We ran a “request for proposal” process several months ago, asking a dozen law firms to make proposals for handling one aspect of our work. We interviewed five finalists, and we chose one winner.
One of the also-rans wrote to complain: “I’m terribly disappointed by the result of your RFP process. My firm is exceptionally talented in this area. We do precisely this same work for many other clients, and those other clients are delighted with our work. We indicated a willingness to be flexible on fees. I just don’t understand why we didn’t win this work.”
Ha! Observe the delusion of personal exceptionalism!
I recently graduated from a state school in the California State University system as a Philosophy major. My original plan was to go to law school, but I am now thinking I may want to go into accounting instead (due to the terrible job market for lawyers and the 150k debt I’d be faced with).
Particularly, I would like to work at a Big 4 firm. Is this change possible?
— from a question sent into the advice column of Going Concern (the accounting world’s answer to Above the Law). Note the questioner’s less-than-stellar undergraduate GPA.
Twenty years ago this September, I started law school not knowing anyone there. More importantly, no one there knew me.
Now, mind you, this was at Boston College Law School, where such things aren’t really emphasized. I mean, it’s not like at that school across the Charles, where people like the Winklevii both wear and file suits. At BC Law, which (at least back then) prided itself on being a kinder, gentler law school, it wasn’t really about who you knew, or who knew you. (Yes, one of those whos should really be a whom, but only someone at Harvard would actually say it that way.)
Still, it’s nice to have people know who are you are, and it’s a useful skill to develop for after school, when you need to know how to market your services as a lawyer.
So three weeks after school started, almost everyone knew my name. You see, I had a secret weapon.…
Call me a step slow. I’ve only recently stumbled across the memo prepared by Yale Law School warning students about the tyranny of the billable hour. As someone who billed hours for more than 25 years but no longer plays in that sandbox, I feel compelled to comment.
At the outset, let me type words that may startle lawyers just now beginning their careers: I never felt burdened by the need to bill hours. (Let the abuse begin!) After clerking, I started my career in the 1980s at a small firm that didn’t make a big deal about billing time. I was instructed by one senior partner (and I very nearly quote): “You learn the area of law that you’re researching; that’s what will make you a valuable lawyer some day. I’ll take care of the bill, making sure that our client pays only a fair price for your work.” (I later dedicated a book to that guy.)
I was told by another partner: “We’re a small firm, so we’re not as prominent as the big firms are. It’s part of your job to help raise the collective profile of this firm and its lawyers. We don’t particularly care whether you join a bar association, write articles, or go on the board of a non-profit, but we do care that you do something to let people in the community know that we exist. It’s part of your job.”
I thought those guys were right, and I took that attitude with me when I later (must have popped a gasket and) moved from a small firm in San Francisco to one of the world’s largest firms in Cleveland. I continued to stay busy with client work, but I also made a point of helping to raise the firm’s profile in the world. I occasionally felt burdened by the crush of work, but I never felt burdened by the need to “bill hours.” In the course of 25 years, while I practiced law at two different firms, no one ever said a word to me about the number of hours that I billed.
That cuts in both directions. On the one hand, no one ever asked me why I was foolishly wasting all that non-billable time teaching classes and working on non-profit boards. On the other hand (at least after I left San Francisco), no one ever said, “Congratulations for having written thosebooks,” or, “Congratulations on getting that article published in the Wall Street Journal.” But I, at least, took far more satisfaction in those accomplishments, and in the results that I achieved for clients, than I ever took in having billed a lot of hours (which seems to me like a uniquely unsatisfying professional goal).
So how do firms decide how many summer associates will get permanent offers? Why do some firms have high offer rates, while others tread closer to the 50% offer range? The law firm recruiting process is very similar to the rush process of fraternities and sororities. There are a ton of drinking and “rush events” that summer associates partake in as law firms try to woo in new associates; but on the flip side, summer associates still have to “prove themselves worthy” enough to be accepted in the Brotherhood of Six-Figure Salaries or in the Sisterhood of Big Law Prestige.
Unlike sororities, you will not have to strip down to your underwear as current members take black sharpies and draw marks on the parts of your body that can use some “improvement.” Rest assured, however, that you will still have to work to impress the people at your summer law firm to keep the number of black sharpie marks on your file to a minimum, and ultimately secure that coveted permanent offer….
As an in-house lawyer who occasionally influences our selection of outside counsel, I hear an awful lot of law firm pitches. And I must admit that I’m often entertained by them. I spent better than 25 years in the private practice of law, where attracting new business was an important part of the game. I was never sure which pitches had a chance and which didn’t, so it’s pretty amusing to sit on the other side of the table to see how other folks approach this.
I recently saw one good pitch and one bad one, and I just have to share.
