Career Advice

Two years ago, my company had to hire a lawyer to serve as our head of litigation for EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa). We weren’t using a recruiter, so we had to locate candidates the old-fashioned way — by putting the word out. I called one of my former partners (a 60-ish corporate partner, who did a lot of work with European clients) and asked if he could spread the word in Europe that we had a position open. He startled me:

“You don’t have to do a job search. I’ll do that job for you.”

“Excuse me,” I stammered. “You do M&A work. You speak only English. You’ve never litigated in a common law country, let alone a civil law one. How could that job possibly make any sense for you?”

“Managing litigation isn’t very hard. It’s really a matter of knowing how to handle the outside lawyers. And given all the time I’ve spent doing deals in Europe, I have that skill down cold. Let me be your head of litigation for EMEA.”

I had forgotten entirely about that conversation until I had lunch last week with a 40-ish litigator at a different Vault 20 firm. He, too, didn’t understand that corporations are different from law firms; at corporations, the specifics of your work experience matter . . .

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As regular readers of this column know, my son, Jeremy, took a pass on law school: “I really love you, Dad. But basically you help big companies that did it get off the hook.”

Now, if I mention to physician-friends that my son’s in medical school, those friends often react the same way: “God love him; I hope he enjoys it. But I’d never go to medical school these days. Between the insurance companies, the hospital administrators, and the government, there’s no longer any joy in practicing medicine. It’s hard to treat your patients, and it’s hard to make a living. I suspect that things will only get worse over time. I loved being a doctor, but I sure wouldn’t want to be coming out of medical school today.”

I guess that means that today’s college graduates should think hard before deciding to go to medical school. Cross medicine off the list of desirable career choices.

And everyone in the legal profession knows the story about law . . .

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Last week’s column caused a bit an uproar at my attempt to analyze the recent JP Morgan loss of funds from an in-house perspective. I later posted the following in the comments section, and since most of you don’t venture down there (wisely), I am reprinting it here:

“I will take the heat for a column that should have flowed better from factual assertions to analysis. I take the point that attorneys may not have been at fault, and I should have made that point with more clarity in the column. I also should have been more clear in laying out a linear argument from the facts reported in the media. The point I was going for, however inartfully, is that this trade was likely reviewed by someone in a legal capacity prior to approval, and that review should have caused someone pause. Dimon himself admitted that this was a strategy examined by him and management over a month before being executed. [I] [a]gree that the risk analysis was likely not performed by attorney(s), but it doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to presume that the legal technicality of whether this was a proprietary trade or a hedge appeared on some lawyer’s desk. And given the distrust of CDS after the recent malfeasance rife in the industry, is it so hard to believe that … lawyers were involved? Nope, I wasn’t there, and I made a poor attempt to examine a scenario which only magnified my lack of fluency in the subject matter. Mea Culpa.”

Now, on to today’s attempt to offer an in-house perspective….

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According to George Will, “Pessimism has its pleasures. Ninety percent of the time you’re right, and ten percent of the time you’re delighted to be wrong.”

That’s how I go through life.

What made me a pessimist? Nature or nurture, perhaps? (Should I blame my parents’ genes or their parenting skills?) Decades defending litigation, which forced me perpetually into a defensive crouch? (If that’s the reason, then plaintiffs’ lawyers must be optimists.) Or my preferred explanation: Keen observation of reality, coupled with endless experience, naturally breeds pessimism.

As an outside lawyer, my pessimism meant that I presumptively expected the worst (or, at a minimum, the least) from colleagues, opposing counsel, clients, and courts. Those folks generally performed precisely to my expectation, reinforcing my pessimism.

As an in-house lawyer, how does pessimism infuse life?

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When I tell people that I really love my job, I get various responses. Most of them are something like, “Wow, that’s great,” or “I hate you.” Or sometimes, “That’s very nice, ma’am. May I take your order now, please?” When people ask why I love my job, my response is kind of lame. I tend to say it’s a lot of “fun” and then go on to describe a couple of types of matters I work on. Yeah, not all that insightful.

