’ve talked about the partners, including the particular partners who might be blamed for Dewey’s demise. We’ve talked about the staff, bringing you a paralegal’s lament.

Tonight let’s consider the fate of would-be Dewey associates, both full-time and summer associates, who now find themselves left in the lurch….

As usual, UPDATES — including one relating to support staff — after the jump.

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First things first: Thank you.

In response to my solicitation a couple of weeks ago, my “commenters” and correspondents provided ample material for the last chapter of my forthcoming book, Inside Straight. The “commenters,” I must say, will test the mettle of whomever ABA Publishing assigns to edit the manuscript. I asked my readers to propose a subtitle for the book, and I promised to re-print in the book the best (and worst) of the suggestions. To my eye, Inside Straight: The Annoying Ramblings of an Uber Douche and Inside Straight: But Outside? Pretty Into Dudes both made the cut. But I’m easy; the unfortunate editor at the ABA will have his hands full.

(Why seek to savage myself in public? Because roughly 97 percent of visitors to Above the Law never bother to look at the comments. I’d like the book to reveal to those typical readers the odd relationship that bloggers can have with their blaudience. That relationship is multifaceted; people should understand both the vitriol of the commenters and the wisdom of crowds.)

Thanks also to my correspondents (including one New York Times bestselling author, who’s also a lawyer) who provided some additional “advance praise” that we’ve posted at the pre-publication web page offering Inside Straight for sale.

But enough of that. Let’s get back to business: What annoying ramblings can the uber douche inflict on readers today? Business meetings! We have them all the time, and people misuse them. We meet with outsiders whom we’re trying to impress, and we then cross-examine each other and reveal that we’re not very impressive at all. We meet to solicit help from business folks, and the lawyers blather on about legal technicalities that neither interest nor inform anyone. How can we fix this?

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The Dewey debacle is unfolding in real time on this and other sites. People’s lives are being shattered as a firm gets shuttered. It is not the first, and certainly not the last, time that a major law firm with thousands of employees will disappear into so much ether. I look back on my OCI days, and can rattle off several former NYC firms that have either merged into unrecognizability, or disappeared like Dewey is in the process of doing.

Likewise, not far from where I now sit, is the shell of Eastman Kodak — a company that built a large part of this town, and will likely become a shameful case study in the annals of business school textbooks. And yesterday, news went out that my own company is beginning another round of VRIF severance offers.

Regardless of whether you are sitting comfortably in-house, collecting pay from Biglaw, or wondering how in Hell you’re going to find a summer job, news like that mentioned above is disquieting. The main reason is that there isn’t anything that can be done. One day you’re employed, and then, well, you may not be. And there is really no place for schadenfreude in a “there but for the grace of God” economy. Careers can be dissolved as quickly as Dewey.

So, when you are forced to enter an applicant pool of thousands of other attorneys looking for a break in a seemingly unsolvable code of hiring, what can you do to set yourself apart? One possible strategy that has become a hot button issue in the past days is to claim minority status on your application. The obvious dilemma that you face as applicant number two thousand twenty-eight is whether to check such status if your lineage may or may not support the claim….

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I mentioned last week that I recently moderated a panel of in-house lawyers at Schnader Harrison’s annual retreat. Always happy to share, I’m gathering here my existing thoughts on writing articles to develop legal business plus some new ideas suggested by the panelists. And, because handy lists get clipped and saved, I’m putting those thoughts into a list.

What are the ten rules for writing an article that will generate legal business for the author?

1. Write about a substantive issue, not a procedural one.

No one in the history of the world has retained a lawyer because the lawyer was the world’s greatest authority on Federal Rule of Evidence 403 or how to remove an action to federal court. People hire 10b-5 lawyers, not removal lawyers. If you’re writing to generate business, write on a substantive topic, not a procedural one.

2. Write about a niche area of the law.

If you write an article about some clever provision that a real estate lawyer should put in a lease, potential clients will read your article, send your article to their existing real estate lawyers, and ask the incumbents whether the incumbents have considered this idea and are able to put it to use. Your article thus educated the world and may have generated business for incumbent counsel, but it didn’t generate any business for you.

Niches are better. If you write about a niche area of the law — I’ve previously suggested that Colorado escheat law is wide open — the client’s incumbent firm won’t be able to provide the service that you’ve written about. If you’re writing to generate business, you don’t want to just suggest ideas that other lawyers can easily use.

3. . . .

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Here’s an unsurprising newsflash: young people have student loan debt, old people have student loan debt, and they have no idea what to do about it. With student loan debt having surpassed the one-trillion-dollar mark, we’ve officially reached a point where the media is calling this the crisis du jour.

We’ve discussed the dangers of incurring student loan debt time and time again throughout these pages, but it seems that people still don’t get it. They’d like some more — hmm, how shall we put this? — “sage” advice. They’d prefer to publish their woes for all to see on “the most popular and widely syndicated column in the world.”

They’ve chosen to go to Dear Abby for the answers….

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I gave my “book talk” about The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law at Schnader Harrison’s annual retreat last Saturday and then had the opportunity to moderate a panel of six (counting me) in-house lawyers. Three of the gang were from QVC, one from Endo Pharmaceuticals, and one from the Graham Company. Being a rabble-rouser at heart, I started the discussion by posing the question that I often considered during my time as an outside lawyer: How can a law firm that wants new business displace a competent incumbent firm?

My co-panelists were quite good, but I must say that their natural instinct when confronted with this question was to evade. Each panelist started by saying something that was not quite responsive to the question. Only after some follow-up questions did our panel finally tell the audience how to displace a competent incumbent.

Let me start with the evasions, saving the real answers for the end . . .

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Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Way Worse Than Being A Dentist, is available on Amazon, as is his previous book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy (affiliate links).

My client is finishing her 1L year. She’s bored.

“I study. Then I study some more. Then I go to sleep. Then I get up and study again. It’s the same for everyone.”

At least, I proposed, the subject matter was interesting.

She demurred. “Yeah, I guess… but — really? I mean… Property law? Contracts? Torts?”

Her demurrer was sustained. She had a point.

Maybe it’s your turn to demur. The subject matter of law schoollaw itself — not interesting!?? That’s unthinkable. It has to be the school’s fault — my client must be attending some fourth-tier degree mill, with subpar teaching, and a dull-witted student body….

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