The social dynamics within Biglaw firms can mirror those found in pre-colonial Puritan societies. Long working hours in harsh competitive conditions, hierarchical command structures, and a recognition that the group is only as strong as its weakest member. Common features of both your local Biglaw firm and Plymouth, Massachusetts, circa 1650.
Smallpox may no longer be the threat it was to the pilgrims, but Biglaw associates (and increasingly partners) are susceptible to career killers just as deadly. Reputation is everything in Biglaw, and decisions about someone’s suitability to remain employed in Biglaw are often made on the basis of (sometimes undeserved) labels that can attach to someone with the adhesive grip of a miracle glue from a late-night informercial. Yes, Biglaw lawyers can find themselves branded with the equivalent of a scarlet letter. Just like young Hester Prynne, but rather than being branded with an “A,” Biglaw folk get tagged with one-word denigrations of their fitness to reach the promised land of partnership.
There are plenty of one-word adjectives that serve as partnership (and often employment) disqualifiers for those in Biglaw. And just as there is no “I” in team, there are not many favorable descriptors for Biglaw lawyers that start with that letter. Intelligent? Everyone in Biglaw is, at least relative to the large majority of the human race. Inspired? Better suited to describe someone in public interest law, rather than a regulatory expert skilled at carving out exceptions for clients that want to circumvent the very rules that the rest of society is expected to abide by.
With unemployment rates still high for new law school grads, incubator programs sponsored by law schools and bar associations are gaining traction. Not to be confused with the profit-generating incubators common in the business and start-up world, the law school incubator concept, conceived by Fred Rooney at CUNY Law School, subsidizes new law school grads to start their own practices to provide “low bono” legal services.
In exchange for deeply discounting their fees, grads receive low-cost rent and training from more experienced attorneys. After 12-18 months in the incubator, these now practice-ready lawyers can move on to a position at a non-profit or continue to operate their firms on their own. Since the first law school incubator launched back in 2007, nearly two dozen others have cropped up at law schools and bar associations across the country.
For the past couple of days, I’ve been at a conference held by Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS). The purpose of the conference was to kick off a year-long project entitled Foundations For Practice that was being helmed by Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers (ETL), a subset of IAALS. ETL is trying to determine the fundamental skills that new law graduates need to make them as appealing as possible to employers directly after they graduate from law school — i.e., how can law schools make sure that their graduates have skills that are valuable to future employers.
IAALS gathered a diverse group of lawyers to discuss the issue. Present were public defenders, judges, former ABA presidents, attorneys general, public interest lawyers, general counsels, Biglaw partners, and small firm lawyers such as myself and fellow Above The Law columnist Carolyn Elefant. We were there to give our perspectives on what were the skills we thought were necessary for new lawyers. Obviously there was strong general consensus as to what skills were necessary for new lawyers to have.
Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Kristina Marlow is a Director with Lateral Link’s D.C. office who brings almost 20 years of experience in the Washington legal market to her work with associate and partner candidates. Prior to joining Lateral Link, Kristina spent a decade at Gibson Dunn, first as a litigation associate and then as the D.C. office’s hiring manager. A Michigan native, Kristina earned her J.D., cum laude, from Georgetown University Law Center’s evening program and a B.A. in Journalism from Michigan State University, where she was named “Outstanding Senior.” She also worked as an appellate clerk, as an economic analyst for the federal government, and as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.
The job seeker had done (almost) everything right: Graduated with honors from a top law school, clerked for an appellate court, practiced at an “A-List” firm, and then went to a government agency to top off his experience and make him partnership material. Imagine his shock when I advised him that landing a general litigation position in Biglaw now that he was 12 years out of law school would be tough without a book of business. After all, he had seen the “revolving door” in Washington; how could it be shut now, he wondered? I conceded that many attorneys in D.C. do move with ease between government and private practice, but that the ones he read about in the Washington Post were high-level officials who firms know will bring in business. “And I’m just a worker bee,” he acknowledged….
Today I continue to address some of the questions that I have received from you by email. Once again, I note that these are simply my personal views on the questions presented.
1. How do law firms assess job moves on a résumé, particularly when the moves were dictated by life circumstances (such as the need to follow a spouse into a secondary legal market)?
There is an unspoken belief amongst many recruitment professionals that a candidate who has moved around too often is a problematic candidate. Whether this is true or not, recruitment professionals view a fifth-year candidate who has already been at three firms as easily discontented. The thought then becomes — why would this candidate be happy at our firm? How are we any different than his or her previous employers? While candidates are often able to explain their moves (e.g., personal circumstances), recruiters then question the depth of experience that a candidate has had to date. Is a candidate who has stayed at one firm for five years more experienced that a fifth-year associate who has moved firms three times? In my experience, employers always favor the former candidate. Partners like loyalty and depth of experience, be it actual or perceived.
2. How long after graduation should an associate remain at a less than ideal job in a secondary market before submitting a résumé to a Biglaw firm in a more desirable location, such as New York or Chicago?
I am making plans to attend several conferences and major bar association events for the remainder of the year. My primary goal for attending is to meet people who will provide job leads. But I also hope to meet potential clients, industry leaders, mentors, referral sources, and possibly a shopping companion. The problem is that attending these conferences can be expensive, especially if you are a solo practitioner paying with your own money. But I believe with proper planning, I can make the most of it without breaking the bank.
