Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Conley on Racial Equity in Private Firms

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

One of the wonderfully rewarding aspects about jumping into academia after so long in the practice is to realize that part of the job description of professional teacher is (or should be) to be a professional learner.  (That we are professional learners even in business was part of my management philosophy, so perhaps that says something, but I don't know quite what.)

That's an introduction to my recommendation of a tremendously interesting article, methodologically J_conley_2 and substantively, by John Conley (North Carolina, left), who I featured in a post yesterday.  The article is "Tales of Diversity:  What Lawyers Say About Racial Equity in Private Firms," 31 Law & Social Inquiry 831 (2006).  Professor Conley is an anthropologist and law professor, so the first part of the paper is an explanation of the scholarly discipline of ethnographic narrative - what you can learn and just how much you can generalize from what people say about their culture - in this case, lawyers about their jobs and their firms.  The second part is a report on what lawyers in different kinds of firms actually say about racial diversity.  The abstract follows below the fold, but as Larry Solum would say: download it while it's hot!

Continue reading

February 28, 2007 in Abstracts Highlights - Academic Articles on the Legal Profession, Associates, Law & Society, Law Firms, Partners, Straddling the Fence | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Get It In Writing!

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned a trial court determination that a junior lawyer was entitled to 1/3 of a more senior lawyer's contingency fee that would have paid her more than $1.3 million from claims against Iran that were collected from frozen Iranian assets. The junior lawyer had worked for the senior lawyer for about five years without a written compensation agreement but had received a 1/3 share of fees in nine earlier cases. The court concluded that the conversations between the two lawyers did not create an enforceable oral contract. (Mike Frisch)

February 26, 2007 in Associates | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Younger Generation of Women Lawyers Not Staying in Big Law Firms? "In Droves"?

Posted by Alan Childress

That is the premise (and generational-divide explanation) noted and discussed by Nicole Black at Sui Generis here, based in part on an article from California Lawyer. Whether the premises are true (and true nationally)--that women are way-disproportionately leaving biglaw practice, and this is especially true with Gen X and Gen Y subjects--is something on which Bill Henderson at ELS blog is more equipped to comment, with all his law-firm data and empirical-crunching talents.  But it does seem true to almost any casual observer like me with interest in the demographics of the legal profession that the generational divide Nicole spots is really there, and that women have higher turnover rates at biglaw.  Now I just wonder if it is empirically true.

February 13, 2007 in Associates, Law & Society, Law Firms | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Days of Whine and Roses, or the Strangled Cries of Lawyers in Love

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

David Luban at Balkinization has a Marxist take on the economic structures of law firms.  (HT to Brian Leiter at our sister blog within the growing Caron empire.)  More precisely, it's a worm's-eye view (as William Baxter said of Gilbert's on Antitrust on the first day of class) of very large financialMarx center law firms with staggering first year associate pay and high associate to partner ratios.  And guess what?  The partners make a lot of money off the backs of the highly paid associates!  (This, by the way, did not originate with law firms.  Any service firm, including the large accounting firms, work the same way.  Ask my wife, who was a FYP ("first year person") at what then was called Arthur Young & Co.)

You have to scroll through the comments to get a balanced view of this.  And, in the interest of full disclosure, I come at this as someone who had the worm's eye view, the bird's eye view, the partner's eye view, the of counsel's eye view, and the client's eye view.  The only view I never had was the rainmaker's eye view.  On the other hand, when I was the client, I got to have the rainmakers suck up to me, and some of them became my friends, so I have privileged access to the dark places in their souls.

So here are some observations about what is right and what is wrong:

1.  There is or at least was a significant difference in associate-partner ratio in the "fly-over" parts of the country.  While that may have changed over the last twenty years or so, I think in the midwestern large firms associates are still hired with the expectation that they will become partners.  My guess is that natural attrition pares the group down to the point that you don't have a Ponzi scheme - i.e. that the firm has to keep doubling in size to keep the associate-partner ratio at about one to one.

