There comes a time in the career of every law-firm lawyer when she realizes that her bosses are acting like idiots, that “they’re doing it wrong,” and that she could do a better job if she were running her own law firm. Most of the time, that idea goes no further: the lawyer rattles off a few choice curse words, ignores the partners’ shortcomings, gets the work done the way they want it, and lives to fight another day.
But for a small minority, this outburst becomes an epiphany, and then turns into a dream (kind of like Inception, but in reverse), then an obsession, then finally a reality. Others, like me, always knew that they they were going to start their own law firms, and it didn’t take frustration with partners for that idea to form.
So when’s the perfect time to start your own firm? The answer is the same as for the question of when’s the perfect time to start having kids:
But forget the “perfect” time. When’s the best time to start your own firm?
Above the Law recently produced a webcast, We Know What You Should Do This Summer, in which a panel of career experts discussed how law students can make the most of their summers. The panel was sponsored by our friends at the Practical Law Company, which provides law students with free access to its excellent resources so they can succeed over the summer. Check out PLC’s law student home page to learn more.
We divided the webcast into different segments on discrete topics, for posting on Above the Law. We posted the first clip over here. Now, on to the second segment….
That might surprise people who know me casually, like my professional acquaintances. I work hard to keep it in check. Over the past 17 years as an employment litigator (representing companies), I’ve gotten better at controlling my anger. But it hasn’t always been easy.
Because lawyers can be pretty adept at pissing people off.
In fact, I know many people who left litigation — even left practicing law altogether — primarily because they were sick of dealing with obnoxious opposing lawyers. And I’m not talking about thin-skinned, confrontation-avoiding types. I’m talking about solid, talented litigators who just stopped finding it fun to fight with douchebags all the time.
And this is more of an issue for newer small-firm lawyers, who are much more likely to deal with opposing counsel early in their careers than their Biglaw counterparts. (Maybe someone else here can write a post on dealing with obnoxious document reviews.)
So to help you deal with the toolbags that all litigators face from time to time, here are five tips that I’ve picked up along the way….
My first job out of law school was at a five-lawyer employment-law boutique: two partners, two other associates, and me. (OK, it was my only job out of law school; I started my firm after four years at this boutique.) The other two associates were third-years when I started. To be sure, they were both excellent lawyers and had already gained much experience working in a small firm with top-quality partners.
(I’ve often said that I’d take a third-year small-firm associate over a Biglaw third-year any day. The Biglaw associates have spent two years reading cases and writing memos; the small-firm lawyers have actually been doing, you know, lawyer work.)
I got along well with both associates, but one of them had more of a hierarchical view of the firm. One day, after I’d been there a couple months, that associate said to me, “I have an assignment for you.”
Being the new kid at the firm, the proper and deferential response might have been “Great. Thanks. Happy to help.” But my answer was less proper and by no means deferential.
And even though it ruffled some feathers, I’d recommend it to any new associate at a small firm. What I said was …
In the first part of our Career Center “Tip of the Day” series, focused on helping you to achieve a work-life balance in your daily schedule, we provided tips aimed at managing your work to help free up time for your personal life. Today, we feature tips aimed at helping you maintain your personal life. Striking the right balance between your personal life, professional life and social life is essential to leading a successful and comfortable life.
On to the tips for maintaining your personal life…
I never noticed this before I went in-house, because it never made a difference to me: When you’re an outside litigator, representing corporations in significant disputes, your clients are lawyers.
This may not be true for all outside lawyers. If you’re representing a small business, the business may not have inside counsel, so you may report to the business people. If you’re a transactional lawyer, perhaps your clients are more often business folks. But, as an outside litigator representing big companies, your client contacts are generally lawyers.
This matters. The client contacts have been through four years of college and three years of law school. That may not mean much, but it means something. Tautologically, it means that they’ve had lots of years of formal education. (“If I’m still dumb now, it’s my fault.”) Practically, it means that your client contacts have learned how lawyers think and, to some extent, the words that lawyers use. (When I was outside counsel, not all of my clients knew what an “MDL” was. If the client had the misfortune to be dragged into one of those puppies, I might have spent a little time explaining. But basically all of my client contacts knew what the words “complaint,” or “discovery,” or “summary judgment” meant. We shared a common vocabulary.) And lawyers as a group probably care more about legal issues than non-lawyers do.
