My client was sitting at her desk, drafting a complicated, rushed memo. The topic was an obscure derivative. She’d worked all weekend, then come in again early. Her head hurt. It was due at 5 p.m. She could barely focus and was feeling panicked. It was 4 p.m.
The phone rang. Not thinking, she picked up and barked her last name, sharply, like the partner she worked for did.
It was her ninety-two-year-old grandmother.
“How are you, Sweetheart?”
My client couldn’t stop crying.
“All she did was ask how I was,” she told me. “That’s all it took. I fell apart.”
When you enter the world of Biglaw, you pass through a ritual of initiation – LSAT, law school, bar exam, interviews.
One of the things I don’t like about your blog is that you never have anything for Biglaw Bros who are just looking to use their jobs and money to score chicks. It’s fine to talk about women’s issues, debt issues, layoff issues and all that stuff. But aside from casual references to “models and bottles” you don’t seem interested in actually helping dudes who want to find pretty, young, not-too-intelligent slam pieces “on the reg.”
– What About Us?
Marin, the usual author of this column, is on vacation this week — which is probably why I get to address this question that was hurled at me while I was trying to watch the AFC Championship game. I’ll do my best Marin impersonation (if you promise not to tell her), and see if we can’t get the “bros” in our audience pointed in the right direction…
I live near Wellesley, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb usually described with words like “leafy” and “tony.” (I get “leafy,” but I’ve never really figured out “tony.”) Think soccer moms in yoga pants and BMW SUVs. On the edge of town, where it is less leafy and tony, there is a small tailor shop. The owners are immigrants; English is not their first language. This is clear from the computer-printed signs on their windows and walls. My favorite sign is the one behind the register:
“YOU NEVER LOOKED SO EXPENSIVE!!”
(Unnecessary quotation marks and extra exclamation point included.) I’m not exactly sure what they were trying to say. Maybe expensive wasn’t the word they were going for. Good? Chic? Tony? I don’t know. But the amusing phrase has stuck with me, and with many of my neighbors. I’m not even sure of the name of the shop, but everyone knows what I mean when I mention the sign. It’s a tailor-shop meme.
And a good one. In fact, I’d like to see small-firm lawyers make a similar sign and tape it to their mirrors. (Yeah, I know. I’m not a mirror-message taper either. But indulge me here.) Because the tailor-shop meme might remind them not to make the single biggest mistake that small-firm lawyers usually make: pricing their services too low….
I’ve always been awestruck by tax lawyers. They are the dudes.
As a transactional attorney, you can’t make a move without a tax guy. M&A is based on IRS consequences. It’s the tax guy who hands you a chart with boxes and arrows, holding companies and off-shore limited partnerships buying and selling and re-selling and issuing and repurchasing and spinning off. Everything starts there.
Tax lawyers do stuff no one else would attempt. They swagger out the door at 5 pm.
“Don’t start with me. I’m in tax.”
Way back when, I took an advanced tax course in law school – to see if I could roll with the gangstas. I even took it the wrong semester, so instead of JD students, it was tax LLMs snickering at my desperation. I received my lowest grade ever. I also discovered tax law is like higher mathematics: there is no big picture. Tax is not intuitive or guided by overarching principle; it’s a mess of staggering, intimidating complication.
What I’ve come to realize lately, as a therapist working with tax lawyers, is that these seemingly unapproachable superstars are human. And being “the expert” can exact a toll….
In the comments to Elie’s Sugar Mama post from yesterday, which chronicles the woes of a female Biglaw associate who is being harassed by coworkers for affiancing (KABLAM: Princeton Review Hit Parade) a Starbucks barista “peasant,” Bonobo_Bro wrote:
Not bad big guy (other than the usual typo issues which must be intentional); however, I really think you should’ve handled this pls handle thx style because I’d love to see Marin’s opinion of women with lower income life partners.
Rex and either thirty-six other anonymous internet trolls or one troll logging on from 36 different computers liked this comment. My mandate was clear. The people thirsted for my response…
I’m just remembering the line from George Orwell’s Animal Farm — “Four legs good, two legs bad!”
