Ed. note: This is the first installment in a new series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, for the benefit of newly arrived (or soon-to-arrive) first-year associates, we have some advice from Ross Guberman on writing for the toughest audience they’ll ever face.
With the help of many clients, I recently surveyed thousands of law-firm partners about the writing skills they want to see associates develop.
Across the country and across practice areas, partners agree on what they’d like to change about associate drafts. I’ve organized their responses according to my Four Steps to Standout Legal Writing. I’ve also included a fifth category that covers usage and mechanics.
A few sample responses follow.
Step One: Concision
Partners say they spend too much time cutting clutter and other distractions from associate drafts. Anything that interrupts the message — wordy phrases, jargon, legalese, redundancy, blather, hyperbole — is a candidate for the chopping block.
Many of our readers get highlights from Above the Law in their inboxes every day. Our ATL Newsletter spotlights our top content from the day, so you’ll never miss the story that everyone is talking about.
But what if you just can’t get enough of our partner-level coverage? From partner issues to partners with issues, from law firm implosions to notable lateral moves, we’ve got lots of content for — and by — partners at leading law firms. So that’s why we’re rolling out another newsletter that’s dedicated entirely to partners.
What are you waiting for? Just click here to receive the latest and greatest news du jour from the world of Biglaw partnerships.
Associates in both Biglaw and small should give some thought as to who is their most important client. Some might think that their most important client is their biggest or most prestigious one, or the one whose matter has the most at stake. This week at Morrison & Foerster and Quinn Emanuel, yearning associates might name Apple and Samsung, respectively.
Other associates might take a longer view, and answer that their most important client is the one with the greatest potential to offer them future business.
Still others might select the client for whom the associate has the most responsibility. For example, if you are one of three or four associates on several matters, but the primary or sole associate on another, you may view that latter client as your most important.
All these associates would be making a mistake by not understanding who is truly their most important client….
We’ve previously written about Sullivan & Cromwell’s so-called mailroom of death. To make a long story short (see our previous coverage here, here, and here for the full background), a Biglaw mailroom mixup caused Cory Maples, a Alabama death-row inmate, to miss a deadline for filing an appeal. The Supreme Court intervened, and ruled that in light of a “perfect storm of misfortune,” Maples would not be barred from appealing his conviction because of S&C’s epic screw-up.
Of particular note, however, is the fact that this pro bono debacle came about thanks to the apparent forgetfulness of Jaasi Munanka and Clara Ingen-Housz, two former SullCrom associates. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed this out in her majority opinion (PDF), stating that “[w]hen the associates left Sullivan & Cromwell, they never notified Maples and didn’t seek leave to withdraw.” Because when you effectively abandon a client, SCOTUS is sure to call you out for doing so.
Both Munanka and Ingen-Housz have since moved onwards and upwards. Munanka is now a partner at Hogan Lovells in Denver, and last we heard of Ingen-Housz, she was an associate at Baker & McKenzie. But as always, our tipsters have been keeping a watchful eye on the situation, and now we’ve got some news about Ingen-Housz’s employment situation….
When I launched The People’s Therapist, my intent was to get stuff off my chest — process a smidgen of psychic trauma. I’d write a column or two, exorcise the odd demon, piss off Sullivan & Cromwell, and call it a day.
It never occurred to me I’d be deluged with lawyers as clients.
There’s actually some data driving this discussion. According to Chen, citing research by Professor Henderson, graduates of Loyola University Chicago School of Law are six times more likely to make partner at a major law firm than graduates of the higher-ranked University of Chicago Law School, located just a few miles to the south. It seems that even though Chicago Law grads may have an easier time breaking into Biglaw than their Loyola – Chicago counterparts, the Loyola folks who do make it in the door tend to have longer-lasting law firm careers.
Let’s not pick on U. Chicago. There are other elite law schools with even higher Biglaw “washout” rates….
If you think that making partner is like winning the Biglaw race, you haven’t actually been paying attention to what’s been happening to partners over the past few years. Sure, Biglaw partnerships overall are enjoying higher profits now than they were during the darkest days of the recession (while associate salaries remain stagnant, of course). But average “profits per partner” numbers can be misleading.
Steven Harper, the former Kirkland & Ellis partner turned law professor, writes that the income gap between the top earning partners and everybody else is “exploding.” It’s never been more lucrative to have a nice book of business.
