Career Advice

Lat here. Not long ago, Elie and I debated the merits of Harvard Law versus Yale Law, in response to a request for advice from a prospective law student lucky enough to be choosing between HLS and YLS. Then we opened up a reader poll, in which about 60 percent of you urged the 0L in question to go to Yale.

As we move deeper into spring, more aspiring law students will have to make up their minds about matriculation destinations. Today we’ll look at the case of a student who’s choosing between a trio of very fine schools: Georgetown University Law Center, the University of Texas School of Law, and UCLA School of Law.

Let’s hear him out, weigh the competing factors, and vote….

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I occasionally take advantage of my little megaphone here at Above the Law to vent about poor quality drafts. When I do, “commenters” or correspondents routinely suggest that I’m tilting at windmills: “If you receive a poor quality draft, send it back to the person who wrote it, and tell that person to make it better. There’s no reason why you, Mark, should be saddled with improving the thing.”

Wrong, wrong, and wrong again!

I’m absolutely saddled with improving the thing. It often makes no sense at all to return a bad draft to the author and ask for a better draft. In fact, I submit that there are only two situations in which it does make sense to ask the original author to improve a draft . . .

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Someone in the company is going rogue: The person proposes to do something brazenly illegal, or slightly illegal, or perfectly legal but sufficiently immoral that the conduct would turn any reasonable person’s stomach. The rogue is not listening to logic. The person is ignoring everything that your local in-house lawyer is saying.

When the local lawyer calls the headquarters law department for help, these are the words that headquarters must be able to speak: “Local lawyer, you win. This is not a close call; we should not be doing this. In this situation, I guarantee you that you hold the trump card. Who do you need to make a call to solve your problem? The general counsel? The chief financial officer? The CEO? Someone else? We will cause that call to be made in a heartbeat. What do you need?”

Is that what people mean when they talk about “tone at the top”?

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Tom Wallerstein

There comes a time in all associates’ careers when they stop and do the math. They think about their salary, bonus, and benefits. They think about their billable hours. They multiply their billable hours by their billable rate and suddenly they think, hey, WAITAMINUTE. My firm makes three four five times what it pays me!

Like any other salaried employee, the more hours an associate works, the less they make per hour, bonuses notwithstanding. They might not mind so much if they’re also bucking for promotion, i.e., up for partner. Regardless, at some point, every associate thinks, “if only I were paid as much per hour as I bill per hour . . . .”

That moment for me was the epiphany that ultimately led to helping form my own firm. But since that time, I’ve also been able to see the other side of the fence, so to speak. There are a lot of reasons — some obvious, and some less so — why the math isn’t quite as simple as it seems….

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Yale Law v. Harvard Law: a first-world problem.

Lat here. It’s March, so you know what that means: prospective law students, those wise or foolish people who have decided to ignore the warnings of law school’s many critics, are deciding where to matriculate. And they want our — and your — advice.

Last year, my colleague Elie Mystal offered advice to 0Ls who were considering such schools as Columbia, Chicago, NYU, Michigan, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Illinois, and Minnesota. In case you missed the post, you can check it out here.

This year, Elie and I are going to offer conflicting advice — yes, it’s an ATL Debate — to a future law student with a real high-class problem. He’s choosing between Yale Law School and Harvard Law School.

Grab yourself a drink, make yourself some popcorn, and sit back, as Elie and I argue against our respective alma maters. And then, at the end, cast your vote in our reader poll….

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And so last week I wrote about mentors, questioning whether today’s young lawyers considered them crucial to professional and personal development. I questioned whether the high calling of being a lawyer has today been reduced solely to a desire for cash, and as such, nothing more than the hope to be “first” on Google and have a “game changing” web presence.

Which brings me to what you can call “Part II” of last week’s mentoring post, and an example of a lawyer to emulate.

There are certain lawyers that bring to mind a one- or two-word description. David Boies — Bush / Gore, Morris Dees — Civil Rights, Clarence Darrow — Criminal Defense, and when I hear “First Amendment,” I think Marc Randazza.

When I hear “first page of Google,” I can’t name one lawyer, and if I can, it’s not a lawyer that matters, except maybe to a bunch of lawyers looking to be the next internet sensation. Being an internet sensation as a lawyer is no different than having been a yellow pages sensation in the previous generation. Ever seen an obituary of a lawyer that said: “She was respected for her two-page, multicolored ads that were placed ahead of all other lawyers in the yellow pages”?