Thirty years ago, law firms took pride in having only homegrown partners: “Homegrown good, laterals bad!” There was a certain logic to that. If you’d worked with a lawyer from his first day out of law school or a clerkship and seen the lawyer progress in the law, then after six (or eight, or ten) years, you had a pretty good sense of that human being, both as a person and as a lawyer. When you made a partnership decision, you could be fairly comfortable that you were working from a decent base of knowledge.
Law firms knew this, and they flaunted it.
Places bragged that all (or nearly all) partners were homegrown. Firms tried to convince their lawyers to stay put. (In 1979, one former Cravath lawyer told me that the firm had a mantra, “You only leave Cravath once.” There was no going home again.) Firms didn’t hire laterals, and firms bragged about it: “Homegrown good, laterals bad!”
That was then; now is now. Based on where I sit, on the receiving end of many law firm marketing communications, times have changed….
I’m in my last year of law school and will be taking the bar this summer. I was wondering if you had some advice on the necessity of a bar review course. The opinions I’ve received from friends who have passed the bar has been split. They all say that it helped keep them “on pace” or “forced them to study” which I’m frankly not worried about. Is there going to be enough new law in one year to sink your bar exam if you’re studying from the previous year’s materials?
This column comes from a narrow perspective — that of a litigator and, in particular, an in-house head of litigation.
I suspect that in-house SEC lawyers, or M&A lawyers, may have entirely different perspectives on this topic. But as a litigator, I pay a lot of attention to briefs and other written work. Why is that?
Because I can.
When I was a partner at a firm, I’d let junior lawyers argue motions. For significant matters, I’d chat with the lawyers beforehand, to discuss how to approach an argument. But I almost never attended those arguments. Maybe I should have (for reasons of associate training and evaluation), but I generally viewed sending myself as an observer to be over-staffing an event. I thus rarely saw associates on their feet in court.
I also didn’t double-staff depositions. In mass torts (which was a lot of my practice, way back when), senior lawyers typically defended depositions, and more junior lawyers typically took them. This is partly driven by the nature of mass torts; in that environment, deposition defense is critical. If the senior VP of research and development gets her clock cleaned in deposition, that testimony will come back to haunt the client in hundreds of later cases. In mass torts, senior lawyers play deposition defense….
Sitting here in the catbird’s seat, it’s easy to criticize things that outside counsel do. (It’s not just easy; my hope is that it’s also worthwhile. When I was in private practice, I paid close attention when I learned about things that annoyed clients.) But we’re equal opportunity critics here at ATL. It’s time to turn my sights on myself: What do inside counsel do that works to our own detriment?
I haven’t heard much from my outside counsel on this score, perhaps because I’m the client, and outside counsel are reluctant to criticize me (to my face). And I don’t innately sense all the things that I’m doing that are grossly stupid. But I do remember a fair number of silly things that inside counsel inflicted on me when I was at a law firm, and I can work backwards from there.
When you write for as large an audience as reads “Above the Law,” you get a huge variety of responses to your posts. But two recent posts illustrated that point in a remarkable way.
Last month, I published one post about the care with which I edited bills (that is, daily time entries) that I sent to clients when I was in private practice. And I later published a post about how lawyers could improve communications by taking a moment to reflect on the “subject” lines of e-mails before hitting the “send” icon.
The response to those posts was fierce and immediate. Folks who published “comments” to those posts overwhelmingly reacted negatively: “What kind of idiot spends several hours a month editing time entries to ease a client’s life? This guy was a typical big firm drudge!” (I’m paraphrasing here, because some of our readers may be minors.) And, “He’s writing about the ‘subject’ lines of e-mails? What comes next — a post about the quality of the office staplers or the tissue in the restrooms?”
Simultaneously, I was receiving a host of e-mails — not anonymous comments, but signed e-mails — from folks saying that they were sharing the posts with other lawyers in their offices or asking permission to reprint the posts in internal newsletters.
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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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