Hiring

Although I won’t name names here (because my employer is, among other things, the insurance broker to the stars, and I can’t afford to offend clients or potential clients), I just stumbled across an article that indirectly told me how to pick outside counsel.

In a relatively high-profile situation, a government entity recently had to retain an outside law firm. The government naturally retained an outside adviser to help the government make its choice. (How else could one possibly pick counsel?)

The outside adviser — I think you’d call the outfit a management consultant, although the website left me a little confused — has lots of MBAs on staff, but there’s not a lawyer to be seen. No matter: The MBAs created a questionnaire for the law firms to fill out, and the law firm that accumulated the most points won the business.

This is great! It’s time (once again) for me to stop thinking and start copying! We’ll revamp our whole system for choosing counsel! In the future, we’ll give the law firms who want our business a form to complete. We’ll add up the points — even I can do that. And then we’ll choose the law firm with the most points, thus retaining the best firm in the world to handle our matter through an objectively defensible selection process, in case anyone ever wants to second-guess our choice of counsel.

Shoot! If only I’d gone to business school, I could have been this smart! Let’s take a look at the questionnaire, so I’ll know the form that I’m copying to choose counsel for my next case . . . .

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Your final destination… is not a Biglaw job.

The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) has new numbers on the legal job market for recent graduates, and like it has been every year since the start of the Great Recession, those numbers are a horror show. A freaking horror show. They might as well put three recent graduates in a room with one job offer in it, handcuff the graduates to a pole, and give the offer to the one that eats through his arm first.

The other two would then get to leave the room unemployed, with some bite wounds, instead of unemployed with over $100,000 in debt, which is how people are actually leaving law school.

Do you want some good news? The lateral hiring market is hot. NALP executive director Jim Leipold called it a “feeding frenzy” for experienced associates. So if you got a job and held onto it through the 2009 layoffs, pick up your phone. It’s probably a recruiter calling. Congratulations on all your success.

If instead you were not lucky enough to be born five years earlier and have just graduated or are about to graduate, I don’t have anything for you — other than this here hacksaw. Chop, chop….

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Tampa is lovely this time of year.

Hello from Tampa, Florida, site of the 2013 annual education conference of the Association for Legal Career Professionals (aka NALP). Elie Mystal, Brian Dalton and I have been attending some excellent panels, catching up with old friends, and making new ones (although some law school folks here have given Elie the stink eye).

Yesterday I attended an interesting panel entitled “Homegrown or Not: Lateral Hiring vs. Law Student Recruiting.” The important topic drew a standing room only crowd….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series from Bruce MacEwen and Janet Stanton of Adam Smith Esq. and JDMatch. “Across the Desk” takes a thoughtful look at recruiting, career paths, professional development, human capital, and related issues. Some of these pieces have previously appeared, in slightly different form, on AdamSmithEsq.com.

I don’t know about you, but I find talent markets fascinating. They have several characteristics that make them quite distinctive from regular old goods and services markets:

  • Talent is extremely heterogeneous; it’s not as if there’s another Honda Accord where that one came from.
  • Talent is what economists call both “excludable” and “rivalrous,” meaning that if I hire you Suzie can’t hire you at the same time. (Knowledge is the classic non-rivalrous and non-excludable good; everyone can know the same thing at the same time without its impairing anyone else’s knowledge of that same thing, and without shutting off anyone else’s access to it.)
  • Talent is notoriously difficult to judge in advance, without actually experiencing it, that is to say, without actually hiring the individual and putting them to work in your organization. Some other markets approach this condition of “ignorance until purchased,” such as attending performing arts events or taking a vacation to a previously unknown locale, but the stakes tend to be much higher for all parties concerned in talent markets.
  • Once talent is hired, it’s stickier than most other purchases. You can walk out of the movie theater or reconfigure your travel plans, but once you hire someone, short of felonious or otherwise appalling behavior, you’re stuck with them for a decent interval.

All this leads to a number of devices and stratagems that attempt to mitigate uncertainty and delay serious resource commitments until some firsthand evaluation can be performed.

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It’s an interesting question, right? If you know of a managing partner who could use some medication, please email us or text us (646-820-8477).

What prompted the question on our part? Here, we’ll tell you….

UPDATE (5:30 p.m.): Now with added commentary from Anonymous Partner.

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Tom Wallerstein

It was our new receptionist’s first day at our office. I was in our kitchen, and I found a potato wrapped in a paper towel. Because it was a raw potato far in the back of one of our unused kitchen drawers, I had no idea how long it had been there. Months, maybe. So I asked Cassidy, the new employee, “Is this your potato?”

