Saturday, February 28, 2009

free work

a top student at a top school asked if he or she should offer to work at a large (it was large, right?) firm for free.  Even in these times, I don't think I like this concept. It makes you look desperate (which I know many are, anyway). I can understand interning (for free) at a non-profit or governmental agency, but at a big law firm, just has a stigma to me (that's the guy who worked for XYZ for nothing). I haven't heard of firms doing this.  I was offered this situation by a law student last year.  While we thought it different, we also thought it said something about him, and not in a good way.  Now, other may disagree with me, but I just don't see prestigious law firms jumping on this concept.  

As a side note, I worked for a smaller firm as a 1L summer in a medium sized city for an hourly wage.  I don't recall what it is but they didn't even want us to work past 5 because they only wanted us working/paid 9 to 5. Maybe it was like 15 dollars an hour (maybe less!), but at least I was paid and I got some great experience - drafting summary judgement motions and memoranda, getting to accompany the lawyers to court, observing depositions, etc., and I made some good contacts who served as references the next summer.  I came out in a bad legal market as well, so I understand the difficulties.  But, I would rather see you with a paying job of some type (or interning for free at at place where that is more common) than groveling at BIGLAW.  Happy to hear any different views, but as I said, I haven't heard firms jumping on this "free summer associate" train.  It may be because it costs to run a summer program anyway, even without the fancy events.  

Double posting today, I guess I had a lot to say.

BTW, I'd be curious to hear any stories about 3L offers rescinded - hence the poll.  Our incoming associates are still expected to join but I wonder about what you are hearing (something different from, of course, since I read that).

And to my Latham friends:  good luck, friends. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

how long

Someone asked how long this legal downturn is likely to last.  There's a reason we are lawyers and not investment bankers -- we really don't have a lot of foresight when it comes to the market -- but, based what I am hearing in the recruiting world, I think recruiting at the new hire and lateral stages will take longer to recover than the pick up in legal work.  This is because firms are finally being more conservative when it comes to new hires, salaries, bonuses, etc.  In my view, this is long overdue as too much hiring occurred even while economy was slowing, and many firms just tried to match each other on the crazed bonuses and salaries.  I bet if you ask many now, they would have taken less money for more job security.

in any event, firms are cracking down on hiring.  Many firms will not have a 2009 summer class or will significantly reduce the class and the program.  I predict there will be many "no offers" even for decent performers because firms will be afraid about bringing new hires on.  Fall 2009 recruiting will be a slow season. We will return to a time when only the stars are on relatively easy street.  If you are beyond, say, 25% in your class at a top 11-33 law school, it is going to be difficult.  This means that 2010 summer classes will be small.  I really don't see a pickup until after 2011.  Sorry for any depressing news here, but firms are definitely pulling back on new hires especially.

My friend, a headhunter, reports that associate lateral hiring is basically flat.  There are some specialists getting hired, but he has more or less moved his  whole practice to lateral partners. Partners with business are still able to move and he is moving plenty of them.  

networking again

Many of us have noticed that we've started hearing from former colleagues, long lost friends, etc. lately, just as the layoffs have hit.  And, yes, these people have been laid off, let go, whatever you want to call it.  HP feels for these folks, but takes this opportunity to return to an earlier point.  Don't wait till something bad happens to network/connect.  This should be something you do all along.   People will be more apt to help you if they don't just hear from you when you are on the street.  Remember, while you need to bill bill bill time (and this is key right now as firms look for layoff targets -- typically those who are "underutilized), you also need to stay in touch with your broader network ALL ALONG. 

And if you've got a friend on the street and see something that might be right for them, go ahead and forward to them -- they will remember this.  And maybe they will go in house and bring you in later, or hire you as an outside counsel down the road, or find out about something for you within their new network.

Networking is not as hard as it seems, particularly in the day of email, Facebook, Linkedin, etc.  Find a way of networking that works for YOU.  Say, you have a young family and don't want to be out for drinks after work because you have to help with homework, etc.  Then, schedule some quick sandwich/salad lunches during the week when you are already in the office and away from home.  Or, take a 3pm coffee break and meet someone at a local Starbucks.  Networking and staying in touch with friends, former colleagues, etc., is always a good idea, and an especially good idea during a downtime in the legal market/economy.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why Ben picked over Ellen

Some of you may be witnessing the layoffs/carnage at firms and wondering why one attorney may "survive" a layoff when another doesn't.  Firms consider various factors.  Usually, firm management, upon deciding that layoffs need to happen, will ask dept. heads to consider which attorneys may not be needed in the long term.  In turn, practice or dept. heads will look at seniority (e.g., is this someone who has been with us a while but unlikely to make partner/sustain a practice), hours (of course!), someone who shows poor hours the last couple of quarters (or even quarter) is a target, overall contributions to the firm, etc.  If someone has a protector in a humongous rainmaker, that can also make a difference.  Few people can consider themselves protected in this environment, but a few lucky stars with rainmaker protectors can.