So for this week’s post, I decided to figure out more specifically (than “umm, so…the social media thing is interesting…”) why a lawyer may love her job. The reasons I came up with are mostly common sense and one reason actually has nothing to do with my job per se….

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I’ve recently heard two seemingly related thoughts: (1) lawyers’ legal skills deteriorate when they go in-house and (2) this makes it harder to move back to a law firm.

I doubt that the difficulty in moving from an in-house job to a law firm (if that difficulty exists at all) has anything to do with one’s skills having deteriorated. Although one headhunter recently told me that it’s hard to go back to a firm after you cross the in-house Rubicon, he insisted that was because most in-house lawyers won’t naturally bring a book of business to the firm that hires them. (I stuck the qualifier “most” in there intentionally. Some in-house lawyers move to a firm, bring the corporation’s legal work with them, and do quite well. But that’s not the typical situation.) It’s no surprise that lawyers who bring clients with them find jobs more easily than lawyers who do not. In-house lawyers often can’t guarantee that business will travel with them, so it’s possible that in-house lawyers are less attractive candidates for firms.

But that’s not my main point today. I also don’t agree that moving in-house automatically causes a lawyer’s skills to deteriorate. How going in-house will affect your skills depends on the nature of your in-house position, how your corporation works, and what skills you’re thinking about . . .

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Breaking news to lawyers at firms: In-house, we have these things called “business plans.”

Our business units prepare those plans at least annually. The plans typically contain both general objectives (such as achieving a specified level of organic growth, or margin, or whatever) and concrete steps that the business will take to achieve those objectives (such as introducing new products, controlling specified expenses, or whatever).

In-house law departments may create those plans, too. We commit to implement controls, or improve response times, or give a specified number of training sessions to a specified number of people, or the like. Depending on the corporation, a lawyer may be paid less than his target bonus if he doesn’t achieve his objectives and perform according to plan. A system like that is pretty good at grabbing folks’ attention and causing things to be done.

Do law firms (or individual lawyers at firms) prepare business plans?

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It's the summer, put your hand down.

It’s hard out there for a law student who can’t find a summer job.

Back in the before times, the summer was this excellent opportunity to make a little bit of money and, more importantly, secure legal employment for after graduation. Now, things are worse. For those who have a summer associate position, the program involves ten weeks of stress, hoping that you don’t screw up your offer while also praying you like the people you work with because there is no 3L hiring market.

For those who are unemployed, I mean, honestly, spending a summer getting drunk and playing SWTOR is probably as good as anything else you can do.

Whatever you do, you probably don’t want to end up like this student. The rule for law students over the summer is very simple: first, do no harm….

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CHECK YOU public relations skills, bro.

Former Dewey and current Winston partner Adam Kaiser, in my opinion, needs lessons in public relations. I don’t even need to review with you who I am talking about. If you’re reading this on ATL, you already know Adam Kaiser. You also know what he is alleged to have done, and how he responded to a single comment posted on this site.

You and I know all of this information because of Adam Kaiser’s ill-timed attempts to quash the use of his name by an anonymous commenter. His poorly conceived, heat-of-the-moment demands that his name be removed from the site ultimately resulted in the reverse effect; everyone knows his name, and what he is alleged to have done. And his name, while removed from the single comment, has now been repeated over and over and over. Adam Kaiser.

The saying goes that any publicity is good publicity. I argue that unwanted publicity that could damage a career or a firm’s reputation is far from “good.” Even if Adam Kaiser thought he was doing the right thing by sticking up for himself against an anonymous comment, he effectively screwed the pooch.

What should he have done instead?

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As a new summer associate, you must have heard many a horror story about your predecessors, including tales of fashion disasters. For example, do you remember the boozy Milbank SA who supposedly showed up to events wearing an Olympic jumpsuit? How about the girl who wanted to march around her firm with a $9,000 Birkin bag? As this year’s summers descend upon Biglaw firms across the country, we thought that we might be able to offer you some assistance to prevent you from committing comparable crimes of fashion.

To accomplish this feat, we’ve teamed up with none other than Anna Akbari, the “thinking person’s stylist,” to help you make it through the summer. You don’t want to wind up as a bullet point on Weil Gotshal’s “unacceptable” list….

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