Advice

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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Yale Law v. Harvard Law: a first-world problem.

Lat here. It’s March, so you know what that means: prospective law students, those wise or foolish people who have decided to ignore the warnings of law school’s many critics, are deciding where to matriculate. And they want our — and your — advice.

Last year, my colleague Elie Mystal offered advice to 0Ls who were considering such schools as Columbia, Chicago, NYU, Michigan, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Illinois, and Minnesota. In case you missed the post, you can check it out here.

This year, Elie and I are going to offer conflicting advice — yes, it’s an ATL Debate — to a future law student with a real high-class problem. He’s choosing between Yale Law School and Harvard Law School.

Grab yourself a drink, make yourself some popcorn, and sit back, as Elie and I argue against our respective alma maters. And then, at the end, cast your vote in our reader poll….

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When you work as a litigator at a law firm, you know your cases. You know who said what to whom when. You know the recipients and dates of the critical emails. You know the precise terms of the contracts. You know what the opposing expert said at his deposition and how you’re going to attack him at trial.

In short, you know stuff.

When you move in-house — or, at a minimum, to certain in-house positions — those days may vanish. You may never know — really know — anything again.

The little cases may become barely a rumor: The employee was entitled to five weeks severance; he hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit; we want authority to settle for ten weeks severance. You may kick the tires on the case for a few minutes, but that’s it. If you crave to know who said what to whom when, then you’re in the wrong job.

I feel a bit irresponsible having written those words, because they imply — indeed, they say — that folks in positions such as mine are doing their jobs without full knowledge. To many lawyers, that’s the ultimate sin. Yet in-house lawyers consistently say that a big piece of the transition from a firm to a corporation is learning to make decisions and take actions based on incomplete facts. (One of my colleagues recently said that he suffers from “in-house ADD.”)

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Over the past few weeks, the ugly truth about the generational gap between those who claim the moniker of “Gen Y lawyer” and, well, everyone else, has been raging through the blogosphere. While younger generations have always looked at their elders as “stupid,” and not worthy of listening to, it has never been as much a part of the legal profession as it is now. The Gen Y cheerleading squad of lawyers and their marketers believe there actually is a “revolution” in the legal profession and that if those who have come before don’t get with it and move their practices to the iPad, they (we) will go the way of the dinosaur.

They also think their elders want them to fail, are scared of them stealing clients, and only offer criticism for these reasons. I hate to break it to you kids, but I want you to succeed, and my clients aren’t hiring you. They’re not hiring your website or your Facebook Fan Page. Really, they’re not…

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'Find someone else to draft your asset purchase agreement. I'm too busy smoking this pipe.'

That’s the provocative question bouncing around the legal blogosphere these days. It was raised last week by Vivia Chen of the Careerist, then picked up by Professor William Henderson on the Legal Whiteboard, and now it’s the top story on the ABA Journal.

There’s actually some data driving this discussion. According to Chen, citing research by Professor Henderson, graduates of Loyola University Chicago School of Law are six times more likely to make partner at a major law firm than graduates of the higher-ranked University of Chicago Law School, located just a few miles to the south. It seems that even though Chicago Law grads may have an easier time breaking into Biglaw than their Loyola – Chicago counterparts, the Loyola folks who do make it in the door tend to have longer-lasting law firm careers.

Let’s not pick on U. Chicago. There are other elite law schools with even higher Biglaw “washout” rates….

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I recently heard a horror story from an in-house lawyer at another corporation. This may not sound like a horror story to someone who works at a law firm, but if you reflect for a minute, you’ll see the birds gathering on the monkey bars in the background.

Three people — one from finance; one from a business unit; and our hero, the lawyer — were speaking on a panel to a couple hundred people in a business unit. The business-unit panelist said something outrageous and brazenly illegal to the assembled group. Assume it was something like, “As you know, we simply ignore that law,” or, “It’s easier to raise prices if we just conspire with the competition.” You get my drift.

Our hero, the lawyer, involuntarily gasped into his (or her) microphone, “My God, Smith, you can’t say that! How many times do I have to tell you?”

Smith looked over, thought for a minute, and said to the assembled crowd: “That’s just Legal.”

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When does permissible “flattery” become impermissible “lies”?

I’ll use three real-life hypos — situations that I’ve lived — to explore the question.

First: I was a partner at a law firm. The client had just hired a new, junior in-house lawyer to oversee (among other things) the set of cases we were defending. The client called an all-hands meeting. Four or five of us from the firm attended, as did the general counsel of the company, a couple of deputy general counsel, the global head of litigation, and the month-old, new in-house guy, who we didn’t yet know from Adam.

My senior partner spoke first: “Before we get started, I just want to say that [the new, junior in-house guy] is a great addition to your law department. It’s not often that you work with someone for just a few weeks and immediately know that you’ll be able to do better work, more efficiently, with the new person on board. But you did just that with this hire. Congratulations! What a great lawyer!”

The junior in-house guy was beaming ear-to-ear. Later, in private, your senior partner says to you: “That’s how you cement a client relationship.”

So, what do you say: Permissible (intelligent, praiseworthy) flattery? Or unethical lies?

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How do you keep a client (or a boss) happy? Be “light.”

Everyone has worked with people who are heavy, and everyone has worked with people who are light. Light is better.

You ask a heavy to do a job, and he says that he will. But you’re not at all sure that the job will actually get done. You call two weeks later to ask for a status report, and you receive back an ambiguous response about what’s happening. As the deadline passes, you ask for the finished product. It finally arrives, a couple of days late.

That’s a heavy load for you, the supervisor, to bear. Multiply that by eight direct reports (in a corporate law department) or 20 associates (working under your supervision at a law firm), and the burden is unbearable. All that heaviness crushes you, and, next time around, you go in search of light people.

What does it mean to be light?

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I have two memos sitting unread in my inbox.

One of the memos is great; the other one is terrible. I know which is which. And, as I said, I haven’t yet read either one of them.

Isn’t trust terribly unfair?

Think about the many ways that establishing trust permeates a business relationship. Once the superior (whether that be partner, client, boss, or whomever) trusts the underling, the underling can do no wrong. And once the superior mistrusts the underling, the underling can do no right.

Which of the two unread memos in my inbox is great? The one from the guy I trust. All of his earlier memos have been great. They’re crisp, incisive, intelligent, and lucid; the one that I haven’t yet read is surely a thing of beauty, too. Which memo stinks? The one from the guy I don’t trust. All of his earlier memos have left me gripping my head in agony, trying to figure out what in God’s name this clown was trying to communicate and why anyone would think it was worth trying to communicate that drivel.

Trust permeates everything; it’s terribly unfair. Trust infuses more than just the memos I haven’t yet read. Trust permeates silence, too. How can trust permeate silence?

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Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Way Worse Than Being A Dentist, is available on Amazon, as is his previous book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy (affiliate links).

A law student client — already an MBA — said she needed convincing to drop out of her third-tier school.

I told her to calculate the return on investment for the final three semesters.

She crunched the numbers.

“Debit-wise, I’ve burned $80k in savings and I’m looking at another $100k of borrowed money. On the credit side, I might find a low-salary doc review gig.” She pretended to scratch notes. “So… big loans, interest payments, inadequate cash flow…opportunity cost of 18 more wasted months learning legal mumbo-jumbo followed by the bar exam…”

“In other words…” I egged her on.

“I’d be totally screwed.” She affixed the cap on her pen. “Thanks. I’m convinced.”

I posed the question we were dancing around: “Why are we having this conversation?”

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