I’m pleased to announce that the reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. To the contrary, I survived my surprise three-week trial. It wasn’t a total surprise, of course. I had been expecting a trial, just not one that lasted more than a week.
Not that I’m complaining. Frankly, trying cases is a whole lot of fun. I’ve written before about my passion for trials and the competitive aspect of litigation generally.
That internal motivation is crucial for me. Trials usually require demanding hours, and that is the least of it. Beyond the mere number of hours spent working, I often find trying a case to be exhausting. Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. Whenever you’re not on center stage, say, conducting a witness examination, you are paying rapt attention, thinking and calculating and strategizing. Sustaining that over time, day after day, can be difficult. You have to give your all, and then some. And when even more is asked of you, fate will decide the rest…
I try to approach new relationships without an express agenda. In my experience, business has always come from relationships indirectly, and unexpectedly. Looking back at my firm’s engagements with 20/20 hindsight, it is undeniable that positive relationships led to the work. But that was impossible to predict looking forward.
For example, lunch with a casual acquaintance became a friendship and led to a very lucrative engagement when he later developed a conflict. I could not have predicted at the time how the lunch would later lead to important business.
In fact, had I approached the lunch with a strict agenda, I never would have formed the friendship or subsequent business. Instead of meeting with the goal of developing business, I met with the goal of having a nice lunch. It is a well-known irony that sometimes it is easier to get something when you stop trying so hard…
When I graduated from law school, one of the perceived benefits of working in Biglaw was job security. This manifested itself in various ways.
First, firms rarely, if ever, conducted true “layoffs;” i.e., reductions in force based more on outside economic factors than qualitative assessments of the affected employees. The rate of hiring either accelerated or slowed, but rarely reversed.
The “no layoff” tradition was to some extent rooted in a genteel culture, but more directly based on pure economics. Most Biglaw firms had more available work than they could handle at any given time. If work slowed, partners nonetheless were confident that it would pick back up…
I recently attended a reception for prospective students who had been admitted to the University of Pennsylvania Law School. It was a great event which was graciously hosted by superstar Penn Law alum John Wilson of Shearman & Sterling.
I’m a huge fan of Penn Law for too many reasons to list here, and I tried to convey some of my enthusiasm to the prospective students. (Had I known at the time, I would have included Penn’s distinguishing and commendable compliance with ABA transparency standards.)
I remember when I had attended the admitted students reception prior to committing, way back in 1996. At that reception I met then-Dean Colin Diver, who asked me what other schools I was considering. I told him, and added that I had not yet heard back from Stanford, my top choice…
Lawyers love to give advice. They seem to have an opinion about everything. Lawyers even love giving advice to other lawyers, if for no other reason than they like to gratify their egos. Thus, there is no shortage of advice for junior lawyers about how to most effectively practice law, nor is there any shortage of advice on how to establish and run a small firm or boutique legal practice.
Often, however, the advice is easier said than done.
For example, many scoff at those who fall victim to some version or another of a “Nigerian scam.” We especially shake our heads when the victims are lawyers. But ignoring seemingly obvious scam emails often is easier said than done.
My six-year-old is never satisfied. If I offer him a piece of candy, he asks if he can have two pieces. If I tell him he can watch a 30-minute TV show, he asks if he can watch a 90-minute movie.
As annoying as that can be, I have a grudging respect for his persistence. In my opinion, his attitude exemplifies the kind of approach I think makes for a successful lawyer, not to mention running a successful business.
Refusing to be satisfied pays dividends in terms of your professional development. At the same time, the instincts of a six-year-old may be counterproductive. For example, when a case resolves unfavorably, our knee-jerk reaction is to blame forces beyond our control. You lost because the jury got it wrong, or the judge didn’t understand something, or the client didn’t tell you something. The words come out like an angry stream. There are a dozen rationalizations for why it was anyone’s fault but your own. Hopefully, when the heat cools down, and you find your mind, you will ask yourself what you could have done differently.
