Career Advice

Ed. note: This is the ninth installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Desiree Moore gives some practical advice to new associates on delivering work product to their supervising attorneys.

As a new lawyer, you will be expected to deliver assignments in a variety of ways. For example, you may be asked to do an oral presentation of the results of your assigned research, provide a “marked up” copy of a case or statute or contract for the assigning attorney, or create written work product. In all instances, be sure you are clear at the outset when you receive the assignment as to how you will be expected to deliver it. Listen carefully, take notes, and be sure to remit your work exactly as expected.

Where an assignment calls for written work product, think carefully about how you will deliver it. The ideal method of delivery is to hand a hard copy of the assignment to the assigning attorney in person, and offer to follow up with an electronic copy of the assignment for his or her files.

However, if you are unable to connect with the assigning attorney in person, as is often the case, follow these five steps to ensure he or she receives the assignment in a manner that is both convenient and helpful.

Read more at the ATL Career Center….

Tom Wallerstein

One of my favorite recurring columns on Above the Law is the “Departure Memo of the Day.” Elie Mystal hit a nerve last week when he published a particularly depressing departure memo from a harried mother at Clifford Chance who was struggling, unsuccessfully, to balance the demands of parenthood and Biglaw. The departure memo lit up Twitter and even the Huffington Post decided to weigh in.

At many Biglaw firms, departure memos have become an ingrained part of the culture. Why are departure memos so ubiquitous, especially in Biglaw? The New York Times put it best:

“The ‘departure memo’ is a fixture at many large employers, and nowhere more so than at big law firms. Departures, particularly of young associates, are built into the business model. Not everyone is supposed to stay, and many never planned to stay, so leaving is often celebrated. Many of the ‘Departure Memos of the Day’ published on Above the Law fall into that category. Excitement at the next opportunity, and a little bit of glee at leaving, is completely acceptable, as is a little thumbing of the nose at the firm. Creativity isn’t unusual.”

The Clifford Chance departure memo struck a chord with many lawyers because it openly grappled with the struggle for work/life balance so familiar to so many of us. But it also raises bigger issues regarding the purpose intended by such missives….

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Ed. note: This is the seventh installment in a 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.

When you start out in any professional career, you will probably soon have someone to help you do your job, such as a paralegal, a secretary, or other assistant. Having that assistant can make your life easier, and help you do a better job — especially if you know how best to work with your new assistant. Here are some suggestions for working with any assistant, but particularly a secretary or a paralegal. Many but not all of these suggestions also apply to working with junior associates or other professionals who report to you.

A. Clear Instructions.
Your assistant doesn’t know what’s in your head. You have to tell them, at least until you’ve worked together long enough that your assistant develops a good sense of what you need done and how you like it done. Until that happens, make your instructions as clear as possible. Think about where things might go wrong, where your instructions might get misinterpreted. What steps did you forget to mention? Prevent problems by foreseeing them. Even if you can legitimately say the problem was “someone else’s fault,” it’s better if you can prevent the problem through foresight and by taking even more care than you might strictly think necessary. And make sure you define the project you want your assistant to complete. Don’t leave them guessing. What exactly do you expect them to accomplish, beyond “please take care of this”? What’s the “deliverable”?

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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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