At large law firms around the country, associates and counsel are eagerly awaiting their bonuses. But partners and chief financial officers have their minds on other things: namely, collections. The fourth quarter is when firms step up their efforts at shaking down clients for cash.
As we all know from the law-and-economics reasoning that was taught to us in law school, people — yes, this includes lawyers — respond to incentives. At one leading law firm, bonus anxiety is being shrewdly harnessed in service of collections efforts.
Mastering assignments begins with understanding what the lawyers you are working for want. You are not in law school; this is not a contest where you are graded against other students. Clients want answers, not issue spotting. Sophisticated clients already know the issues. Clients want answers based on the facts and applicable law — not theory based on policy arguments, law review articles, cases from other states, dissenting opinions, or model statutes that have not been adopted.
According to Lateral Link’sFrank Kimball, an expert recruiter and former Biglaw hiring partner, the most frequent problems in summer programs arise from misunderstood assignments. Common errors include spending the wrong amount of time on a project, delivering the wrong type of work product, memoranda that speak with the voice of a law student rather than that of a lawyer, and inadequate or excessive legal research. Each is preventable.
If you do not enjoy research, call that truck driving school. If you do not have a natural curiosity about legal issues, you are in the wrong profession. That means a rigorous, disciplined approach to defining problems and finding answers even if it means going through scores of cases, stacks of treatises, and hitting innumerable dead ends until you are satisfied.
Know that your assignment will be delivered by an attorney responsible for coordinating projects for summer associates or the attorney for whom the work will be done. Therefore, do not leave the office of the assigning lawyer without answers to these eleven questions — which you can read by clicking here. Don’t forget, for additional career insights as well as profiles of individual law firms, check out the Career Center.
I’ve received a couple of e-mails from associates at large firms saying that these folks sit at their desks dreaming about having in-house jobs: One client instead of many competing for your time. More manageable workload. A broader range of work. Less stress. An opportunity to think strategically instead of wallowing in minutiae. No more billable hours. No more time sheets. Bliss!
Please, these correspondents ask, write a column explaining the tribulations of in-house counsel.
This is tricky. First, the in-house life is pretty good. I wouldn’t want to understate the advantages. Second, I don’t hide behind a cloak of anonymity when I publish these columns. If I faced any tribulations (and I don’t, of course), this wouldn’t be a wise forum in which to let loose. Third, my own personal experience doesn’t prove very much generally, and I hear a wide range of varied reactions from others who work in-house.
What did you do yesterday? I’m assuming you went to work. Did you put in a full day? Great. Let’s assume you got started around 9:00, took about an hour for lunch, and signed off at 7:00. Maybe for you that’s a light day, or maybe that’s a long day. Doesn’t matter. So that means you worked nine hours. OK.
Let’s further assume that you frittered away an hour, mostly spent reading Above the Law or wondering why they’re still playing hockey in the summertime (I’d make a Bruins reference here, but it would be strictly from the bandwagon). So that leaves eight hours of bona fide work. Eighty point-ones. Four hundred eighty minutes.
Now look over your timesheet from yesterday, and think about how you spent those 480 minutes. Were they all the same? Were they all of equal value to solving your clients’ problems?
Of course not. But if your minutes aren’t all the same, why are you counting them as being the same? What are the real reasons that lawyers track their time?
Welcome to the world of Biglaw — a world of wonder, a world of magic, a world of pure imagination — okay, not really. After you are done watching Willy Wonka, come with me and you’ll see a world of schedules, time constraints, and statutory deadlines with loopholes and an infinite number of exceptions. If you haven’t already, buy yourself a watch — and no, not a Rolex (as Elie well knows, student loans are not easy to live with).
Transforming your wake-up-at-9:55-to-get-to-class-by-10 schedule to a working-at-a-law-firm schedule is not easy. The work habits of many students do not match well with the daily life of a firm. I’m not saying that law students do not know how to work hard, but when you join a law firm, you follow the pulse and practice of the firm, its partners, and its clients.
The following tips on managing your time and transitioning from law school to law firm are brought to you by Lateral Link’sFrank Kimball, an expert recruiter and former Biglaw hiring partner. Now on to the tips…
Jerry Maguire made a memorable plea to retain his client: “Help me, help you. Help me, help you.” As a summer clerk, you are very expensive for the law firm — in addition to your salary and entertainment expenses, firms spend hundreds of attorney hours monitoring your work and keeping you interested. You do not want to add more to that expense if it can be avoided, especially if it involves simply following firm policies and procedures. While we have already covered how summer associates should act in social settings in and outside the firm, summer associates must learn how to properly manage their work and conduct research on their day-to-day work assignments.
