First, an offer: I thought I had retired my “book talk” about The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law when I moved to London last fall. But I’ll be in the States for a few weeks in late May and June, and I’ve been asked to dust off the talk and give it a few times — at the annual meeting of the Association of Defense Trial Counsel in Detroit, and again in Chicago for Kirkland & Ellis and Greenberg Traurig. So long as I’ll have to flip through my notes and re-learn the talk, I might as well give it for your group, too. Please let me know by email if your law firm is interested.
Second, today’s thesis — and it’s a backwards one: Law firms think more highly of you for the years when you’re not working at the firm.
I’ll start with the easy example: I moved as a sixth-year associate from a small firm in San Francisco to a huge firm in Cleveland. When I arrived at the huge firm in Cleveland, partners treated me surprisingly well. Why?
Just outside the window: marble statues of Roman goddesses.
Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful Swedish woman. She came to the United States and studied at an elite college and top law school. After graduation, she went to work at Davis Polk — which is where all the beautiful people work.
While at Davis Polk, this blonde beauty met her Prince Charming — an older, extremely successful M&A partner. They got married at a Caribbean resort, and their wedding made the pages of the New York Times (of course). A few years later, she left the firm to become the general counsel to a global investment bank. Unlike many other power couples, they remain married to this day.
Fairy tales can come true. Let’s learn about a remarkable couple, then ogle their castle in the clouds….
* “It’s a fine line society walks in trying to be fair.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor spoke earlier this week on the perils of racial profiling with respect to the Chechen suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings. Were we fair here? [Associated Press]
* What keeps in-house counsel awake at night — aside from the tremendous piles of money they’re rolling around in? Apparently they’re expecting an “onslaught” of food labeling and data breach class actions. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]
* Susan Westerberg Prager, known for being the longest-serving dean ever at UCLA School of Law, will take up the deanship at another illustrious institution, Southwestern Law School. [National Law Journal]
* The February results for the New York bar exam are out, and with the highest number of test-takers ever, the pass rate was brutal. We may have more on this later. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]
* Rhode Island just got a little more fabulous. The Ocean State legalized gay marriage yesterday, making it the tenth state to do so, and uniting New England in marriage equality for all. [Bloomberg]
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 . . . .
In the Mob, you know a guy is done for when he is asked to “take a ride.” In Biglaw, it’s when the practice group leader asks you to have a drink after work. In-house is different — there is an announcement of restructuring, there is a rumor cycle of what department is getting hit, then there is a waiting period to see which people “take a package” voluntarily, and then the other shoe falls.
It can be unnerving to see people escorted out of an office with a box or two in hand and a security officer following behind. It is scary how quickly a person gets “wiped” from the intranet. They were there this morning, and a few hours later, all email bounces back. Since you are not a manager, you won’t know until there is a knock at your door.
I remember the first time I saw this occur. I was scared out of my mind at the news of “layoffs.” I visited a senior colleague who talked me out of the tree — she had been through too may of these to count and was nonchalant. First, there is nothing you can do if the decision has been made, and second, a bigger corporation means the odds are ever in your favor. Since that first experience, I have taken the advice to heart, but have also taken steps to ensure I can exit as smoothly as possible if the unfortunate ever happens….
* Forget playing with Wade. LeBron took his talents to South Beach to avoid tons of state taxes. [The Legal Blitz]
* Steve Susman of Susman Godfrey just completed the 180-mile trek from Houston to Austin by bike. Susman took part in this MS fundraiser with his grown kids and 35 other Susman Godfrey team members. Kudos. (You can donate via the link.) [National MS Society]
* The Obama administration is entering a showdown over its use of the “state secrets” privilege. The government is concerned that if it cannot shield “no-fly list” paperwork, it might chill their frank discussion of racial profiling. [Politico]
* A new in-house tool to replace outside counsel? Sure it may be cheaper, but can a computer get you playoff tickets? [Associate's Mind]
Sometimes, we care about questions. Sometimes, we care about answers. Sometimes, we care about both.
When you’re reporting on a situation, remember that.
I see many, many interview reports that unnecessarily include questions when the reader cares only about answers. If you’re interviewing a witness, and the witness lived the facts (and you personally know bupkis), then we really don’t care about your questions; we care only about the witness’ answers.
So, when you’re reporting on your interview of the witness, do not assign an abbreviation to your name (Mark Herrmann, hereinafter MH), an abbreviation to the witness’s name (The Witness, hereinafter TW), and then report on your questions as though they mattered:
“MH asked . . . . TW responded . . . . MH followed up by asking . . . .”
We care only about the facts — which the witness knows, and you do not — so report only the facts:
“According to the witness . . . .” Your name should appear no more than once in the entire report, so we know who conducted the interview.