So, what to do. Well, at this point, if you don't have a huge mentor/protector, it will be hard to quickly establish one before the layoff hammer comes down.  My advice -- which I realize differs a bit from my past advice on participating in firm administrative functions -- is to keep your head down and bill, bill, bill.  Hopefully you are in a group that still has work. Take on projects.  If people have been let go, step up to the plate in covering their work (assuming they had some).  I once had a former colleague who was a junior attorney when some lawyers were let go in her office.  She was told to take over a file from one of the terminated attorneys.  She got the file and managed that project for the next several years.  It enabled her to work with a different client, a different partner, and expand her knowledge into a new area of law.  The partner who oversaw her respected that she jumped right into the project with a positive attitude and did a diligent job.

So, as opportunities close for others, they open for you, the survivor.  I realize this is somewhat Darwinistic but if you want to hold on - whether to ride out the storm and have a long term law firm career, or hold on for a little bit until you can get the hell out of dodge and move into something else, you are going to hard to work out, take work where you can get it, and be a team player.  The age of entitlement is over my friends.  It is time to work, work, work and bill like there is no tomorrow.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

BigLaw Depression

Hello folks.  I've been quiet because I really wasn't sure what I wanted to write about (not inspired). Then, Black Thursday came around with all sorts of layoffs and bad news and even HP's firm let some people go.  I didn't know how I wanted to address any of this..honestly, I still don't but figured you deserve a post.

What do I see?  Well, no associate is safe.  No summer associate is safe.  I am sorry this is so depressing, just reporting reality.  Partners are not immune either, especially non-equity partners.  We will continue to see layoffs, salary freezes, cuts etc.

Now, if you are a summer associate to be and you see your firm on re: layoffs, should you get in touch?   You can, and most HPs and staff expect it, but you might want to wait a few days to see if they touch base with you.  There is likely to be a message that is going to be relayed. Plus, when the layoffs, etc., first hit, there is a lot going on at the firm -- saying goodbye to colleagues, transitioning matters, dealing with other uncertainties and stress.  In other words, it will just add to the overall stress so you might want to wait.

 What if they mention about pushing start dates for new associates and you are an incoming (formerly fall) associate?  Should you get in touch. Again, they will be contacting you, but if you want, you can reach out to your contact at firm.  As indicated above, you may want to wait a few days, and speak calmly. Everyone is concerned and these things are not easy.  Have your questions prepared (e.g., will there be an extra stipend)?  

The bottom line here, gang, is uncertainty.  Do firms know whether they can definitely start anyone at the delayed start date or even have a summer program?  Whatever a firm's plans are today may change in the months ahead.  We are dealing with unprecedented times.  Firms aren't out to "get" you or purposely screw you over.  Management is basically trying to figure out things as things progress.  Projecting as well as they can, and being conservative to protect the overall firm and its employees.

I wish things were more cheerful for me to report.  I would encourage non-law firm gigs -- at least for the time being. And as GP said before, if you get extra time on your hands from start date delays, rescinded offers, etc., go ahead and try to find something law related.

And in all regards, keep networking, and don't burn any bridges.

Wow, have things changed since HP started blog back in the summer.  Hang in there.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Taking the Road Less Traveled - Another Guest Poster -- Different Track Guy

I want to thank HP for letting me hijack this very instructive blog to present a different perspective on employment. I did not enter the big firm route for my career path. When I graduated from a Top 25 law school and subsequently passed the bar exam, I was facing an economy in deep recession where a major law firm in the biggest city proximate to my home collapsed and thereby put 200+ experienced attorneys on the street. Having grades in the top 1/3 of my class weren't enough to garner employment at the big firms in said big city, and I did not want to seek another market. I sought out small- and medium-size firms, but the salary offers were so low on pay and benefits that I could not accept a couple of offers that were made to me. So began a different track:

Job 1 - Solo Practice: In an act of extreme arrogance and potentially deep mental illness, I set out to establish a solo practice. I had to make a decision as to where to locate. I chose an office where a sitting state representative and the incumbent counsel for the city were located. I realized the importance that these connections may provide in both my current, new lawyer status and the value of these connections later in my career development. Elected officials and municipal officers are great sources for client referrals and eventual job recommendations as their connections run deep. Be selective where and, more importantly, with whom you locate.

