Monday, October 27, 2008

Staying Afloat: Michelle Obama's lesson

HP is not a political person. In fact, I am tired of all the political polls, analysis, etc., and just ready for the election to occur.  But, a recent article regarding Michelle Obama and her time at Sidley provides me with some guidance for our audience here.  Reportedly (and I am just summarizing the article a friend sent me), Michelle's supervising partner thought highly of her and tried to give her solid work assignments.  However, Michelle was not happy with these assignments (she was a second year associate) and eventually reportedly went over her supervising partner's head to the HR department.  The supervisor observed something like "Michelle complained about doing second year association assignments.  But she was a second year associate."  

Lesson here?   Unless you are getting ready to possibly be the next First Lady, in today's legal market, don't complain about doing tasks appropriate for your level.  Yes, it is great to be ambitious, a go-getter, and eventually a rainmaker.  But, if you want to stay afloat, the best thing to do in these down times when we are seeing layoffs is to keep your head down and DO YOUR WORK.  Don't cause waves.  Don't be a complainer, whiner, etc.  BE A TEAM PLAYER.  Try to keep your work plate full by going through the assignment channels to get work.  Seek out potential mentors you might like to get to know and ask them if they need help.  Volunteer for emergency and other projects.  Sometimes I would get the "big win."  This is where you volunteer, you look like such a great team player, yet the project goes away or for some reason they don't need you.  No effort, but great goodwill.  

Aside from client work, you can work on articles, firm client alerts, etc.  This will help get your name out inside and outside the firm.  Your goal is to remain occupied and build your positive reputation as a hardworking, solid firm citizen.  Michelle Obama is an accomplished woman, but do not follow her example if you want to survive in a law firm in this legal market.  Do not complain that you are doing second year associate tasks as a second year associate.  Head down, positive attitude, team player.  Complainers get canned.  Goodwill can save.  

Thank you for all your comments to the last post.  HP will be reviewing them and incorporating your ideas.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Your Ideas

Hey gang.  

I feel like it is time to get some more input from you.  What questions do you have for HP .. please no more on thank you notes.

How can HP and other HPs make the interviewing and hiring experience better?

What was the best place you interviewed and why?  What really made a difference?  

Give me your insights.  Should we try to get on more blogrolls?  Other ideas for expanding our base?  

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Professionalism Part II

Remember:  you are your reputation.  Even in big cities, the legal world is a small world.  I've said it before here, and I will probably say it again:  people know people.  You never know who is friends with who, whose husband or wife works at X company, etc.  There are ways to be a zealous advocate for your client yet a fair and decent attorney.  HP has been on the other side of many attorneys over the years.  If you surveyed those people, HP would hope they would say that HP is a diligent, smart, tough but fair counsel.  These are the kind of attorneys people respect.  HP has received client referrals from former colleagues, former adversaries, and former clients.  Keep in mind that whatever matter you might be working on, whether it is "your" client, or if you are a first year associate working on a larger matter, there are implications down the road. Of course, implications for the client.  But also implications for you:  how you perform is assessed by your supervising attorney, your clients, people your clients may tell (their colleagues, friends, family members in business etc.).  Someone said recently to HP's friend "I'm referring you this matter because I know you will do a stellar job and you will make me look good to my client (who was the referral)."  This is a huge compliment.  It is based on one lawyer's high respect for the legal skills and client handling of another lawyer.  Acting as a jerk, being less than careful, logging tons of excess time will not get you to this point. Remember, law is more like cross country than track. Yes, we occasionally sprint but we need to keep a swift, even pace to finish the race.  


-- check and double check your work.

-- return calls and emails promptly.

-- if you say you are sending a document, order, etc (yes, even to the other side), send it promptly.  Follow through on your promises.  If there are delays, let the recipient know why and when you will deliver.

-- don't overpromise.

-- if you don't know the answer, don't fib.  It is ok to say you have to look into something.

-- yelling, cursing, and bullying don't usually help. In fact, if someone becomes obnoxious to me, I immediately go in my "you are getting nothing" mode.  

-- keep clients and others informed of developments.  

-- if you change documents, send redlines.  Don't just say "we had a few minor changes."  If you want us to sign off on something or pass along to our client, you got to show us what you did.  We don't like surprises or sneak changes and it makes you look untrustworthy.  Remember, even adversaries today can be clients tomorrow (job changes, referrals).

-- in the end, it is your reputation -- not your partners, not some other associate -- yours.  Over the years, I have adopted the good traits of some fine mentors while recognizing that other traits were either not my style or not good for my reputation.  Own your reputation. Remember -- and I know HP said this before -- no one is looking out for your career but you.  

