I reported several weeks ago that I had been solicited to write an article about the future of Biglaw firms. But it was actually better than that: The invitation came from the “Sunday Review” (formerly “The Week In Review”) section of The New York Times, which is a pretty cool place to ask you to write.
Unfortunately, and apparently unbeknownst to the editor of the “Sunday Review” section, the Times ran a “DealBook” section on the fate of large law firms before my ditty could appear in print. This preempted my article (or at least that’s what the editor said, although maybe she was just sparing my feelings). So instead of having a piece in the NYT, I’m just another schlub typing away at Above the Law.
But if I took the time to write a 1,200-word piece on the future of big law firms, then I’m sure as heck going to get some use out of it. So here you are: “The Assault on Biglaw,” by yours truly, which damn near appeared in the Sunday Times….
Life in a service profession — there’s nothing to it!
When you’re asked to do something, think about how you can make the other guy’s life as easy as humanly possible. Then, do precisely that. Presto! You’re a star!
When a client asks you to do something, do it. On time and right.
When a partner asks you to do something, do it. On time and right.
“On time” is typically pretty easy to understand: That means “on or before the established deadline.”
“Right” is slightly trickier: It certainly means, at a minimum, “done to the absolute best of your ability.” (There’s a chance that “the absolute best of your ability” won’t make the grade. That’s an individualized issue, not capable of being resolved in a blog post. But it’s a lock-cinch that you won’t make the grade by “submitting a crappy first effort, riddled with incomplete research, barely literate, and filled with typographical and grammatical errors, because all I’m really trying to do is get the client/partner off my back.”)
Now I’ve moved in-house, and life in an in-house service profession is just like life at a firm — there’s nothing to it! . . .
What’s the first thing you do at business school — before classes start, before orientation, before anything?
Draft your résumé. And then give it to an advisor who helps you polish the thing. And then go through several more iterations before you submit the final form to “the first of three résumé books,” as Jessica’s email explained, although I don’t quite understand what the words mean.
(Unless times have changed in the last 30 years, law schools are not nearly as aggressive as business schools in immediately preparing students for the job market. Perhaps that’s an institutional failing. Or perhaps law school runs for three years, so students have two summers available for internships, while business school lasts just two years, which places heightened importance on the recruiting season in the fall of year one — before students have finished a single course.)
Jessica asked me to take a look at the original form of her résumé, which she prepared, and she later sent me (for the customary Dadly-proofreading) the final version — which was much, much better.
I haven’t prepared a résumé for myself in more than two decades, and, mercifully, I’m forced to look at relatively few résumés these days. But I learned a few things from watching my daughter’s résumé pass through the belly of The University of Chicago beast. And this experience prompted me to think about the difference between preparing a résumé when you work at a law firm compared to preparing one when you work in-house . . . .
The year is 1987. There’s a hearing in a court in San Francisco that will likely affect the price of a publicly traded security. An arbitrage house retains us: “We must know the result of that hearing first — the instant the information becomes public. We want to be able to trade before our competitors can act on the news.”
What do you do?
You and a colleague arrive at the courthouse an hour before the hearing will begin. One of you goes to the pay phone on the second floor of the courthouse — down the hall from where the hearing will be held — and gets on the line to New York. That person is about to hold an open line to New York for three hours.
The other of you goes into the hearing room, elbowing your way to a seat in the back, near the door. (It’s like the sign outside the country church: “Services 9 am Sunday. Come early for a seat in the rear.”) The hearing lasts a couple of hours, and the judge announces the ruling. All of the lawyers and arbitrageurs push through the door and run down the hallway.
Ha! All of those other guys curse as they run past your guy, who’s holding the open line to New York! You get on the phone and explain the decision. The guy in New York says: “Repeat that.” You repeat it. The guy in New York shouts: “Buy!!!”
And all of the other lawyers and arbs are just now jostling out of the courthouse doors downstairs, heading to the Greyhound Station across the street, where there’s a bunch of pay phones.
So your arbitrageur-client is a happy man, and he retains you again several months later . . .
I told careful readers six months ago that I would soon be moving to London. I made the move on September 1, and here’s the local news:
Senior partners at major London law firms can’t afford to live!
Well, not quite: But senior partners at many major London law firms can’t afford to live in London itself.
I recently had lunch with — prepare yourself — a senior partner at a major London law firm. When I told him where I was now living, he said that it was nice that my commute would be so short:
“Twenty years ago, the senior partners at most big law firms lived in London. But today, unless you have inherited wealth or bought your home long ago, most senior partners at London firms can’t afford to live anywhere near the City. Partner pay just won’t cover the cost.”
As an expatriate American, this startled me: I’m confident there’s no American city where senior partners at major law firms can’t afford local real estate. But in London, this has the ring of truth to it. From an American’s perspective, everything in London is nauseatingly expensive (or “quite dear,” as the locals so quaintly put it). But the cost of housing goes far beyond “nauseatingly expensive”; it’s eye-poppingly, grab-your-chest-and-drop-to-the-ground, out of sight. It leaves partner pay in the dust. Here’s what I mean . . . .
