Family

Pop quiz, hotshot. A federal judge issues an order to show cause that you should be “sanctioned for repeated failure to prosecute cases” and “barred from practicing in this District.” What do you do? What do you do?

The correct answer begins with “responding,” obviously. And when you’re in trouble over “failure to prosecute,” maybe that should light a fire under you to respond thoroughly and on time.

Yeah… this guy didn’t. Instead he provided a detailed, if legally irrelevant, explanation of how he was just too busy to worry about responding on time. Think of this as “Prelude to a Benchslap”…

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Justice Sonia Sotomayor is not a fan of the “having it all” concept. As she wrote in her recent (and excellent) memoir, My Beloved World (affiliate link), “having it all, career and family, with no sacrifice to either… is the myth we would do well to abandon, together with the pernicious notion that a woman who chooses one or the other is somehow deficient.”

Even though their panel had the phrase “Having It All” in the title, the participants in an interesting discussion on work/life balance at last week’s big NALP conference would probably agree. One theme that ran through the discussion was that sacrifices, on the work front or home front or both, are inevitable — and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Still, the panel’s emphasis on the need for working parents to rid themselves of guilt didn’t stop some people from shedding a few tears during the discussion….

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This strikes me as the kind of situation in which a guy can’t bother to actually be a partner to his wife, so he buys her an expensive bauble and expects her to shut up about it.

A Harvard Law professor is asking whether or not female associates would welcome their law firms covering the price to have their eggs frozen for later use. Egg freezing is expensive, and many insurance plans don’t cover it. So law firms could incentivize female associates to devote themselves fully to their careers during their best child-producing years, without those associates “losing” their ability to have a family later on.

Yeah, as if it’s significantly easier to raise a family when you are a partner…

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As many of our readers know, 2012 was the year of the Clifford Chance Mommy. If you’re unfamiliar with her tale, she wrote an epic departure memo that detailed a day in a harried mother’s life (e.g., waking up at 4 a.m. to start her day and going to sleep the next day at 1:30 a.m., only to do it all over again, ad infinitum). This woman made many people question their own sense of work/life balance, and led others to wonder if they could ever have a meaningful family life while working in Biglaw.

At some firms, you’ll have a fighting chance of achieving that goal.

The Yale Law Women are out with their annual list of the top ten family friendly firms. We cover this list every year (see our posts from 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008). This year’s list has changed dramatically from last year’s: only half of the firms have returned, with five new firms joining them.

Which firms made the cut? Which firms had the best options available to both men and women? Let’s take a look at the latest ranking for the most family-friendly firms….

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Haters gonna hate.

During her last week here at Above the Law, Kashmir Hill and I went out to lunch. In her usual, insightful, Kash way, she said to me, “When you first started here, I thought your hatred for law school and lawyers was just your schtick. Now I see that it’s not. You really don’t like them.”

No doubt. It sounds like hyperbole, but I really probably hated 50 percent of the people I went to school with or worked with. And then I probably had no opinion (but assumed the worst) of another 30 percent. So, during my time at law school and in a Biglaw firm, I felt hostility towards eight out of every ten people I met.

Why? Because lawyers suck. Because normal-thinking law students who desperately want to turn themselves into people who think like lawyers are some of the worst people on the planet. For God’s sake, read a warning label. Read the DMCA. Lawyers did that.

I made my friends. As for the rest, Shannon Sharpe once said, “I’ve never called anybody ugly. Do I think people are ugly? Yeah, I think he’s ugly, but I’ve never said that… Is he my friend? No. Did I ever view him as a friend? No. Do I view him as an acquaintance? No. Do I like him? No. If I see him in a snowstorm, his truck is broke down, mine is going perfectly, would I pick him up? No.”

Regular readers know this already. And there are a bunch of people nodding and saying, “Right back at you too, tubby.” But I bring this up now because your inclination is going to be that the young man we’re about to talk about is joking. You’re going to think he’s saying things for effect. But when a man posts a screed to his law school listserv to explain how he hates most of the people he goes to school with, and that he wants to be a writer and not a lawyer, I believe.

You should too….

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Pamela Levinson

You know what’s the mark of a good lawsuit against a law firm? The ability to polarize. Sure, it’s fun to laugh at the wacky ones, like Berry v. Kasowitz Benson or Morisseau v. DLA Piper. But the true classics are cases in which half the people think the plaintiff is a crusader for justice, and half the people think the plaintiff is an extortionist.

