Last year, St. Martin’s Press published The Partner Track, the debut novel of lawyer Helen Wan. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, I praised the book for being engaging, suspenseful, and — unlike so many legal novels — realistic. The paperback edition of The Partner Track became available last week.
I enjoy fiction about lawyers, as both a reader and writer — my own firstnovel comes out in a few weeks — and I’m deeply interested in how other writers work. So I interviewed Helen Wan about her book, her approach to writing, and how she managed to write a novel while holding down a demanding job as an in-house lawyer for Time Warner. I also asked for her advice on how women and minority lawyers can succeed in Biglaw.
Here’s a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our conversation.
We all dream of a world in which collegiality matters.
Partners at law firms are . . . well . . . partners. They look out for each other. They build each other’s practices. They work for the common good.
Perhaps that firm exists. I wouldn’t know.
From my perch here — as the guy who left a Biglaw partnership for an in-house job, and on whose shoulder other Biglaw partners now routinely cry — the view is pretty ugly. (Perhaps my perspective is distorted because of an obvious bias: Partners happy with their firms don’t come wailing to me.) What I hear these days is grim: Guys are being de-equitized or made of counsel; they think they’re being underpaid; they’re concerned that they’ll be thrown under the bus if they ever lose a step.
Several recent partners’ laments prompted me to think about something that I’d never considered when I worked at a firm. (Maybe that’s because I’m one of those guys who was perfectly happy laboring for the common good. Or maybe it’s because I’m a moron.)
In any event, here’s today’s question: I want to wrestle effectively with my own law firm. I don’t want to be nasty; I just want to be sure that I have implicit power when I negotiate with the firm. I want the firm — of its own accord, without me saying a word — to treat me right. How do I wrestle my own law firm to the ground? How do I pin my partners?
I have several different selves rattling around inside. No, I’m not suggesting multiple personality disorder. I’m alluding to the varied interests and aptitudes that have led to different careers over time.
My nurturing, playful self became an elementary school teacher. She was followed by the brainy, kick-ass self who became a lawyer. Then the creative, reclusive self came forward to write my legal thriller Terminal Ambition (affiliate link). Now the compassionate, wise self is stepping up as a coach to guide clients through growth and change.
Just as Harry Potter discovered that he had a “good self” and a “bad self,” each of us has many selves.
A lawyer may be hiding a self who longs for deeper connection with others and a helping role as a therapist as well as another self who longs to be an academic and another self who longs to be a chef.
Ed. note: Please welcome our newest columnist, Professor Joseph Marino of Marino Legal Academy, who will be writing a bimonthly column about law school and legal education.
Your first year classroom experience is not all that different from the classroom scenes in the well known 1973 movie, The Paper Chase.
“Look to the left, look to your right. Because one of you won’t be here by the end of the year.” It sounds like an urban legend, but it’s not that far off from reality. According to the ABA, roughly 5,000 1Ls across the country will not come back for their second year of law school.
By now you should be familiar with case briefing and the Socratic method, the decades-long dominant pedagogical approaches for teaching first-year students. It is dramatically different from the days of rolling out of bed after a night out partying and acing the exam that you were used to in college. Unlike college and high school classes where your professor taught you the subject area, in law school you have to take responsibility for your own education….
I thought now would be a good time to give a progress report on my job search. It’s been a little over five months since the race began, and I still have not reached the finish line. All of the jobs openings I applied to have been filled. By someone else.
Recently, I wrote an email to an attorney named Stephanie whom I have known for many years and think of as a role model. Since I have been feeling discouraged and cynical lately, I thought it would be best to be direct with her and not beat around the bush. I was curious what kind of response and advice she would have, if any.
You may have heard about a behavioral science experiment involving monkeys and a ladder with a banana at the top of the ladder. When one monkey would try to climb the ladder to reach the banana, the researchers would spray all of the monkeys with a hose. After a while, when a monkey tried to go towards the ladder, the others would stop him so that they wouldn’t get hosed. The researchers then switched out one of the monkeys with a new monkey who didn’t know about the hose. When he would go towards the ladder, just as before, the others would stop him. The swapping continued, and the new monkeys would join in stopping newer monkeys from going towards the ladder, not knowing about the hose treatment, but learning from the example of the original monkeys that going towards the ladder is bad. The researchers eventually swapped out all of the monkeys so that none of the original monkeys were together, but all of the new monkeys would try to stop each other from going towards the ladder.
There is some debate online as to the origins of that experiment, or whether it ever happened, so I’ll just call it the “parable of the monkeys who just do what everyone else does without understanding why” — or, for short, “the parable of the associate.” If you work in a law firm, you probably recognize the above fact pattern and can analogize it to your colleagues.
I’ve come across a bunch of lawyers since I started my legal career ten years ago. Some of them were really good, some were really bad, and most of them were just somewhere in the spectrum of not being memorable. The lawyers who were bad were all bad for about a thousand different reasons, but the lawyers who were good, almost always shared one quality: they were outside-the-box thinkers….
I enjoy reading Alex Rich‘s informative, comical, and sometimes depressing posts about life as a contract attorney, particularly in the world of document review. While I have no desire to do full-time doc review, I can see how the “bill and chill” nature of the job could appeal to some people. But in my world, there is more to being a “contract attorney” than being a coder.
Contract work is basically working for an attorney for a limited purpose. It ends once a task is accomplished or after a fixed period of time. Common contract-work projects are court appearances, document review, legal research, drafting or editing motions, and even trial. If you know the right people and have a certain skill set, contract work is not a bad way to make a lawyerly living. But for most new solo practitioners, contract work serves as a supplemental source of income (along with other interesting and strange side gigs) while they try to get their practice up and running.