2.  The commenter about "service partners" is on the money.  The real divide in a law firm is not between partner and associate, but between net takers and net givers.  I guess if the leverage ratio is so high that immediately upon becoming partner you are raking in money faster than you can spend it you don't notice this, but net-net, when I became a partner in 1987, what with self-employment tax, capital contributions, paying for my own parking, borrowing to make up for the lack of special distributions, if the cash flow wasn't there, around estimated tax time, I'm pretty sure I made less in the first year of partnership than I did in the last year of associate-dom.  The line between net takers and net givers can be masked as well by partnership structure and compensation policy, i.e., multi-tiered partnerships, equity partners, salaried partners, base point systems with discretionary bonus versus straight return on equity.

3.  The commenter who says it's a free country is on the money.  It's quaint now, but when I graduated from law school in 1979, you could go to Detroit and make a base pay of $22,000, to New York and make a base pay of, as I recall, about $30,000, or become a consultant at Bain and make $44,000.  Even then you made a life style choice, and traded money, prestige or whatever the Cravaths of the world offered for whatever the Detroits, or St. Louises, or Pittsburghs of the world offered.

4.  The commenter who notes that there is something, let's call it a brand, that makes an associate worth all that pay because of the brand (and not just the associate's labor) is on the money.  The associate contributes to the maintenance of that brand, as do the partners, but it's a nice and touchy question when the lawyer or the brand is worth more.  When David Boies perceived himself as more valuable than the benefit that the Cravath brand bestowed upon him, he left.  The same applies to Fred Bartlit and Kirkland.  (That's an oversimplication but I think it's basically true.)

If I were to put some social science jargon around what's going on here, I'd forsake the Marxist economics, and go with path dependency.  And view the bitching and moaning as the voices of those stuck in the path.  Or go with Jackson Browne's take:

I can't keep up with what's been going on
I think my heart must just be slowing down
Among the human beings in their designer jeans
Am I the only one who hears the screams
And the strangled cries of lawyers in love

February 7, 2007 in Associates | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Porter on Vaulting the Maternal Wall in Law Firms and Law Jobs

Posted by Alan Childress

Nicole Porter (St. Louis Univ.--Law) has posted to SSRN her essay, "Re-Defining Superwoman: An Essay on Overcoming the Maternal Wall in the Legal Workplace."  It is also published in 13 Duke Porter_2 Journal of Gender Law & Policy 55 (2006).  Its abstract:

In this Essay, I discuss the work/life balance challenges facing women lawyers who are mothers. Despite these challenges, I believe that mother-attorneys can successfully manage a career and a family. In reaching this conclusion, I attempt to dispel the myth that mother-attorneys need to be “Superwoman” in order to succeed in this profession. The essay first discusses the obstacles women face - from stereotypical views of their competence (both in the workplace and at home), to the difficulty of maintaining a successful and meaningful law practice while working a reduced-hours schedule, to managing the guilt that inevitably accompanies the fact that it is impossible to be everything to everyone, all at once.

While I examine the many possible legal and structural solutions to the problem of the “maternal wall,” I ultimately conclude that major change is unlikely to occur in the near future. Accordingly, in an effort to adopt an optimistic view of being a mother-attorney, I conclude this essay with my advice on changing what is in women's capacity to change immediately - their own actions and attitudes. In my opinion, the key to being successful is to focus on the goals and expectations that matter to you - rather than the goals perceived to be set by society. I do not advocate mediocrity; quite the contrary, I suggest women strive to do the highest quality work possible while focusing on the aspects of work and home that really matter to you, your family and your career. Feeling guilty that you cannot be both “mother of the year” and “superstar attorney” at the same time is a fruitless waste of energy, and will ultimately keep women from being both happy and successful as attorneys who have the joy of also being mothers.

