Advice

A few months ago, I went to an MCLE seminar on cybersecurity. The 90-minute presentation hit topics such as public wifi, cloud computing, thumb drives, and password strength. The goal of the presentation was of course to scare everyone into being more vigilant in their firm policies regarding cybersecurity. The recommendations included:

  • Never use cloud computing. Always store your data on onsite servers.
  • Don’t use thumb drives on company computers.
  • Never use any mobile devices to store firm information (including emails).

After the presentation, we ate dinner, and everyone and my table came to the same conclusion: “Screw that. We are going to use thumb drives while checking our business email on our phones while client files upload to Dropbox.” That’s because some things are just too convenient to give up. As a solo, I might not want a server that I have to maintain. And I like getting my emails on my phone and on my watch because it makes my life easier.

Now, I don’t want to make light of cybersecurity because it is a very serious issue. But, the fact remains that if your data exists in a tangible form, people can steal it and it is vulnerable….

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Ambrose Bierce once said: “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.

Ambrose Bierce, Esq., would have said: “‘Business-friendly legal advice’ means telling the client that it can do illegal stuff.”

Bierce, Esq., would have been funny, but wrong.

It’s important for lawyers to give useful advice. But many lawyers, both in-house and out, don’t seem to understand this. I’ve recently seen (or heard about from others) senior folks in businesses or in-house law departments ask not to receive advice from certain lawyers: “Don’t go to her! She’ll just tell me that everything is illegal!”

Or: “Don’t go to that firm! They’ll give us some theoretical answer that we can’t possibly use, and we’ll end up having to figure out a solution for ourselves anyway.”

Those reactions (and those words) make sense to business people and in-house lawyers; clients need real advice, not self-defensive crap. But some lawyers — typically at firms, but occasionally in-house, too — don’t understand this. To help those folks, here are illustrations of what “business-friendly” (or the opposite; shall we call it “business-hostile”?) advice sounds like . . . .

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Keith Lee

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day life of a lawyer. And the longer you are a lawyer, the more it will come to define you – if you let it. But it is a limiting definition, even for the best and brightest of lawyers. Take Marcus Tullius Cicero, likely the most famous lawyer in history. Upon being acclaimed for his skills as a lawyer, it is said that Cicero remarked:

“And yet he often desired his friends not to call him orator, but philosopher, because he had made philosophy his business, and had only used rhetoric as an instrument for attaining his objects in public life. But the desire of glory has great power in washing the tinctures of philosophy out of the souls of men, and in imprinting the passions of the common people, by custom and conversation, in the minds of those that take a part in governing them, unless the politician be very careful so to engage in public affairs as to interest himself only in the affairs themselves, but not participate in the passions that are consequent to them.”

– Plutarch, Cicero, Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans (c. 75-100 AD), John Dryden translation

Here we have the greatest lawyer in all of Rome, insisting that he wished to be remembered as a philosopher — a thinker — not a lawyer. Being a lawyer was part of who he was; it did not define him….

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Mindy Kaling and Preet Bharara at the Harvard Law School commencement (via Kaling’s Twitter feed).

Yesterday my colleague Staci Zaretsky wrote about Mindy Kaling’s hilarious Harvard Law School commencement speech. If you haven’t already read about or heard Kaling’s remarks, which have gone viral, check them out here.

But Kaling’s commencement speech wasn’t the only entertaining one delivered at HLS — or even the best one, in some people’s estimation. Another speaker managed to combine humor and wisdom, in magnificent fashion.

“Yo Mindy, I’m really happy for you, Imma let you finish, but Preet Bharara had one of the best HLS commencement speeches of all time… of all time!”

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Ed. note: This is the latest post by Anonymous Recruitment Director, who offers an insider’s perspective on the world of law firm hiring.

So, you’ve arrived. You’ve been on-boarded. You’ve received your work i.d. and your email account has been activated. You’ve located the nearest bathroom. You’ve committed your secretary’s name to memory. You are eagerly awaiting your first assignment.

So how do you assure that you have the best summer possible? A summer where you have the chance to truly assess whether or not you like Biglaw (as opposed to a summer focused on whether Biglaw likes you)? A summer where you end up with an offer at the end?

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Occasionally, someone wants me to do legal work outside of my practice area. I tend to refer the potential client to an attorney who can handle it and ask for a referral fee when appropriate. But sometimes it makes sense to work the case myself with outside help — for example, if the work is for an existing client and he cannot afford the referring attorney’s fee. So as a gesture of appreciation to the client, you want to help him for a reduced fee. Or you want to get experience in the area of law that is involved.

