Career Advice

I recently met a young-ish female in-house counsel. She was a Biglaw refugee, married with an eye to starting a family, who had jumped at the chance to go in-house rather than submit to the particular pleasures of the partnership push. We got to talking, and while my instinct told me to go into sell mode, I decided to play things more coolly. A lot of active listening on my part ensued, as I was subjected to various and sundry complaints about life as a female Biglaw associate, followed by a discourse on how much better in-house life was. I kept the conversation light, injecting some shots at Biglaw (these met with laughter and approval), while letting her do most of the talking. I was consciously avoiding acting like a Biglaw partner, or showing any interest in her because of her status as potential client.

Things became interesting when she started discussing her dissatisfaction with her current outside counsel. Various and sundry became a litany, as she complained about the male partner’s inattention to her, the sloppy work of the female associate she was dealing with, and the size of the bills. Most importantly, she complained of feeling unappreciated by the Biglaw firm she was using — and suspected that the lawyers working for her actually hated her. She did not want to feel hated. I can’t blame her — nor would I be shocked if she switched firms in the near future.

We eventually parted ways, but like a good Biglaw partner, I followed up with an email and my contact info. The email differed from what I would send a male in-house counsel after an introductory meeting. My email to the in-house lawyer was much less formal, and was actually jokey — but I wanted to stick with what was apparently working in terms of getting her to open up to me. It worked, as she replied right away with a joke of her own, and warm acknowledgement of how it was good to meet. Looking good — until I decided to experiment with something….

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Releasing a book may not bring you fame or fortune, but it surely brings you interesting e-mails. I devoted last Thursday’s column to an e-mail I received from a reader of the Inside Straight book asking whether law firms undervalue good lawyering. I’m devoting this column to an e-mailed reaction posing a different question: Must a lawyer specialize if he or she hopes to develop business effectively?

My correspondent (who again is a partner at an Am Law 100 firm and again gave me permission to edit and reproduce his or her words anonymously) wrote: “Your case study of how you developed a pharmaceutical product liability practice (when you worked at a big firm) says as much by implication as it does expressly. You’re implicitly asserting that one develops business more effectively by showing that you’re a specialist in a field the client needs rather than saying that you have a fungible skill. But I suspect that your true value as a lawyer was largely unrelated to your business development pitch in which you pretended that you were a specialist.

“Ultimately, what you brought to the table in private practice wasn’t a nearly 30-year career in pharmaceutical products law. You brought a vast wealth of experience gleaned from cases that had nothing to do with the area of law that, at a particular time, happened to govern specific cases.

“It pains me that lawyers feel compelled to become specialists — or, at a minimum, to pretend that they’re specialists — if they want to develop business . . . . ”

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Fair is fair: I wrote last week about “what drives partners nuts.” Having armed associates with the ammunition needed to drive partners crazy, it’s only right that I arm partners with ways to drive associates nuts. (I realize that many partners are quite good at this even without my help, but I figure a stray few could use some guidance.)

Come on, partners, how can you drive associates nuts?

First: Give associates disembodied projects!

If you wanted someone actually to be interested in a project, you’d tell that person what the project was about. You’d explain what the transaction entails, what the client needs, and the critical issues likely to arise. In litigation matters, you’d explain who’s suing whom for what, the path the case is taking, the client’s main concerns, and the likely endgame. That would put a person’s brain in gear, and the person might actually care about his or her work.

So don’t do it!

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So you like being an M&A (mergers and acquisitions) lawyer. Wonder if M&A work is different in-house compared to private practice? It’s just slightly different. Like maybe about 90% slightly different.

If you’re an M&A lawyer at a firm, your main responsibilities on a deal will be to draft the purchase agreement and other documents, actually review all of the due diligence on the company to be acquired, advise on and negotiate various legal issues, and keep track of everything that needs to be signed, filed, and otherwise happen from a legal standpoint to “close the deal.” The other primary value that outside M&A counsel provide is to inform on what’s standard and market in M&A deals and arrangements. This all sounds like a lot. And it is.