I had to furnish my office. I bought a basic PC (today a laptop would make most sense), printer, and bought my desk, chairs and bookcase from an automobile dealership that was closing due to the then sour economy. The furniture was from the dealership president's office and looked very professional with my diplomas professionally framed in the background. Do not skimp on office decor and on framing. Much like HP discussing clothing, I need to state the obvious in that how your office looks (in a situation where you actually meet people in your office versus conference rooms at large firms)  makes a lasting impression on new clients.

I had to decide the areas of law in which to practice. The counsel for the city connection proved fruitful immediately as he offered me work as a per diem assistant to him and he convinced the Mayor to provide me with a steady stream of income performing municipal tax matters for the City. Immediately, I could meet all of my overhead! My grandparents who were then living provided the inspiration for my other practice area. They were both senior citizens living in an elderly building housing hundreds of seniors. I immediately decided to learn everything about elder law. Next, after learning this area after many cram sessions and CLE classes, I found myself speaking to the elderly building's association on the topic and a significant practice area was opened to me. So be open to the business that your colleagues offer to you, be aware of your own community's demographic opportunities, and be willing to leverage your own family if it will help you build your practice.

So for the next few years, I was doing ok. I had steady municipal work and I was building my elder law practice. I was not getting wealthy, but I could afford to buy a house on my own which wasn't that bad for a single, 27 year old guy at the time.

Job 2 - Agency Counsel: One day, I was reading the primary state lawyers' newspaper and saw an ad where a state agency was seeking an attorney with knowledge of estate planning and elder law concepts to join its legal department. The pay grade was strong for public service, and I immediately applied. I was torn as to whether to leverage my relationship with the State Representative and made the decision that I would only mention him if I got to the stage where a list of references was required. I interviewed and was offered a second interview a week later where I was told to bring with me the names of two references. I brought the names of the counsel for the city and the State Representative. I believe, to this day, that my expertise in the desired area of law gave me an edge over any other applicant, but I am not oblivious to the fact that providing the State Representative as a reference surely didn't hurt. And, it should go without saying, even if you're happy in what you're doing, keep an eye on the want ads. You never know when a great opportunity may be there for you.

For the next six years I practiced law for that state agency and found the road to be predictable with steady salary increases, but it did provide not a whole lot of intellectual challenge or promotional opportunity. My work was primarily centered on estate work with more than a dabbling of fraud issues. And to add to the fun, I was able to maintain my solo practice of law after hours so long as my practice areas did not conflict with my state job and I have done so to this day.

Job 3 - Manager at the Agency: After six years as agency counsel, my internal agency client offered me a managerial position in its department where I would have the opportunity to manage about 20 staff and begin to impact agency policy. I now had to make the decision of whether to continue to be a full-time lawyer or advance my career in public service taking an alternative career path. For me, it was an easy choice because I knew that the legal career path in public service would require years for me to advance as I would have to wait out a few baby boomers (and turnover was negligible in this agency). I took the managerial job and served in that capacity for a few years.

Job 4 - Jumping Ship to Another Agency: Three years ago, I saw an ad on the state jobs web site where a different state agency was seeking a higher level manager with fraud and legal experience. I applied, interviewed, and was offered the job in short order without a second interview being required. I served in that capacity for two years, and I was considered an effective change agent by the agency's senior management. Now, after only three years at the agency, I am leading an entirely new department, and I am serving as a member of the agency's most senior staff. My salary has increased approximately 30% in the past three years which is no small achievement in this economy, but it was reflective of merit-based pay increases and a significant promotion.

So where does this admittedly long story lead you? I'm hoping that it will make you recall Frost's great poem where he mentions that famous road that diverged in the wood. HP's blog does a wonderful job of preparing you for the road most traveled. But there is another, less traveled road where, if you believe in yourself, you can establish and maintain a solo practice of law that can, at minimum, meet your expenses while having an opportunity to buy a home and begin to live the traditional American dream. And even more importantly, you can direct your career toward public service and potentially inform policy decisions for a state agency impacting tens of thousands of lives.

