Advice

Despite surveys showing that being a law firm associate is the unhappiest job in America, we know a fair number of happy lawyers. We don’t tend to write about them very much — we like our stories to have a little more bite or edge around here — but there is such a thing as a happy lawyer (affiliate link).

Still, there’s no denying that the stereotype of the miserable lawyer has some truth to it — and that, after a while, some of these lawyers leave the legal profession. Most people who go to medical school end up practicing medicine for the long haul; many people who go to law school end up doing something different after a while.

If you’re thinking of leaving the law, what should you do?

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Whether you practice in Biglaw or a boutique, knowing how to email is a critical skill. In fact, the quality of a lawyer’s emails is an excellent indicator of that lawyer’s future career prospects (excepting those lawyers fortunate to be born with a guaranteed multimillion-dollar book of business through family connections). This should not be a surprise, considering how email is the single most used form of communication for lawyers. Yes, technology has liberated us from a full day’s work (with the help of a secretary) in order to prepare what would now be considered a routine client communication in the form of a fancy letter. But the need for a similar level of care in preparing today’s written communications has not changed. Show me an associate’s emails, and I (along with other former or current Biglaw partners) will have a very respectable success rate in guessing whether or not the associate is partnership material, even in the absence of other information about the author.

I have sent many thousands of emails in my legal career. I do not know how many of them would have been considered “good” emails, but I’d like to think that most of them were. I was fortunate, since I worked for a partner who stressed to me early on the importance of sending “good” emails.

What is a “good” email?

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Stacy Slotnick aka The Foxy Jurist

In a Huffington Post op-ed, Redefining the Female Lawyer’s Uniform, Stacy Slotnick, an entertainment lawyer and founder of the Foxy Jurist, argues that lawyers should add some color to their courtroom arguments. Literally.

Slotnick isn’t talking about injecting imagery into an opening statement or pounding on the witness box to punctuate an argument or adopting a dramatic whisper to attract the jury’s attention. Instead, Slotnick implores female lawyers to cast aside their bland Gray Lady and Black Widow personas and embrace the hot pink of Legally Blonde. Or as Helen Reddy might sing, women lawyers should go from I am Woman, Hear Me Bore to I am Woman, Hear Me Roar!

Slotnick has some colorful words for colorless dressers:

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It turns out that the Office of Career Services at Harvard Law School has been sending out weekly tips to the hordes of HLS summer associates working around the country. Because it’s Harvard, most of the tips are in Latin and can only be read with the special Crimson decoder ring every HLS student gets along with President Obama’s cell phone number and some lembas bread.

Just kidding… lembas bread isn’t real.

The tips themselves aren’t earth-shattering, they’re standard career-services speak that are useful only if you find the maxim “don’t be a f**king tool” lacking in specificity. But the progression of the tips, now that is fantastic. In a way, the tips kind of follow the life cycle of an ivory-tower babe who is thrust into the real world. Let’s take a look at how Harvard wants its students to approach their summers…

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Bruce Stachenfeld

“Low overhead is great!” That is one of our sayings. We recite it all the time — yes, even out loud at meetings — as it is a powerful competitive advantage for a law firm. It seems pretty obvious, but if so, why doesn’t everyone get with this concept?

There is a term informally used to describe how overhead impacts a law firm called “Implied Overhead.” The “Implied Overhead” of a law firm is the cost of everything except the lawyers divided by the number of lawyers. So if you have 50 lawyers and the cost of “everything” except the lawyers is $10,000,000, then you have implied overhead of $200,000 per lawyer.

Our Implied Overhead for last year was about $165,000. Anecdotally I believe that Implied Overhead for major law firms averages about $300,000. (I admit I don’t really have this data for sure; it is just what I have heard.) If your firm has 100 lawyers and implied overhead of $200,000 and the average for major law firms is $300,000, then you have a $100,000 per lawyer competitive advantage over your major law firm competition. Multiply that by 100 lawyers and you just made $10,000,000! And this flows right to the bottom line! If there are, say, 30 partners at this firm, then each partner just got a check for $333,333!

