Last week I spoke with an In-House Insider, a Biglaw refugee turned in-house counsel. You can see what our Insider has to say about the state of Biglaw and client relations here and below.
As with the initial installment, the only changes I made to the Insider’s words were those done to protect their identity, and the Insider was given the opportunity to revise their points once I added the questions and commentary.
Again, I thank the Insider for the candid observations and thoughtful opinions on these core issues. Now, on to the discussion….
But enough of that. Let’s hear from the managing partner of our law firm:
Ah! Orlando in March! What a fine time and place for our annual firmwide retreat.
I want to welcome everyone to this magnificent resort, and I want to take this opportunity to say a few words about a subject that’s dear to our hearts: Billing time.
To paraphrase Sir Thomas More in “A Man For All Seasons“: “When a man [fills out his timesheets,] he is holding his own soul in his hands like water; and if he should open his fingers then — he needn’t ever hope to find himself again.”
For the junior associates in the crowd, consider this: You will, at some point, have a slow month. You’ll get nervous that the firm will punish you for not having billed enough hours. To protect yourself, you’ll be tempted to borrow from the future. You’ll think that, if you add just four hours to this month’s time, you’ll have hit your billing target. If you charge those four hours to your largest client, no one will notice that you’ve slightly padded the bill. And you’ll figure that you’ll make this up to the client in some future month; you’ll work four hours some Saturday morning that you won’t write down, so the client will come out even in the long run. “That’s not really fraud,” you’ll think, so you’ll have eased your conscience. . . .
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 — thisSimpson, 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.
Notwithstanding predictions of impending economic gloom or apocalyptic Mayan prophecies, 2012 brings some sort-of good news for incoming first-year associates: our survey findings show start dates have returned to pre-Recession timelines. We’re apparently (knock wood) past the days of first-years twisting in the wind with deferrals and rescinded offers. On the other hand, a majority of our survey respondents report that the size of the incoming first-year class has contracted significantly, with only 36% of you telling us that class sizes have returned to pre-Recession levels. For the full results of our survey, read on.
You spend three years of your life going to law school. You spend over a hundred thousand dollars on getting that education. You take a difficult entrance exam to prove that you are qualified to practice law. You’d think that after all that you’d be able to convince sophisticated clients of your value as a lawyer.
You would, of course, be wrong.
The Wall Street Journal reports that over 20% of corporate clients simply refuse to pay for first- or second-year associate work on some matters.
This is a terrible indictment of the value of a legal education….
Over the 13 years I ran Shepherd Law Group, I employed lawyers of varying ages. I had fortysomethings (full disclosure: I’m 43, although I really don’t look a day over 42), I had thirtysomethings, and I had twentysomethings. This last group, the so-called Millennials, were almost a completely different species. For example, in law school, these newbies click-clacked on laptops in the classroom — even during exams. They communicated with law professors using the email. And they had no idea what a mix tape was.
In practice, it turns out that they work differently, too. I remember walking into the office of one of my newer Millennials when she was working on a summary-judgment brief. Her desk looked like the desk of any brief-writing lawyer, with files and cases and books all over it. But what really struck me was her computer desktop. It must have had 20 windows open, many with tabs hiding other screens.
But at least one of the screens was Facebook, and another was an instant-messaging client. I could see that the IM screen was showing an active conversation. Another screen showed Pandora, which was streaming music I didn’t recognize (it was Portishead) at a reasonably low volume.
I was stunned. How could she get the brief done with all these distractions?
My first job out of law school was at a five-lawyer employment-law boutique: two partners, two other associates, and me. (OK, it was my only job out of law school; I started my firm after four years at this boutique.) The other two associates were third-years when I started. To be sure, they were both excellent lawyers and had already gained much experience working in a small firm with top-quality partners.
(I’ve often said that I’d take a third-year small-firm associate over a Biglaw third-year any day. The Biglaw associates have spent two years reading cases and writing memos; the small-firm lawyers have actually been doing, you know, lawyer work.)
I got along well with both associates, but one of them had more of a hierarchical view of the firm. One day, after I’d been there a couple months, that associate said to me, “I have an assignment for you.”
Being the new kid at the firm, the proper and deferential response might have been “Great. Thanks. Happy to help.” But my answer was less proper and by no means deferential.
And even though it ruffled some feathers, I’d recommend it to any new associate at a small firm. What I said was …
When I moved in-house ten months ago, my phone started to ring off the hook — and not just from folks I hadn’t spoken to in years, who thought that I’d now be itching to retain them. I also got a few calls from people who were simply curious about the difference between working in-house and working at a law firm.
One of the differences is self-evident: You arrive at work on your first day at a corporation, and you devote that day entirely to ministerial crap. You spend an hour completing immigration forms, spend an hour having your photograph taken for various ID cards, fill out your health insurance and retirement benefit forms, create passwords for a dizzying array of computer databases, set up your computer to receive corporate training, and then realize that everyone is heading home.
Ouch! Another wasted day! You didn’t do a minute of billable work. You might as well have been on vacation today, because you did nothing that could legitimately be charged to a client.
Members of the “lost generation” who managed to snag those elusive Biglaw offers are generally being viewed as welcome additions to their firms. According to our survey results, the majority of respondents report that Class of 2009 and 2010 associates started on time, and have enough billable work.
Although most of the more senior associates think the first-year associates will be cut first if the economy heads south again, a number of newbies are actually very confident about their job security. (That’s especially true of first-years at this New York firm.)
Law schools — as Elie likes to remind readers on a frequent basis — are businesses. Like any good CEO should, Duke Law School dean David Levi has written an editorial defending his product: young lawyers.
In the National Law Journal, he starts off by acknowledging that the legal market for young lawyers is in worse shape than Duke’s reputation after the lacrosse scandal, and that this is “understandable” given the laws of supply and demand. (A subtle acknowledgment of there being too many law schools?) He then writes:
What is not understandable is the surprising amount of criticism heaped upon younger lawyers, offered as if to justify placing a disproportionate share of the economic downturn on their shoulders.
The criticism comes from law firm managers, in-house counsel and former lawyers who now comment on the legal profession…
Ahem. *Uncomfortable pause.*
They most likely represent a minority view, but they are vocal. They say that clients are no longer willing to pay for the work of young associates because their work is “worthless.” We might expect clients to make any argument that could lead to a lower bill, particularly during an economic downturn. But it is wrong and surprising for experienced lawyers inside and outside of firms to acquiesce in, even reinforce, this line of argument.
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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 email@example.com 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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