When I was a newbie lawyer, I dreaded going to conferences. This was because the costs of registration, travel, and lodging were high, and the lectures were boring, obscure, or both (which was mostly the case). I went only because everyone told me that I should introduce myself to the attendees, offer my services, and possibly get a job offer or referrals. So I went, tried my absolute best to stay awake and learn something, and gave my elevator speech and business card to everyone I met. I even paid extra for the dinner reception where I listened to the keynote speaker ramble on and on about her pro bono work. After I left, I sent everyone I met a follow up email and requested a meeting over coffee or lunch. Most ignored me. Others politely declined. And the few I met in person were genuinely good people but probably not going to help my career. After spending several thousand dollars with no immediate results, it can get discouraging and frustrating.
Now that I am more seasoned, I still dread going to conferences, but my approach has changed….
Ed note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Rob Jordan gives advice to attorneys on how to best position themselves to clarify or confirm their career path.
“Better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb than in the middle of some ladder you don’t, right?” — Dave Eggers, The Circle (affiliate link)
Everyday, many lawyers sit unhappily in their offices with little clarity about their professional futures. I know: I was one of them.
Today, the continued weakness and real-time evolution of the business of law merely compounds the uncertainty. In this environment, it is critical that lawyers regularly perform self-reviews to assess contentment and career trajectory.
These reviews will obviously be very personal. Some lawyers may simply conclude that their unease stems from the plain practice of law; that their law degree is a sunk cost; and that every day spent practicing law rather than pursuing a career acting, rapping, or starting a company is opportunity cost. Others, however, may not be fortunate enough to arrive at such a definitive conclusion; rather, they may be stuck in a state of inertia, unclear whether they like or want to continue to practice law.
I assume that a typical law student reader of Above the Law is attending an elite law school, has awesome grades, and is being groomed to be the next SCOTUS clerk or equity partner of a Vault 20 firm. If this describes you, then don’t waste your time reading the rest of this nonsensical piece. But if you are one of the rare outliers who has a few B pluses staining his résumé, you will have to make some strategic moves during your 2L and 3L years or you are likely to be jobless after graduation.
Since another law school year is almost over, I want to interrupt my regularly scheduled Back in the Race programming to give some advice to law students that I wish someone had shared with me. The advice I provide is time-consuming and stress-inducing because it will require working, studying, and more. To make things worse, as post-graduation employment numbers remain bleak, following my advice will not guarantee employment. But I hope it will make the reader a more competitive candidate for employment in this challenging job market.
It’s not surprising that law grads from top-50 schools have better job prospects than graduates from less prestigious law schools. What’s surprising is how large the gap is.
While there are more than 200 ABA accredited law schools floating around, the employment outcomes from those beyond the first tier are embarrassing. All law schools will tell you that their education is worth the high price of tuition… but it seems that around 150 of them are lying.
Last week, Above the Law released its second annual law school rankings. We rank the top 50 law schools, using the most recent employment data (from the class of 2013). It turns out that those recent employment stats suggest that there are really only 50 schools worth going to — at least if you want to get a job after you graduate from law school.
Anyone who is a lawyer can relate to the perennial quest to find work-life balance, but this odyssey becomes compounded when you are also the boss. Even though acquiring all of your business, as well as making sure the legal representation you provide is good, determines whether you may be paying your rent in a given month, you have to decide where you draw the line with your clients.
Drawing this line also works to the benefit of your clients, who end up getting more comprehensive and meaningful counsel than through the superficial interaction that not drawing these boundaries may lead to…
If you are considering a virtual law practice, you know that many of today’s solo firms started that way. But why are established, multi-attorney law firms going virtual?
Many small firms are successfully moving part—or even all—of their practice to a virtual setting. This even includes multi-jurisdictional practice spanning several states and practice areas, although solo and small partnerships are still the largest adopters of virtual law.
Can you do the same? The new article Mobile in Practice, Virtual by Design from author Jared Correia, Esq., explores how mobile technology bring real-life benefits to a small law firm. Read this new article—the next in Thomson Reuters’ Independent Thinking series for small firms—to explore how a mobile practice:
Reduces malpractice risk
Enables you to gather the best attorneys to fit the firm, regardless of each person’s geographic location
Leverages mobile devices and cloud technology to enable on-the-spot client and prospect communication
Transitioning in-house is something many (if not most) firm lawyers find themselves considering at some point. For many, it’s the first step in their career that isn’t simply a function of picking the best option available based on a ranking system.
Unknown territory feels high-risk, and can have the effect of steering many of us towards the well-greased channels into large, established companies.
For those who may be open to something more entrepreneurial, there is far less information available. No recruiter is calling every week with offers and details.
In sponsorship with Betterment, ATL and David Lat will moderate a panel about life in-house and we’ll hear from GCs at Birchbox, Gawker Media, Squarespace, Bonobos, and Betterment. Drinks, snacks, networking, and a great time guaranteed. Invite your colleagues, but RSVP fast, as space is limited.
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.