The “commenters” at Above the Law are — as you know if you’ve ever looked — a tough crowd. If you’re a partner at a big firm, then you’re a loser, because you’re a workaholic stiff with no life. If you’re a partner at a small firm, then you’re a loser, because you couldn’t succeed at a big firm. If you’re an associate at a big firm, you’re a loser, because you’re a lifeless drone who doesn’t have the courage to pursue your dreams. If you’re a scholar, then you’re a loser: Those who can’t do, teach. If you’re a judge, then you couldn’t cut it in private practice, so you had to bail out.
You get my drift.
The correspondents who choose to write to me personally (by clicking on this link) are an entirely different breed. (Perhaps it’s because they’re not anonymous.) My correspondents have been consistently civilized and reasonable, and often quite thoughtful. But I recently received a well-crafted, nicely written email from a law student who utterly missed the boat. I devote this column to that correspondent, and to others who might be suffering from a similar misconception.
Here’s the backstory: I wrote a column about how improving the quality of law firm interviews might improve the quality of associates that a law firm hires. A law-student-correspondent suggested that law firms might in fact not care about the quality of associates. To paraphrase: “Law firms count on having high attrition in the associate ranks. So you need a fair number of associates who will either leave on their own or have to be shown the door. And law firms make very few partners, so, after an entering class has been winnowed down over the course of a decade, the firm is likely to have one or two remaining candidates who can be offered partnership. That’s true regardless of the quality of the entering class.”
That email is proof that insanity can be made to sound plausible . . .
This is not the case for Biglaw partnership (and hasn't been for quite some time).
As mentioned yesterday in Non-Sequiturs, the white-shoe law firm of Milbank Tweed, in a recent press release about its new partnership class, gave a special shout-out to Atara Miller. It identified Miller as “likely the only Orthodox Jewish woman partner at a major Wall Street firm” (emphasis in the original).
The release continued: “Milbank has four other Orthodox partners who cope with the same issues, but each of them has a wife to run the household and children, while Ms. Miller takes on those duties at home.”
A big shot in Biglaw, and a baleboste to boot — that’s nice, very nice. But is it accurate to assert that Miller is unique?
When Chintan Panchal decided to leave a global BigLaw partnership to start his own firm, he could only hope that he would face the high-quality problem of firm building that many had cautioned him about. Focused on the uncertainty surrounding of a new firm launch, he decided to tackle staffing needs, IT challenges, and financial planning requirements after he had built up his legal practice.
Panchal Associates LLP–a corporate/finance and outside general counsel boutique–was quickly off to a great start. Clients and matters were flying in the door, and Chintan soon had a team of lawyers and staff with a variety of operational needs. To continue building an excellent team and provide them with a competitive benefits package, to expand his physical presence to include a European practice and additional partners, and to scale his operations and IT capabilities to support this growing enterprise brought with it demands of time, money, and expertise. Chintan knew he needed help.
“With the assistance of NexFirm, we have upgraded the capabilities of our firm to meet, and in some cases exceed, the standards we were used to at our former BigLaw firms. Operationally, we can now attract and service clients we didn’t have the bandwidth to support in the past, and continue to build our team with the best and brightest legal talent in the industry,” said Chintan Panchal, adding “It has worked out quite well in our case; NexFirm is an essential partner for us.”
The holiday season is upon us, and yet again, you have no idea what to get for the fickle lawyer in your life. We’re here to help. Even if your bonus check hasn’t arrived yet, any one of the gifts we’ve highlighted here could be a worthy substitute until your employer decides to make it rain.
We’ve got an eclectic selection for you to choose from, so settle in by that stack of documents yet to be reviewed and dig in…
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@example.com.
We currently have a very exciting and rare type of in-house opening in China at one of the world’s leading internet and social media companies. Our client is looking for an IP Transactional / TMT / Licensing attorney with 2 to 6 years experience. The new hire will be based in Shenzhen or Shanghai. Mandarin is not required (deal documentation will be in English) but is preferred. A solid reason to be in China and a commitment to that market is required of course. This new hire will likely be US qualified (but could also be qualified in UK or other jurisdictions) and with experience and training at a top law firm’s IP transactional / TMT practice and could be currently at a law firm or in-house. Qualified candidates currently Asia based, Europe based or US based will be considered. The new hire’s supervisors in this technology transactions in-house team are very well regarded US trained IP transactional lawyers, with substantial experience at Silicon Valley firms. The culture and atmosphere in this in-house group and the company in general is entrepreneurial, team oriented, and the work is cutting edge, even for a cutting edge industry. The upside of being in an important strategic in-house position in this fast growing and world leading internet company is of the “sky is the limit” variety. Its a very exciting place to be in China for a rising IP transactional lawyer in our opinion, for many reasons beyond the basic info we can share here in this ad / post. This is a special A+ opportunity.
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