Associate Advice

As some of you may be aware, it is the Jewish New Year. This means that I get two opportunities to reflect on the past year and make resolutions. Indeed, I have now resolved — for the second time — to eat less carbs. The problem with these kinds of resolutions is that they usually do not work. I think it has something to do with putting way too much emphasis on one day (New Year’s Day, or I guess Rosh Hashanah), rather than working towards a goal consistently throughout the year.

At work, the equivalent of the New Year’s Resolution is the year-end review. All of ones strengths and weaknesses displayed in the prior year are discussed during a thirty-minute conversation that often ends with a bonus check and/or tears. The year-end review, like the New Year’s Resolution, does not work. Rather than getting feedback only once a year, you should make every day New Year’s Day. Well, maybe not every day….

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In today’s Career Center Tips Series, Lateral Link’s Frank Kimball, legal recruiter and former hiring partner, discusses the challenges that new attorneys face in today’s world.

No matter what the differences will be a decade from now, it is safe to say that young lawyers will always have similar personal and professional concerns as they jump the hurdle from education to practice. Those concerns will be similar without regard to the school attended, the corner of the profession chosen, whether you are the first or one of many lawyers in your extended family, and whether you are “going home” to the city where you were raised, or moving to a city you have never lived in before.

But that being said, this generation of law school graduates is quite different from my generation….

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Ed. note: Have a question for next week? Send it in to advice@abovethelaw.com.

Dear ATL,

One of the partners in my practice group is very involved with a charity. About once a month or so, we get hit up with various updates on the cause, requests to donate, attend charity events, subscribe to newsletters, etc. He’s even made a few presentations about the charity during practice group meetings. This charity has absolutely nothing to do with legal work and frankly it’s getting really annoying.

As an associate, is it OK to unsubscribe from his charity’s email (not sure how I was signed up in the first place)?  Will he know?  Will it affect my partnership chances?  Am I obligated to donate?  Will he know?  Will the other partners know?

-Hit ‘Em Up Style

Dear Hit ‘Em Up Style –

Part of the reason they pay you associates so much is that your exorbitant salaries already factor in the bullsh*t expenses that come with the job: student loan payments, business wardrobe, personal training, late night online electronics purchases, therapy, top shelf alcohol so as not to be totally incapacitated when you get a work email the next day… and partner pet projects. And yes, they’re watching….

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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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Stop me if this sounds familiar to you:

The managing partner of your firm tells you and your colleagues that you all need to “do more marketing.” What that vague phrase means is unclear, but the partner feels it’s imperative. It’s the only way to bring in more business. Someone — maybe even you — ventures to ask for ideas on what kind of marketing you all should be doing.

Your fearless leader looks nonplussed for a moment, then shakes his head quickly like a dog drying himself and sputters, “Network. Get out there and network.” Meeting over.

Now you and your colleagues are left trying to divine just how to go about “marketing” and “networking.” There were no courses on these arcane arts in your non-T14 law school. (Fear not: The T14 law schools didn’t have those courses either.)

Finally, one of the group members — maybe even you — recalls getting an email blast about an upcoming networking event that you can all go to at the local chamber of commerce. “Great,” you chorus. But what are you supposed to do when you get there?

Don’t worry. Here are the six best tips for attending networking events:

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I tried to be a good boss over the years I ran my law firm. Some of my lawyers might tell you that I succeeded; others might be less charitable in describing my managerial skills. But I always made an effort to have my employees feel valued and respected. I gave them autonomy in their work, and I let them push back if they disagreed with the course of action I had chosen. When there was a problem with someone’s work or attitude, I dealt with it discreetly and sensitively; I never called anyone out in front of a coworker. And when someone had a good day, I made a big deal of it and made sure that everyone else knew about it.

I made sure that we celebrated every employee’s birthday, and we always recognized big events in people’s personal lives. And for a while, I gave a shout out to people for celebrating an anniversary with the firm.

Until one day, when I suggested going out to lunch to celebrate a junior associate’s second anniversary.

