Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time with us.
Labor Day weekend is here. So let’s talk about… labor! In the Biglaw salt mines.
In response to our earlier Flashback Friday posts about associate compensationin the 1990s, we received a few requests for information about billable hours back then. People wanted to know how hard associates had to work back in the day for that $83,000 starting salary.
It’s a good question. You hear anecdotal evidence going in both directions. Sometimes people who have been in the profession for a long time talk about how hard they had to work before technology made things so much easier, recalling the bad old days of never-ending, hard-copy due diligence or document review. On other occasions, though, old timers reminisce about the good old ways when law was more of a profession and less of a business; sure, lawyers earned less, but they had lives — or , at least, better work-life balance.
Which picture holds more truth? Here’s some data….
I am famous for a saying. Actually I am not really famous, but I have a saying that I have been, well, saying for years, as follows:
“Lawyers are only happy when they’re miserable.”
What I mean is this: You are working round-the-clock so much you haven’t even been home for a full day and hardly at all for a month on a doozie of a deal. You are completely sick of it. All you can think of is when the deal will be “over.” You are clearly “miserable.” If only you could have your personal life back! Then, finally, the deal closes — at last. Your client is wiring out the funds. As the transfer of funds is happening, a (terrible) thought races through your mind. You hate yourself for the thought — you try not to have the thought — but you simply can’t help it… and the thought is that you are kind of worried because you have nothing to do now and that is disquieting… gee, what if work has really slowed… at some point this will be a real problem. You’ve had your personal life back for maybe a second — you haven’t even taken a shower — and you are worrying where your next deal will come from.
Or the other way around. Work has been slow — very slow — for a couple of months. You have enjoyed some rounds of golf and gone out to a bunch of dinners and lunches, but you really would like a nice tricky and challenging deal to sink your teeth into. And of course you are mindful of the fact that like it or not lawyers just have to bill hours. That is how we make a living, and you just aren’t billing hours. Not a good thing. You are edgy — if only you could have a big deal to work on….
People are always talking about work/life balance at large law firms as if such a thing truly exists. For some associates, it does. They can go out and have a baby, “have a baby,” and do whatever it is they so please in their limited free time. For others, it’s a completely different story. They’re the first ones at the office and the last ones to leave. When they do go home, it’s to look at their family in passing or check their OKCupid accounts with a sigh, sleep for a few hours, take a shower, and put on a different suit. These associates have no lives, and it’s all thanks to their work.
Now, perhaps for the benefit of associates without lives, in the interest of work/life balance, this Biglaw firm is making it possible for its associates and counsel to do even more work than they already do…
Usually, the pursuit of “work/life balance” is just a fight between management and labor. Occasionally, it’s an internal conversation where an employee’s desire to succeed professionally is pitted against his or her desire to succeed domestically. Of course, there are always the people who believe they can “have it all,” as if work/life balance can be reduced to checking a number of accomplishment boxes in the most brutally efficient way possible.
But occasionally, work/life balance becomes a battle ground for people to justify a number of “life” choices that have nothing to do with work.
That’s what we have here today. A memo went around one of the top firms in Manhattan from a woman claiming she needed an “I’m having a baby day” so she could go to a Katy Perry concert. Before I post it and open up the comments, I’m going to make some popcorn — that’ll give everybody some time to ramp up their outrage meters to 11…
‘Out of balance’ is a type of balance, when you think about it.
ATL reader opinion was sharply divided over that recent law firm partner “Hang in There Baby/This Too Shall Pass” email. You’ll recall that the partner was seeking to reassure her younger colleagues who face the challenge of balancing the demands of the Biglaw grind against those of motherhood. Her message: eventually things will be better.
Only a few years ago, when the author was a new mother, she found herself “in the fetal position (ed. note: see what she did there?) on the kitchen floor so completely spent that honest to God I did know how I could get through another day.” Things improved; now the partner can promise her younger counterparts that “one day in the future,” when the kids1 can talk and brush their own teeth, “you will bake a pie and wear clean pants.” In between all-nighters prepping for trial, of course. While some found solace in this message, others found it to be cold comfort at best.
