Ed. note: This is the first installment in a new series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, for the benefit of newly arrived (or soon-to-arrive) first-year associates, we have some advice from Ross Guberman on writing for the toughest audience they’ll ever face.
With the help of many clients, I recently surveyed thousands of law-firm partners about the writing skills they want to see associates develop.
Across the country and across practice areas, partners agree on what they’d like to change about associate drafts. I’ve organized their responses according to my Four Steps to Standout Legal Writing. I’ve also included a fifth category that covers usage and mechanics.
A few sample responses follow.
Step One: Concision
Partners say they spend too much time cutting clutter and other distractions from associate drafts. Anything that interrupts the message — wordy phrases, jargon, legalese, redundancy, blather, hyperbole — is a candidate for the chopping block.
I’ve been known to quip, “I thought I was wrong, once, but I was mistaken.” But I realize that my column here on Above the Law has often been “wrong” in at least one important way: I’ve compared apples to oranges.
For example, I authored a “top ten” list of differences between working in a big firm and working in a boutique. But many of the items focused on differences between employee and owner. I compared working where “you get paid either a salary or an hourly rate” with “running your own shop.” I compared “making all the decisions in my cases” with “waiting for a partner to act on my recommendations.” I compared doing the grunt work with making the important decisions.
That strikes me as comparing apples to oranges because all those comparisons actually contrasted being an employee with being an owner. That fundamental distinction accounts for many of the supposed differences between working in Biglaw and working in a small firm or boutique.
But what about associates who are considering becoming associates at a small firm or boutique? That’s the true apples to apples comparison. If you’re not starting your own business, but will instead remain an associate, what are the real differences when moving “From Biglaw to Boutique”?
Associates in both Biglaw and small should give some thought as to who is their most important client. Some might think that their most important client is their biggest or most prestigious one, or the one whose matter has the most at stake. This week at Morrison & Foerster and Quinn Emanuel, yearning associates might name Apple and Samsung, respectively.
Other associates might take a longer view, and answer that their most important client is the one with the greatest potential to offer them future business.
Still others might select the client for whom the associate has the most responsibility. For example, if you are one of three or four associates on several matters, but the primary or sole associate on another, you may view that latter client as your most important.
All these associates would be making a mistake by not understanding who is truly their most important client….
* So now the Tulsa law dean is making it sound like the babysitting gig was just one of the many heroic efforts Tulsa undertakes to make sure students can make ends meet while in law school. This from a school that charges $32,056 per year plus another $7,993 for room and board for the privilege of attending the #99 law school in the land. Oh, but presenting babysitting opportunities is a way that the administration can help. [TU College of Law Blog]
* This is how 90% of my conversations go when somebody asks me if they should go to law school. The other 10% end in fisticuffs and comfort eating. [Constitutional Daily]
* If a law professor uses a hypo this fall based on 50 Shades of Grey (affiliate link), please whip it out (your camera phone) and give us a load (of that hilarious video). [Law Librarian Blog]
Partners love to emphasize to candidates who are interviewing that their firm provides not only “early responsibility,” but also abundant “client contact.” Associates who interview eat that stuff up. “Client contact” sounds like the epitome of what being a lawyer is all about.
But sometimes client contact might not be all it’s cracked up to be. For an associate, talking to a client often has little short term upside and lots of potential downside. If you give good advice, the partner is likely to take the credit for it. If you give bad advice, you better believe you will take the blame.
Once an attorney is blessed with significant client contact, they learn rather quickly that the much-vaunted experience can be rather overrated. More times than not, a ringing phone does not a happy lawyer make. Just consider some of the reasons why clients are likely to be calling….
Associates generally don’t have much room to negotiate salary or benefits in Biglaw. Beyond paying a premium for specialized skill sets (e.g., an engineering degree) or pedigree (e.g., a former Supreme Court clerk), those firms tend to pay a certain amount per class year with little variance among individuals. Among different Am Law 100 firms, there is relatively little variance. A few firms pay exceptionally well and a few others lag below market, but all the Am Law 100 firms have generally similar salary structures.
Not so with small firms, solo practices, and boutiques. According to the Robert Half Salary Guide, for example, the median starting salary for a first year associate at a ten-attorney firm in the San Francisco Bay area ranges between approximately $66,000 and $113,000 per year. That’s quite a spread. Of course, ten-attorney firms also vary so much from one to another that trying to compare salaries across firms often makes little sense.
Small firms thus have considerable flexibility in setting salaries, and associates have significantly more room to negotiate their salaries in the small firm environment. Granted, associates at small firms will tend to make less — sometimes significantly so — than their Biglaw counterparts. Be that as it may, valuing the worth of an associate to a small firm can be complicated.
Often, associates who are used to the Biglaw model both overvalue and undervalue their worth to a small firm or boutique….
The attrition rate in Biglaw is legendary. Since the recession hit, associates are less likely to voluntarily abandon a six-figure job and more often believe that you don’t get up and go until they throw you out the door. On the other hand, since the recession hit, associates are less likely to have any choice in the matter should their firm feel the need to reduce headcount. But especially during the boom years when I began practicing, associates frequently left their firm gigs to do all manner of things, from going in-house, to starting a private practice, to hiking across the country, or moving to Nepal.
I worked in large and medium-sized firms for nearly a decade, and during my tenure, I saw an awful lot of associates come and go. Rarely if ever was I surprised to hear the news. In fact, I was usually surprised that others were surprised. In my experience, there are certain tell-tale signs that an associate is crafting a farewell email….
