In last week’s column, I focused on vacation planning for those in Biglaw looking to take some time off with their families. Weekends do not count as vacations. If the best lasting memories you can create for your children involve a stop at the bagel store for an ET with olive cream cheese on a random Sunday morning before you head into the office, you need to take a real family vacation.
But even those without families need and deserve time to recharge. As with anything in Biglaw, you just need to be smart about it. First off, you need to be a bit more assertive about your right and need for some time off. There is a perception in Biglaw that singles or childless couples have plenty of fun on the weekends, and as such do not need vacation time as much as families. That is bunk, but perceptions matter….
Time for a break from the bad news. There is no fun in checking ATL and seeing layoff news on a daily basis. Even though that sort of action is likely to continue, as firms finally come to grips with what sophisticated clients are willing to pay for. Which is basically partner time, with allowances for some associate and paralegal time on occasion. In the good years when clients were gorging on legal services as if sitting at a ten-course chef’s dinner, partner time was the indulgent dessert. Now clients are eating at the local diner, and partner time is the eggs and sausage $4.99 main course. You hope the customer is willing to pay for a cup of coffee too, and get kind of worried that the diner across the highway is giving away the coffee for free. Because they are, and their glop tastes just as wonderful as your glop.
Vacations and Biglaw have an interesting relationship. For partners, late August and the end of the year were usually guaranteed time off, barring a trial or a deal in progress. For associates, it was a different story….
I watched the sunset with my son last night. I told him that today would never come again, and that I was so happy to have watched the day end next to him. It then occurred to me that I had missed so many events since becoming a practicing lawyer; and for what? The easy answer is that I was such a hungry young turk, that I would always choose work over play because that is what lawyers do. Especially Biglaw attorneys. It was simply a rite of passage to regularly catch the 8:03 p.m. with a couple of oilcans of Foster’s Lager, arrive home after 9 p.m., and be up again at 6 a.m. to rinse and repeat.
Even more hardcore was pulling an all-nighter in an effort to prepare a brief for filing. Associates would lament, with an undercurrent of braggadocio, about how they had to cancel a vacation in order to complete a filing. And the funny thing is, I don’t recall any partners cancelling anything — ever. So, the hard (and candid) answer is that I was a fool….
I’m one of those lawyers that goes on vacation. Not just long weekends, real vacations. I pity those of you that pride yourselves in announcing, “I don’t take vacations.” Good for you, you pathetic drone. I didn’t take vacations at first, as I was always fearful that someone would call to hire me on a non-emergency basis and wouldn’t wait until I came back. Now I don’t care. If you can’t wait until I come back, there are plenty of lawyers on the internet to hire that can take your PayPal payment online and send you whatever documents you think you need to handle your case.
When was I able to take my first two-week vacation and not worry about business? After 14 years in private practice. I say that because I know how patient all of you are out there.
First, let me congratulate the commentariat, who I found in San Francisco had turned their child-like recurring comments into a t-shirt business. See, there’s all kinds of ways to make money as an unemployed lawyer, not to worry. (For those of you that tell me you don’t read the comments, it’s okay, just look at the picture and imagine those phrases being said over and over again, anonymously.)
Anyway, when I’m on vacation, I think about my business. I think about what I love, what I hate, and what I want to change. There is nothing like thinking about your business (not the cases or the clients) while you are away from the phone calls (if your phone is ringing), other interruptions, the deadlines, and all the trappings of a lawyer’s day. (That was tip number one of today’s column for those of you shallow folks that can’t comprehend messages that aren’t in your face with drawings.)
One of the things I do a lot while I’m away is watch other businesses. I try to figure out how they make their money, why their employees are happy, or unhappy, why their customers patronize the store, restaurant, tour company, and how they handle problems. You’re an idiot if you are trying to build your law practice solely by watching how other lawyers run their practices. Client dynamics can be found in many places, and ideas come from everywhere. Most lawyers are doing it wrong anyway. (Enter tip number two — see how that works?)
Staci here. When you finished law school, you probably thought you’d have some time to relax before bar exam hell started this summer, but you quickly found out just how wrong you were about that.
