Friday, April 3, 2009


Our readers have been asking for guidance about how to stand out or make a great impression during the summer program.  Before I get to that, I did want to touch upon a basic principle that applies to summers, practicing attorneys, and in most workplaces actually.  And that is commitment.  I know I have touched upon this before in the category of "ownership."  It is a constant, recurring and important theme.  And will get you noticed, possibly in a bad way if you screw it up.

Recently, a friend of mine was complaining about an associate.  My friend had a big filing and a junior associate was assisting him.  The associate was generally doing an OK job for the tasks assigned.  But on filing day when things were, of course, somewhat harried (and friend getting ready to head out on a business trip the next day), associate was suddenly gone for a while at an extended lunch while friend was trying to give instructions.  Friend said to me, "what is the deal with this younger generation?" Going out to lunch on a filing day?  Would you do that?" Friend was getting frustrated that friend, as senior lawyer and under a lot of pressure, couldn't get past the voice mail/email in an effort to find the lawyer.  The lawyer hadn't indicated that he had a client lunch he couldn't get out of (in fact, I think I spotted friend with his friend at lunchtime).  The lawyer hadn't even told senior lawyer that he would be out.  He just was out.  And my friend needed to discuss things with junior lawyer so the closing could get done. So, at the end of the day, my friend thinks of junior lawyer as someone who is not entirely dependable, not committed to the job, especially when there is a crisis.  My lawyer friend even remarked that during this process, young lawyer seemed to be complaining that young lawyer had to stay late.  In this economy!  Complaining.  NOOOOOOOO!

Anyway, this is a small example but I thought a good one.  Your actions have consequences.  You want to act in a way that people remember you as a solid, reliable, "go to" person.  If my senior friend has choices, senior friend is probably going to give work to another associate who may be more committed.  Thus, junior lawyer will have fewer hours and run the risk of layoff target.  

Do I think you should starve for BigLAW? Of course not, but you can run out quickly and let the person you are working with know.  Or bring something you can heat and eat quickly.  There's many solutions.  A big filing, closing, or project is not a time for you to be out gallivanting with your friends.  Yes, you have to cancel plans sometimes.  Treat this like the ER -- when the docs have car crash victims coming in -- they drop and focus - at least on TV. Do you see them stop for lunch?  Eat a granola bar and move on.  Remember, you want to impress that you are committed, and that you take ownership.  OWN your projects - even if you are the junior one of the totem pole.  Commit to see things through the end.  


Anonymous said...

Nothing civil lawyers do is nearly as important as what ER doctors do. It is upsetting that the profession has lost sight of the important things in life to such an extent as to demand that its members sacrifice most of what they really care about for success, all when the end results are fairly trivial.

Hiring Partner said...

hanging out with your friend which you can do any day is so important. Hello? Thousands of lawyers and staff are losing their jobs, their benefits, etc. Work, lunch later.

Anonymous said...

HP I think you're right that young associates need to take ownership of projects they are assigned. However, the relationship of trust that comes from taking ownership is a two way street. I think that one of the reasons young associates don't take ownership of projects is because they believe that becoming the "go to" person will lead to future abuse by partners.

Partners don't always live up to their end of the bargain either. Partners tell young associates that a key document is coming at a certain time and then the document doesn't show and partner is nowhere to be found and doesn't communicate with young associate about changes to the schedule so young associate is stuck waiting around in the dark.

If partners treated young associates with more respect, young associates might be more interested in taking ownership of projects like you suggest.

f-3 said...

10:51 - we have all heard (or perhaps personally experienced) horror stories where a hard-working and well-meaning associate gets thrown under a bus by a selfish partner. It sucks, it's unfair, and it's inexcusable.

The power balance is inequal, unfortunately. A partner's negative comments about you can hurt your short- and long-term career prospects more than what you can say about them in reverse.

What HP is talking about here is what YOU can control on your end. It's about building and guarding your own reputation in the industry. I'm not saying that if you show commitment and ownership, then all the bad and unfair things will magically disappear. All I'm saying is - make it harder for them, not easier, to find fault in you.

f-3 said...

The power balance is unequal, I meant.

Anonymous said...

The prospect of becoming the person you describe in your blog makes me personally want to vomit.

Anonymous said...

2:20, then don't go to big law. Some of us are willing to eat humble pie for the sake of our careers and long term financial stability which can assist in building a more stress free life. I've never heard HP say this is a fair system. Grow up and realize life is not fair, no one owes you anything and you need to deal with this rather than whine.