Saturday, October 18, 2008


I digress from my traditional advice on "hiring" to spend some time on professionalism.  Over the years, as firms have become more obsessed with billable hours, as associates have become more obsessed with salaries and bonuses, and "laterals for hire" have moved from firm to firm in search of the biggest PPP, I feel many folks have lost track of professionalism.  I guess what I am thinking here is that I don't believe firms are teaching our newer lawyers how to be good lawyers.  When I say good lawyers I mean careful, smart, professional lawyers.  And, the associates have become in some instances "Stepford lawyers," just moving from project to project, timesheet to timesheet, without focusing on the big picture and without questioning when something a higher up is saying is wrong or perhaps unethical or even unlawful.

So, I would like to spend some time in our posts focusing on these issues.  HP spent many years at a solid AM LAW 200 firm. During the time HP was growing up there, HP will say that HP did have great mentors who taught HP these important professionalism traits. I don't think these same lessons are necessarily being taught there now, and I am concerned they are not taught at other firms. So, maybe I can pass along some here.

First, you are bright, diligent people. Don't become a Stepford Attorney.  Let's say a partner wants to keep his or her group hours up and tells you to record time in a way that you are not sure sounds right.  Do you just follow his or her instructions?  If you've got a concern or actually feel it is unethical ...i.e. billing for work not done.. then do something about it.  The partner is putting you, himself, and the firm at risk.  Someone once told a group of associates "our clients may go to jail, we are not going to jail for them."  Similar story here.  Do not do something you think is unethical or illegal just because someone is telling you to do it. Go consult a department chair, an office managing partner, someone to ask their advice.  I know this is risky but it is better than getting involved in shady timekeeping or other unethical issues. Do not sacrifice your ethical obligations and professionalism for someone's profit.  

Second, when I was a first year associate, I had an orientation program. I still remember one important line from that program:  "everyone here, at some point, will make a mistake.  Do not attempt to hide it, don't think it will go away, and don't have a heart attack.  Tell someone."  I think of that to this day. Once, it happened to me.  I thought I forgot to do something in connection with a appellate brief.  I fessed up to the senior associate, thinking I was about to die.  I am sure I lost sleep.  He said, oh, I remembered that and took care of it yesterday. Crisis averted!  Remember, a lot of mistakes can be cured, but if you try to bury them -- like my brother used to do with his bad report cards in the front yard so our parents wouldn't find them  -- sometimes the mistakes will become bigger and bigger problems.  

More in a later post.  Hope you are having a nice weekend.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Proper professional action:  You haven't heard from a firm since you got a call back, other than the recruiting coordinator checking in.  You have another offer and you decide to take the sure thing.  You accept other offer.  You send a short, nice note to recruiting coordinator withdrawing your candidacy and thanking the firm for its consideration.  Recruiting coordinator copies HP.  HP says, yes, I liked that guy, it is too bad I was stuck waiting for pain in the neck candidate to accept his offer.  HP will remember that the good guy was professional and should HP come across good guy in the market again (e.g., lateral applicant), HP will have good feelings.  

Crappy actions:  You have offer.  People from the firm email you to say congrats.  No one hears back from you.  What is so friggin hard?  Hit reply and say "thank you, I enjoyed meeting you during my visit and will definitely get in touch if I have further questions."  (This assumes you are still considering firm).  We don't understand when people go silent.

Dumb action: You are still interested in firm but we haven't heard from you in weeks. Yes, you are probably on hold, but if you like us why not let us know you are still interested.  Candidate A got an offer a couple of weeks ago because candidate B had gone silent and we figured not interested.

Crappy actions:  You accept offer, or after you get offer, firm sends you a goody basket of treats, firm toys, whatever.  Drop an email and thank the hiring coordinator, the HP, someone.  I realize I sound like your mom telling you to send a thank you note to grandma for the bday gift, but these are common courtesies that seem to be missing. Same goes for stuff sent to you when you pass bar, graduate law school, etc.  Acknowledge and express appreciation. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Call backs but no offers

A few of you have wondered what to do if no offers have been made, despite several call backs interviews.  As I mentioned before, you may still be on hold.  Yes, you might be the second or third choice, but in the end, if you end up at a firm you like and they hire you full-time (because you've proven yourself), then who cares if you weren't the first choice.  My suggestions would be to stay in touch periodically with the recruiting coordinator and let the know of your continued interest.  This week, a candidate got an offer from me because the other potential that I had in mind had gone silent and I figured he or she wouldn't take our offer since didn't seem that interested.  You may also want to drop an email to the Hiring Partner, especially if you met that person.  We like people who show a strong interest because it means you are likely to accept.  But remember, don't hound us, and please don't attempt to go over our heads with managing partners of offices, etc.  We know what is going on and are doing the best we can to manage the numbers, particularly in this economy. We do not want to run into an oversubscription situation because we want to be able to give everyone full time offers at the end of the summer.  We are being more cautious this year because we can't risk over-capacity.  If you hear from our recruiting coordinator, it is probably because the HP has asked her or him to check in with you to see if you are still interested.  This means we still are thinking of you.  