Take the 2007 lawsuit of Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell, brought by a young M&A lawyer claiming anti-gay discrimination. That was a great lawsuit. Some readers saw it as a Philadelphia for the 21st century, while others saw it as a shameless shakedown of a top law firm.

By this standard, Levinson v. WilmerHale is a good lawsuit. Readers can’t seem to agree on this one. Let’s check out the sharply divided opinions — and also hear more about Pamela Levinson, from former colleagues at the firm….

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Back in December, we wrote about a major employment discrimination case filed against Greenberg Traurig. That suit contained some salacious allegations, including claims that women lawyers had to sleep with superiors to get ahead.

Today brings news of another employment discrimination lawsuit filed against another top law firm. It’s being filed by the litigation boutique of Sanford Heisler LLP, which seems to be carving out a nice little niche in plaintiff-side Biglaw employment litigation.

Which firm is being sued this time, and what are the plaintiff’s allegations?

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Congratulations to the newly minted Biglaw partners out there. Despite Biglaw’s current problems and murky future, it really is a signature professional achievement. So take a night, or a week, or even two to celebrate. And then get ready to start re-evaluating your entire life, top to bottom. You may not get a better chance, ever.

What am I talking about? Simple. In order to make partner in today’s Biglaw, you have made numerous sacrifices. Whether it be your student debt, your relationships, your waistline, or anything else, your sacrifice has now been validated. You now occupy a new professional status, and the nature of making partner is such that no matter how badly you screw up the rest of your life, you have accomplished something very rare. It is a life milestone, on par with getting married or winning the lottery in terms of its immediate alteration of your identity. A minute ago, you were single. Now, married. A minute ago, you were just another Biglaw associate. Now, you are a partner. Beautiful.

I am not discussing here the “professional” aspects about making partner, such as the need to start building a book of business, and how to handle yourself at the office. You will learn most of what you need to know on that front at your new partner orientation — a gloatfest galore, typically — and you will then spend a career figuring it all out.

Rather, I want to address some of the “personal” ramifications that hearing the good news of your “election” or “promotion” will lead to. Because it would be a shame to waste this golden opportunity to change the things about your life that you are less than perfectly satisfied with….

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Unless that’s a butler coming down the track, this family is going to struggle.

Last week, we published a departure memo from an associate at Clifford Chance who could no longer juggle parenting and Biglaw.

Since we published, the story has gone everywhere. The Huffington Post weighed in, and so did the New York Times. I’m glad so many people are finding out that working at one of the top law firms in the world is really difficult. Welcome to our world — they’re not paying people $160,000 and up to work from 9 to 5.

But one disturbing trend in the coverage of this story is the move to blame the husband. Ms. X’s husband only appears once in her tick-tock:

7:45pm: Negotiate with husband over who will do bathtime and bedtime routine; lose

That line has led to rampant speculation about the deadbeat loser Ms. X must be married to. Vivia Chen of The Careerist had one of the more restrained slams on this guy: “Not to be presumptuous, but I think we should all chip in for some negotiation courses for this poor woman. I realize we don’t have all the facts, but her husband seems to be getting away with murder.”

Well, you know what? I’ve been a Biglaw associate, and a Biglaw spouse, and let me tell you, it’s not as easy as it looks. Just because a lady “loses” the negotiations on domestic chores doesn’t mean that she’s married to a sexist pig, and it doesn’t mean the guy is “getting away with murder”….

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Not pictured: the Biglaw train barreling towards this family.

I’ve read this departure email three times this morning, all while a sleeping six-week-old snores up at me. It’s a departure memo where a Biglaw associate kind of admits that she can no longer juggle the demands of parenthood and the demands of being a Biglaw lawyer. In a way, it’s heartbreaking. I don’t know this woman, and I don’t know what her hopes and dreams are or might have been, but it shouldn’t be so damn hard — in the richest country on Earth — to have a big-time job and be a loving parent. The struggles highlighted by this woman make me sad as a new parent myself.

In another way, this memo is uplifting. You can’t have it all. When you finally come to accept that, it’s liberating. You don’t have to feel like a bad employee or a bad parent for not being able to do it all. As Al Pacino says in the Devil’s Advocate: “Guilt is like a bag of bricks, all you gotta do is set it down.”

So, take a look as one woman bows out of the rat race….

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