Career Advice

I recently participated in a podcast for the ABA Journal on the subject of what drives partners nuts. (Here’s a link to where previous podcasts can be found. The session in which I participated won’t be posted until September 10.)

Because the podcast was supposed to analyze “what drives partners nuts,” I naturally prepared a list of things that drive partners nuts. But when we taped this session, the conversation veered away from its original focus and covered other subjects instead. That leaves me with a list of the things that drive law firm partners nuts — perfect material for a blog post! And, because this column often focuses on life as an in-house lawyer, I’ll throw in an added bonus: the in-house analogues to the things that drive partners nuts.

How can an associate drive a law firm partner nuts? Let me count my top three ways . . .

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Last week, I wrote about how gossiping at the office can indicate that you’re in dire need of soft skills training or may be a pathetic, passive-aggressive coward. Or, more likely, both. After I submitted the post to ATL, David Lat (aka The Legal Gossipmonger Grandmaster) reminded me that hey, gossip can be positive too! The Grandmaster was absolutely right, of course, as my article had really only focused on the type of gossip where people whine and complain about their coworkers.

I thought, hmm, true — gossiping at work can definitely have a positive impact on you if you’re gaining information that will be useful to you on the job. Like finding out about which IT dude won’t treat you like the complete tech idiot that you are. Thanks to one of the commenters, I decided to dig a little further into what some of the other positive effects of gossip could be. And I was surprised by what I learned….

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This guy isn't a slacker; he's just not wasting his time with law school.

Elie here. Lat and I have debated in these pages about whether or not certain students should drop out of law school. Dropping out has a stark finality to it. And then people call you a “dropout” like your name is Frenchie.

Today we have a more subtle question: should a rising 2L take a year off? He doesn’t have a job or any prospects or anything, but the kid wants to know if hitting the “pause” button on his legal career will do him any good.

Let’s break this down. And don’t forget to take our poll and add your own advice, in the comments….

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Ed. note: This is a continuation of last week’s post by in-house columnist David Mowry, True Confessions (Part I).

I decided that it was somehow a good idea to live apart from my (pregnant) wife and 3-year-old son for about a year. I needed a job. I was scared and desperate, my clerkship was ending, and I had no prospects in D.C. or New York. So, I headed to Rochester.

At first, it was great to have law firm money coming in, and my salary and relative short distance from Rochester to Maryland allowed me to either drive or fly down to BWI on the weekends. But soon, the rigors and expectations of moving from junior to senior litigation associate began to make such trips difficult, and always stressful. This was when Citrix connections and Wi-Fi were in their infancy, and of course our house was just in a valley deep enough to cause problems with me connecting.

Stress soon turned potent as the pending birth of our second son was timed to occur with the due dates of several motions and depositions, etc. The Rochester partner for whom I was doing a majority of my work was not pleased that I took time to be in D.C. waiting for the baby to be born. The situation took a toll on me, my wife, and our son.

On the day of my wife’s labor, D.C. experienced the backlash of an East Coast hurricane, and a storm was brewing with my lawyer gig as well. Things were coming due, communication with the home office was difficult at best, and my work was suffering; I was suffering. I still have the emails that came to me in the delivery room and during recovery. I was torn between being present with my wife during this most important time, and trying to please the boss(es) in Rochester.

A mere two weeks after my son was born, we were caravanning to our new house upstate. Oh yes, I failed to mention that I was house hunting up until the date I traveled to D.C. to be with my wife while we awaited the due date. It was more than enough to break me….

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So, OMG you seriously haven’t heard that Brittany likes Mark, but Mark likes Claire even though he’s flirting with Brittany? Yeah, Mark — the guy who’s so dumb that the last time he cheated on a test he still failed… I know right, he’s so hot!

High school gossip can cover many aspects of life. Sometimes the chatter is about school and tests. Sometimes it’s about who got invited to the cool parties and got sick on the street later. But most often, it’s about juicy dish. (Kind of like ATL, pimply puberty-style, except… hmm, never mind, it’s just like ATL.)