February 1, 2007 in Abstracts Highlights - Academic Articles on the Legal Profession, Associates, Hiring, Law Firms | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Top Ten Social Skills Warning Signs

I can't recall why this file is on my computer, or where it comes from, but my sneaking suspicion isList that I wrote it at some point in my checkered past.  It is a top ten list of social skill warnings of which law firms need to take note when interviewing law students (particularly those who are going to be making $150,000 or more to start).

10.  Candidate appears to believe “finger food” means biting one’s nails.

9.    Pulls out cell phone and sends text message to friend who is interviewing upstairs.

8.    First ten minutes of interview is spent discussing the relative merits of Old Spice and Axe body sprays.

7.    Candidate unbuttons suit jacket, revealing four inches of exposed Homer Simpson boxer shorts.

6.    In response to “what can I tell you about us?” candidate inquires whether the firm has a policy on downloading internet porn.

5.    “Most significant accomplishment” answer involves the phrases “college drunk” and “blow chunks.”

4.    Concession to “business attire” is a backwards fitted baseball cap.

3.    Candidate refers to contracts professor as a “law weenie.”

2.    Seeing picture of family on male partner's desk, candidate asks “was your wife pregnant when they took this?”

1.    On belching at lunch, instead of simple apology, chants:  “Excuse me, please it was so rude, it was not me, it was my food, it got so lonely down below, it just popped up to say hello.”

[Jeff Lipshaw]

January 30, 2007 in Associates | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Zaring and Henderson on What Two Lawyer Novels, and the Stats, Say About Associates' Happiness

Posted by Alan Childress
David Zaring (Wash. & Lee [left]) and William Henderson (Ind.--Bloomington) have posted on SSRN here their new review essay:  a comparison of the life and unhappiness of big-firm "elite" associates portrayedWihender_2 Zaringd in two recent novels with the available empirical data on job satisfaction gleaned from associates from lots of different law firm experiences.  They call it "Young Associates in Trouble," and it will appear this year in Michigan Law Review, volume 105.  Here is the abstract [I added book links]:

In the Shadow of the Law.  By Kermit Roosevelt.  New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  2005. Pp. 346. $24. [Here on Yahoo.]

Utterly Monkey: A Novel.  By Nick Laird.  London & New York: Harper Perennial.  2005.  Pp. 344. $13.95. [Here from HarperCollins.]
 
Two recent novels portray the substantively unhappy and morally unfulfilling lives of young associates who work long hours in large, elite law firms. As it turns out, their search for love, happiness, and moral purpose is largely in vain. In the rarefied atmosphere of bothSimg_t_t0312425880gif110 fictitious firms, the best and the brightest while away their best years doing document reviews, drafting due diligence memoranda that no one will read, and otherwise presiding over legal matters with lots of zeros but precious little intrinsic interest. If this is what large law firm practice is like, the reader is bound to ask why large law firm jobs are so coveted. Is it really all about money?

In this review essay, we compare Kermit Roosevelt's and Nick Laird's bleak portrayals with findings from a unique dataset on law firm profitability, prestige, hours worked, and various measures of several associate satisfactions. We also mine the findings of several 9780060828363 empirical studies that track the experience of lawyers over time. We observe that higher firm profitability is associated with higher salaries, bonuses, and prestige. Yet, higher profits also have a statistically significant relationship with longer hours, a less family-friendly workplace, less interesting work, less opportunity to work with partners, less associate training, less communication regarding partnership, and a higher reported likelihood of leaving the firm within the next two years. Nonetheless, graduates from the nation's most elite law schools tend to gravitate toward the most profitable and prestigious (and most grueling) law firms. The attraction of the most elite firms may be superior outplacement options. Or perhaps, as both novels intimate, it may stem from a reluctance to make hard life choices.

The available empirical evidence suggests that success within the elite law firm environment often entails a difficult array of personal and professional trade-offs. Although we find our empirical data to be informative, the novel may be a particularly effective vehicle for examining the rather existential nature of these choices. Thus, we suspect that the accounts drawn by Roosevelt and Laird will resonate with many elite, large law firm lawyers.

