“I never thought I’d end up working as a contract attorney doing doc review in a windowless basement,” my client bemoaned. “But then I read that piece about the lawyer who’s working as a clerk at Walmart. At least I’ve still got it over him in terms of job prestige.”
Well, you know how obsessed lawyers are with job prestige.
There’s a phrase, “the Downward Drift,” that crops up in discussions of serious mental health diagnoses like schizophrenia, and/or chronic substance abuse. The idea is that you are afflicted with serious mental illness, or become addicted to a harmful substance, which in turn leads to a slow, inevitable slide downward in terms of social class. Before long, the wealthy, Upper East Side business executive suffering from schizophrenia and/or severe alcoholism finds himself jobless, friendless, and eventually even homeless, sleeping in shelters and begging for change.
Weirdly, the same phenomenon — the Downward Drift — affects people who acquire Juris Doctor degrees…
Here’s what you never hear anyone say at a Biglaw firm — followed by a discussion of why you never hear anyone say it.
Here we go…
Let’s work on this together. It’ll be more fun.
People write me all the time, complaining I’m too down on Biglaw. Nothing new there, but one guy, recently, expanded on the topic, adding that he works at a firm where everyone, so far as he knows, is happy — enjoying a rewarding career in a supportive, non-exploitative environment.
Perhaps you can see this coming: It turns out this guy owns the firm — and specializes in oral arguments before federal appellate courts. Prior to becoming managing partner, he attended top Ivy League schools.
By way of a reply, I opined: “Your experience might be considered atypical.”
Last week I wrote about weighing “the desperate need for a paycheck against the prospect of selling your soul, or at least performing work that you despise.” This week, I am writing about taking a non-legal job, and the potential consequences.
So, you have graduated with a mountain of debt and cannot find a job. It can seem like you are at the wrong end of a dead end street with an out of control steamroller headed your way. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You might have more options than you think. Be creative, seek advice from several reliable sources, and you could land a position that isn’t perfect, but it will pay those bills.
Spectating upon the atom bomb ignition at the Trinity test site in New Mexico, Robert Oppenheimer was reminded of a scene from the Bhagavad-Gita — an encounter between the prince and Vishnu, the latter apparently in a cranky frame of mind. The scene culminates in Vishnu, who is attempting to persuade the prince to do his duty, assuming a multi-armed form and intoning:
I have become death, destroyer of worlds.
There are lawyers out there who remind me of Vishnu in his multi-armed form. No, they don’t sprout extra limbs, or destroy entire worlds. These Biglaw-inspired incarnations of Vishnu merely assume the form of senior female attorneys to become career-death, destroyer of junior associates.
Behold the Biglaw Vishnus! (And trust me, within their personal sphere of destruction they give the real thing a run for his money.)
In a job market as dismal as this one, you would think that I would advise taking anything you can get. You would be wrong. I recommend carefully weighing the desperate need for a paycheck against the prospect of selling your soul, or at least performing work that you despise.
I am not talking about doc review, or procurement law here. I am talking about going to work for a Catholic organization when you are agnostic, or taking a gig in a firm that does work that is abhorrent to your belief system. It is easy to preach when one has a job, but I am routinely asked about obtaining in-house positions, and my experience (when I was too stupid, or afraid, to say “no”) gives me a certain gravitas when it comes to this issue….
I have heard the ad messages many times: “hire a veteran, hire an older person, hire the handi-capable.” (First commenter to get that last reference wins). As someone who went through a period of “transition” — read: “you’re not going to make partner, you might want to start looking,” I know all too well the difficulty of a job search. And this was before the current down times in hiring. I would say that one of the worst aspects of such a job search is sending off the application packet to unknown, faceless people who likely have a pile of hundreds of such packets to sift through. It’s the faceless part that is the focus of today’s column.
As an in-house attorney, I am fortunate to be on the buy side in one aspect of my job — hiring outside counsel. Firms clamor for our attention (and dollars) and it is nice to be on this side of that fence. Business development is hard. And it sucks. But in our community we have a perfect storm for the idea I am proposing today — we have a large pool of “in transition” attorneys and we have several firms of moderate to large size all wanting business from my company. So I propose the following: we have an event where a pool of these in transition folks are in a room with representatives from the firms, and where face-to-face networking can take place and résumés can be left with actual people…
It was one of those calls where the Customer just wants to vent to someone perceived to be in authority. They are upset at your Company for something or other, and have already taken the sales team to task. Now, it’s your turn. Some might say that the weight of the Customer on your bottom line should determine the amount of obsequiousness you serve. I would argue that in the scheme of things, it really does not matter the size of the Customer, falling on one’s sword can repair damage quicker than a protracted rant session that ultimately devolves into he said, she said.
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….
Arriving home exhausted on the red eye from Los Angeles, site of this year’s ACC Annual Meeting. Tired though I may be, I am refreshed and energized about my job. Sharing a large convention center with in-house counsel of all stripes and from around the world is fantastic. I get to share ideas, learn more about topics that I don’t touch in my everyday practice, and collect a raft of CLE credits. I also get to network to my heart’s content. All of those things are integral to success for today’s in-house counsel.
I have written about the importance of those topics individually over the past years, and the chance to experience them in a three day conference can really change your frame of reference, and refocus your mind on just how much is out there that you don’t know. It’s like the old law school joke about the gunner who came to class not having finished the day’s reading. When asked “why” by the professor, she said, “I kept following the case cites and never got to the end.” There really is that much out there. And after sitting in on a CLE about social media and big data, there is so much more that just keeps on coming…
I have a Phish hangover: scratchy throat from the smoke (“ah, the peat”), deaf in one ear, and “Light” reverberating on earworm replay. It was nice to see a major band come to my little town on a throwback tour of smaller and more intimate venues. It gives one a chance to see the performers up close, take in and appreciate fantastic musicianship, and have a good time with a few thousand of my friends in music. Sometimes smaller is better, and getting a close up view of how things are done can give you an appreciation for the larger machine at work. I tie this to a recent foray into the Sales cycle where I was able to see and hear things in which I don’t usually participate. Yep, I went on a Sales call….
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…
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.