Let’s put aside whether one thinks the partner’s advice is uplifting or risible. For the sake of argument, if the legal profession — specifically law firms — is truly trying to foster the advancement of women attorneys, we can all stipulate that the effort is thus far a failure. What is going on when a fit of despair on the kitchen floor is such a “relatable” thing?
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day life of a lawyer. And the longer you are a lawyer, the more it will come to define you – if you let it. But it is a limiting definition, even for the best and brightest of lawyers. Take Marcus Tullius Cicero, likely the most famous lawyer in history. Upon being acclaimed for his skills as a lawyer, it is said that Cicero remarked:
“And yet he often desired his friends not to call him orator, but philosopher, because he had made philosophy his business, and had only used rhetoric as an instrument for attaining his objects in public life. But the desire of glory has great power in washing the tinctures of philosophy out of the souls of men, and in imprinting the passions of the common people, by custom and conversation, in the minds of those that take a part in governing them, unless the politician be very careful so to engage in public affairs as to interest himself only in the affairs themselves, but not participate in the passions that are consequent to them.”
– Plutarch, Cicero, Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans (c. 75-100 AD), John Dryden translation
Here we have the greatest lawyer in all of Rome, insisting that he wished to be remembered as a philosopher — a thinker — not a lawyer. Being a lawyer was part of who he was; it did not define him….
Anyone who is a lawyer can relate to the perennial quest to find work-life balance, but this odyssey becomes compounded when you are also the boss. Even though acquiring all of your business, as well as making sure the legal representation you provide is good, determines whether you may be paying your rent in a given month, you have to decide where you draw the line with your clients.
Drawing this line also works to the benefit of your clients, who end up getting more comprehensive and meaningful counsel than through the superficial interaction that not drawing these boundaries may lead to…
Professor Joel P. Trachtman (JD Harvard Law School) has developed a unique, practical guide to help lawyers analyze, argue, and write effectively.
The Tools of Argument: How the Best Lawyers Think, Argue, and Win is a highly readable 200-page book, available for about $10 in paperback or e-book. Chapters focus on foundational principles in legal argument: procedure, interpretation of contracts and statutes, use of evidence, and more. The material covered is taught only implicitly in law school. Yet, when up-and-coming attorneys master these straightforward tools, they will think and argue like the best lawyers.
For most attorneys, time spent managing the books is a necessary evil at best. Yet it is undeniably a crucial aspect of running a successful practice. With that in mind, we invite you to view or download a free webinar by Above the Law and our friends at Clio to learn how to better manage your finances.
Take this opportunity to learn what it takes to streamline your accounting and get the most out of your time. The webinar agenda:
● The basics of accounting for lawyers.
● How legal accounting differs from regular accounting.
● Report and reconciliation issues surrounding trust accounts.
● How to pick and integrate the best accounting tools for your practice.
● Steps to prepare your tax return for your firm’s income.
Do not miss this crucial chance to optimize your accounting practices. Save time and get back to billing!
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: email@example.com.
Please note that Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney are still in Hong Kong and will stay FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS WEEK. We still have a handful of available slots for meetings with our Asia Chronicles fans. If we have not been in touch lately, reach out and let us know when we could meet! There is no need for an agenda at all. Most of our in-person meetings on these trips are with folks who understand that improving a legal practice through lateral hiring is an information-driven process that takes time to handle correctly.
Regarding trends in lateral US associate hiring in Hong Kong, we of course keep much of what we know off of this blog. Based on placement revenue, though, Kinney is having one of our most successful years ever in Asia. We are helping a number of our law firm clients with M&A, fund formation, cap markets, project finance, FCPA and disputes openings. These are very specific needs in many cases, so a conversation with us before jumping in may be helpful. As always, we like to be sure to get the maximum number of interviews per submission, using a well-informed, highly targeted, and selective approach, taking into account short, medium and long-term career aims.
Making a well informed decision during a job search is easier said than done – the information we provide comes from 10 years of being the market leader in US attorney placements at the top tier firms in Asia. There is no substitute for having known a hiring partner since he/she was an associate or for having helped a partner grow his or her practice from zip to zooming, and this is happily where we stand today – with years of background information on just about every relevant person in all the markets we serve, and most especially in Hong Kong/China/Greater Asia. So get in touch and get a download from us this week if we can fit it in, or soon in any case!