I know that this biographical post was very long. Thank you for indulging me in telling my story. I could offer many more anecdotes, tips, and advice to anyone interesting in solo practice or public service and will be glad to do so at HP's request. Good luck to all of you in your careers. The law is a noble profession where you can use your education for so much good. Be sure to find a way to do so.

undergrad and other

Thanks GP for your insights.  I've got another guest for you folks.  This person, we will call him (yes, it is a him), DT (different track) guy, is going to discuss the benefits of the non-traditional path (e.g., government/public service).  Especially in this economy, we can't all assume we can sit our tushies down in Big Law for several years.  DT is going to talk about how one goes about getting into this track and what he has liked about the track.  Now, DT is a long-time friend and a good person (not to mention holds impressive TV trivia knowledge), so please welcome him when he joins us and be nice!  Remember, this is all voluntary sharing for your benefit, and our frustrated writers.

Someone asked about undergrad institutions and whether a perceived "weak" one hurts your changes in BigLaw.  I will say that there are some snobs in BigLaw, and if they don't know your undergrad or think it isn't up to snuff, they may turn up their noses.  For some people you can't change that.  But, for others, the key is how well you did in undergrad.  I've seen people who were the top of their class at "abc no name college" and then got into a top or very good law school and did just fine.  This is especially true if you are in the same region as the college and people know it better.  But the law school grades will be key, followed by how well in undergrad.  I personally like to see a solid undergrad and someone who did a good job there. But I recognize that people attend different schools for different reasons (finances, need to near family etc.).  If you went someplace because they gave you a four year scholarship - put that on your resume -- it helps us understand. 

Again, the law school grades are key and no one is guaranteed anything these days. Firms that are hiring can be extremely selective.  We may be looking for more of a practice group fit.  I think I earlier mentioned that I have hired someone from a not-well-known undergrad because of specific professional and work experience.  Law school ok, but not great.  This person got the job because of the experience and fit with the practice area.

So, bottom line is obviously you can't change the undergrad at this point. Hopefully you did well.  You've gotta get the law school grades and get some experience.  

I also want to touch on some of the business development side of things that GP discussed and will do that in a later post.  

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

GP returns: bus development tips

Building a Book -A few of you have asked for guidance on business development. GP believes that unless you are a fifth or sixth year associate, you should not be worrying about generating business. Focus on your work, focus on your realtionships with your colleagues, participate in firm events, especially training and CLE type events and try to get some unique experience under your belt.

I have been around long enough to know that some of you will ignore my advice, so for those of you still reading, here are a few thoughts. First, in my experience the best way of building business relationships in a firm is perhaps the most obvious - work with someone who already has a significant client relationship. Not just any client though, a client that you believe can lead to further (litigation, corporate, real estate) matters in your lifetime. This is not necessarily confined to Fortune 100 companies, many firms have emerging companies as clients and often times such clients can become a source of significant firm revenue. If you do not know who your office's or firm's largest clients are, you have work to do! Most firms provide their client lists to both attorneys and staff, study it and target clients of interest to you and target the partners doing work for those clients. (Networking with colleagues at other firms or speaking and writing engagements can lead to new opportunities too, but in my experience the returns on such investments are low. You are at a firm with an active client base, build from that base). Second, once you have identified such a client, try to find the right moment to spend some personal time (coffee during a deposition break, lunch after a real estate or corporate closing) with a client contact - not necessarily the CEO or GC, but someone like you who is likely to be promoted to a position of responsibility. (As HP would say, no stalking!) It may take time and the right instincts to find the right moment to schedule such an event, just be patient. Relationships take years to develop. Recognize that you have a tremendous opportunity every time you interact with a client representative or when your work product gets in front of a client representative.Third, for those of you who do not have a partner or mentor providing interactive opportunities to clients, I again suggest patience. However, if it becomes clear to you that you will not be provided opportunities to interact with clients you either have identified the wrong client or you need to work for a different mentor and partner. If that is the case, get out of the relationship while you can, use whatever available firm resources (e.g. Associate Relations Partner) to get work from a partner who you can grow with. (And before you make that request, do some homework - find out who has the client relationships you can help build, determine whether that partner's existing team of helpers has room for you and determine whether working for that partner will be tolerable!) Don't be intimidated by the economy and associate lay offs - time spent with a partner who doesn't provide you opportunties to meet clients (and impress clients), is wasted time!

Finally, and I risk the wrath of the anonymous posters who will make fun of me for this piece of advice, none of the above pieces of advice will replace quality work and work completed on time. Clients, and partners of course, above all want excellent work and want results. Make sure your name is equated with quality and excellence. If you can make that happen, I promise you will have the client's attention and you will be on your way - again, assuming you have identified the right client and have taken advantage of the right opportunties to interact with that client - to building a valuable client relationship.Okay, posters, I await your comments and questions! Fire away.