Now, what else should you do.  If you think things are not going well, I would expand your search -- look for company internships, governmental summer positions, smaller/mid-size firms.  Find something that will add to you resume and may have some potential of future employment.  I realize the law firm route is more direct but with the market being as it is, you will need to be more creative.  And yes, ask your contacts in the legal and business world for advice.  HP got a IL summer job because HP asked HP's uncle if he knew any law firms with openings (uncle was in transportation business).  Resume went to a law firm and HP got interviews.  It turned out that HP's uncle sent it to his friend, who happened to be a private investigator for the firm.  Sure, it wasn't an AM LAW 100/200 firm, but it was great experience and got a law job on HP's resume to position HP for 2l hiring.  So, you never know. Don't be shy - make the ask!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Answering Some Questions

I have to say, HP isn't that inspired as to a particular topic, so I thought I would answer some questions you've had.

1. A student asked about whether he/she should transfer from a not great school to a more prestigious school.  I would say, particularly in the legal market the next few years, it probably is a good idea to upgrade schools.  The one caveat I would have is if your grades are superb, you like the current school, and you plan to practice in the region where that particular school is viewed favorably, you may want to stay.  If you want to work in a big market and you are not there, or you are there but at a mediocre school, you've got a tough rode.  I saw someone who transferred from a mediocre school to Georgetown. We interviewed them. They would not have received an interview if their resume indicated they were still at the mediocre school.  That said, if I were a regional firm in that mediocre school's region and this candidate had top grades, law review, etc., the person probably would do just fine.

2. We've had several questions on following up after callbacks.  I have to say, there are several candidates "on hold" at HP's firm because HP is waiting to see if other people accept their offers. It is perfectly acceptable to check in after a couple weeks, and even a couple weeks after that.  Of course, there's a fine line between obsession and professionalism.  I like when people check in because it shows me they are still interested in us. So, if I am deciding whether to give an offer to Student A or Student B, part of what I am thinking of is who is likely to accept (perhaps before the NALP deadline!) and I may choose based on who seems most interested.  I haven't heard from someone in a while and figure he's moved on while we have seen other candidates.  Maybe he thinks we are not interested in him?  In any event, I am probably going with someone else who I think will take the offer. 

3. This actually isn't answering a question, but putting out a request.  If you've got multiple offers and -- since you have firm X you aren't taking firm Y, please go ahead and politely decline firm Y.  We understand people make choices for different reasons. We may ask you your reasoning just so we can understand and if it is something we can improve, to find out what that is.  In this economy, it would really help your colleagues and others if you decline early so that we can move on.  I realize I am calling on your altruism but, as my high school foreign language teacher used to say "it's nice to be nice."  If you are waiting on other firms, we usually understand that, but do keep the other firms informed of upcoming NALP imposed deadlines on your offers.

I hope that helps guys and gals.  HP is going to go watch some baseball.  

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Some commenters wondered how diversity factors into our thinking and noted there seem to be "looser" standards for women and diverse candidates. I can only speak for this HP, but I will tell you my standards are not "looser" when we are speaking with diverse candidates.  Rather, all things relatively (or nearly) equal, furthering the firm's diversity goals may come into play if we are considering Student A vs. B. However, a diversity factor won't - in my book - get you a call back if you weren't lauded by the screening interviewer.  You might get a screening interview if your grades are outside the cutoff slightly. But, if you are far away from the cutoff, being diverse isn't helping at least at my shop.  We have too many other candidates - diverse and non-diverse - who have great resumes.  

On the subject of women, just being a woman doesn't really buy any easier route these days. We see plenty of women in our screens and call backs.  It is more so the diversity factor that might be considered, assuming all else is equal.  I assure you that there are no "looser" standards for women.  If you see them getting call backs and offers, it is because they are highly qualified and -- as if often the case -- they tend to shine more in the callbacks personality-wise.  Many women have an easier time connecting with people they are just meeting than men.  Again, these are my observations. When I was on campus a couple of months back, the women were terrific.  The men, more mixed. 

I know I promised to discuss women's issues in a later post, and I will do so.  The law firm world is a difficult place for working women - especially working moms. It has gotten better over the years. If you are considering a family life down the road, you do need to think about selecting firms/companies/other organizations that appear to promote women -including those with families (ie. not just those who give up lives to devote selves to firm).  You do not want to be in a place where the lawyer moms are ghettoed to senior associate or of counsel forever.  Lack of power = lack of respect.  And, try to beware of that particularly evil brand of woman lawyer -- women who do not support other women.  My lawyer/mom friend says "there is a special place in hell for women who denigrate other women (without any basis for doing so). " 

Just HP's two cents for the day.