Summer is supposed to be relaxing. Biglaw partners are familiar with the concept of summer relaxation, primarily from hearing about other people relaxing. Sample July client exchange: “No rush on that project, we are heading up to the Cape for the weekend, and when we get back we are taking the kids for a week to Basque country for a wine and ham festival. Actually we might hit Marbella on the way back for the weekend. Tell the other side I’ll be available after Labor Day for a deposition. Let my secretary know if there are any emergencies. Thanks. I’ll buy a bottle of Priorat for us to share when we win this case.”
In Biglaw circles, this summer has been anything but relaxing. By now, everyone has an opinion on the New Republic article that announced to the literate masses the upcoming end of Biglaw. Hard-thinking Biglaw lawyers have already forming opinions on the various opinions circulating around the Biglaw water cooler. (We need an industry conference to hash all this out, maybe with some clients to give their input. The electronics companies have CES; we needs a massive industry event of our own.)
Back to the end of Biglaw. The media, consistent with our human tendency to draw generalizations based on examples that are outliers, is very skilled at highlighting human interest stories at the margins of an issue. So in the New Republic article, we were treated to a description of the impact of a Biglaw firm’s glories and travails on rainmakers (who, if London-based, apparently have the pull to get an audience with the royal baby’s nanny at minimum) and displaced associates — people on opposite poles of the Biglaw power spectrum. Interesting stories, and easy to write about.
Ultimately, however, we need to explore the purpose of the grand Biglaw experiment before we can proclaim whether it has succeeded or failed. And for that we have to look at how Biglaw has treated perhaps its most important, if much-maligned, constituency: the service partner….
* When it comes to the U.S. Congress — especially the current one, said to be the least productive and least popular in history — and federal lawmaking, “action isn’t the same as accomplishment.” [Boston Globe]
* The Department of Justice won’t seek the death penalty against Edward Snowden, but only because the crime he’s charged with doesn’t carry that kind of punishment as an option. But oh, Eric Holder can wish. [CNN]
* Sorry to burst your bubble, but Biglaw as we know it is on a respirator, so be prepared to recite its last rites. The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber responds to the critics of last week’s hard-hitting piece. [New Republic]
* The grass isn’t greener on the other side right now. Revenue per lawyer rose at Biglaw firms in 2012 (up 8.5 percent), but small firms struggled (with RPL down 8.1 percent). Ouch. [National Law Journal]
* Let me Google that for you: Hot new technology startups have been looking to lawyers who hail from the innovative internet company’s ranks when staffing their own legal departments. [The Recorder]
* If you’re wondering why more financial crimes haven’t been prosecuted since the Wall Street meltdown of 2008, it’s probably because they’re too just difficult for most juries to understand. Comforting. [NPR]
* In a recent interview having to do with all of the problems that law schools are currently facing, from shrinkage to joblessness, Professor Paul Campos sat down to politely say, “Told ya so.” [Denver Post]
But, at the end of the day, the story that lorded over the legal week was Noam Scheiber’s piece in The New Republic about the decline of Biglaw. So let’s talk about why most lawyers drink themselves asleep in dark rooms and how attorneys are a lot like professional athletes.
Oh, and Justice Scalia called people Nazis, and the royal baby proved how awful punditry can be…
This week, the legal world has been buzzing over the New Republic’s exposé on the troubles of Biglaw, told through the tale of the long-suffering Mayer Brown. Our managing editor David Lat wondered if being a partner was the worst job in Biglaw, prompting some raised eyebrows. “Yeah, being a partner is so much worse than being an associate,” said a sarcastic commenter.
Sure, being a Biglaw partner right now isn’t “all peaches and cream,” but for most Biglaw associates — female associates especially — it never was. In fact, in our last discussion of the New Republic piece, very little attention was paid to the plight of one Mayer Brown associate in particular: the woman who was laid off during her maternity leave after surviving two prior rounds of layoffs.
The fragile state of the Biglaw world is such that women who dare to do crazy things like get pregnant must worry about whether they’ve put their jobs on the line. But just how bad is it to be pregnant at an Am Law 200 firm? It couldn’t be worse than being a partner, could it?
To accompany Noam Scheiber’s big article on Biglaw — which I discussed yesterday, and Anonymous Partner analyzed this morning — the New Republic asked six prominent observers of the legal profession (including yours truly) for their ideas on how to fix law school. For all of the blame that Biglaw gets for the profession’s problems, some of the difficulties can be traced back to the legal academy and how it teaches and trains lawyers (or fails to do so).
Let’s check out the various reform proposals. Which ones do you agree with?
Before David emailed me late Sunday night alerting me to the New Republic article that is the topic of the day (as it should be), these were the lead paragraphs to my column this week:
“I used to run to work a lot. Not for exercise. And not because I was late. Because I was excited to get to the office. I don’t know if I was the only one in my group whose pace would quicken as they got closer to the office. I know mine did. Maybe that enthusiasm contributed to my making partner when many other talented attorneys went (sometimes willingly, most times not) in a different direction. I actually loved being a Biglaw lawyer. There were cases presenting problems to solve, and I was grateful for the opportunity to be a part of trying to accomplish that for high-end clients. More often than not, the days when I would be hustling to get to work would be good days. Purposeful days.”
“To be clear, I was never one of those people who was in the office at 6:30 a.m., pretending that I had gotten so much important work already done by the time everyone else rolled in. (As an aside, these types are usually insufferable or desperate, and thankfully no one is seriously suggesting that the solution to Biglaw’s problems is an earlier average start time.) As I got more senior, my typical start time got later. Mornings were the only time I could reliably spend with my kids, and as busy as things were, I could never be assured that I would not be handling more work after my wife went to bed. So I took advantage of the Biglaw perk that is the exclusive province of Biglaw ‘timekeepers’ (attorneys and paralegals usually) — the ability to show up at an hour that for most corporate employees is when the lunch pangs start kicking in….”
Despite the problems and challenges facing large law firms, making partner at a Biglaw firm remains a big deal. As an old friend told me a few years ago, comparing his pre- and post-partnership existences, “My life has been transformed. I feel like I’ve been let into a special club. Overnight, the same people treat me in completely different ways.”
My friend isn’t the only partner who feels like he got kissed by a princess and turned from a frog into a prince. Others recognize the transformative power of making partner as well. In the words of our very own Anonymous Partner, “You now occupy a new professional status, and the nature of making partner is such that no matter how badly you screw up the rest of your life, you have accomplished something very rare. It is a life milestone, on par with getting married or winning the lottery in terms of its immediate alteration of your identity.”
Comparing making partner to winning the lottery is apt: many lottery winners don’t live happily ever after (as brilliantly captured by this Onion article, Powerball Winners Already Divorced, Bankrupt). A fascinating new piece in The New Republic goes behind the scenes at one major law firm and shows that being a Biglaw partner in the twenty-first century isn’t all peaches and cream. In fact, aspects of being a partner sound as appealing as rotten fruit (and this isn’t just sour grapes)….
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 seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.
Whether you’re fresh off the bar exam or hitting your stride after hanging a shingle a few years ago, one thing’s for certain: independent attorneys who start a solo or small-law practice live with a certain amount of stress.
Non-attorneys would think the stress comes from preparing for a big trial, deposing a hostile witness, or crafting the perfect contract for a picky client.
But that’s nothing compared to the constant, nagging, real-life kind, the kind you get from the day-to-day grind of being a law-abiding attorney.
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