To be sure, outside litigators often work with non-lawyers. We’ve all had to prepare for depositions senior executives who were way too self-assured, or people whose view of the facts wasn’t exactly confirmed by the documents, or witnesses who required a lot of time and effort because they were slightly slow on the uptake. But, as outside counsel litigating cases for big companies, it was typically the in-house lawyers who ultimately supervised and evaluated our work.
Once you move in-house, that is no longer true. We’re the lawyers; our clients are not….
Earlier this month, Above the Law recorded a webcast, We Know What You Should Do This Summer. We convened a panel of career experts to discuss how law students can make the most of their summers. The panel was sponsored by our friends at the Practical Law Company. (We previously explained PLC and its mission over here.)
We started off with information and tips for our less fortunate readers — namely, law students (and lawyers) who have not yet found positions for the summer.
Coming off a successful year in which some firms even saw record-setting revenues and profits, many Biglaw associates are now the busiest they have been in recent memory. While this uptick in work may initially be a welcome relief for some, in the long run associates often find themselves struggling to balance an increased workload with life outside the firm.
Today’s Career Center “Tip of the Day” features advice on maintaining work-life balance. Despite what you may have heard, work-life balance isn’t just a program for new mothers. Sure, many law firms aim their work-life policies — like parental leave, reduced hours schedules, and flexible working arrangements — at parents. But the fact is that everyone needs to balance work and life, regardless of whether or not you have kids and whether or not you work at a firm that promotes work-life balance, if you plan to make a career out of Biglaw while staying relatively happy and sane.
We collaborated with Biglaw associates to provide practical tips for helping you to achieve a work-life balance in your daily schedule. The first set of tips is aimed at managing your work to help free up time for your personal life. Next week, we will feature tips aimed at helping you maintain your personal life. Of course, these tips come with the caveat that the nature of Biglaw means that at times the “life” portion of the equation can be non-existent. For example, if you are on trial or closing a deal, you may be expected to work around the clock. But eventually your trial will end or you will complete your deal, and you will have the opportunity to regain some semblance of a life. These tips are geared toward helping you do that.
At every conference, and in many articles, people pose the question: “As a client, do you hire law firms, or do you hire lawyers?” The clients dutifully respond that they hire lawyers, not firms. Hasn’t this become sufficiently obvious that we can stop asking the question?
Why does any rational client hire lawyers and not law firms?
Because law firms are an aggregation of lawyers. Once a firm grows beyond a relatively small size, the quality of lawyers will vary. As a client, what matters is the quality of the lawyer working on your matter, not the quality of people not working on your matter, or the identity of the firm. (An exception may exist when a timid client is protecting itself against the possibility of a bad result: “We hired the biggest, baddest law firm available to handle this matter for us. Now that things have gone poorly, you can’t blame me, because I hired the best and sunk a lot of money into the matter.” But that reasoning is foolishness, and I hope this doesn’t happen often.)
The truth is that law firms themselves are uncertain about the quality of their own lawyers. Why?
If your firm is in ‘go’ mode when it comes to recruiting lateral partners with loyal clients, then take this quiz to see how well you measure up. Keep track of your ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses.
1. Does your firm have a clearly defined strategy of practice groups that are priorities of growth for your office? Nothing gets done by random chance, but with a clear vision for the future. Identify the top practice areas for which you wish to add lateral partners. Seek input from practice group leaders and get specifics on needs, outcomes, and ideal target profiles.
2. In addition to clarifying your firm’s growth strategy, are you still open to the hire of a partner outside of your plan? I’ve made several placements that fit this category. The partner’s practice was not within the strategic growth plan of my client, but once the two parties started talking with each other, we all saw how it could indeed be a seamless fit. Be open to “Opportunistic Hires.” You never know where your next producing partner might come from, so you have to be open to it. I will be the first to admit that there is a quirky element of randomness in recruiting.
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@example.com.
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