That’s a situation where we care only about answers. But there are other situations where we care only about questions . . . .
Last week’s column was not intended for a particular group, other than those who enter the world of Biglaw and then wonder what has become of their work/life balance. Some accused me of whining. If that is how you comprehended my message, it speaks to a lack of either comprehension on your part, or writing talent on my part. I was not complaining, I was preaching — or trying to preach. I receive so many letters from young (inexperienced) attorneys and law students asking me about the mythical work/life balance that I took the opportunity to blow off some steam in an attempt to speak truth. I feel that I may not have been thorough, and want to further elucidate (bloviate).
Biglaw competition is getting intense. Everyone is chasing the same clients, while also deploying rearguard actions to protect institutional clients from being poached. Forget about lateral partners taking clients for a moment. I am talking about overt approaches from competing firms regarding existing matters, bearing promises of handling things more cheaply and more efficiently. In-house lawyers, under pressure to contain costs, almost have to listen. They may not act right away, but with each such approach another dent has been made in the Biglaw client-maintenance bumper.
It is no secret that in the face of declining overall demand (especially for the profit-pumping activities like mega-document reviews that were Biglaw’s joy to perform in the past), firms need to aggressively protect market share. While also seeking to grow market share. In an environment where more and more large clients are either (1) reducing the number of firms that they are willing to assign work to or (2) embracing an approach that finds no beauty contest too distasteful to engage in. So partners, at least those tasked with finding work for everyone to do, are falling back on a tried-and-true “sales approach” — putting things on sale.
I’m not reviewing the book, but instead using it as a jumping-off point to discuss a tangent. Harper explains in his book two things that every sentient lawyer has noticed over the past several years: (1) students are graduating from law school buried under a mountain of debt, and many of those students can’t find jobs, and (2) many law firms have lost sight of the law’s noble history as a learned profession and are now obsessed with maximizing their profits per partner in the coming year.
Harper’s right about these things, of course, and this isn’t exactly late-breaking news to anyone who’s been following either Above the Law or Harper’s blog, The Belly of the Beast, for the last few years. Harper’s book advances the discussion, however, by exploring these issues in more detail than others have. He also proposes possible solutions to these problems, including “allowing the federal government to recover [law school loan] guarantees from a law school (and its university) whenever a student loan became the principal contributor to an alumnus’s later bankruptcy.” (Page 159.) Or encouraging law firms to release their “Working Culture Index,” which would show the percentage of lawyers billing more than 2000, 2100, 2200, 2300, 2400, and 2500 in the previous year (perhaps with separate totals being released for partners and associates). (Page 173.)
These ideas are well worth discussing, and I’m glad that Harper has taken the time to analyze these things. But I have another topic to highlight, which is an odd tangent to Harper’s two issues . . . .
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We currently have a very exciting and rare type of in-house opening in China at one of the world’s leading internet and social media companies. Our client is looking for an IP Transactional / TMT / Licensing attorney with 2 to 6 years experience. The new hire will be based in Shenzhen or Shanghai. Mandarin is not required (deal documentation will be in English) but is preferred. A solid reason to be in China and a commitment to that market is required of course. This new hire will likely be US qualified (but could also be qualified in UK or other jurisdictions) and with experience and training at a top law firm’s IP transactional / TMT practice and could be currently at a law firm or in-house. Qualified candidates currently Asia based, Europe based or US based will be considered. The new hire’s supervisors in this technology transactions in-house team are very well regarded US trained IP transactional lawyers, with substantial experience at Silicon Valley firms. The culture and atmosphere in this in-house group and the company in general is entrepreneurial, team oriented, and the work is cutting edge, even for a cutting edge industry. The upside of being in an important strategic in-house position in this fast growing and world leading internet company is of the “sky is the limit” variety. Its a very exciting place to be in China for a rising IP transactional lawyer in our opinion, for many reasons beyond the basic info we can share here in this ad / post. This is a special A+ opportunity.
If your firm is in ‘go’ mode when it comes to recruiting lateral partners with loyal clients, then take this quiz to see how well you measure up. Keep track of your ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses.
1. Does your firm have a clearly defined strategy of practice groups that are priorities of growth for your office? Nothing gets done by random chance, but with a clear vision for the future. Identify the top practice areas for which you wish to add lateral partners. Seek input from practice group leaders and get specifics on needs, outcomes, and ideal target profiles.
2. In addition to clarifying your firm’s growth strategy, are you still open to the hire of a partner outside of your plan? I’ve made several placements that fit this category. The partner’s practice was not within the strategic growth plan of my client, but once the two parties started talking with each other, we all saw how it could indeed be a seamless fit. Be open to “Opportunistic Hires.” You never know where your next producing partner might come from, so you have to be open to it. I will be the first to admit that there is a quirky element of randomness in recruiting.
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