Ed note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Philip Segal reveals two tips that will help new associates keep their jobs longer.
While there are plenty of things they don’t teach in law school on the theory that “you’ll learn it on the job,” two of those omitted subjects would help new lawyers do a better job and probably hold on to a job longer.
The two are: how to find simple facts and how to bring in business.
Litigators don’t get the go-ahead to sue unless their clients are convinced that the other side has enough assets to make it worth the cost of litigation. Litigators, family lawyers, and many others often have basic factual questions, but law school does little to prepare you to find out:
My last post focused on how much it can suck to be a junior associate in Biglaw today. In fact, much of what I say about Biglaw could be construed as a tad critical by the cynical and jaded (or sane).
So let me begin with a caveat: what I write is never aimed at my former firm, or any firm in particular. In fact, if you choose Biglaw, I have no doubt that my firm is one of the best places to practice. My crucial point, which is not controversial, is that Biglaw’s pathologies cannot be isolated to one or two crazy partners here or there. The problems of Biglaw are endemic.
So before we get too far down that Biglaw-bashing road, and especially for the folks gearing up for OCI, let’s look at what you can get from Biglaw if you decide to say “damn the torpedoes” and push ahead despite all warnings.
Companies like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have hired thousands of employees over the last decade by relying on brain teasers such as “Why are manhole covers round?” and “How would you weigh your head?” One psychology professor concluded last year that this sort of “puzzle interview is being used with greater frequency by employers in a variety of industries.” Earlier this week, however, a top human resources executive at Google reported that his company had scrapped the practice, offering the following admission: “brainteasers are a complete waste of time.” Google realized that its tests failed to identify the traits that correlate with success. For instance, Google now seeks managers who are “consistent and fair,” even if they aren’t good at estimating how many golf balls can fit inside a school bus.
Law firms are overdue for a similar reassessment of how they select junior associates. And as a corollary, law students should pay attention to the skills that law firms ask them about.
Let’s start with the employers. Several years ago, I organized a focus group of partners from top-10 Vault firms. I wanted to learn which skills Yale Law should emphasize as we continue to modernize the way that we train our students. The partners (including two corporate attorneys) all said that legal writing was the most important skill for junior associates.
The simplest way to know how candidates write, of course, is to evaluate their writing….
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 …
Hey, have you read Above the Law for like one single minute in the past month? If so, you probably know that we’re having this big blogger conference on March 14th at the Yale Club. Yeah, the Yale Club. You’ll be able to recognize me: I’ll be the only big… blogger guy surreptitiously holding a can of crimson spray-paint.
Speaking of coming, you should come. We’ve got CLE and all that. Click here to buy tickets to get CLE credit for listening to bloggers scream about stuff on the internet.
To refresh your memory, details on the panel that I’m moderating — almost entirely sober, mind you — follow.
My panel is called Blogs as Agents of Change, and we’re going to talk about whether all of these spilled pixels are actually making a difference. You know my view… just ask Lawrence Mitchell, but here are the panelists:
So you spent a considerable amount of time courting, selling and maybe even doing some friendly stalking of that attractive lateral partner candidate with a sizable book. After he or she ignored your emails and didn’t return your calls, a few weeks go by and you read a press release in the legal media announcing the recent move to a competing firm.
Rats. Another one got away from you. You cringe when you consider how much time was spent in meetings that did not bear fruit. Your heart aches when recall how you were led to believe this was a marriage made in heaven.
You have been rejected.
The sting of rejection is painful, even for fancy law firms. But you need to find a way that you can turn this disappointment into a legitimate learning experience.
No, this isn’t a pre-party before we come back next fall for the real thing. This IS the real thing. Quinn Emanuel is pushing the envelope on recruiting. The party is now. This is when you meet the partners and associates face to face. This is when we begin the dance that could land you an offer for your second summer BEFORE school starts in the fall.
First: You come to the party. Second: If you like us, you send your resume after June 1, 2014. Third: If we like each other, you get an offer.
We’re not waiting for fall. We’re not doing the twenty minute thing. This party is the real thing!
We hope you’ll join us, and look forward to meeting you.
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