In-house gossip is thoroughly less satisfying. It’s more about who ticked off whom a couple of years ago, who’s slacking off and getting away with it when the rest of us can’t, and who could vie for the gold if kissing up to senior executives were an Olympic event. The juicy stuff that I used to get wind of once in a while from law firm peers seems rare in an in-house setting. Little did I realize that I was giving up such a quality of life factor when taking this job. People really need to give you a heads up about these things.

Seriously though, kids who gossip in high school are immature. But, well, that’s just about everybody in high school, so it’s all good. (The mature ones are the weirdos — avoid them like the plague, high school kiddies.) Gossiping at work, however, is viewed as less acceptable and is instead indicative of needed soft skills improvement…

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Tom Wallerstein

For attorneys starting their own firms, one of the more difficult things to learn is how much time to spend on a prospective client. Attorneys take various approaches. Some attorneys say, reasonably enough, I don’t work for free, and will do little more than quote their rates. Attorneys who employ mass marketing will offer a “free consultation,” but that generally amounts to little more than a way to encourage unsophisticated clients to call them as opposed to someone else.

If your business model depends on high volume of a particular type of case, it probably doesn’t make sense to devote too much effort to soliciting any one particular client. But if you are pursuing fewer, higher-stakes or more complex matters, then you very well could struggle with how to strike the proper balance….

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At law firms, you only occasionally hear people criticizing lawyers for not “being proactive.” Maybe that’s the nature of the beast: When you’re a litigator at a firm, you’re always considering what moves to make, anticipating the other side’s responses, and planning several moves ahead. Being proactive is the name of the game.

But I often hear in-house lawyers either being criticized (or criticizing others) for not being sufficiently proactive. How can you prove to the world that you’re proactive?

There are two parts to this puzzle: First, you can create the illusion of proactivity. This takes no effort at all, and it will impress people. Do it! Second, you could actually be proactive. This takes a little effort; I’ll leave it to you to decide whether the game is worth the candle. But at least consider being proactive; you might enjoy it, and it might be good for your career . . . .

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* A great, great piece by Kashmir Hill on what happens to your Facebook data when you are suspected of murder. [Not So Private Parts / Forbes]

* 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]

* Apple and Samsung: they kind of need each other to bring balance to the force. And don’t forget to check out Chris Danzig’s Twitter feed for more trial updates. [iDownloadBlog]

* What does one Jones Day hiring partner think interviewees should never do at lunch? Check out his interview on Bloomberg Law below…

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I want you to digest that headline for a moment. This weekend, a rising 2L is going to share his “system” for succeeding in law school, a system he honed — for a whole year — at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. The kid is trying to charge people money to attend his seminar.

Oh, but he was really good at law school. He was able to transfer out of TJLS to George Washington University Law School. He starts there in this fall. Success!

Actually, let me give you the full, prestigious biography he posted to Top Law Schools. We’ve also got video footage of the guy, providing “The 21st Century Approach” to succeeding in law school.

That approach, by the way, doesn’t involve books…

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I have Irish Alzheimer’s; I forget everything but my grudges. As I read about the latest round of bar study and exams, I think back on my job interviews over the years. I cannot shake the remembrances of some of my more outstanding successes and failures.

There was the major domo partner at an unnamed firm (located in the Battery which had a really salacious sex harassment fiasco some time ago) who looked at the title of my journal piece and stated, “You know, there’s no such word as ‘normalization.’” Now, I could have informed this pompous ass that maybe in the Kissinger era there was no such word, but, I wanted a gig. So, I put the tail between my legs and meekly said that I would have to look into that.

There was an associate from a since disappointingly merged firm from Midtown who “took a call” during our OCI, hung up, and informed me that he’d just closed a multi-million dollar deal. I was totally unprepared for dealing with such a tool, but again, I wanted a gig. So, I said something to the effect of “congratulations.”

Finally, there was the bow-tie wearing fop with shoulder length hair from the firm with four names, who cradled his fingers under his dimpled chin, shook his mane and said, “Why would XXXX want to hire you?” Unprepared to deal with such an insipid question, I came up with an equally insipid answer.

And just so I don’t let the in-house interviewers off the hook, there were some real winners in my last search. Since I am heavily involved in the ACC and other ventures, however, it’s best not to describe anecdotes. Let’s just say that, contrary to the viral videos, it does not “always get better”…

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