So instead of going to the bar and getting all wasteyfaced, you buckled down and studied hard for a few weeks. But you still felt deprived. You still felt like you needed to go out and get your partying ways out of your system. It was then that you had an epiphany — come hell or high water, you were going to take a weekend trip to Vegas to escape from your bar exam woes.
Now, this may sound incredibly stupid to some of our readers, and to be quite frank, it is. It’s about as stupid as choosing someone like me as your bar exam study partner. But Mr. Bar Exam didn’t care.
Let’s see the important lesson he learned in this week’s episode….
Billable-hour requirements are generally like the price of gas: they just keep going up. A law professor might compare it to a one-way ratchet. As law firms try to increase their profitability — by doing more work with less manpower, thanks to recessionary layoffs that haven’t been completely reversed — they ask more and more of their lawyers. Right?
Well, not necessarily. One Biglaw firm recently lowered its hours requirement — and instituted some other perks worth noting.
Fiscal year end for us is officially this coming Saturday. Until then we’re expected to be on call 24/7. While it might seem draconian, we’re a sales-based technology company, and the push is on for the “Field” to get their year-end orders completed. I readily admit that being “on-call” just four times per year (three quarter ends and one year end), rather than “all year all the time,” is not a bad deal.
When I was in private practice, you were expected to respond top clients ASAP, if not sooner. It didn’t matter where you were or what you were doing, you had to respond. I brought that attitude with me when joining my current employer. This not only took many of my clients by surprise, but by putting myself out there as a go to attorney 24/7, I find that very few clients actually take advantage of that proposal. Truth be told, I am able to “disconnect” on vacation weeks, and I have forewarned anyone tempted to call me at home that if it isn’t a true emergency, I’ll just put my two-year-old on the phone and let them discuss the latest happenings in rugrat world….
Thanks to all who participated in the Turkey Day survey. I am happy/jealous to report that an overwhelming 93.2% of small-firm respondents are able to take time off for holidays. And 76.6% do not need to do any work from home during the holidays. Half of survey respondents, however, are still required to check email during the holidays.
Who doesn’t love Thanksgiving? What is not to love about a holiday that involves eating obscene amounts of food, lounging around, battling people at Black Friday sales, and working a short week? Unless, of course, you are Ted the Turkey.
As holiday season comes into full swing, I am reminded of my lawyer friends who are not able to celebrate because of work obligations. Many of my Biglaw friends lament the fact that they do not get to take time off for vacations or holidays. Is it any easier, however, for small firm attorneys? Indeed, with fewer attorneys, there are fewer people to share the workload. And even smaller matters have deadlines that often fall around the holidays.
If one of the reasons that Biglaw associates consider going to small firms is because of the greater flexibility to take time off for the holidays or vacation, it is my duty to prove (or disprove) this belief. Please take this survey and help us discover whether small firm practice truly means a better work/life balance, at least in this respect. Thanks!
The evolution of relationships between the genders continues. Currently, in law firms, there is an interesting conundrum; balancing the desire for a gender-blind workplace where “the best lawyer gets the work and advances” and the reality of navigating the complicated maze created by the fact that, in general, men and women do possess differences in their work styles. These variations impact who they work with, how they work, how they build professional connections and how organizations ultimately leverage, reward and recognize the talents of all.
Henry Ford sat on his workbench and sighed. A year earlier, he had personally built 13,000 Model Ts with his own hands. Fashioning lugnuts and tie rods by hand, Ford was loath to ask for help. Sure, there were things about the car that he didn’t quite understand. This explains the lack of reliable navigation systems in the Model T. But Ford persevered because he knew that unless he did everything, he could not reliably call these cars his own.
“Unless my own personal toil is responsible for it, it may as well be called a Hyundai,” Ford remarked at the time.
The preceding may sound unfamiliar because it is categorically untrue. And also monumentally stupid. Henry Ford didn’t build all those cars by hand. He had help and plenty of it. Almost exactly one hundred years ago, Henry Ford opened up the most technologically advanced assembly line the world had ever seen. Built on the premise that work can be chopped up into digestible pieces and completed by many men better than one, the line ushered in an age of unparalleled productivity.
Today, an attorney refers business because he can’t do everything the client asks of him.
There are three reasons why this is way dumber than a made-up Henry Ford story…
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 protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months, and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.