At a law firm, law matters. Law is the center of the institution’s universe, and it’s all everyone is thinking about.
It’s the other functions that don’t matter: “Another email from IT? Telling me about interfaces and gigabytes? Why don’t those clowns leave me alone?”
“Another email from finance hectoring me about time sheets? Don’t those morons know I’m busy?”
At corporations, law (and compliance) is an “other function.” The businesses are concentrating on their businesses, and law and compliance — along with human resources, information technology, and finance — are, at best, a means to an end. If you mirror the other “shared services” and send incomprehensible communications to the businesses, the businesses will soon realize that you’re just one of the pests, meant to be ignored.
Inevitably, if a business person accidentally steps over some legal line, you’ll hear that the business guy had no clue that the line existed: “Yeah, yeah. Now that you’re telling me about it, I understand that we have that rule. But how was I to know? The rule is buried on the fourth page of some impenetrable policy hidden somewhere in our computer system. I spend my time selling; I can’t waste time trying to make sense of your legalese.”
If you don’t sympathize with that guy, then you’ve been a lawyer for too long. His criticism is not just an excuse for having violated the rules; his criticism may well be the truth. How can you change that reality?
Suppose your company has a system: All payments are run through the finance center in New York; all emails are encrypted by a certain process; all reports on a certain subject contain items 1 through 10.
As sure as I’m sitting here, someone on the sales side of your company will tell you that we must make an exception for his new client. For this client only, we should run the payments through Canada, use a different encryption service, or delete item 5 and add items 11 through 14 to the report.
Because you’re reasonable, you’ll explain that this isn’t possible: “We have a system that is hard-wired into the computers. We have 3000 different clients. We are able to offer clients only what the system permits. If we start making exceptions for particular clients, then costs will escalate and we’re sure to make mistakes. Please don’t ask us to tailor our systems to fit your client, because we just can’t.”
The sales guy will then sputter and turn red in the face: “But this client is different! This is the firm’s biggest client! And the best! And the one with the highest margin!” . . .
Judy Sheindlin once told me, “don’t go to law school, the world has enough lawyers.” My response was, “that may be true, but are there enough ‘good’ lawyers.” I posit that the answer is no, there are not enough ‘good’ lawyers. We practice in a field where there is certainly of glut of licensed professionals. And unlike doctors, there is not a constant worldwide need for our services, no matter how self-important we have deluded ourselves to be. I wrote last week about attending the ACC Annual Meeting, and having an enlightened moment of how very much in this field I don’t (can’t) know. Not for want of desire, but because of the evolution of technology, and good old case law.
It made me truly feel for those folks tasked with compliance for their companies….
* Sri Srinivasan was sworn in as a member of the D.C. Circuit by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who called him “fair, faultless and fabulous.” The man must have great shoes. [Washington Post]
* Things aren’t going very well for Steven Donziger in the Chevron / Ecuador case now, but then again, they never are. The Second Circuit denied his bid to oust the judge on the case. [Bloomberg]
* Dewey know how much this failed firm’s ex-landlord wants from 450 of its former partners? Somewhere in the ballpark of $1.6 million to $45.45 million, so it could be painful. [Am Law Daily]
* Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton has already named a new chairman. Congrats to J. Henry Walker IV, a man whose name alone makes it sound like he should probably leading something. [Daily Report]
* Time is running out for prosecutors to bring charges against those connected to Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, but it looks like his niece, a Fordham Law grad, is in their sights. [DealBook / New York Times]
* The series finale of Breaking Bad airs on Sunday, and you must be very sad, so here are five compliance lessons to take away from the show. First and foremost, don’t ever hire a Pinkman. [Corporate Counsel]
* E.A. Sports and the Collegiate Licensing Company settled the suit filed against them by college athletes, leaving the NCAA to whine, moan, and “take this all the way to the Supreme Court.” [Birmingham News]
* George Zimmerman’s wife says her husband “went on a victory tour” without her, and has no idea where he is. Clue: maybe he was advising Cybill Shepherd for her role on Law & Order next week. [Miami Herald]
I went through my first 360-degree review — where those above, beside, and beneath you in the organization all anonymously evaluate your performance — two years ago. Never one to shy away from abject public self-humiliation, I shared the result of that review in this column. I revealed that my biggest “blind spot” two years ago was in the area of celebrating the accomplishments of folks on my team: I thought I was pretty good on that score; those who worked under my supervision begged to differ.
I told you that I would fix that problem, and I did. During this year’s 360-degree review, my score for celebrating our accomplishments was a solid 4.0 — 0.9 better than two years ago, and precisely how I’d graded myself this time around. It had actually been pretty easy to solve this problem: I distributed emails celebrating our victories more often and to wider audiences; I stopped by folks’ desks to congratulate them on wins; and I was otherwise more sensitive to letting the world know when my merry gang of litigators did nice work.
Now that I’ve solved one management problem, however, another one naturally reared its ugly head during this year’s 360-degree review . . . .
Earlier this week, we took a look at a contract attorney project in D.C. that has been making the contractors sad. I mean more sad than normal.