January 26, 2007 in Abstracts Highlights - Academic Articles on the Legal Profession, Associates, Lawyers & Popular Culture | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 22, 2007

If a non-lawyer lies in a forest of clients....

Posted by Nancy Rapoport.

In this morning's New York Times, Nathan Koppel wrote about an associate who wasn't a graduate of a law school or a member of the bar.  Case of the Paralegal Who Played a Lawyer Raises Many Questions.  Apparently, the associate was a decent actor, at least for a while.  In the article's "if a tree falls in the forest and there's no one there to hear it" moment, Koppel points out:

Connecticut authorities debated what Mr. Dubois [the Connecticut head of disciplinary proceedings] called the “metaphysical question” of whether they could even disbar someone who was never a lawyer and had only temporary privileges to practice in the state. They decided they could, and should, to keep other states from issuing privileges based on the faulty Connecticut credentials.

Good call.

January 22, 2007 in Associates, Bar Discipline & Process, Ethics, Law Firms, Professional Responsibility, Rapoport, The Practice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Yet Another Reason it Sucks to be the Governor's Daughter

For instance, your colleagues leak your emails.  Headline and first paragraphs from AP (?!) and found in today's online New York Lawyer:

Emily Pataki, Now NY Biglaw Associate, Fails Bar Exam on First Try

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Emily Pataki, like the late John F. Kennedy Jr., has failed the New York state bar exam on her first attempt.

Pataki, the eldest daughter of Republican Gov. George Pataki and, like her father, a graduate of Columbia University Law School, informed colleagues at the White & Case law firm in New York City in an e-mail memo Tuesday that she failed the exam. A copy of her e-mail was obtained by the New York Observer weekly newspaper and reported Tuesday on its political Web site.

My 2 cents:  You know what?  The bar exam is hard.  Brilliant people have failed it.  It'll be tough, Emily, but hang in there.  This will be a distant memory soon enough and you will do great things in law.  Anyway, this is not news and should not be an AP or NYL story.  [Alan Childress]

November 16, 2006 in Associates | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Curmudgeon's Guide

Over at the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog, Peter Lattman is running excerpts from a new book entitled The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law, by Mark Hermann.  I looked at the excerpt on prepping witnesses for, and defending depositions (hell is an eternity of defending depositions; my stomach still churns thinking about it, and I haven't done it in almost seventeen years).  The advice looks sound, ethical, and about what most lawyers would say is standard operating procedure.  I hope, however,  later chapters explain that the question-parsing hair-splitting approach to being a witness (a) managed to trip up Bill Clinton in a pretty famous deposition; and (b) is not the way you want a witness to behave in front of a jury, most of whom generally use language in the ordinary human's way, and look askance at what sounds like "lawyer talk."  [Jeff Lipshaw]

October 31, 2006 in Associates | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Quick Advice on Firing Associates

Over at LawBiz blog, law firm consultant (and attorney) Ed Poll has some quick tips on firing an associate in such a way, apparently, as to avoid his or her going postal.  It is clear that he ultimately advises having a real severance policy, and marvels at law firms and law offices that do not, but short of that his advice seems useful for employers in this prickly situation.  [Alan Childress]

October 26, 2006 in Associates, Hiring, Law Firms | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (1)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What to Advise Junior Profs About Blogging/SSRN?

Posted by Alan Childress

Nancy Levit of UMKC, on whose earlier work [on 'domesticating' women teachers in law schools] I previously posted, has just posted a new abstract and article on SSRN, called "Scholarship Advice for New Law Professors in the Electronic Age."  In it, she explores the rather cloudy mentoring situation of advising untenured colleagues about whether to dip their toes into blogging, how to use SSRN, and other techy issues that may cause political or lost-in-translation problems among the fuller faculty.   [Abstract after the jump below.]  I'd add what she acknowledges more diplomatically than I do:  that fuller faculty has some oldfart Luddites.  [BTW, how is it that there even is a Luddite.com?  is there an Anarchists.org?]  They may look askance (or the nice ones, just skance) at any attempt to 'play' or 'waste time' on the internet (and may be right) -- and, especially, 410779_66811632 to claim some academic or scholarly cred for it.   What would you advise a junior colleague about such activities?  Even the stock "do it until it actually interferes with your real writing and class prep"--essentially classic advice from the Boy Scout Handbook--insufficiently accounts for the backlash that may occur even without proof of such interference with the paying job.  To her credit, Nancy does not stop at the Hallmark card lingo.

