Career Advice

Ed. note: Lat here. This post is by lawyer turned novelist Allison Leotta, whom I previously profiled. I recently read Leotta’s newest book, Discretion, which I highly recommend. Not only is it a gripping thriller, but it’s legally realistic too, reflecting Leotta’s experience as a federal prosecutor and her research into the escort business.

As a former sex-crimes prosecutor who just wrote a novel about the escort business, I keep getting the same question from my Biglaw buddies: “I already feel like a high-end prostitute. Shouldn’t I get paid like one?”

It’s an old saw that lawyers are already prostitutes. Face it, we care deeply for our clients because we’re paid to care about them. If we’re good, we start by convincing ourselves that the side of the legal dispute we more or less randomly ended up on happens to be the right side. You think a hooker’s job is that different? Forget it. The infamous D.C. Madam — an inspiration for my latest book, Discretion (affiliate link) — was a woman who dropped out of law school and opened an escort agency.

You’re good-looking, you like people, you know how to bill by the hour — you could totally do this. But is being a high-class escort really a better job than the one you’ve got now? The answer will be familiar to every memo-writing associate: It depends. Before you go trading in those Christian Louboutins for five-inch-stilettos, check out these side-to-side comparisons of the trades….

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Life in a service profession — there’s nothing to it!

When you’re asked to do something, think about how you can make the other guy’s life as easy as humanly possible. Then, do precisely that. Presto! You’re a star!

When a client asks you to do something, do it. On time and right.

When a partner asks you to do something, do it. On time and right.

“On time” is typically pretty easy to understand: That means “on or before the established deadline.”

“Right” is slightly trickier: It certainly means, at a minimum, “done to the absolute best of your ability.” (There’s a chance that “the absolute best of your ability” won’t make the grade. That’s an individualized issue, not capable of being resolved in a blog post. But it’s a lock-cinch that you won’t make the grade by “submitting a crappy first effort, riddled with incomplete research, barely literate, and filled with typographical and grammatical errors, because all I’m really trying to do is get the client/partner off my back.”)

Now I’ve moved in-house, and life in an in-house service profession is just like life at a firm — there’s nothing to it! . . .

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As careful readers of this column know, my daughter just started business school in Chicago. (As particularly careful readers may have deduced, Jessica moved to Chicago just as I was being transferred to London. The kid inherited the finest dorm room in the history of The University of Chicago.)

What’s the first thing you do at business school — before classes start, before orientation, before anything?

Draft your résumé. And then give it to an advisor who helps you polish the thing. And then go through several more iterations before you submit the final form to “the first of three résumé books,” as Jessica’s email explained, although I don’t quite understand what the words mean.

(Unless times have changed in the last 30 years, law schools are not nearly as aggressive as business schools in immediately preparing students for the job market. Perhaps that’s an institutional failing. Or perhaps law school runs for three years, so students have two summers available for internships, while business school lasts just two years, which places heightened importance on the recruiting season in the fall of year one — before students have finished a single course.)

Jessica asked me to take a look at the original form of her résumé, which she prepared, and she later sent me (for the customary Dadly-proofreading) the final version — which was much, much better.

I haven’t prepared a résumé for myself in more than two decades, and, mercifully, I’m forced to look at relatively few résumés these days. But I learned a few things from watching my daughter’s résumé pass through the belly of The University of Chicago beast. And this experience prompted me to think about the difference between preparing a résumé when you work at a law firm compared to preparing one when you work in-house . . . .

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Are you thinking about going to law school — and being encouraged to go, or even pressured to go, by your parents? Let’s start with the probably reasonable premise that your parents want the best for you. (Sure, your parents might be sociopaths who are trying to destroy your life, but why would you listen to them at all, if that’s the case?)

Not infrequently, the parental conception of “what’s best for you” involves a stint in law school. If you don’t want to go, how can you convince your parents that law school is a terrible, awful, very bad idea?