Merge; merge; merge. It’s all we hear about from law firms these days.
But corporations do these things in both directions: Corporations do acquisitions, but they also do divestitures. Corporations merge, but they also de-merge.
If it occasionally makes sense for a corporation to divest itself of a business unit, or to split itself in two, then it surely also makes sense for law firms occasionally to divest themselves of practice groups or split themselves in two. But we almost never hear about those things. (A reader of this column tells me that he googled “law firm” and “de-merger” and found only this five-year-old announcement about a firm in the UK.) (Don’t complain about my shoddy research. That’s more spadework than goes into a typical one of these columns.)
So here’s the idea: You have a global mega-firm that combines a fine M&A practice with a great litigation practice. Just as corporations sometimes think that combined business units would have more value if pulled apart, the law firm decides that everyone would prosper if the litigation firm were spun off from the transactional practice.
Divestiture! It’s not a dirty word in the corporate world; why is it never spoken among law firms?
Here’s a sad tale that I’ve heard repeatedly recently from senior partners at major law firms.
When these partners were associates, they were superstars. They did great work, were in high demand, and sailed through the ranks.
These folks were invited into the partnership along with (or even before) their peers.
As junior partners, these folks remained superstars. Senior partners were anxious to delegate responsibility to these people, and the then-junior partners were flattered to be asked. The junior partners were doing interesting work, being paid handsomely (if not royally) for their efforts, and were contentedly busy.
But a funny thing happened on the way to retirement. My correspondents became senior partners, and this crippled them (professionally). They had aged out of utility to their firms. . . .
I was recently asked to write an article about the future of Biglaw. (That’s one of the benefits of writing this column: Writing yields more opportunities to write. Like first prize at the pie-eating contest.)
I naturally asked some Biglaw acquaintances what they saw in their firms’ futures, in an effort to generate some grist for the article’s mill. (Given that I occasionally write in unbelievably awkward, and arguably unintelligible, mixed metaphors — such as “grist for the article’s mill” — it’s a wonder that Lat even permits me to continue writing this column, let alone that others solicit me to write in other fora. But that’s neither here nor there.)
What do my Biglaw lunch dates (and others whom I pester) say about their futures? They say many things, but one common refrain about the future of Biglaw is “consolidation. Big law firms will continue to merge, and only the biggest will thrive.” When I ask why firms will feel compelled to grow, folks often say: “Clients insist on it. Clients want one-stop shopping.”
What clients? Any real ones, or just theoretical ones? I, at least, don’t insist on one-stop shopping. . . .
What’s left? Today’s topic: How to drive outside counsel nuts.
I’d say that I’ve been thinking long and hard about this subject to permit me to draft this column, but that wouldn’t be true. I’m a natural at this!
How do you drive outside counsel nuts?
First: Insist that outside counsel prepare a budget for every matter. Then complain that the budget is too high; tell counsel to reduce it. Complain that your business will never accept even the revised budget, and tell counsel to cut the estimate further. When you get the second revision, gin up some reason why even that’s too high, and have counsel cut the budget again.
Six months later, when counsel has blown through the budget, refuse to pay the bill! “You told me you could handle this case for damn near nothing. And now you want all this money? This is far more than what you budgeted. There’s no way we’re paying this!”
See? I told you that I was a natural. And I’m just getting warmed up . . . .
The average person is relatively honest. Why do we create rules that force otherwise honest people to lie?
We do this to many people. Think first about physicians.
For some reason, New Mom and Baby should spend one extra night at the hospital. Mom and Baby are doing fine, but the doctor sees a reason for one more night of rest. What does Doc do?
The insurance company won’t pay for, and Mom can’t afford, an extra night at the hospital, so Doc lies: He falsely notes that Baby is “jaundiced,” which justifies the necessary night at the hospital. The rules have turned Doc into a liar.
I’m sure that’s just the start of what the insurance bureaucracy does to turn honest physicians into routine liars. But I’m thinking today of rules that turn perfectly honest lawyers into liars. Once you start thinking about it, you’ll come up with endless examples . . .
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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.
The last time I flapped my wings your way, I tried to make at least enough noise about your mobile phone to make you more than a little bit uncomfortable. I hope I did. If enough of us become anxious enough about the known and unknown unknowns and knowns in our mobile phones, then we can start making wise decisions about how to manage that information and its resultant investigations.
Today, I’d like to put a finer point on the last installment’s topic by asking a question that seemed to catch most attendees off-guard at a conference panel that I moderated last week: is there discoverable personal information in a mobile app? Our panelists’ answer was a uniform “yes” with one stating that, if he had to choose only one type of data that he could discover from a mobile phone, he’d choose app data. Why? Because there’s simply so much of it and because almost all of it is objective – not just user-created like an email – but machine-tracked like GPS, usage duration, log in and log out times, browsed web addresses, browsed actual addresses. Also, most of us seem to have the idea that data doesn’t actually “stick” to our mobile devices the way it “sticks” to our hard drives. Maybe there’s a disconnect based on the fact that our phones are mobile so we assume the data is mobile to?
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