Ed. note: This is the fourth installment in a new series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, we have some great advice for newly minted attorneys from Joshua Stein, the principal of Joshua Stein PLLC, a prominent commercial real estate law practice in Manhattan.
It’s your first year as a new lawyer. What do you need to know? How can you not screw it up? Here are some suggestions, based on more than 30 years of experience — as an associate at two firms, then a brief time as an associate at a third firm, followed by 20+ years as a partner at that third firm. These suggestions reflect my own experiences, lessons learned along the way, and what I’ve seen and heard from others. Nothing here applies specifically or uniquely to any firm where I worked.
It’s a Business. As much as we might all want law firms to be kind and gentle, remember that client demands are not kind and gentle. Also remember that a firm’s profitability — the ultimate main event — depends on buying a lot of legal expertise wholesale, converting it into as many hours of billable legal work as possible, then selling those hours at retail. That isn’t going to go away. Get used to it. That’s the business you’re in. If you don’t want to be in it, go find some other business to be in.
Fair is fair: I wrote last week about “what drives partners nuts.” Having armed associates with the ammunition needed to drive partners crazy, it’s only right that I arm partners with ways to drive associates nuts. (I realize that many partners are quite good at this even without my help, but I figure a stray few could use some guidance.)
Come on, partners, how can you drive associates nuts?
First: Give associates disembodied projects!
If you wanted someone actually to be interested in a project, you’d tell that person what the project was about. You’d explain what the transaction entails, what the client needs, and the critical issues likely to arise. In litigation matters, you’d explain who’s suing whom for what, the path the case is taking, the client’s main concerns, and the likely endgame. That would put a person’s brain in gear, and the person might actually care about his or her work.
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?
Lawyers like to complain about the billable hours requirements at their firms. A common question seems to be what will count and what won’t. In this line of work, time is money, and many associates want to know if they’re wasting their time.
If the firm makes you go to a professional development event, are you losing out on hours? If you get wrangled into doing pro bono work, are your weekly billables for paid clients going to plummet? And will that ultimately get reflected in your bonus check?
Yesterday, we lamented the fact that we often report on depressing news about the state of the legal profession in this country. Today, we actually have some good news. Jenner & Block realized that their lawyers shouldn’t be toiling away in their dungeons offices and forgoing pro bono opportunities in order to meet their billable hours requirements.
The firm remembered that this profession is supposed to be about helping the less fortunate, and it has adjusted its policies accordingly….
* Apparently racism still exists, even at prestigious university like NYU. Skip the damn banana, I’ll take $210K instead, thanks. [New York Daily News]
* First they came for the eggs, and I didn’t speak out because I don’t like breakfast. Then they came for the turkey, and I flipped out because my freezer is full of it. [Los Angeles Times]
* Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but Christian Louboutin plans to appeal last week’s ruling on his red-soled shoes. You go girl, because I don’t want to pay for an imitation. [Daily Mail]
* What kind of a neighbor goes after Girl Scouts for selling cookies in their own driveway? Apparently the kind you don’t want to live next to anymore. [Daily RFT / Riverfront Times]
As any law student can tell you, pulling an all-nighter sucks. Biglaw associates, however, have to pull all-nighters quite frequently — and sometimes they’ll have to get by with very little sleep, for multiple nights in a row. As one of our Above the Law editors mentioned to me, a Biglaw all-nighter “is nothing like any other kind of all-nighter [he's] ever experienced.”
So what happens when you’re on your eighth caffeinated beverage of the night and you’re still yawning? You can literally feel the small amount of blood left in your coffee stream getting ready to stage a strike if you don’t catch a few Z’s. As a young lawyer, would you even consider going to sleep? And would your firm approve?
Hell no. Don’t even think about it. You can sleep when you’re dead. But for now, you get a futuristic-looking pod to take a nap in….
Associates are under a lot of pressure these days. But we applaud those junior lawyers who respond to the current demands with initiative and creativity. We found just such an associate in Toronto.
The man’s problems seem trivial to the outside world. His office is crappy. He needs an upgrade, but not because he wants to feel like he’s some hotshot. He just knows that he has to look like a hotshot in order to generate business. This is how he explains it on a Craigslist post:
I work in a large Bay Street law firm. Many of my partners and clients have extensive collections of original artwork. As a struggling associate with a mortgage, no job security and a wife with a penchant for running into things with our car, I cannot afford to buy original artwork myself, so I appear low-rent to the higher-ups. Given the high standards of my clients and partners, I also cannot go out and buy prints or copies of original art – I will be laughed into the unemployment line.
A lot of associates would have noted the problem and left it at that. Maybe they would have gone home crying to their mothers about life’s unfairness. But not this kid…
If you were friends with somebody who was laid off from Biglaw during the past 18 months, you probably tried to cheer your friend up with some sort of platitude. You probably told your friend, “It’s their loss,” or perhaps, “[The firm] will be sorry.”
You probably didn’t believe it when you said it, and neither did your friend. The sad reality is that for every associate fired, law schools produce ten more that are dying to replace them. It’s hard for individual associates to make their former employers “pay” for giving them the axe. The revenge quest becomes even harder when you take into account the fact that being laid off in this market was a career killer for most of those involuntarily kicked off the Biglaw bandwagon.
But at least one laid-off lawyer has been able to get a small measure of revenge against his former employer. The associate brings a message of hope to the fallen associates who walk the earth with cold dishes to serve their old employers…
Here at Above the Law, we like to provide a service to our readers. Sometimes things happen at a law firm that you just can’t talk about to your colleagues. But you can always tell us.
Last week, we corresponded with a frustrated attorney. Despite the fact that he’s quite senior and has changed firms looking for a better situation, he’s still dealing with the kind of casual disrespect most associates all across the land must suffer:
I sit here today at my new law firm, still disgruntled, I find myself writing a fictitious response to a real email sent to me on Monday by my boss. I actually sent the fictitious email to my brother, for pleasure reading, and not to my boss of course. I thought I would share it with you.
The very real email he received from the partner in question seems innocuous enough:
Please let me know if you are licensed in Kansas. I have some work that needs to be done over there.
It’s a harmless enough request, until you learn a little bit more of the backstory that this associate just wishes he could explain to the partner…
Watch to find out what some of our subscribers received in their May box!
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 last time I flapped my wings your way, I tried to make at least enough noise about your mobile phone to make you more than a little bit uncomfortable. I hope I did. If enough of us become anxious enough about the known and unknown unknowns and knowns in our mobile phones, then we can start making wise decisions about how to manage that information and its resultant investigations.
Today, I’d like to put a finer point on the last installment’s topic by asking a question that seemed to catch most attendees off-guard at a conference panel that I moderated last week: is there discoverable personal information in a mobile app? Our panelists’ answer was a uniform “yes” with one stating that, if he had to choose only one type of data that he could discover from a mobile phone, he’d choose app data. Why? Because there’s simply so much of it and because almost all of it is objective – not just user-created like an email – but machine-tracked like GPS, usage duration, log in and log out times, browsed web addresses, browsed actual addresses. Also, most of us seem to have the idea that data doesn’t actually “stick” to our mobile devices the way it “sticks” to our hard drives. Maybe there’s a disconnect based on the fact that our phones are mobile so we assume the data is mobile to?
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