Advice

Suppose you’re doing business in a country that is perceived as being corrupt. For example, Myanmar, North Korea, and Somalia take the bottom three slots in the 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Okay, let me rephrase that: Suppose you’re doing business in a country where it’s actually lawful to do business, but the country is perceived as being corrupt. Cambodia or Zimbabwe might fit the bill. (On reflection, it strikes me that my own company may actually do business in those two places. If we do, then I, naturally, love the judicial systems in Cambodia and Zimbabwe. If my company is ever in court in one of those places, please don’t hold this column against us. It’s just that terribly unfair perception of corruption that gives you guys a bad name.)

How do you conduct business there?

Very carefully, of course.

As a matter of compliance, your company must implement policies that forbid payments that are customary in the corrupt place, but forbidden by U.S. law. And your company must enforce those policies, perhaps by having a regional group that approves third parties with whom you do business or otherwise strives to comply with the law.

But that’s the front end. What do you do at the back end, if you find yourself in a dispute in the corrupt place?

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I’m still trying to figure out the appropriate way to “take credit” for the decline in the number of people taking the LSAT. Currently, I’m consulting with a red-haired chick on the procedure for calling me Lightbringer.

But my work is clearly not done. The big news today is that the new numbers released by LSAC show that the decline in LSAT takers disproportionately affects top performers on the LSAT. Basically, fewer high scorers are taking the LSAT, while the number of people who can’t even break 145 remains strong.

Doesn’t that really match our anecdotal beliefs that people applying to law school in 2012, with all the data and the publicity about the bad deal you get at an American law school, are just dumber than those who came before?

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I have spent many hours talking to others about the future of the legal profession. My Biglaw friends (at least the one who remains) proclaim that the future of legal practice is not that different from the past — by which she means that Biglaw is the future. The attorneys I meet from small law firms, in contrast, predict that Biglaw is out and small firms will prevail. My unemployed lawyer friends believe that they, along with a bunch of other unemployed lawyers, will toil away as hourly document review attorneys in the future. I believe that the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way. Oh, sorry, that is Whitney. RIP.

Corporate Counsel recently published an article, Bye Bye Big Firm, that predicts that while small law firms will not overtake Biglaw, they will be a major part of the future of legal practice. The article offers several reasons for predicting this future trend:

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Lawyers don’t like to be honest about not making money. (Unless you’re Jordan Rushie.)

I went out on my own in March of 1998. I did no advertising. The first month, I made three times what I was making monthly at the small firm I worked at for nine months. I was well on my way.

April was about the same, and so was May.

This was awesome. No looking back. Who said starting your own firm would be hard?

Then came June.

Nothing. No new cases, no money. The phone didn’t ring.

It was over. Three good months, and now I was done. I, of course, freaked out.

A few days into July the phone rang, and I was back. Whew. So I had one slow month. Now it would all be fine.

Then it happened again, and again, and again….

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Lat here. Not long ago, Elie and I debated the merits of Harvard Law versus Yale Law, in response to a request for advice from a prospective law student lucky enough to be choosing between HLS and YLS. Then we opened up a reader poll, in which about 60 percent of you urged the 0L in question to go to Yale.

As we move deeper into spring, more aspiring law students will have to make up their minds about matriculation destinations. Today we’ll look at the case of a student who’s choosing between a trio of very fine schools: Georgetown University Law Center, the University of Texas School of Law, and UCLA School of Law.

Let’s hear him out, weigh the competing factors, and vote….

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I occasionally take advantage of my little megaphone here at Above the Law to vent about poor quality drafts. When I do, “commenters” or correspondents routinely suggest that I’m tilting at windmills: “If you receive a poor quality draft, send it back to the person who wrote it, and tell that person to make it better. There’s no reason why you, Mark, should be saddled with improving the thing.”

Wrong, wrong, and wrong again!

I’m absolutely saddled with improving the thing. It often makes no sense at all to return a bad draft to the author and ask for a better draft. In fact, I submit that there are only two situations in which it does make sense to ask the original author to improve a draft . . .

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Someone in the company is going rogue: The person proposes to do something brazenly illegal, or slightly illegal, or perfectly legal but sufficiently immoral that the conduct would turn any reasonable person’s stomach. The rogue is not listening to logic. The person is ignoring everything that your local in-house lawyer is saying.

When the local lawyer calls the headquarters law department for help, these are the words that headquarters must be able to speak: “Local lawyer, you win. This is not a close call; we should not be doing this. In this situation, I guarantee you that you hold the trump card. Who do you need to make a call to solve your problem? The general counsel? The chief financial officer? The CEO? Someone else? We will cause that call to be made in a heartbeat. What do you need?”

Is that what people mean when they talk about “tone at the top”?

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Tom Wallerstein

There comes a time in all associates’ careers when they stop and do the math. They think about their salary, bonus, and benefits. They think about their billable hours. They multiply their billable hours by their billable rate and suddenly they think, hey, WAITAMINUTE. My firm makes three four five times what it pays me!

Like any other salaried employee, the more hours an associate works, the less they make per hour, bonuses notwithstanding. They might not mind so much if they’re also bucking for promotion, i.e., up for partner. Regardless, at some point, every associate thinks, “if only I were paid as much per hour as I bill per hour . . . .”

That moment for me was the epiphany that ultimately led to helping form my own firm. But since that time, I’ve also been able to see the other side of the fence, so to speak. There are a lot of reasons — some obvious, and some less so — why the math isn’t quite as simple as it seems….

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What’s the difference between a lawyer and a doctor?

Lawyers often do not need second opinions.

Let me explain: Many corporate transactions (or decisions) require advice from an outside adviser — an investment bank; an accountant; a lawyer; whoever. (Back when I was an outside lawyer, I used to think that lawyers were special. Now, you all look alike to me.) In many of those situations, the corporation needs one, strong outside opinion. If someone offers (or requests) a second opinion, then you should think hard. In a few situations, you might want a second opinion. But, frequently, obtaining a second opinion may do more harm than good.

Let me illustrate with two examples….

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Ed. note: This new feature is by “Rachel Marks,” the spouse of an attorney at a large law firm. She’ll be blogging about how having a husband in Biglaw affects the life on the home front. And she’ll be talking about what your spouses really want out of your career. You can reach her at rach512744@yahoo.com.

My name is Rachel, and I’m married to a NY Biglaw guy who’s married to his firm. (And when I say married to his firm, I mean it in the typing-on-his-Blackberry-as-his-wife-is-pushing-out-his-second-child kind of way.) Thus, for obvious reasons, my name is fake, my location is undisclosed, and this might not even be me writing these words.

Why would a Biglaw wife want to write on Above the Law, you might wonder? Well, my husband is usually doing one of three things: working, sleeping, or reading this blog. (How I wish this was an exaggeration!) And since he doesn’t like it when I call him in the office (not that that stops me!), and he’s impossible to wake up, I can FINALLY get his attention now that I’ve come to a place where he’s sure to come by. (And on that note — hon, don’t forget to put out the recycling this evening, and you MUST call your mother and have that *talk*.)

Now, on to my real order of business, since perhaps this could all just be handled in some couples’ counseling: SPRING BONUSES. Where the heck are they?! Even I’ve begun reading ATL regularly, in hopes of seeing that wonderful yet ever elusive siren at the top of the page, alerting readers of the breaking news that my husband’s bonus is now only 50% depleted (as opposed to its current 75% depletion) from the glory days of bonuses past….

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