The following tips on time entry are brought to you by Frank Kimball of Lateral Link, an expert recruiter and former Biglaw hiring partner. Please note that these are general guidelines a summer associate should adhere to — be sure to check with your firm to determine what the firm’s actual policies are.
I find it funny that firms that want to skimp on bonuses also expect associates to make sure they are helping the overall health and performance of the firm. At some level, why should associates care if the firm is up to date on its collections? It’s not like that money is going to trickle down to the time keepers once their hours are realized. Hell, we’ve got people in the comments claiming they are going to purposely underbill in order to hurt firms in 2011 for stinginess in 2010.
The firms aren’t wrong to be doing everything they can to get associates to enter in their hours in a timely fashion. Time keeping is more accurate when you do it every day (as opposed to trying to recreate your days at the end of the week or month). Firms are struggling to collect from their clients. And, for what it’s worth, billing hours is part of the job for attorneys. I just find it ironic that firms are trying to pressure their associates to produce more money for them even as they are sharing a smaller percentage of those profits with associates.
It’s pretty clear that being a part of a Biglaw firm isn’t a “team” proposition. Everybody for themselves; that’s how the partners act, and that’s how partners expect associates to act.
And so Hughes Hubbard is bringing a little personal punishment to associates who are late with their time…
If you talk to law firm partners who are in charge of collecting fees, they’ll tell you that getting clients to pay has become a real hassle ever since the recession started. Clients are trying to make their books look as palatable as possible, and if that means avoiding or delaying payments to their lawyers, well, then that’s what they are going to do. Collecting fees from clients is one of the top concerns of Biglaw managers.
And it should be a top concern for Biglaw associates. Nobody is going to be getting a bonus when the firm cannot realize its profits.
You’d think every practicing attorney would be on the same page with this by now. You’d think, at the very least, every person would be diligently putting in their time to give their firm the maximum opportunity to collect on their billable hours. But apparently some people haven’t gotten the memo that putting in your hours in a timely fashion is critical in this environment.
Well, at Simpson Thacher, they want to know your hours, now. And the firm is threatening to bring the hammer down on attorney timekeepers who are putting off this important paper work. Put in your hours, or STB will hit you where it hurts — the wallet…
A college graduate without student loan debt is akin to reading a kind quote about Kim Kardashian in a tabloid—it’s rare.
In the past eight years, student loan debt has nearly tripled to a whopping $1.1 trillion, and in the past 10 years, the percentage of 25-year-olds with such debt has risen from 25% to 43%
It’s gotten so bad, in fact, that New York Fed economists warned last month that the burden of student debt could stilt consumer spending by twentysomethings, as well as further hamper the recovery of the housing market and economy.
To get a better idea of what massive student loan debt (we’re talking over $100,000 massive) looks like, we talked to an attorney who graduated with a large student loan debt. We also consulted LearnVest Planning Services CFP® Katie Brewer to see just how their repayment plans stack up.
S. Fischer, 36, Attorney Graduated: 2001
How Much I Borrowed: $100,000
What I Still Owe: $45,000
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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.
Deal flow has clearly picked recently up for most US associates, counsels and partners in Hong Kong/China and Singapore. We are on the phone with a lot of these folks on a daily basis, many of whom we have known for years. Further, the head of our Asia team, Evan Jowers, and Kinney’s founder and president, Robert Kinney, frequently meet in person with leading US partners in Asia to assess their needs and keep on top of the inside scoop at as many firms as possible. The need for legal recruiting help in Asia from experienced recruiters appears to be live and well. In March, Evan and Robert were in Beijing at such meetings, in April, Evan was in Hong Kong, and for half of June Evan will be in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Thus its pretty easy for us to tell when there has been an across-the-market pick up in capital markets and corporate work.
On an average day in Asia when Evan and Robert visit firms, they typically have 5 to 9 meetings a day, mostly with US partners in the market. The reason they have these meetings is not simply because Kinney makes a lot of US attorney placements in Asia and that a particular firm may have openings; instead these are just visits with friends. After years of working together as business partners, the folks at Kinney are actually these peoples’ friends. The firms Kinney work closely with in Asia (which is just about every law firm – call us if you want to know the one firm in the world we will never place anyone with again, ever, and why) look forward to the visits, or at least act like they do. After seven years in the market, many of the client partners are former associate candidates. Also, these US partners see Kinney as a very good source of market information as well, because they know how deep their contacts are in the market and how frequently they are speaking to counterparts at peer firms.
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