Advice

Breaking news to lawyers at firms: In-house, we have these things called “business plans.”

Our business units prepare those plans at least annually. The plans typically contain both general objectives (such as achieving a specified level of organic growth, or margin, or whatever) and concrete steps that the business will take to achieve those objectives (such as introducing new products, controlling specified expenses, or whatever).

In-house law departments may create those plans, too. We commit to implement controls, or improve response times, or give a specified number of training sessions to a specified number of people, or the like. Depending on the corporation, a lawyer may be paid less than his target bonus if he doesn’t achieve his objectives and perform according to plan. A system like that is pretty good at grabbing folks’ attention and causing things to be done.

Do law firms (or individual lawyers at firms) prepare business plans?

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It's the summer, put your hand down.

It’s hard out there for a law student who can’t find a summer job.

Back in the before times, the summer was this excellent opportunity to make a little bit of money and, more importantly, secure legal employment for after graduation. Now, things are worse. For those who have a summer associate position, the program involves ten weeks of stress, hoping that you don’t screw up your offer while also praying you like the people you work with because there is no 3L hiring market.

For those who are unemployed, I mean, honestly, spending a summer getting drunk and playing SWTOR is probably as good as anything else you can do.

Whatever you do, you probably don’t want to end up like this student. The rule for law students over the summer is very simple: first, do no harm….

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CHECK YOU public relations skills, bro.

Former Dewey and current Winston partner Adam Kaiser, in my opinion, needs lessons in public relations. I don’t even need to review with you who I am talking about. If you’re reading this on ATL, you already know Adam Kaiser. You also know what he is alleged to have done, and how he responded to a single comment posted on this site.

You and I know all of this information because of Adam Kaiser’s ill-timed attempts to quash the use of his name by an anonymous commenter. His poorly conceived, heat-of-the-moment demands that his name be removed from the site ultimately resulted in the reverse effect; everyone knows his name, and what he is alleged to have done. And his name, while removed from the single comment, has now been repeated over and over and over. Adam Kaiser.

The saying goes that any publicity is good publicity. I argue that unwanted publicity that could damage a career or a firm’s reputation is far from “good.” Even if Adam Kaiser thought he was doing the right thing by sticking up for himself against an anonymous comment, he effectively screwed the pooch.

What should he have done instead?

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As a new summer associate, you must have heard many a horror story about your predecessors, including tales of fashion disasters. For example, do you remember the boozy Milbank SA who supposedly showed up to events wearing an Olympic jumpsuit? How about the girl who wanted to march around her firm with a $9,000 Birkin bag? As this year’s summers descend upon Biglaw firms across the country, we thought that we might be able to offer you some assistance to prevent you from committing comparable crimes of fashion.

To accomplish this feat, we’ve teamed up with none other than Anna Akbari, the “thinking person’s stylist,” to help you make it through the summer. You don’t want to wind up as a bullet point on Weil Gotshal’s “unacceptable” list….

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Man it’s been a rough week around here at ATL. With the addition of Eric Turkewitz, or as I call him, E.T., I now see you all weren’t kidding when you told me the only reason I was here was because Lat and Mystal just go down the alphabet.

I was also invited to experience misery at its peak have drinks with Elie during his visit to South Florida where he continued to call B.S. spoke on a panel to a conference of “all our graduates get jobs” law school admissions folks and apparently experienced what can only be described as “commentariat live.”

Our meeting was just your typical conversation between an angry short Jewish lawyer from Miami who successfully overcame academic probation at a state college and third-tier law school and a big fat black guy with dual degrees from Harvard. We left before the Boca Raton Resort and Club noticed we were there.

Now let’s talk about Biglaw summer associates….

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I recently got a lift to the airport from a lawyer at a mid-sized firm who I’d met only earlier in the day. “It must be a pleasure to work for you,” he said.

On the one hand, that seemed strange, since I work so hard to establish a public persona that I’m a pain in the neck. (Frankly, that’s not much of a charade.) On the other hand, this seemed not at all strange, since I’ve now grown accustomed to lawyers at firms sucking up to me.

But I figured I’d play along: “Why would it be a pleasure to work for me?” I asked, innocently. “I’m pretty tough on our outside counsel.”