But because the tasks required of outside counsel are pretty much “pure legal” items, they’re a fraction of the amount of work that needs to be done by the in-house M&A attorney, who gets to manage all of the above, plus much of the non- or pseudo-legal stuff that the rest of the company actually cares about…

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Tom Wallerstein

Associates in both Biglaw and small should give some thought as to who is their most important client. Some might think that their most important client is their biggest or most prestigious one, or the one whose matter has the most at stake. This week at Morrison & Foerster and Quinn Emanuel, yearning associates might name Apple and Samsung, respectively.

Other associates might take a longer view, and answer that their most important client is the one with the greatest potential to offer them future business.

Still others might select the client for whom the associate has the most responsibility. For example, if you are one of three or four associates on several matters, but the primary or sole associate on another, you may view that latter client as your most important.

All these associates would be making a mistake by not understanding who is truly their most important client….

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As Staci observed earlier this week, if law students took data into account, we’d be living in a different world. Today, in the interest of moving a bit closer to that sunnier, happier planet, we launch the latest component of our Career Center: The ATL Law School Directory.

There’s been no small amount of discussion around here regarding the disconnect between the career and salary expectations of incoming law students and the majority of their post-graduation realities. Yet we are continually reminded that most 0L “research” consists of blind adherence to a single, arguably dubious data point, and nothing else.

However, there is reason to believe that some would-be law students are doing their due diligence and turning into won’t-be law students, but still, there continue to be of a hell of a lot of applicants at all levels, from “prestige whores” to “low hanging fruit.” Clearly, while we’ve no agenda aimed at discouraging folks from applying to law school per se, we do oppose uninformed and under-researched decisions to do so. The Law School Directory is an indispensable resource for aspiring law students willing to do their homework. (Which, based on some strong anecdotal evidence, we understand is a characteristic of successful actual law students.)

The ATL Law School Directory is to 0L-relevant data and information what the Ronco Veg-O-Matic is to vegetables (It Slices! It Dices!). You can sort law schools by a wide array of analyzing variables: employment outcomes, admissions criteria, top law firm employers, and much more, including the the results of our ongoing ATL Insider Survey, where current students and alumni rate the major aspects of the law school experience, from academics to social life.

So which are the best schools for Biglaw placement? Public interest placement? Clinical training? The Directory has the answers. After the jump, check out a sampling of our ratings tables, including the list of schools which are tops at losing track of their own alumni….

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Last year, one of my columns explained how I went about developing a new practice at a large law firm. Now that ABA Publishing has repackaged some of my old columns as a book, I’m hearing new reactions to some of those older columns. One of my recent correspondents — a partner at an AmLaw 100 firm — raised a good issue about my column on business development. He gave me permission to crib from (and slightly revise) his long e-mail (without attribution to him), so that’s what I’m doing here:

“In your case study of business development, you ask whether the business development game is worth the candle. But you seem to presuppose that the game is really worth playing in the first place. My problem isn’t with the premise that if you want to develop business you must work hard at it and be lucky. My problem is with the assumption that the only goal worth achieving in law is success in business development. I think you are correct in saying that law firms under-appreciate business development efforts and over-appreciate business development successes. But I think they over-appreciate both compared to good lawyering . . .

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If you talk to recruiters, they’ll tell you that lawyers are terrible networkers. There just seems to be something about the personality of lawyers that makes them either afraid to strike up conversations with contacts or unable to proceed like normal humans when they do.

Some people I’ve talked to suspect that the problem comes from legal training: the adversarial nature of law makes people look at networking as a zero sum game instead of a mutually beneficial relationship.

I think there’s also something to be said about the way this generation communicates. If they send you an email or a text, they expect a response, immediately. If you don’t respond, that must mean you didn’t receive the message. So they either don’t follow up, or resort to networking by badgering.

I’ll tell you one thing, though — “badgering” won’t get you anywhere with the administration at Yale Law School. That’s a lesson a prospective student learned the hard way…

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Would that it were easy for women to dress professionally without being critiqued on every aspect of their ensemble. If that were the case, then we wouldn’t have so much to write about when it comes to the intersection of fashion and women’s issues. From hairstyle to hemline to heel height, women are constantly bombarded with differing opinions as to what’s acceptable to wear in the workplace.

With on-campus interviewing season right around the corner, you’ll need to look and act the part. The hour has drawn nigh for some tips that will allow our female readers to maintain a stylish appearance from a day in the office to a night out, all at the click of a button. Because fashion should be a piece of cake, even for lawyerly ladies who are too busy to shop….

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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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