Please think for a second before you hit “send” and launch your next e-mail.
There are actually a bunch of things you should think about before sending your next e-mail, but today I’ll rant about just one: the “subject” line.
My rant comes in three parts.
First, the “subject” line has the potential to be helpful. At a minimum, an intelligent subject line can get my mind in gear for the information that I’m about to read, and perhaps can give me some sense of the urgency of your communication. At a maximum, an intelligent subject line can convey an entire message.
So use the thing! Please don’t send me e-mails with subject lines that are entirely blank. You’ve missed an opportunity to make communication easier, and you’ve forced me to pop open your e-mail to learn what you’re writing about. Put a few words in the subject line, to tell me what’s coming.
Second, please remember who I am and who you are. If you work at Kirkland & Ellis, it wouldn’t be too helpful to receive many e-mails with subject lines that read “Kirkland & Ellis.” That subject line wouldn’t distinguish one e-mail message from the other. You are Kirkland & Ellis; you don’t need to be told that every e-mail is about Kirkland & Ellis….
I don’t want a chorus of, “But that’s common sense! Tell me something new! Complain about bonuses!”
Of course it’s common sense that you should put yourself in the other guy’s shoes. But few people do it.
You call an IT guy for help because your !!%@! computer isn’t working. And the IT guy starts blathering on about IT gobbledygook. Interface this and reboot that and a bunch of gigabytes.
Gimme a break: I don’t want information technology; I want magic.
Just make the damned thing work. I’m not interested in your job.
You call the internal training folks and tell them that you have to revise the training module about discrimination or overtime pay or insider trading or whatever. And the training person starts blathering on about approvals and launch dates and other training modules and personnel schedules.
Gimme a break: I don’t want logistics; I want magic.
A business person calls a lawyer and asks how to accomplish something. And the lawyer starts blathering on about statutory this and precedent that and whether Smith is distinguishable.
Give the business person a break: He doesn’t want law; he wants magic.
I like what Steven Harper’s doing these days. After 30 years at Kirkland & Ellis, he retired from the fray, and he now comments on big law firms from an outsider’s perspective, at The Belly of the Beast. Although Harper’s critiques are often cutting, I think they reflect his underlying concern, not animosity, about law firm life.
But, to my eye, Harper recently missed a trick. In a recent column at the AmLaw Daily, Harper speculated that big law firms may prefer lockstep compensation to merit-based systems because merit-based reviews require partners to invest nonbillable time thinking carefully about associate performance. There’s no incentive for partners to invest that nonbillable time, says Harper, so firms settle for lockstep — and firms thus delay giving meaningful (and ultimately helpful) guidance to associates.
I think it’s worse than that. I think there’s actually an invidious incentive for partners at large firms to mislead associates about their performance. Why?
Here’s an issue that outside counsel never think about, but that matters intensely to in-house counsel: How should you charge business units for litigation losses?
For some types of cases, this poses no problem at all. If a company manufactures a prescription drug and gets named in product liability cases involving that drug, it’s pretty easy to figure out which business unit to charge for resulting judgments. (At least I assume that’s true. Perhaps some reader who works in-house at a drug company can correct me if I’m mistaken.)
But think about negligence cases in the context of a service business. At first blush, charging for litigation losses seems pretty easy: The business unit that was negligent and caused the loss should be charged for any resulting judgment.
If only it were so clear. Think about the complexities here: Some clown at the business unit screws up in 2005. The company is named in a lawsuit that’s filed in 2007. The clown changes jobs and leaves the company in 2008. The lawsuit results in a $10 million judgment in 2010. How do you account for that $10 million charge internally?
Also, in case you missed them because of the holiday break, be sure to check out his recent posts on in-house compensation and bonuses.
First, a story. Then, my point.
(If I promise a point at the end, maybe you’ll persevere through the story.)
When I was a partner at a large law firm, sending out bills, I took the job seriously. I sat in a coffee shop one Sunday afternoon each month and went through every !*@!! time entry in every bill to be sure that (1) I could understand what task the lawyer had performed and (2) the time spent was not disproportionate to the work performed. Only then would I approve the bill.
Editing bills is like torture. In fact, strike the “like.” This is torture. At the end of three or four hours of editing bills, you’re ready to jam toothpicks into your eyes. So I took a lesson from Tom Sawyer and whitewashing fences: I conned my teenage son into thinking that editing bills was a very important job. He bit! (Other than falling for this, the kid is actually pretty smart.) During Jeremy’s sophomore through senior years of high school, he and I did some father-son bonding on the third Sunday of every month at the local coffee shop. I bought the kid a caramel frappuccino (“venti” if we were doing north of 500 grand in bills; otherwise, grande; always with whipped cream). He took half the stack of bills; I took the other half; we edited. (Stay calm. I didn’t charge clients even for my own time spent doing this, let alone the kid’s. This was on the up and up.)
If you hate your job, then no one can pay you enough to make going to work every day worthwhile. And if you love your job, you won’t be sitting around fretting about your pay. I understand that this is America and all that, but within very broad limits, you’re nuts to accept one job over another because of a small difference in compensation.