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Back in April, we brought you a story about a family who had written to Dear Abby, an advice columnist, about their child’s law school loan debt. Apparently the mere thought of assisting their darling daughter with the repayment of her $100,000+ debt load was just too much to bear. The daughter had already ruined her own life, so why should they ruin theirs too? And yet, tens of thousands of students are still willing to look this student loan debt problem in the face and laugh.

Yes, in a time where the Executive Director of the National Association for Law Placement is forced to write entire columns about the fact that there is no conceivable way he could describe the current entry-level job market as “good,” others are still considering applying to law school.

For example, today we found out that the matriarch of another family sought wisdom from an advice columnist as to whether her husband should go to law school. How did she respond? Let’s just say Dear Prudence is a little more in tune with the realities of today’s legal job market than Dear Abby will ever be….

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For many Biglaw firms, by the time mid-October rolls around, year-end activities are already gaining momentum. Planning for collection drives, a push to get potential laterals interviewed, and financial performance numbers-crunching are all usually well under way. Biglaw’s increasingly centralized administration and management means that most partners are spared from any involvement in those activities. Your typical partner may get an update email or two, or hear about the gear-up for year-end at a partner’s meeting, but that’s it.

But every partner is asked to play the review game. Every year. For everyone from assistants, to paralegals, to associates, to even fellow partners sometimes. And some partners are subjected to 360-degree reviews from their charges. I have a hard time seeing the value of those.

The whole process is thankless, time consuming, and generally useless. It is more akin to “security theater” at the airport than an actual system for providing effective feedback and incentives to Biglaw participants….

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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.

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Hello readers! This post marks the one-year anniversary of my writing for Above The Law. **Hooray!** Whew, okay, now that all of that crazy excitement is over with, let’s move on.

Every once in a while, I meet people who ask whether there’s any value in doing a clerkship if they would eventually like to practice transactional law in-house. Like a dutiful little blogger, I consulted with several senior in-house attorneys on their thoughts about whether a clerkship is valuable for an in-house transactional practice.

The lawyers I consulted who hadn’t clerked generally saw little to no value in a clerkship with respect to an in-house transactional practice. Why spend an entire year of effort on something that’s not going to be directly applicable to your practice (and, by the way, pays diddlysquat), when you could be getting firsthand experience drafting contracts and working on deals on Day 1? Plus, it’s not like businesspeople have a clue what the difference is between a law clerk and, you know… a rock.

The attorneys who had clerked, on the other hand, saw many potential benefits….

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[D]on’t make a bad situation worse by doubling down on useless degrees. As I argue, going to the average law school at full price because you can’t get a job with your English degree is like having a baby to try to salvage a crumbling relationship.

– Professor Paul Campos of the University of Colorado Law School, in an interview with Megan McArdle of the Daily Beast.

(Campos, our reigning Lawyer of the Year, has a new book out entitled Don’t Go To Law School (Unless): A Law Professor’s Inside Guide to Maximizing Opportunity and Minimizing Risk (affiliate link).)

How to drive partners nuts. How to drive associates nuts. How to drive your boss nuts. How to drive clients nuts.

What’s left? Today’s topic: How to drive outside counsel nuts.

I’d say that I’ve been thinking long and hard about this subject to permit me to draft this column, but that wouldn’t be true. I’m a natural at this!

How do you drive outside counsel nuts?

First: Insist that outside counsel prepare a budget for every matter. Then complain that the budget is too high; tell counsel to reduce it. Complain that your business will never accept even the revised budget, and tell counsel to cut the estimate further. When you get the second revision, gin up some reason why even that’s too high, and have counsel cut the budget again.

Six months later, when counsel has blown through the budget, refuse to pay the bill! “You told me you could handle this case for damn near nothing. And now you want all this money? This is far more than what you budgeted. There’s no way we’re paying this!”

See? I told you that I was a natural. And I’m just getting warmed up . . . .

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