Today, I want to talk about a rare contract attorney position: a temp-to-hire arrangement where your employer/client hires you on a contract basis and may offer an associate position in the future. I will talk about how to spot such a position and make the most of it. Finally, I will discuss whether it is better to accept the associate position or remain a contract attorney.
It’s not all doom and gloom in the Back In The Race series. Despite getting ignored or getting countless rejection letters from law firms big and small, I like to have a little fun with my job search. So today, I will share my experience at an interview with a firm I had no interest in working for. Thanks to Above The Law’s generous contributor compensation plan, retirement benefits and student loan repayment assistance program, I can afford to be slightly more picky when it comes to choosing employers.
Over the weekend, a recruiter asked if I would be interested in meeting with a local solo practitioner who seeks to hire an associate. After learning a little bit about her and her area of practice, I knew it wasn’t going to work between us. But I decided to go to this interview anyway just so I could play the role of the demanding, entitled special snowflake and see her reaction.
So let’s find out who the lucky solo is and see how it all went…
The week before Labor Day is one of my favorite weeks of the year. Has been for a long time. Even during my decade-plus in Biglaw, a fact that may be shocking to those who believe that the Biglaw experience ranges from the tolerable to the miserable — and never enjoyable. But even for those who feel trapped in the ravenous clutches of the insatiable Biglaw billable hours beast, the end of August almost always offers a welcome, if brief, respite. Because late August is prime Biglaw vacation season, and offices nationwide are running on a skeleton staff.
Partners, and even some associates, are trying to squeeze in some family time before the start of school. The younger set is off for a final round of beach weekends, or just enjoying lazy days in the office, relishing the chance to kick out at a normal hour. With time to hit the gym, before a meal in a real restaurant, rather than a Seamless-delivered dinner in a takeout tray. During my Biglaw years, the end of August meant the last few days of commuting down to the Jersey Shore by ferry from Manhattan, with twilight views of the Statue of Liberty and the Verrazano Bridge. Moments of serenity, even in a city of perpetual motion.
The end of summer can be wonderful, and the temptation to milk the most relaxation out of the waning days of the season great. But it would be a mistake to view this period as only one of enjoyment….
So, it appears that there are some people who have ignored my advice and are about to show up to law school anyway. Still more people never heard my advice from their pre-law advisor/philosophy major. Welcome to the suck.
Well, there’s nothing for it now. You’re in it now and if you have chosen poorly it’ll be years before you fully realize the gravity of your decision. In the meantime, what are you supposed to do now? Classes are starting and… hey, are you briefing a case? Are you briefing a freaking case before classes even start? Jesus. PUT THOSE HIGHLIGHTERS DOWN.
You’ve heard about “outlines,” right? Outlines allow you to copy other people’s work so you don’t have to do it yourself. This is the way of things. I say, cheating is the gift man gives himself.
Professor Joel P. Trachtman (JD Harvard Law School) has developed a unique, practical guide to help lawyers analyze, argue, and write effectively.
The Tools of Argument: How the Best Lawyers Think, Argue, and Win is a highly readable 200-page book, available for about $10 in paperback or e-book. Chapters focus on foundational principles in legal argument: procedure, interpretation of contracts and statutes, use of evidence, and more. The material covered is taught only implicitly in law school. Yet, when up-and-coming attorneys master these straightforward tools, they will think and argue like the best lawyers.
For most attorneys, time spent managing the books is a necessary evil at best. Yet it is undeniably a crucial aspect of running a successful practice. With that in mind, we invite you to view or download a free webinar by Above the Law and our friends at Clio to learn how to better manage your finances.
Take this opportunity to learn what it takes to streamline your accounting and get the most out of your time. The webinar agenda:
● The basics of accounting for lawyers.
● How legal accounting differs from regular accounting.
● Report and reconciliation issues surrounding trust accounts.
● How to pick and integrate the best accounting tools for your practice.
● Steps to prepare your tax return for your firm’s income.
Do not miss this crucial chance to optimize your accounting practices. Save time and get back to billing!
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
Please note that Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney are still in Hong Kong and will stay FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS WEEK. We still have a handful of available slots for meetings with our Asia Chronicles fans. If we have not been in touch lately, reach out and let us know when we could meet! There is no need for an agenda at all. Most of our in-person meetings on these trips are with folks who understand that improving a legal practice through lateral hiring is an information-driven process that takes time to handle correctly.
Regarding trends in lateral US associate hiring in Hong Kong, we of course keep much of what we know off of this blog. Based on placement revenue, though, Kinney is having one of our most successful years ever in Asia. We are helping a number of our law firm clients with M&A, fund formation, cap markets, project finance, FCPA and disputes openings. These are very specific needs in many cases, so a conversation with us before jumping in may be helpful. As always, we like to be sure to get the maximum number of interviews per submission, using a well-informed, highly targeted, and selective approach, taking into account short, medium and long-term career aims.
Making a well informed decision during a job search is easier said than done – the information we provide comes from 10 years of being the market leader in US attorney placements at the top tier firms in Asia. There is no substitute for having known a hiring partner since he/she was an associate or for having helped a partner grow his or her practice from zip to zooming, and this is happily where we stand today – with years of background information on just about every relevant person in all the markets we serve, and most especially in Hong Kong/China/Greater Asia. So get in touch and get a download from us this week if we can fit it in, or soon in any case!