“Because you can tell good from bad. You worked in private practice for 25 years, and you’ve labored in my field. I suspect that, back when you were playing the game, you could write a pretty good brief. When an outside lawyer sends a bad brief to you, you may criticize it, but at least when a lawyer sends a good brief to you, you’ll recognize that it’s good. I work with an awful lot of clients who can’t distinguish good work from bad.”

Ha! Here’s an issue that I’d noticed when I was in private practice, but never really thought about. And it’s an issue that arises frequently in-house, because an in-house lawyer’s clients typically are not lawyers. My chauffeur may have thought that he was currying my favor by flattering me, but in fact he was doing something much, much better — he’d given me fodder for a blog post.

What should lawyers do when their clients can’t tell good legal work from bad?

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If you’re trying to build a word-of-mouth-based referral practice (is anyone doing that anymore?), you may be frustrated with two things about some of your referral sources: they don’t appear to know what it is you do, and they don’t make a real effort to get you the case/client.

Let’s talk about the bad referrals first.

We’ve all been there. The call comes in, the client was referred by a familiar name, and he wants to hire you to do something you don’t do or don’t want to do. Maybe you’re a divorce lawyer but don’t want to handle child custody modifications, or you’re a commercial litigator who has said many times that you don’t do collections work.

If you’re getting the wrong referrals, it’s your fault…

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I got caught.

In a column last week, I criticized a brief for using the alphabetical short form “EUSLA” to signify “end user software license agreement.” Depending on the circumstances, I suggested, one might shorten the name of that contract to “agreement,” “license agreement,” or “software license agreement,” but “EUSLA” just doesn’t work — it’s meaningless alphabet soup that doesn’t help the reader of a brief.

As I said, I got caught: The lawyer who had drafted the brief read my column, cleverly figured out who I was criticizing, and called to take issue with me. (Serves me right for using real-world examples in this forum, I suppose.)

“You’re wrong, Mark,” my outside counsel said. “We called that contract an ‘EUSLA’ in all of the depositions in the case. When we quoted deposition transcripts in the summary judgment brief, those quotations called the contract an ‘EUSLA.’ We would have confused things if we called the contract an ‘EUSLA’ in the deposition excerpts and a ‘software license agreement’ in the rest of the brief. ‘EUSLA’ was the right choice.”

This conversation illustrates, first, why you shouldn’t quarrel with me while I have this nifty megaphone at Above the Law and you’ve got bupkis; I can’t possibly lose. And the conversation illustrates, second, the meaning of “digging yourself into an even deeper hole.” “EUSLA” is the wrong short-form in a brief, and your earlier mistakes don’t justify your later one . . .

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It is hardly shocking that a woman who chooses to operate under a pseudonym is an introvert. If left to my own devices, I would stay at home watching television and looking out my window. I am talking Boo Radley here.

Unfortunately, momma’s got to earn the money to pay the cable bill, so I must force myself out into the world. Oh, and momma needs a new job, so I have to do the single most painful thing a girl like me must do. No, not hook. I must… NETWORK.

In the past, when attending networking events, I would bring a friend, get drunk on cheap chardonnay, and leave without speaking to anyone new. That is apparently the wrong way to network. So, recently, I decided to really put myself out there: I have started attending networking events (well, at least one networking event) alone. I got there late, hung alone in the corner awkwardly playing with my phone, drank cheap chardonnay, and left without speaking to anyone new. Alas, it was time for me to ask for help…

Luckily for me, I did not have to search far for advice on networking. There are thousands of listicles about how to network. Most of them were useless (e.g., they suggested foregoing chardonnay), and most were geared towards people who did not consider “fear of public speaking” as a scarier thing than death. (Yes, I am one of those people.) Thanks to my LinkedIn news suggestions, I discovered a subset of networking articles geared towards introverts. The advice was earth-shattering….

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It’s not part of a legal strategy or way to churn the file; it’s an attorney-initiated discussion about the client smack in the middle of the case.

What usually happens is that the attorney is retained, legal work begins, the client is updated as to the status of the case/matter, asked to weigh in occasionally on strategy, and reminded about the pending bill. We see this as part of the job, but how do the clients perceive the representation?

At some point in the representation, the best chance you have to hear what the client is really thinking is when they are not happy. You’ll get that anxious phone call, that question that is really a criticism, and it is during those times that you focus on trying to make the client happy.

What if you were proactive?

What if you scheduled a non-billable meeting with the client, outside your office, for the sole purpose of allowing the client to voice their overall concerns after you’ve been representing them for a while?

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