And she started crying.…

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Mistakes happen. Take, for example, the current eyesore in Pioneer Court on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. Sculptor J. Seward Johnson’s “Forever Marilyn” is a 26-foot-tall, 34,000-pound sculpture depicting the image of Marilyn Monroe in the Seven Year Itch. The sculpture has been described as “creepy schlock from a fifth-rate sculptor that blights a first-rate public art collection.” One author seeking to answer the question of what is wrong with the sculpture concluded “pretty much everything,” including that it is sexist, kitschy, and has nothing to do with Chicago. Even @ebertchicago (aka Roger Ebert) is tweeting about this terrible sculpture.

More important than the mistake, however, is how one corrects the problem (except maybe with Marilyn, yuck). Don’t believe me? Check out any of your friends’ favorite quotations on Facebook, and at least one of them will have an inspirational gem.

With summer here, bringing with it a possible loss of focus (and fantasies about being outside), I decided to ask a team of experts how they recover from making mistakes in their practice.

Find out what they do, after the jump.

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Ever see Fight Club? Yeah, me neither. The 1999 Brad Pitt movie was more of a cult film than a commercial success, although it did make back its costs. But the movie did have a line that became something of a meme, and was once recognized by Premiere magazine as the 27th greatest line in movie history (which seems dubious, but whatever):

The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club.

If only lawyers had the same rule.

You see, being a lawyer is like being a member of an elite club. OK, maybe not as elite as we like to think; there are more than a million members in the US. But elite enough. And the problem is, too many of us are dying to show off to others that we’re members of law club. And one of the ways we do it is by trying to sound like a lawyer when we speak, and especially when we write. This is a problem because sounding like a lawyer is the same as sounding like a tool.

I’ve come up with 20 lawyerisms that do nothing to advance the message you’re trying to send, but instead show that you’re a member of law club. And that you sound like a tool.

How many of the 20 do you use?

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As you probably know, the Boston Bruins won their first Stanley Cup since the Nixon Administration. I’m no kind of hockey fan, but as a Boston sports fan, I took a passing interest in it. Which is to say that I watched Game 7 on Wednesday. Mine was a short ride on the bandwagon. (I mean, it’s June. It’s baseball time.)

But Boston is a big sports town, having now won all three major North American sports championships (plus hockey, see what I did there?) in just a seven-year span. The closest any other city has come to that is 11 years (and that’s New York, with two teams in each sport).

But to be fair, the Bruins do have many fans in the Boston area. (Although apparently an entire season was recently canceled because of labor strife, and I’m pretty sure no one noticed.) Many of those fans made their way into Boston on Saturday to watch the Bruins’ victory boat. Police estimated that a million people came into the city to celebrate. Many of them parked in my suburban neighborhood, because we live near the end of one of the subway lines. Because that’s what you want: scads of drunken hockey fans parking in front of your house. Could have been worse, though; in Vancouver, the fans of the runner-up Canucks basically set the place on fire.

But some fans had trouble getting into town because of spotty rail service, and they weren’t too happy about it. What important lesson does this hold for small-firm lawyers?

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I’m under the impression that many of our readers are looking for a new job, or at least thinking about it. Some of you are still in law school and haven’t lined something up yet. Others have been laid off by a firm and are trying to find a replacement gig. Still others are unhappy in their current situations, and are contemplating something better. But how many of you know what you’re looking for?

I mentioned earlier that I’ve given a lot of informational interviews in the past. I do believe that it’s the most effective and most overlooked job-search tool going. But I’m often struck by how many people I meet — especially law students — who already know what type of law they want to practice. I certainly didn’t when I was in school; I became an employment lawyer because an employment-law firm offered me a job. I marvel at 1Ls and 2Ls who already know what type of lawyer they want to be when they grow up.

Knowing this has its benefits: it can help you direct your career path. But it has its disadvantages, too. It can seriously limit your job opportunities.

Here’s how to handle that problem.…

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