The article is out for submission and your consideration or even disagreement.  Because Nancy is apparently secure in herself, and obviously tenured in writing such a piece and asking the following before publishing it, she seriously would like to hear your views on the issue -- what is your advice to that junior prof? ...does it depend on factors I am not mentioning?  ...does it depend on how many others at the school already blog or push SSRN (and how they are liked for that fact among the fullers?)  She has provided her email link here (that is dangerous but we are here to serve) and/or you can post your comments on this site.  There was a much-reported discussion earlier this year at a Harvard Law conference on blogging and academia with an all-star cast and agenda, at which Randy Barnett made waves about the "incompatibility" of blogging and scholarship.  He got the ball rolling on that at January's AALS in DC, helpfully debated by Dan Solove and others at concurringopinions here and linked and highlighted by Paul Caron here.  Jeff tells me there was some nice follow-up about Larry Solum but I have not found it to link it here, yet.  {UPDATE:  Jeff gave me the link to Markel's summary, including Solum's AALS talk, on Prawfs here.}  For some other thoughts specific to blogging (Levit's is not), and one of the best titles of the year, see Christine Hurt's and Tung Yin's "Blogging While Untenured and Other Extreme Sports."  Meanwhile, please don't let Tulane's Tania Tetlow see any of this before she agrees to guestblog on our LPB.

I enjoyed Nancy Levit's advice and think it ought to be published even without the modifications she invites from readers.  (That of course is one of the advantages and dangers, especially to junior profs, of posting on SSRN before placing the piece--would you advise someone to do that, or worry they will endlessly massage the piece before moving onto the next one?  [not an issue with Levit]) One part of her article that I find less convincing is her marketing statement (my term) that the piece explains to senior colleagues what the brave new world is and translates it for them.  To be fair, it contains useful tips about citing blogs and using SSRN for long-established writers, and she does not say as such that it is an educational brochure for faculty skeptics.  But to the extent it is, I doubt the older and fartier ones will read it unless it is foisted on them, and I hope she is not suggesting that the junior person ought to be the one to hand the article to a Luddite on some kind of suicidal educational mission.  Better to stay in the Saigon Hilton playing karate with the mirror than to enter that jungle seeking to tame the old man.

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October 25, 2006 in Associates | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 9, 2006

Life Lessons

There has been extended commentary over at PrawfsBlawg on the subject of "disciplining the lazy student."  I think Paul Horwitz's post hits the mark.  I like to have participation, and followed the lead of colleagues here at Tulane who use a "panel" system similar to the one Paul describes.  The only point, in my mind, is to have somebody prepared for a discussion, and to allocate that preparedness in a fair way.

In my classes, there's a penalty for absence or unpreparedness, but it's a low threshold to avoid it.  You have to want to get marked down to get marked down.  There are instances, however, where a student, due to exigencies, has been missing when I look down at the seating chart and up at the seat.  In every case, I learn later that the reason for the absence has been understandable and, indeed, excusable.  But I make the point each time that there is a life lesson here.  These exigencies will come up in practice, and even if you have a personal emergency, there may be judges, clients, partners, or others waiting for you, and you need to deal with that as well by the courtesy of a phone call or e-mail to explain what happened.

