Advice

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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I begin my quest for a fulfilling job by revisitng my alma mater’s career development office (CDO). When I was a law student, the CDO was unhelpful. This was because during my law school’s annual on-campus interview period, even the small firms and local government agencies wanted only the top 10% of the class. So the CDO tried its best to help me and the rest of the peasants scrounge for whatever was left. At this point, the Biglaw dreams and in-house wishes ended, and we were preparing for our multi-season starring role in Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown, sponsored in part by IBR.

So I was not expecting much from the CDO as far as job leads were concerned. And since I am well past the all-important nine-month deadline for post-graduate employment, I expected the counselor to tell me the cruel truth — that there was nothing the CDO or my law school can do for me — EVER. So to ensure that my visit wasn’t a complete waste of time, I emailed the secretary ahead of time, telling her that I wanted to talk to the career counselor about a number of things other than any available job openings.

So, how did my visit go?

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There are approximately 3,500 law blogs in the U.S.

Many are struggling. Many are not worth reading — even by folks with a keen interest in the industry or area of the law being covered by the blogs.

These blogs lack emotion. They’re milquetoast.

Those of you as old as me may remember Joan Armatrading’s hit song, Show Some Emotion.

Show some emotion
Put expression in your eyes
Light up if you’re feeling happy
But if it’s bad then let those tears roll down

Perhaps not tears, but any lawyer who wants their blog read ought be ready to blog with some emotion—and passion.

If you’re not passionate about the area in which you blog, start over….

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The social dynamics within Biglaw firms can mirror those found in pre-colonial Puritan societies. Long working hours in harsh competitive conditions, hierarchical command structures, and a recognition that the group is only as strong as its weakest member. Common features of both your local Biglaw firm and Plymouth, Massachusetts, circa 1650.

Smallpox may no longer be the threat it was to the pilgrims, but Biglaw associates (and increasingly partners) are susceptible to career killers just as deadly. Reputation is everything in Biglaw, and decisions about someone’s suitability to remain employed in Biglaw are often made on the basis of (sometimes undeserved) labels that can attach to someone with the adhesive grip of a miracle glue from a late-night informercial. Yes, Biglaw lawyers can find themselves branded with the equivalent of a scarlet letter. Just like young Hester Prynne, but rather than being branded with an “A,” Biglaw folk get tagged with one-word denigrations of their fitness to reach the promised land of partnership.

There are plenty of one-word adjectives that serve as partnership (and often employment) disqualifiers for those in Biglaw. And just as there is no “I” in team, there are not many favorable descriptors for Biglaw lawyers that start with that letter. Intelligent? Everyone in Biglaw is, at least relative to the large majority of the human race. Inspired? Better suited to describe someone in public interest law, rather than a regulatory expert skilled at carving out exceptions for clients that want to circumvent the very rules that the rest of society is expected to abide by.

What about “interesting”?

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