Advice

Recently I talked to a fourth-year-associate friend of mine who’d been working at a new small firm for several months. When I asked him how it was going, he said “great” in a way that suggested anything but. So I pressed him for more. The work was fine, he insisted. The clients were fine. His associates were cool. Great, I said. So what was the problem?

Well, he finally let on, there was this partner.

OK, I said. What about this partner?

Well, he said, he’s making my life a living hell. In fact, my friend said, it was so bad, he was thinking of leaving the firm.

What made this partner so horrible?

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A bright, 23-year-old woman is thinking of going to law school. Should she do it?

Let’s learn about the particulars of her case….

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With OCI coming to an end at most law schools, now is the time to sit back and assess the interview process. While you may be tempted to tune out until you receive an offer (or rejection), don’t.

In addition to reviewing your performance in the interview, you should critique the performance of the law firm.

Furthermore, be sure to consider the following tips from Lateral Link’s Frank Kimball before you accept an offer….

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I am not a mentor!

Never have been. Never will be. Don’t care to be.

I’m a lawyer. I’m a co-worker. In some cases, I may be a friend. But I’m not a mentor; I have no time for that crap.

When I was clerking (for the Honorable Dorothy W. Nelson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit), my judge was (and remains) a delight. She was a warm, engaging person who treated everyone as an equal. She was living proof that you don’t have to give up on human kindness just because you’ve become powerful. She taught, by example, many lessons about work-life balance and the meaning of humanity.

But a mentor? They hadn’t invented the word “mentor” (at least with its current connotation) back in 1983. I don’t think Judge Nelson gave the idea a moment’s thought….

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Many litigators have a bias against settlement. It’s understandable. There’s no glamor in settling cases. No one is ever going to make a TV show called “The Settler,” about a young but scrappy underdog lawyer who fiercely negotiates tough-but-fair settlement agreements and always remembers to allow a 21-day waiting period if the plaintiff is 40 or over. (On second thought … better call my agent.)

Forget TV and movies. No lawyer has ever come home with the exciting news about settling a lawsuit (at least, no defense lawyer). “Honey, I settled the Devens case!” “That’s great, dear. Now go mow the lawn.”

In the midnineties, I was a junior associate working on a contentious sexual-harassment case. While we were able to win partial summary judgment, the main claims headed to trial in federal court. During the negotiations before the trial, the partner from my firm had a conversation with the plaintiff’s lawyer, who was that sort of rough-around-the-edges attorney who prided himself on spending a lot of time in the courthouse.

Looking to put my boss in place, the guy took a shot at our firm’s litigation style. Here’s what he said …

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There are no magic questions to take through the interview process. There are only areas to be examined. Life is one long extemporaneous speech. It is not canned dialogue. The student who prepares and understands the areas that are significant to her decision will know where to focus her questions.

Some questions should be directed at associates, while others should be directed to partners. Students sometimes forget that they can actually learn something more about the firm by asking questions. Yes, the questions you ask will be assessed by the interviewer; but please don’t ask certain questions for the sake of asking questions.

This helpful information is provided by Lateral Link’s Frank Kimball. What follows is an outline of areas you may want to consider, but remember who your audience is….

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360-degree reviews: We solicit anonymous input from your boss, your peers, and your subordinates. A reviewer goes through all of that information, discusses it with you, and, perhaps, shares with you documents containing parts or all of the anonymous responses.

These are remarkably helpful tools. They’re helpful, first, because you know that they’re coming. If you’re going to be evaluated by everyone in the neighborhood, then you’re more likely to be civilized and fair to everyone in the neighborhood. (“Civilized and fair” doesn’t mean “easy” or “letting others break the rules.” It means “civilized and fair.” If someone’s performance needs improving, you talk reasonably with that person about his or her weaknesses and how to improve. You don’t belittle people or scream at them, because incivility will surely come back to haunt you at 360-degree review time, and you know that 360-degree review time is lurking in your future.)

360-degree reviews are helpful because you critique others. It’s relatively easy — or, at least, routine — to be asked to critique folks situated beneath you in a hierarchy. But it’s a little different to be asked to critique folks who are situated horizontally or above you. When you’re asked to critique those people formally, it makes you think a little harder: What are those people doing right? What are they doing wrong? What information should they hear about their performance?

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As part of your interview preparation, you should familiarize yourself with the kinds of questions you may be asked and prepare responses to those questions. Nothing turns off an interviewer more than “ummms” and “uhhhs.” You don’t have to memorize your responses verbatim (and you shouldn’t), but being prepared will help you avoid any Miss Teen South Carolina answers to any interviewer questions.

While it is impossible to cover every single question an interviewer may ask, Lateral Link’s Frank Kimball, legal recruiter and former hiring partner, provides his recommended responses to commonly asked questions, adds comments explaining the purpose of the question, and points out any “traps” the interviewer may be setting by asking you the question.

Below are some of the most common questions asked during on-campus interviews….

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A partner at Morrison & Foerster accidentally “replied all” to an email on which “List/Attorney/All” was cc’d. Emails sent to “List/Attorney/All” go out to all 1,000-plus MoFo lawyers around the world.

What the partner wrote in the email was probably not something that should have been shared with the rest of the firm….

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At law schools and law firms around the country, on-campus interviewing and callback interviews are in full swing. We’ve been covering the fall (or summer?) recruiting process quite closely, offering you a mix of interview advice, humorous anecdotes, and soul-crushing reality checks.

Now it’s your turn to talk back to us….

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