(I understand that you may be trapped in a job, because of student loans, or kids in college, or the like. I understand; trapped is trapped. And I understand that I personally have been awfully lucky, because I’ve never had to worry about finding money to pay next month’s rent, so I speak from a particular point of view. Despite all that, I stand by what I said — if job A and job B are meaningfully different from each other in ways that matter to you, and you’re not trapped, you’re nuts to take one job over the other just to earn a few extra grand each year. Period.)
Naturally, since I’m not interested in the subject, you can guess the question I’ve been asked most often since Above the Law anointed me an in-house counsel guru:
How does in-house compensation work, and what questions should I ask about compensation if I’m interviewing for an in-house job?
Correction: The preceding sentence is not just false, but unintelligible.
Several folks have told me that a good way to juice readership of this column would be to publish a salacious post about bonuses paid to in-house corporate counsel, so readers could complain about how one corporation is stingy and another generous, or how corporations pay bigger or smaller bonuses than law firms. But I can’t write that post.
The folks who sell blogging platforms to lawyers say that blogging is the route to riches. But bloggers themselves are far less certain whether blogging actually generates business. What’s the truth?
Let me start with my personal experience; I’ll conclude with a thesis. The personal experience is just the facts — what I did as a blogger, how successful the blog was, and how, if at all, I profited from the experience. (I’ve previously recited parts of this story in both the print media and elsewhere. I’ll try to add a few new thoughts here.)
What did I do as a blogger? For three years — from October 2006 through December 2009 — while I was a partner at Jones Day, I co-hosted the Drug and Device Law Blog with Jim Beck, of Dechert. We wrote almost exclusively about the defense of pharmaceutical and medical device product liability cases. We affirmatively chose to have the blog co-hosted by partners at two different firms, for two reasons….
Look: If Lat and Mystal are silly enough to let me write a column about in-house lawyers when I’ve worked in-house for just ten months, then surely I can reminisce about blogging at Above the Law after just four weeks on the job. Fair is fair, guys.
So here are three thoughts, after four weeks of typing. First:
On November 15, Lat published the post announcing that my column would start in three days. Lat wrote the post; I had nothing to do with it. He promptly sent me a link to that post, telling me that we were up. I hung up the phone after finishing a business call and clicked on the link, viewing the post within ten minutes of its publication. Incredibly, the “commenters” were already out in force.
I scrolled through the comments and immediately learned that I’m (1) homophobic, (2) a failure in Big Law, (3) desperate for money, and (4) ugly.
Before I’d written a word.
Fortunately, an old friend sent me an e-mail providing emotional support: “Hey, Mark, you’re not homophobic.”
This post is a two-fer: It both suggests a way for outside lawyers to develop business more effectively and offers a tip to in-house counsel to protect their legal departments. (I bet you can hardly wait.)
First, the business development tip.
Outside lawyers often ask whether in-house lawyers are annoyed or impressed by the brochures that firms mail (or e-mail) to clients and prospective clients. I, at least, am not annoyed to receive those things. It’s awfully easy to delete things unread, so they don’t exactly impose a burden on me.
But am I impressed by the brochures? Obviously not; that’s why I now typically delete them unread.
What’s unimpressive about the brochures? Let me count the things….
In a land that is right here and in a time that is right now, a technology has arisen so powerful that it can replace basic human document review. Is it time to bow down before our new robot overlords?
First, here’s a little story about me: my life in the legal world began as a paralegal. My first case was a GIANT patent infringement case that was already six years old and had involved as many as five companies, multiple US courts, the ITC and an international standards committee. I knew nothing about any of this.
On my first day, my supervisor (a paralegal with at least eight other cases driving her crazy) sat me down in front of a Concordance database with a 100,000+ patents and patent file histories. “Code these,” she said. I learned that “coding”, for the purposes of this exercise, meant manually typing the inventor’s name, the title of the patent, the assignee, the file date, and other objective data for each document. I worked on that project – and only that project – for at least the first six months of my job. After a week or so, time began to blur.
What I know, in retrospect and with absolutely certainty, is that as time began to blur, so did my judgment. So did my attention to detail. If you could tell me that I did not make at least one mistake a day – one inconsistent spelling, one reversed day and month, one incorrectly spaced title – I frankly would need to see your evidence. I would not believe it. The human mind is trainable but it is not a machine.
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We currently have a number of active openings for associate roles at US and UK firms in HK / China, Singapore and two new in-house openings. As always, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org in order to get details of current openings in Asia, as well as to discuss the Asia markets in general and what we expect for openings later this year. Our Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney will be in Beijing the week of March 25 and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong the week of April 1, if you would like to meet them in person.
The US associate openings we have in law firms are in the usual areas of M&A, cap markets, FCPA / white collar litigation, finance, and project finance. The most urgent of our top tier (top 15 US or magic circle) law firm openings in Asia (among many other firm openings that we have in Asia) are as follows:
• 2nd to 5th year mandarin fluent M&A associates needed in Beijing and Hong Kong at several firms;
• Korean fluent 2nd to 4th year cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 5th year Japanese fluent M&A associates needed in Tokyo;
• 4th to 6th year mandarin fluent cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 4th year M&A / cap markets mix associate needed in Singapore.
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