Awards

If you are a Biglaw partner and have only one title to hawk, I hope you are at a really top-tier firm. Because “partner” is no longer enough to impress clients. Especially in this age of multiple industry “guides” eager to anoint mortal lawyers with honorifics befitting your typical episode of Game of Thrones. (I am sure there is a female head of litigation somewhere who would relish being called Mother of Dragons, or a managing partner in Silicon Valley who would not mind being thought of as Lord of the Vale.) Between Chambers, Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers in America, and others, there are plenty of possibilities to supplement “partner” with something more.

Of course, the race for titles happens internally at Biglaw firms as well. Factor number one is prior business generation. Rainmakers are given titles by their fellow partners, like farmers seeding clouds for future rainfall. Every firm has at least a managing partner or CEO, numerous practice group heads, and an executive committee. Some firms, typically those of the “eat what you kill” variety, also exhibit a form of “title inflation,” with co-chairs galore and sub-department chieftains abounding. Plus office-level “chairs” — it is always a hoot when there is a local head of litigation for a branch office with three litigators. Especially when the branch office is a major city, with dozens of robust litigation practices at other Biglaw firms for clients to choose from. Everyone who has been granted a title uses it when marketing outside the firm. Who would want to hire a regular partner for a bankruptcy matter when you can have the co-chair of the Boston office’s (two-member) restructuring department handling things?

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Congratulations to the “Minority 40 Under 40.” This is a distinguished group of 40 minority lawyers, all under the age of 40, who have just been honored by the National Law Journal for their accomplishments within the legal profession.

Let’s learn more about them. Maybe you have friends or colleagues on the list?

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The Financial Times Innovative Lawyers Awards ceremony, held in London last Wednesday, was most notable for the contrast between the puppy-like excitement of the lawyer nominees and the auto-pilot professionalism of the host, FT editor Lionel Barber, whose aura was of a man who’d rather be at home watching TV.

This was a shame, not only for the confused lawyers struggling to understand why Barber wasn’t high-fiving them as they collected their trophies, but because it overshadowed the setting of a world record. Never before has the adjective “innovative” — or its derivations “innovate,” “innovation,” and “innovator” — been used with such frequency in a single evening.

Between them, these four words featured in 14 of the 15 award names, peppered the subsequent acceptance speeches, dominated the copy of the awards brochure, and strangled the dinner conversation. Hypnotised by the repetition, I was convinced by the end that lawyers could see the future and were responsible for all of the great achievements of humankind.

However, having regained my sense of reality during the Tube ride home, it slowly dawned on me that most of the innovation I’d spent the last five hours being bombarded with wasn’t innovation at all, but simply lawyers doing their jobs. The “innovation in corporate law” award, for example, went to two law firms which acted on a merger, and the “innovation in dispute resolution” prize was given to a firm that won a case.

At other times, “innovation” was employed as a euphemism for not especially original ways to cut jobs….

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There is a small-firm lawyer I know who does not appear to me to be super at anything, other than perhaps being super-gross (yes, I am aware that I speak like a little girl on the playground). I recall a meeting in his office wherein he used his pen to clean his teeth, which resulted in his pen exploding on his shirt. Undeterred by his mess, this man continued to advocate for his client by explaining to me “all’s” he knew about a certain subject. As I was getting up to leave that meeting, I saw several wall mountings that indicated that he had been selected for inclusion in the SuperLawyers listing for several years in a row.

That experience made me wonder whether the SuperLawyers list, at least when it comes to small-firm attorneys, was somewhat less than “super.” Indeed, I felt that small-firm lawyers were disproportionately recognized as SuperLawyers. Who does not know a small-firm attorney selected for inclusion in that list?

So I decided to expose the SuperLawyers conspiracy….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Inside Straight, Above the Law’s column for in-house counsel, written by Mark Herrmann.

Lawyers in private practice collect things.

The lawyers use those collections to adorn professional biographies that appear on firm web pages. The garnitures generally include (1) experiences (which are trumpeted in the form of “deal lists” or “representative engagements”), (2) publications, and (3) speaking engagements. After you pick off a case in the Second Circuit, or publish an article in the National Law Journal, or give a talk to an industry group, you go home and polish your online image; you update your bio.

When you’re in private practice, it makes sense to do this. You are, after all, trying to attract business, so your online bio is essentially your calling card. Strangers may visit the website and see your bio; you may send a link to potential clients; you may print the bio and hand it out during a beauty contest.

In an odd way, for many people, assembling these collections marks the passage of time. (“2005? I was up to my eyeballs in MDL 1150.” “1997? That was when we tried the Doe case.”) You’re nuts, of course, if those professional moments even begin to approach the significance of truly important stuff — marriage, the birth of a child, a death in the family — but those events mark time, in the same way that changing seasons do.

Ultimately, who’s to say that collecting stuff is wrong? People collect stamps, and coins, and books, and they take some pleasure there. Maybe collecting experiences, or achievements, fills the same psychic need. Or maybe the need to achieve, and to prove your achievements to the world, is hard-wired into many people who spent their early years in college, law school, and law firms, pursuing a succession of brass rings….

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