Monday, November 22, 2010
In trying to identify why some law firm associates succeed and others don't, one must consider the role of luck and office politics
That's the message from one law partner to Indiana Professor William Henderson who has launched a consulting company to advise law firms on how to hire job candidates who stand the best chance of "success." We've blogged before about Professor Henderson's work and his theory that law firms will move away from the traditional factors that usually determine whether a candidate gets hired, like her academic rank and the USNWR rank of her school, towards other criteria that he hopes to identity through his interviews with law firm partners about what traits and values they think lead to success. Now a former Kirkland and Ellis partner is expressing some skepticism about Professor Henderson's ability to develop a "recipe for success" because no statistical analysis can take into account the critical roles of luck and hitching yourself to the right star.
Henderson's researchers . . . 'pour over the resumes and evaluations of associates and partners trying to identify characteristics shared by those who have become 'franchise players' and those who haven't.' Here's what those resumes and evaluations won't reveal: the internal politics driving decisions.
'Most equity partners are talented, but equally deserving candidates fail to advance for reasons unrelated to their abilities,' Harper writes. 'Rather, as the business model incentivizes senior partners to hoard billings that justify personal economic positions, those at the top wield power that makes or breaks young careers—and everybody knows it. Doing a superior job is important, but working for the ‘right’ people is outcome determinative.'
Luck is also a factor, he writes. 'The most important things that happened to me—in work and in life—were fortuitous,' Harper says. 'No statistical model could have predicted them.'
You can read more about Mr. Harper opining on the reasons some lawyers succeed while others don't here courtesy of the AmLaw Daily.
Hat tip to the online ABA Journal Blog.
How much does a lawyer need to know about computer technology? An article today in Law.com's Legal Technology News about hash values as digital fingerprints suggests that while lawyers don't need to know as much as a computer-science wizard at MIT or Carnegie Mellon, they need to keep on top of technology issues that can significantly affect the practice of law -- in this instance, the impact of developments in creating "digital fingerprints" on the authentication of electronically stored information (ESI).
Today, November 22, marks the anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy, a heartbreaking and significant date for many of us. On this blog, we might remember his way with words, aided by his speech writer, Ted Sorenson. Here is my favorite quote, delivered at a White House dinner for Nobel laureates. He told the assemblage that the guests comprised “probably the greatest concentration of talent and genius in this house except for perhaps those times when Thomas Jefferson ate alone. Here are more quotations from the Quotations Page.
In her Chronicle of Higher Education column, Rachel Toor observes::
"But in academic writing, the charm of such quirky tics and accents often falls away. We tend to no longer sound like ourselves, and often move into stiff mimicking of works we read as graduate students. "It can thereby be shown" is a phrase commonly found in academic writing, yet hideous on so many levels it's not even worth discussing. Among others: "thus we can see," "ergo," "viz.," "in conversation with," "inasmuchas," "heretofore," "shan't." Look at your own work. How many similarly ugly words and phrases are you using?"
These ugly words may sound familiar to lawyers.
In coming up with an answer, she quotes sociologist C. Writght Mills, whose conclusions about academics may also apply to lawyers:
"Such a lack of ready intelligibility, I believe, usually has little or nothing to do with the complexity of the subject matter, and nothing at all with profundity of thought. It has to do almost entirely with certain confusions of the academic writer about his own status. ... Desire for status is one reason why academic men slip so readily into unintelligibility. ... To overcome the academic prose, you have first to overcome the academic pose."
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Here's a story that may be particularly interesting to legal writing professors who teach in a "lockstep" program where part, or all, of the course's content is mandated by a director or other administrator. From the popular columnist ProfHacker at the Chronicle of Higher Ed:
Recently, on a discipline-specific listserv, tempers flared and egos were bruised. The subject of this virtual brawl, a brawl that went on for weeks? A department’s (or chair’s) decision to control and standardize course content in that department’s course offerings.
. . . .
Advocates of control in large sections of classes made some very good points. A common syllabus, for example, is often very helpful for large departments when graduate students and adjuncts teach many of the lower division, general education courses. The common assignments and syllabi can help new instructors understand the rigor the department expects for its courses. Common assignments and syllabi can help a new instructor understand the scaffolding that needs to occur for student learning to take place, and these tools can ensure that appropriate course content is being followed (that no one is teaching astrophysics or basket weaving in a first-year composition course, for example). Lastly, the consistency of course content can also help students have a similar experience across sections. This can be particularly important for first-year students.
On the other hand, many listserv members questioned a department’s right (authority?) to dictate to faculty what and how they will teach their courses. To have a common syllabus for first-time graduate student instructors is one thing, many on the listserv argued, but to mandate that tenure-track or tenured faculty also follow the same common syllabus with little voice in how the course is structured, how the learning outcomes would be measured (assignments), or even which textbooks the course would use has gone too far. Many listserv members in this camp of the debate question faculty members’ academic freedom if such departments impose such control. Additionally, many wonder if students would learn to navigate a world of choices (easy / hard professors, one assignment type instead of another assignment type, for instance), if they are given no choices.