[Jeff Lipshaw]

October 9, 2006 in Associates | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Teaching Leadership to Law Firm Associates

A commercial conference organizer is offering a "Law Firm Associate Leadership Summit" that has been certified for CLE credit in New York and California.  Part of the pitch:  "Becoming a successful attorney takes more than just great legal skills. Success depends upon proving to your firm that you are a manager, leader, business developer, and mentor. The years spent in law school and as a junior associate don’t teach you these crucial skills, and if you wait to learn them when you make partner…"

Is the factual assertion true?  Are these crucial skills, and are they not taught?  Are they teachable?  Do law firms really want them taught?  Are senior law firm partners, when asked by deans for contributions, demanding more leadership education?  If these skills are not taught by law schools, why are they not taught by the law firms themselves?  Perhaps economic theory might tell us something here....

--Jeff Lipshaw

October 3, 2006 in Associates | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 29, 2006

Straddling the Fence - Career Questions

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw.

We kick off Straddling the Fence with some thoughts on careers.

I had lunch with one of the student groups here at Tulane a couple weeks ago (One of the very nice restaurants in the French Quarter, Bacco, features 10 cent martinis with a lunch order - 30 martini limit per person - but since I have never had the fabled three-martini lunch, much less a single martini lunch, I went with mango flavored iced tea.   I am not a teetotaler by any means, just a very cheap drunk.)

The question came up about career choices, opportunities, and training.  My bona fides in this area include the fact that I've been law firm associate, law firm partner, law firm of counsel, divisional general counsel, and general counsel of a public company.  I've done litigation and corporate.  I've been interviewer and interviewee.  I have been hirer and firer.  So the thoughts may not be right or helpful, but they do spring from a well-developed (if twisted) point of view.

Here are thoughts in no particular order:

1.  "You Don't Know What You Don't Know, But It's Your Basic Skills and Attributes That Matter"

There are entering law students who know precisely why they are here, and what they want to do with their lives.  If you are one of them, skip to the next paragraph.  My brother-in-law wanted to be a sports agent representing skiers.  But he never really wanted to practice law.  He went to law school at Denver University, got his degree, and then knocked on doors until somebody hired him.  The one that opened happened to be International Management Group, one of the largest agency and promotion firms in the world, and his career was off and running.

Most of us don't have that focus that early.  For many of us, it's a default path where merely being bright and analytical provides some likelihood of a decent living and professional status.   Don't worry if you don't know precisely what you want to do, because you don't know what you don't know, and it is going to take a while for you to find out.  I was a history major, and tired of being poor, so I went to law school instead of graduate school in history.  I had no business experience or acumen whatsoever.  Tax, corporations, securities regulation, the UCC, even first year contracts, were all foreign to me.  I gravitated to the natural writing, speaking, arguing kinds of courses - civ pro, evidence, federal courts - and assumed I was meant to be a litigator.  It took ten years in practice, including having made partner as a litigator, to realize that I HATED being a litigator.  I didn't know what the business lawyers did, and couldn't even begin to make a sensible decision as long as I didn't know.

Jeff Kindler, the recently appointed CEO of Pfizer, Inc., one of the largest companies in the world, started his career as a litigator at Williams & Connolly.  He moved in-house at GE as senior counsel for litigation, and then got recruited to McDonald's, where he was first the general counsel, and then the president of the division that ran Boston Market and Chipotle.  He then became the general counsel for Pfizer, and most recently its CEO.  The point is that I suspect it's highly unlikely that Jeff knew when he started law school that he had the business acumen to run a huge company.

When I was hiring lawyers for in-house positions, I looked for "the best available athlete."  Business people tended to believe that the critical thing was knowledge of their business area.  My position was that a great lawyer could learn the business, but as the coach said in Chariots of Fire, I couldn't put in what nature left out.    An example:  I was hiring for the general counsel position of a billion dollar business.  The best young lawyer I knew was an associate in a local law firm - and he had a number of very attractive qualifications:  Harvard grad, African-American, great writer, smart as a whip, but he was a pure litigator with almost no business experience.  To me, the basic skills and the diversity impact (we needed it badly) trumped the holes in the resume on business experience.

More below the fold.

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September 29, 2006 in Associates, Hiring, Interviewing | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)