You detest your boss. You can’t stand your coworkers. You want to die if you have to work another 100-hour week. If that sounds familiar, then you’re in good company with many other attorneys who hate their job. Unfortunately, you’re not going anywhere anytime soon. Maybe you’ve only been at your job for a year or less, or you have no other job prospects at the moment.
When you’re stuck at a job you loathe, what can you do to not only survive, but even thrive in it? Try these tips, provided to you by the experienced recruiters at Lateral Link….
Did you miss me? It has been a few weeks since I last laid down some knowledge on all my small-firm peeps. I was busy studying for, taking, and hopefully passing the California bar exam. During my time trapped in the Oakland Convention Center, I reached out to attorney hopefuls to see what issues they cared about for future articles. They all said the same thing: getting a job. Well, except for one person. A mousy girl who ate homemade ham sandwiches during the lunch break and sat alone near the garbage wanted to know how to land a man. Apparently, she did not think she had a decent chance of passing the bar (or was not actually taking the bar, but instead trying to pick up a lawyer — in which case, bravo, girlfriend).
I cannot really offer any more advice about how to find a job other than networking, networking, and going on informational interviews. Oh, and occasionally allowing yourself a good cry. I can, however, offer some priceless advice for how to get married thanks to a recent New York Times article. Unfortunately for Bar Poser Lookin’ For Love, the advice will not help her find a lawyer husband. It will, however, help her find a husband if she goes on to be a lawyer.
This week, Lateral Link Director Tricia McGrath shares the inside scoop on what fifth years need to do to make sure they stay on track to become partner, and avoid the pitfalls that come with being passed over continually.
Law firm economics changed substantially over the past decade. Law firms now run like “businesses,” in corporate America parlance. In the last few years, many associates at top firms who thought that they were “on track” for partnership were unexpectedly passed over. Unfortunately, market conditions suggest that many more will be passed over in future years.
As a recruiter, I frequently speak with senior associates who were on the wrong side of partnership decisions, and as a result, realized the “out” side of the firm’s “up-and-out” policy. Many of these overlooked associates are now wondering how the train went off the track so quickly. Don’t the years of solid billables and strong reviews account for anything? For most of these associates, their best-case scenarios are a new position at another Biglaw firm with a three-year partner look — often going in to their new firm as a fifth or sixth year — or an in-house position at significantly less compensation (in most cases). Often, neither of these options is particularly attractive for the candidate.
How can you protect yourself from becoming a senior associate who has been passed over, has no business, and has limited job prospects?
In a land that is right here and in a time that is right now, a technology has arisen so powerful that it can replace basic human document review. Is it time to bow down before our new robot overlords?
First, here’s a little story about me: my life in the legal world began as a paralegal. My first case was a GIANT patent infringement case that was already six years old and had involved as many as five companies, multiple US courts, the ITC and an international standards committee. I knew nothing about any of this.
On my first day, my supervisor (a paralegal with at least eight other cases driving her crazy) sat me down in front of a Concordance database with a 100,000+ patents and patent file histories. “Code these,” she said. I learned that “coding”, for the purposes of this exercise, meant manually typing the inventor’s name, the title of the patent, the assignee, the file date, and other objective data for each document. I worked on that project – and only that project – for at least the first six months of my job. After a week or so, time began to blur.
What I know, in retrospect and with absolutely certainty, is that as time began to blur, so did my judgment. So did my attention to detail. If you could tell me that I did not make at least one mistake a day – one inconsistent spelling, one reversed day and month, one incorrectly spaced title – I frankly would need to see your evidence. I would not believe it. The human mind is trainable but it is not a machine.
Watch to find out what some of our subscribers received in their May box!
The proper hair styling product might just be the only thing standing between you and your dream job. And the best way to find what works for you is to try the best stuff on the market. Join Birchbox Man for $20 a month and you’ll get customized shipments of the best grooming and lifestyle gear on the market every month—everything from haircare and shaving supplies to style accessories and tech gadgets.
As the leading discovery commerce platform, Birchbox is redefining the retail process by offering consumers a unique and personalized way to discover, learn about, and shop the best grooming and lifestyle products out there. It’s a full 360-degree process: try, learn, buy. Once you sign up and fill out your profile, head over to Birchbox Man’s online magazine to find article and video tutorials on how to get the most out your monthly box products. Pick up full-size versions of anything you like in the Birchbox Shop and earn points for every purchase.
We currently have a number of active openings for associate roles at US and UK firms in HK / China, Singapore and two new in-house openings. As always, please feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com in order to get details of current openings in Asia, as well as to discuss the Asia markets in general and what we expect for openings later this year. Our Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney will be in Beijing the week of March 25 and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong the week of April 1, if you would like to meet them in person.
The US associate openings we have in law firms are in the usual areas of M&A, cap markets, FCPA / white collar litigation, finance, and project finance. The most urgent of our top tier (top 15 US or magic circle) law firm openings in Asia (among many other firm openings that we have in Asia) are as follows:
• 2nd to 5th year mandarin fluent M&A associates needed in Beijing and Hong Kong at several firms;
• Korean fluent 2nd to 4th year cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 5th year Japanese fluent M&A associates needed in Tokyo;
• 4th to 6th year mandarin fluent cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 4th year M&A / cap markets mix associate needed in Singapore.
The traditional job application and interview process can be impersonal, and applicants often struggle to present themselves as more than just the sum of their GPAs, alma maters, and previous work history. ATL has partnered with ViewYou to help job seekers overcome this challenge. ViewYou NOW Profiles offer a unique way for job seekers to make a personal, memorable connection with prospective employers: introduction videos. These videos allow job candidates to display their personalities, interpersonal skills, and professional interests, creating an eDossier to brand themselves to potential employers all over the world. Check it out today!