Marc Randazza isn’t an internet sensation. He’s only got about 275 followers on Twitter (and is therefore clearly on his way out of the profession if you ask any social media expert), but Marc Randazza matters.

Would you like to matter in this profession? Will you ever do anything important — anything that causes others to think of you as “that” lawyer for “that” type of case or issue? Or are you just hoping to win that stupid lawsuit against your law school for forcing you to go there because they promised you a job? Or maybe you’ve just bought in to the lie that to survive as a lawyer, you must vomit all over the internet with whatever your marketer tells you is the latest trick to game Google?

And before the commentariat’s collective head explodes, yes, Marc Randazza is my lawyer. I’m in the group currently being sued by Joseph Rakofsky….

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When you work as a litigator at a law firm, you know your cases. You know who said what to whom when. You know the recipients and dates of the critical emails. You know the precise terms of the contracts. You know what the opposing expert said at his deposition and how you’re going to attack him at trial.

In short, you know stuff.

When you move in-house — or, at a minimum, to certain in-house positions — those days may vanish. You may never know — really know — anything again.

The little cases may become barely a rumor: The employee was entitled to five weeks severance; he hired a lawyer and filed a lawsuit; we want authority to settle for ten weeks severance. You may kick the tires on the case for a few minutes, but that’s it. If you crave to know who said what to whom when, then you’re in the wrong job.

I feel a bit irresponsible having written those words, because they imply — indeed, they say — that folks in positions such as mine are doing their jobs without full knowledge. To many lawyers, that’s the ultimate sin. Yet in-house lawyers consistently say that a big piece of the transition from a firm to a corporation is learning to make decisions and take actions based on incomplete facts. (One of my colleagues recently said that he suffers from “in-house ADD.”)

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Over the past few weeks, the ugly truth about the generational gap between those who claim the moniker of “Gen Y lawyer” and, well, everyone else, has been raging through the blogosphere. While younger generations have always looked at their elders as “stupid,” and not worthy of listening to, it has never been as much a part of the legal profession as it is now. The Gen Y cheerleading squad of lawyers and their marketers believe there actually is a “revolution” in the legal profession and that if those who have come before don’t get with it and move their practices to the iPad, they (we) will go the way of the dinosaur.

They also think their elders want them to fail, are scared of them stealing clients, and only offer criticism for these reasons. I hate to break it to you kids, but I want you to succeed, and my clients aren’t hiring you. They’re not hiring your website or your Facebook Fan Page. Really, they’re not…

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'Find someone else to draft your asset purchase agreement. I'm too busy smoking this pipe.'

That’s the provocative question bouncing around the legal blogosphere these days. It was raised last week by Vivia Chen of the Careerist, then picked up by Professor William Henderson on the Legal Whiteboard, and now it’s the top story on the ABA Journal.

There’s actually some data driving this discussion. According to Chen, citing research by Professor Henderson, graduates of Loyola University Chicago School of Law are six times more likely to make partner at a major law firm than graduates of the higher-ranked University of Chicago Law School, located just a few miles to the south. It seems that even though Chicago Law grads may have an easier time breaking into Biglaw than their Loyola – Chicago counterparts, the Loyola folks who do make it in the door tend to have longer-lasting law firm careers.

Let’s not pick on U. Chicago. There are other elite law schools with even higher Biglaw “washout” rates….

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I recently heard a horror story from an in-house lawyer at another corporation. This may not sound like a horror story to someone who works at a law firm, but if you reflect for a minute, you’ll see the birds gathering on the monkey bars in the background.

Three people — one from finance; one from a business unit; and our hero, the lawyer — were speaking on a panel to a couple hundred people in a business unit. The business-unit panelist said something outrageous and brazenly illegal to the assembled group. Assume it was something like, “As you know, we simply ignore that law,” or, “It’s easier to raise prices if we just conspire with the competition.” You get my drift.

Our hero, the lawyer, involuntarily gasped into his (or her) microphone, “My God, Smith, you can’t say that! How many times do I have to tell you?”

Smith looked over, thought for a minute, and said to the assembled crowd: “That’s just Legal.”

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