We received a lot of actually interesting comments (!) in the thread after the story, as well as emails giving us more details about the project. It appears that the staffing firm, Compliance, has taken some steps to ameliorate the poor working conditions for the contract attorneys. It also looks like the working conditions could actually be improved if they dropped a Port-a-Potty in the middle of the conference room.
But it’s not all bad. Sometimes speaking out can lead to improved working conditions. Let’s take another look at how the other half lives, and you know, scare the bejesus out of 2Ls doing OCI right now who are really hoping to get jobs….
We don’t do enough reporting about the struggles of contract attorneys. We should do more, because that’s where the jobs are. Biglaw firms have been able to keep traditional associate hiring down thanks to an explosion in the use of contract attorneys. Getting one of these hourly wage jobs actually represents success in a market saturated with underemployed attorneys.
Now I remember why I don’t do a lot of reporting on contract attorneys: acknowledging that these, and not high-paying traditional associate salaried positions, are the jobs coming back in the “recovery” is terribly, terribly sad.
This might come as a shock to you, but being a document monkey on an hourly wage is not all that it’s cracked up to be. These hard-working people generally want to work as much as possible (kind of the opposite of traditional associates) for obvious reasons. But they are often frustrated by all sorts of bureaucracy and poor treatment in their quest to wring some value out of their J.D. degrees.
We have some emails detailing the struggles of one group of contractors working on projects in D.C. Hopefully, this will inspire other contract attorneys to share their experiences with “the new normal”….
“For example, on or about July 29, 2009, a recently hired SAC PM (the ‘New PM’) sent an instant message to [Steve Cohen] and relayed that, due to some ‘recent research,’ the New PM planned to short Nokia when he started work 10 days later. The New PM apologized for being ‘cryptic’ but noted that the head of SAC compliance ‘was giving me Rules 101 yesterday – so I won’t be saying much[.] [T]oo scary.’”
Possibly the weirdest part here is that new hires got compliance lectures two weeks before they showed up at the firm? But maybe not; the DOJ takes a pretty dim view of SAC’s hiring process generally, and if you believe the DOJ that SAC’s main hiring criterion was “is good at insider trading,” then you could imagine the need for a little pre-start-date warning in email etiquette:
* This year, like every year before it, SCOTUS is saving the best cases (read: most controversial) for last. We’ll likely see opinions on voting rights, affirmative action, and gay marriage in June. [WSJ Law Blog]
* We know of at least one Biglaw firm that will be putting its increase in gross revenue to work. Boies Schiller is planning to open its first office outside of the United States in the “near-term.” [Am Law Daily]
* If you’d like to get paid under a terrorism insurance policy for your damages in the Boston bombings, you’ll have to wait; the bombings haven’t been certified as acts of terror yet. [National Law Journal]
* Mandatory pro bono work is now required for bar admission in New York, but it’s still not enough to close the justice gap. Now Chief Judge Lippman wants to give non-lawyers a chance to provide legal services. [New York Law Journal]
* Arizona Law recently made the announcement that interim dean Marc Miller has been instated as the school’s permanent dean. What’s not to like about a “new” dean and new tuition cuts? [UANews]
* As many of our readers know, the job market is rough, but apparently if you take some compliance classes in law school, you’ll magically become employable. Great success! [Corporate Counsel]
* Brooklyn Law, do you remember what your old dorm looked like? It’s different now that it’s been transformed into an apartment complex that’s no longer stained with the tears of law students. [Curbed]
* This IRS scandal is really like a Republican’s wet dream. Obama needs to start firing people. [Washington Post]
* The Department of Justice also looks pretty shady. See, it’s not the “size” of government we should worry about. It’s the power of government that leads to problems. Obama needs to start firing people! [Associated Press]
* Maybe the DOJ needs some compliance officers to tell them how to use the phone? [Corporate Counsel]
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 six years. You can reach them by email: [email protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months, and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.
The evolution of relationships between the genders continues. Currently, in law firms, there is an interesting conundrum; balancing the desire for a gender-blind workplace where “the best lawyer gets the work and advances” and the reality of navigating the complicated maze created by the fact that, in general, men and women do possess differences in their work styles. These variations impact who they work with, how they work, how they build professional connections and how organizations ultimately leverage, reward and recognize the talents of all.
Henry Ford sat on his workbench and sighed. A year earlier, he had personally built 13,000 Model Ts with his own hands. Fashioning lugnuts and tie rods by hand, Ford was loath to ask for help. Sure, there were things about the car that he didn’t quite understand. This explains the lack of reliable navigation systems in the Model T. But Ford persevered because he knew that unless he did everything, he could not reliably call these cars his own.
“Unless my own personal toil is responsible for it, it may as well be called a Hyundai,” Ford remarked at the time.
The preceding may sound unfamiliar because it is categorically untrue. And also monumentally stupid. Henry Ford didn’t build all those cars by hand. He had help and plenty of it. Almost exactly one hundred years ago, Henry Ford opened up the most technologically advanced assembly line the world had ever seen. Built on the premise that work can be chopped up into digestible pieces and completed by many men better than one, the line ushered in an age of unparalleled productivity.
Today, an attorney refers business because he can’t do everything the client asks of him.
There are three reasons why this is way dumber than a made-up Henry Ford story…