And let’s be anonymously honest. Sometimes the case has potential for large attorney’s fees and you want a bigger cut than the firm’s standard referral percentage. It’s hard not to feel bitter when you get a paltry referral fee up front and later learn that the attorney who handled the matter got a half-million-dollar payout.

So today, I want to write about how I typically (but not always) decide whether to refer a case out completely, or co-counsel with someone else. I assume readers are familiar with and will follow the ABA Model Rules 7.2 and 1.5(e) and your state’s versions of these rules. My first priority is to refer a client to a competent attorney, even if it means a smaller referral fee or none at all. But when there are three or more equally competent and business-savvy attorneys competing for your referrals, the size and girth of the compensation package can be appealing…

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Do you willingly feed trolls who are trying to obscure their identities?

I’m not talking about the cave-dwelling, ugly beings depicted in folklore as either giants or dwarfs. Those trolls aren’t yet online.

I want you to focus on the more insidious demons known as the “Internet trolls” (aka troll-holes as in a-holes). Troll-holes are devoid of any moral compass. These sorry-excuse-for-humans seek to ply discord on the internet. They post hateful, anonymous comments on anything from blogs to newspaper sites to Amazon and Yelp.

They want to argue with you. They want to demean you. They want to attack you. They want to provoke you. They want to upset you. They want to emotionally gut you.

Don’t take the bait….

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A large part of my practice is helping people in trial present their cases with technology. Whether it’s just using a trial presentation program such as inData’s TrialDirector, or developing case themes and graphics to tell the story, it can get pretty pricey sometimes.

Last year in Las Vegas, Richard Suen won a little over $100 million in a jury trial, and the judge gave him back his $593,000 that he spent on his trial presentation.

But, that’s not a lot of help to those who can’t spend six figures on trial presentation to begin with. Naturally, one of the questions I get asked the most is whether you can do awesome trials for cheap. Of course you can….

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Astute Biglaw associates, and their fellow associates at boutiques and smaller firms, share an understanding with Tyrion Lannister. For those who don’t watch Game of Thrones, nor read the books upon which the popular series is based, Tyrion (played by the Emmy-winning actor Peter Dinklage) is the proverbial “second son,” whose father serves as the de facto ruler of the kingdom. His sister is the Queen Regent whose taste for wine matches only her disdain for her younger brother.

At this point in the series (spoiler alert — skip down two paragraphs if you are not up to date with the show), Tyrion stands on trial for alleged regicide. Rightfully skeptical of his chances of exoneration by the tribunal standing in judgment of him, Tyrion elects for “trial by combat” as a means of proving his innocence. While a smart choice, Tyrion is far from capable of physically defeating the literal “Mountain” man that his sister and accuser has selected to represent the “State” in Westeros v. Lannister. He needs a champion.

And he finds one, in the form of a visiting Prince who nurses a longstanding grudge against both Tyrion’s family members, and the man who will be his co-combatant — lucky for Tyrion, as his previous attempts to recruit others to stand as his champion had failed. When we see him at his moment of salvation, he is a desperate man, jailed, facing capital punishment at the hands of a blood-starved beast who disembowels malnourished slaves for sport. The appearance of a champion may not improve his situation all that much. But it gives him hope, and with hope comes the will to carry on.

Law firm associates may not have it quite as bad as Tyrion, but they share in common with him the need for a champion to secure their future….

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Bruce Stachenfeld

In my article of two weeks ago, I threw out the proposition that if you are running a law firm — or a department or practice group in a law firm — the critical mission is to “attract, train, retain and inspire talent.” If you can do this, you are probably going to accomplish great things — and the converse. So the question now is, how do you do it?

Below is the best I have been able to come up with. It is (mostly) from a speech I gave at an IMN conference in 2011. (You can read the original speech here.)

First — and foremost — Talent wants to be with other talented people. They crave it in their souls. They will put up with major “not nice people” and even poor working conditions, if they are convinced that other very talented people are doing it with them in the trenches. Consider Apple and Steve Jobs. He wasn’t thought of as a nice guy; indeed, quite the opposite. But when people looked around the room, they were awed at the skill sets of those in the room with them, and boy did they want to stay in that room, in the worst way. So they put up with Jobs’s not–niceness. (Of course, I do not advocate being this way as a boss — far from it.)

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