Yikes — did I do that math right? Was that $333,333 per partner merely by reducing the implied overhead?  I just double checked and $10,000,000 divided by 30 partners does indeed equal $333,333. That’s a sizable number, so maybe you should read the rest of my article….

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The traditional arguments against going to law school are: (1) there are too many lawyers and not enough jobs; (2) tuition and student loan debts are too damn high; (3) the high-paying or high-powered jobs are available only to the top students of the top schools; and (4) most “JD Advantage” jobs could have been obtained without a law degree.

The typical response to the above is something along the lines of, “That won’t apply to be because I’m going to put in the work and be one of the top students.” Now those of us who lived through law school might find this amusing and even ridiculous. But we can’t really blame them for their determination. We were their age once. Back then, the world was a playground and full of opportunities. If 0Ls today know all of the risks and can obtain a decent scholarship at least for the 1L year, then they should take a shot and see where they fall on the bell curve.

Today, I am going to talk about a few issues regarding law school and law practice that have not been discussed (at least extensively) amongst the law school critics. The issues apply to most students (even the top students) of almost every law school….

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Keith Lee

Yesterday I went for a run, my usual 5k. I had given some thought to going farther than normal but when I got to the point where I could keep going, the trail crossing over the creek was flooded. I was stymied. Guess I’ll be sticking to 5k. Time to turn around.

I made it two steps before I stopped. Was I really going to let some water stop me from pushing myself? Give up at the first obstacle I came across? I pivoted and made my way through the woods away from the trail and towards the road.

I had to run a few blocks on the road away from my usual route to get to a different bridge over the creek. Then back to the trail and on my way — 10k instead of 5. Double my regular run. My lungs burned, legs tired. I felt great. And I almost didn’t do it because there was a trickle of water in my way….

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With the number of LSAT takers dropping yet again, the law school class of 2017 is likely to reach a similar low. And there is no indication that the application freefall has stabilized. Regardless, just about everyone (except for this guy) agrees that law school is still either an extremely risky gamble or a complete a waste of time and money.

But for those who are determined to go to law school no matter what any rational, non-biased individual says, I want to help make your dream come true. So while I am waiting for future job interviews, I am going to again interrupt my Back In The Race programming to give the future lawyers some advice that I wish someone had given me when I was an idealistic pre-law student. This is not a joke. Nor am I going to use a clever pitch like “Yale or Fail.”

The next few weeks should be spent taking some proactive and reflective steps to ensure that you will attend the right school and leave with minimal debt. Keep reading to figure out how….

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Germany has won the World Cup. The final game was a low-scoring 1-0, but nonetheless a thrilling hair-puller of missed opportunities on both sides. The single goal, in minute 113, was an elegant, technically perfect two-touch volley — all the more impressive because it was delivered by a 22-year-old substitute who did not join the game until the second half.

The game was also a contrast of different playing styles. Argentina built its offence around a star striker, Lionel Messi, who was expected to execute a well-timed stroke of veritable futbol magic that would hopefully usher his country to its third World Cup victory. Backing him was a deep-sitting defense that repeatedly stifled German goal-scoring attempts, but was nevertheless not expected to score absent some Messi magic. By contrast, Germany lacked a superstar of the world-renown of Messi. Instead, its playing style prioritized short, deft, technical passing among the team as a whole. The victorious Germans carefully worked the ball through various mid-field channels until, eventually, it reached the back of the opponent’s net.

I am not an avid soccer fan, but like many Americans, I tune into the World Cup every four years. Who was I rooting for?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Beyond Biglaw: Tiki-Taka Teamwork”

I never heard these words before I went in-house: “If you send something to a person above me in the hierarchy, then send a copy to me, too.”

Now I hear (or speak) those words all the time. And those instructions seem pretty easy to grasp.

Remarkably, a fair number of people don’t seem to understand what those words mean.

I offer this column for the benefit of in-house newbies, and in-house oldbies who don’t understand, and lawyers at firms who might want to consider whether these instructions make sense at law firms, too.

If you’re sending something to someone above me in the hierarchy, then send a copy to me, too.

Why?

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