First, the bad one. Several lawyers from a firm visited us for a chance to explain their firm’s capabilities. I don’t remember why we were meeting with them — we actually had a need for them; someone recommended them; someone important asked us to meet with them as a favor; whatever. I used to think that getting in the door to meet with potential clients was a big achievement; I now realize that it meant less than I thought.
Anyway, these guys started the pitch the usual way: The firm has lots of great lawyers who’ve done lots of great things in their lives. The firm is divided into several departments, and those divisions should for some reason matter to me. A couple of magazines had bestowed some awards on the firm or its lawyers. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
Last week we discussed the art of receiving feedback from your firm. The coin of feedback has two sides — praise and criticism. You learn more from the latter than from the former. If you are a solid citizen who is committed and enthusiastic, you can learn great deal from constructive criticism. You must understand why it is given and what it means. In this week’s Career Center Summer Associate Tips Series, Lateral Link’sFrank Kimball, an expert recruiter and former Biglaw hiring partner, discusses how to best handle criticism over the summer.
Criticism is usually well-intended. Firms want you to succeed; if you are bright, well-liked, and energetic, the natural human instinct takes over. The partners running the summer program want to run a successful program. Experienced lawyers love to find new lawyers who they can bring into their groups or teams. That, in one respect, is what the summer program is all about. Criticism is not delivered in the abstract. It is delivered (1) on the spot when you have made a mistake, (2) at a quieter moment during the project when the assigning attorney has a moment to breathe, or (3) during the regular review process.
Some lawyers are just unpleasant or angry people. Usually, however, the lawyer is angry about your mistake because it disrupted his or her schedule, confused his client, screwed up an issue in a brief, or otherwise made his professional life unpleasant. The lawyer might also be angry because it was his or her fault for not providing enough instruction or sufficient oversight (but don’t you point this out). Depersonalize your reaction and learn from it. Contain your own hostility, rage, anger, and other emotional reactions. Do not head to your office in tears, vent your emotions to other summer associates, or storm off into professional oblivion. At the end of the day, run five miles or bike around the lake. Go to the gym and beat the heck out of a punching bag. Get on Above the Law and yell at Elie for a spelling mistake in one of his posts.
For more tips on handling criticism and making the most out of your summer clerkship experience, click here. For additional career insights, as well as profiles of individual law firms, check out the Career Center.
Career paths are easy at big law firms: As an associate, stay fully occupied doing great work, and become a partner. As a junior partner, stay fully occupied doing great work, and become a powerful partner. As a senior partner, generate enough business to keep you and others fully occupied, and become an even richer and more powerful partner.
These things may or may not be attainable, but everyone understands the career path.
Things are much trickier in-house. Corporations tend to have fewer lawyers than big law firms do, and in-house law departments tend to be flatter. Turnover tends to be less common. Six or eight people often report up to a single supervisor. In that environment, staying fully occupied and doing great work may not move you up the ranks. You can be fully occupied doing great work, but your boss is competent, happy in her job, not close to retirement age, and in good health. She’s going nowhere, so you have nowhere to go in the corporation.
The corporation can actually be very good to its lawyers — investing in leadership and management training, using incentive or equity compensation, and employing other tools for recognizing achievements — but still fall short in actually creating career paths that make sense.
How do corporations create career paths for their in-house lawyers?
Here’s a cautionary tale for every woman. Never, never, never allow your husband (or anybody else) to take dirty pictures of you. The pictures could wind up on the Internet. You could be publicly humiliated. You could lose your privacy, your dignity and your career….
Lori Douglas’s only crime was to choose an unstable spouse, and have sex with him. If that’s enough to lose your job, then a large proportion of our judiciary should be removed.
So you spent a considerable amount of time courting, selling and maybe even doing some friendly stalking of that attractive lateral partner candidate with a sizable book. After he or she ignored your emails and didn’t return your calls, a few weeks go by and you read a press release in the legal media announcing the recent move to a competing firm.
Rats. Another one got away from you. You cringe when you consider how much time was spent in meetings that did not bear fruit. Your heart aches when recall how you were led to believe this was a marriage made in heaven.
You have been rejected.
The sting of rejection is painful, even for fancy law firms. But you need to find a way that you can turn this disappointment into a legitimate learning experience.
No, this isn’t a pre-party before we come back next fall for the real thing. This IS the real thing. Quinn Emanuel is pushing the envelope on recruiting. The party is now. This is when you meet the partners and associates face to face. This is when we begin the dance that could land you an offer for your second summer BEFORE school starts in the fall.
First: You come to the party. Second: If you like us, you send your resume after June 1, 2014. Third: If we like each other, you get an offer.
We’re not waiting for fall. We’re not doing the twenty minute thing. This party is the real thing!
We hope you’ll join us, and look forward to meeting you.
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: [email protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months (Robert Kinney and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong again March 15 to 23), and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.
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