You can read the rest of the discussion, along with reader comments, here.
This is occurring, in large part, because clients are refusing to subsidize the training of new graduates. From the National Law Journal:
As the country's economic fortunes slowly improve, law firms on the road to recovery are showing an increased willingness to put resources into training programs for associates, according to a recent survey by ALM Legal Intelligence and Practical Law Company Inc.
Just over half of survey respondents -- a group that included law firm partners, professional development specialists, law librarians and administrative staff -- said that their firms had increased the amount of time devoted to training over the past 12 months.
. . . .
Thomas Clay, a consultant with Altman Weil Inc., says that he sees the industry moving toward a more training-friendly attitude. "The very blunt rationale is they've got to get these people to be more valuable quickly, because the marketplace just isn't seeing it these days," Clay says.
Part of what's driving that shift, Clay says, is the reluctance of budget-conscious clients to pay for work done by inexperienced lawyers. Firms are responding, Clay says, by trying to increase the 'perceived value' of their younger lawyers as soon as possible, 'because some clients are saying 'We don't want to use first- and second-years. They don't have much value to us."
You can read the rest here.
Thanks to our sister publication, the Law Librarian Blog, for tipping us off. It's a great resource for professors (skills and otherwise), students and practitioners.
From the press release:
Chicago-Kent College of Law is the new headquarters of the Oyez Project (www.oyez.org), a multimedia archive devoted to the Supreme Court of the United States and its work. Visited more than 700,000 times in the past 30 days, the site aims to be a complete and authoritative source for all audio recorded in the Court since the installation of a recording system in October 1955.
The site's archive of digitized arguments enables users to search for key terms relevant to their research. A search for a particular term, such as "strict scrutiny" or "substantive due process," yields a list of snippets from case transcripts that link to the corresponding audio.
. . . .
Founded and directed by political scientist Jerry Goldman, the site also provides written summaries of Supreme Court cases and holdings, detailed biographies and voting records of Supreme Court justices, links to written opinions, and a virtual tour of the Supreme Court building.
The site will soon make its content more widely accessible to mobile users via apps for iPads and handheld devices. iPhone apps for selected content are already available.
You can read the rest of the press release here.
Guidance for adjusting your Facebook privacy settings to shield the NSFW stuff from clients and other professional contacts
As we've said before, there are important legal, professional and personal consequences to granting the world-at-large access to your Facebook page. Here's a checklist courtesy of the National Law Journal (complete with screen-shots) of steps to take to help you keep your personal and professional social worlds separate via Facebook's privacy settings.
According to a recent story in Pennsylvania’s Legal Intelligencer, Pennsylvania law firms are sticking with traditional laptops and BlackBerry smartphones. For the most part, lawyers surveyed use mobile devices to check emails and view, edit, and draft documents on laptops. They don’t see much use for iPads and eReaders other than for entertainment.
Should teachers use technology to reach students or restrict it to better impart "traditional" learning skills?
That's the interesting question raised by this article in today's New York Times called "Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction" about the tension high school teachers feel between the desire to reach students on their own turf versus restricting the use of classroom technology in order to better help students learn traditional skills like effective reading and writing. And although the story deals with high school students, the same issue exists in the law school classroom regarding the teacher's desire to incorporate technology that engages students while still trying to maintain a distraction free environment so that students can learn the kind of deep thinking that's characteristic of legal analysis.
Here's an excerpt:
It does not mean [the high school principal] sees technology as a panacea. 'I’ll always take one great teacher in a cave over a dozen Smart Boards,' he says, referring to the high-tech teaching displays used in many schools.
Teachers at Woodside [High School] commonly blame technology for students’ struggles to concentrate, but they are divided over whether embracing computers is the right solution.
'It’s a catastrophe,' said Alan Eaton, a charismatic Latin teacher. He says that technology has led to a 'balkanization of their focus and duration of stamina,' and that schools make the problem worse when they adopt the technology.
'When rock ’n’ roll came about, we didn’t start using it in classrooms like we’re doing with technology,' he says. He personally feels the sting, since his advanced classes have one-third as many students as they had a decade ago.
Vishal [a senior who is the subject of the story] remains a Latin student, one whom Mr. Eaton describes as particularly bright. But the teacher wonders if technology might be the reason Vishal seems to lose interest in academics the minute he leaves class.
Mr. Diesel [a film teacher], by contrast, does not think technology is behind the problems of Vishal and his schoolmates — in fact, he thinks it is the key to connecting with them, and an essential tool. 'It’s in their DNA to look at screens,' he asserts. And he offers another analogy to explain his approach: 'Frankenstein is in the room and I don’t want him to tear me apart. If I’m not using technology, I lose them completely.'