But I think what is less common, yet equally valuable, is going through this exercise even when a case resolves favorably. There is always room for improvement, and a post-mortem debriefing always makes sense. Rather than being satisfied with reaching a great settlement, or a great victory at trial, it behooves you to consider not only what you did right, but what you might have done differently….
I was grateful that Quinn Emanuel sent me to Los Angeles for a multi-week long, intensive trial advocacy training program. The instructors were incredible and the program overall was one of the most valuable training experiences of my career.
Some of the sessions featured practice drills followed by critiques from practicing attorneys. In one of the sessions, that “mentor” role was filled by a junior partner in a well-known firm. He had long, wavy hair and wore a tight silk shirt with the top several buttons open, exposing his chest hair and gold chains. His cologne should have been arrested for olfactory assault. If you think of a 1980s hair-metal band you will get the right idea.
Creepy-looking Mentor was constantly flipping his hair and paying far too much attention to the young, female associates. (He seemed to think it was particularly important to help them with their cross-examination posture, as he made a point of standing behind them and guiding them like a golf or tennis pro might do.)
Even though the program was only “practice” — cue Allen Iverson — there was a lot of pressure because many firm partners were there watching and, presumably, evaluating us. In this particular session, the associate doing a cross examination was very nervous, and visibly shaking. When the associate was finished, Mentor said he had a relevant war story he thought would be helpful to share, and did so….
“I am having a root canal this morning, so I’ll be working from home.”
Some attorneys use the expression “working from home” to mean that they are mostly taking the day off for one reason or another. In other words, they really mean that they are “not working.”
Other times, “working from home” really means “I’m still working, just not in the office.” I might do this, for example, to avoid a long commute or because I can better tackle my project at home, perhaps because my home will offer fewer distractions.
Assuming that “working from home” means that you still are working, albeit in a different physical location, should a firm care when or whether an attorney comes into the office, provided nothing time-sensitive needs to be accomplished that day?
Your ATL editors: David Lat, Staci Zaretsky, and Elie Mystal.
Thanks a lot to everyone who came out on Wednesday night to attend the Above the Law New Year’s party!
The festivities were well-attended, and the bar was full of action — no seriously, there may or may not have been a couple making out the whole night. Thanks to our sponsor, Lateral Link, for such a great evening.
Yeah yeah, we know, it’s the internet, so of course this post is “WWOP.” So let’s get some pics up in here….
Some attorneys think they are unable to transition from Biglaw to opening a solo or small firm boutique because they lack the ability to generate business. They might think, “If I can’t generate business at my current firm, with all of its vast resources, goodwill, and prestige behind me, then how could I ever hope to generate business on my own?”
This kind of negative thinking is pernicious, and based on a number of fallacies….
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In a land that is right here and in a time that is right now, a technology has arisen so powerful that it can replace basic human document review. Is it time to bow down before our new robot overlords?
First, here’s a little story about me: my life in the legal world began as a paralegal. My first case was a GIANT patent infringement case that was already six years old and had involved as many as five companies, multiple US courts, the ITC and an international standards committee. I knew nothing about any of this.
On my first day, my supervisor (a paralegal with at least eight other cases driving her crazy) sat me down in front of a Concordance database with a 100,000+ patents and patent file histories. “Code these,” she said. I learned that “coding”, for the purposes of this exercise, meant manually typing the inventor’s name, the title of the patent, the assignee, the file date, and other objective data for each document. I worked on that project – and only that project – for at least the first six months of my job. After a week or so, time began to blur.
What I know, in retrospect and with absolutely certainty, is that as time began to blur, so did my judgment. So did my attention to detail. If you could tell me that I did not make at least one mistake a day – one inconsistent spelling, one reversed day and month, one incorrectly spaced title – I frankly would need to see your evidence. I would not believe it. The human mind is trainable but it is not a machine.
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