Cassidy was slouched nearly horizontal in her chair. She looked at me with an expression of vague annoyance, and reached up to remove her iPod earbuds. She mumbled a response but didn’t really answer me. So I asked again, “Cassidy, I was just curious, is this your potato?”

“Huh?”

I repeated my question for the third time and finally she replied, “I don’t know. Maybe.”

I tried a different approach. “Let me put it this way. Have you brought a potato into the office in the six hours you have been working here?”

“Um… Yes.”

Progress! “Well, then I think it’s safe to say that this is your potato. Mystery solved.”

The earbuds went back in and we let Cassidy go the next day. She called our office about a week later, asking to retrieve a pair of scissors and… you guessed it, her potato….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “From Biglaw to Boutique: Bad Hires”

Ed. note: This is a new series from Bruce MacEwen and Janet Stanton of Adam Smith Esq. and JDMatch. “Across the Desk” will take a thoughtful look at recruiting, career paths, professional development, human capital, and related issues. Some of these pieces have previously appeared, in slightly different form, on AdamSmithEsq.com.

A Wharton School professor has analyzed the performance, and pay levels, of external hires versus internal staff promotions. He used personnel data from a division of a major U.S. investment bank for 2003 to 2009, and the characteristics of that talent market are remarkably similar to our own.

Investment banking, Professor Matthew Bidwell writes, represents “an interesting context in which to study the effects of internal versus external mobility [because] organizational performance often depends on the skills of the workforce, [thereby] increasing the importance of personnel decisions.” In addition, workers in banking are “notoriously mobile, making this a context in which organizations regularly engage in external hiring at all levels.”

The genesis of his study was seeking an answer to this question: what has the increased mobility of workers over the past 30 or so years meant, as firms turn away from offering lifetime employment in favor of relying on the external labor market to find experienced workers at all levels of the organization?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “From Across the Desk: Lateral Hires & Guarantees Deconstructed”

Last week I discussed the associate bonus process from your typical partner’s perspective. I want to talk a bit more about ways firms can take advantage of the glut of prospective associates out there, while increasing the odds of finding those rare jewels who will make partner — with each associate making less, but getting a better lifestyle (and a shot at a Biglaw career) in the bargain.

Some caveats. First, the ideas below are not intended for the Simpsons — this Simpson, not those Simpsons — of the world. They will continue to attract the very best, and should continue their current structure. Why? Because the Cravath model that the elite firms instituted makes for great partners and strong law firms. The problem is that almost every Biglaw firm adopted the Cravath model, and not all of them should have. Most firms do not have the institutional client base of the elite firms, and therefore don’t need the tremendous fixed costs and inflexibility with respect to associates that the Cravath model brings. As firms expand, contract, or just struggle to stay afloat post-Biglaw Breakdown, it seems like a great time to try some new approaches to talent structures and compensation. There is nothing wrong with some experimentation, as long as the protocols are transparent, and management is prepared to cut bait quickly if things are not working out.

Now over the years we have seen firms experiment with their junior associate hiring models. Most of these programs involved trying to turn junior associates into some form of quasi-apprentices. None seem to have taken root. And in my mind there is no sense in implementing a drastic, global overhaul of your associate model, before trying some more limited changes on the practice group level.

Here is what I would try….

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What is the future outlook for Biglaw? The Magic 8 Ball is not optimistic.

Last month, we wrote about a less-than-cheery report from Citi Private Bank’s Law Firm Group, the largest lender to U.S. law firms. The bottom line of that report for law firms: “With weak demand growth and the continuation of expense growth, it is likely that expenses will continue to grow at a faster pace than revenue, squeezing margins and making it tricky to achieve even low single-digit profit growth.”

As we mentioned in Morning Docket, there’s a new report out from our friends at Citi, and it also sounds pessimistic notes. It concerns the confidence levels of law firm managing partners.

What are the powers-that-be in Biglaw worried about right now? Let’s find out….

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We’ve done some hiring recently, and people seem to have three types of résumés.

Some résumés start with an “Executive Summary” that consists largely of the applicant explaining that the applicant believes that he (or she) is a great guy (or gal). I’m not quite sure how that distinguishes the applicant from the seven billion other folks who share this planet with us:

“A fast-paced, fast-track, high-falutin’ individual with exceptional interpersonal, communication, and persuasive skills, as well as boyish good looks and a toothy grin; who leads by example and coaches and develops others to deliver high performance; blah, blah, blah.”

To my eye, this is “telling, not showing.” You think you’re great? Wonderful. But, other than your own say-so, is there anything about you that might objectively indicate that you’re correct? Have you ever, for example, achieved something that’s worth talking about? If so, perhaps your résumé should find an excuse to lead with that.

Other résumés also start with an “Executive Summary,” but of a different type . . .

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