HP is posting how it is to help us know how to act. This isn't a whiny academic debate over how things should be. Go become a professor if that's what you like doing.

Thanks HP for a great post.

Anonymous said...

10:51 nailed it.

first, this case is an extreme. i know of no one who, on the day of filing, would just disappear for an extend lunch. and i'm from the younger generation. so not only is this an extreme, it really fails to illustrate the apparently intended point. not doing what the young associate in your example did just requires some self-respect.

the level of commitment you are probably trying to suggest is an entirely different one and, as 10:51 pointed out, it just isn't worth it because "your generation" (read: partners) do absolutely nothing to hold up your end of the bargain.

no consistency in rewarding good work and years of commitment;
no consistent and honest feedback; and most importantly, no commitment to developing younger attorneys.

finally, as someone from the "younger" generation it is insulting and annoying when a partner generalizes and talks down to those in their 20's or early 30's. We actually had to earn our keep (read: we didn't grow up when only, or largely, wasps went to the best schools). We have FAR more debt than your generation. We have far more competition and far lower odds of ever making partner. We have far less day to day training. We put up with just as much nonsense as you did as associates, but have far less to look forward to as a result.

In short, neither I, nor anyone I know, would EVER be as irresponsible as the associate you described. At the same time I've read enough of your posts to realize you live, like many partners, in alternate universe (though, naturally, you don't think so). As a result, you're just not capable of introspecting on all the significant flaws that YOUR generation has and how, perhaps more than any other generation, your obsession with PPP has destroyed this profession.

Oh, and your response to 6:34 was pathetic. Nothing you do is nearly as important as what ER doctors do and responding by saying "hello? layoffs everywhere" is non-responsive and just illustrates your inability to acknowledge minor mistakes (e.g. an awful, and cliched, analogy)

Anonymous said...

6:59 called out hp for making generalizations about associates, but then he/she went on to make generalizations about partners too.

Anonymous said...

where did s/he generalize other than saying HP, as an individual, is not taking a moment to look at the problems that his generation has?

Anonymous said...

I am not saying he/she is wrong about partners, I am just saying that what he/she said about partners is as much a generalization as claiming that all young attorneys are lazy and uncommitted.

See, e.g., "Partners do absolutely nothing to hold up [their] end of the bargain. No consistency in rewarding good work and years of commitment; no consistent and honest feedback; and most importantly, no commitment to developing younger attorneys."

Anonymous said...

5:53 am

As you said, this distracts from my larger point.

But fair enough. For purposes of clarification, there are many excellent partners. But sadly, only a minority of partners that either I, or my friends at other top firms, encounter are not like those I described. Meanwhile, most young associates I know do work hard and are, on average, smarter than those they're working for. The difference is that we have little shot at partner and because we know that, we have far less incentive to, as partners love to say, "take ownership." These partners fail to understand the cost/benefit analysis for associates.

Anonymous said...

Kids these days! Why when I was a junior associate I was kept in a cramped wooden crate in a corner of my partner's office and only allowed out when my assistance was needed. The only "lunch" I got was a thermos full of coffee to keep me alert for potential tasks I might be asked to attend to. Sure I lost all of my friends, my wife left me, and I developed several physical and pyschological disorders, but that's what I had to do in order to keep my job so that's what associates these days should have to do.

Anonymous said...

This post was a train wreck.

Anonymous said...

The vast majority of people in the profession would be happier out of it, but are stuck in it because of debt. This is not how it used to be, but partners, law schools, and banks chasing a buck have ruined what used to be an honest and not unpleasant calling.

The commitment and sacrifice of which HP and many others speak is pointless for most junior associates. The opportunity costs are high, the risk is high, and the expected return is quite low. The only excuse the profession offers (especially to its junior members) is that it's a client-driven industry with potential for high income, but clients only drive because partners chase bucks through high leverage and high billing rates, and high income is illusory when compared to most juniors' debt load.

Except for the law schools and the partners at the top of the pyramid--oldsters all who didn't have to deal with this system coming up--no one is benefited by it. Clients would trade some dedication for much lower fees, and junior partners and associates would trade some compensation for much lower and more flexible hours.

The current credit crisis might shake the extortionate law school system up, but it's too late for the current crop. Yes, thousands of lawyers are losing their jobs, HP, and a quick glance around your partnership should tell you whose fault that it.

Anonymous said...

Spot on 5:11. Sadly, there's little chance HP could ever open his eyes wide enough to see this and that's why his posts routinely show an inability to analyze the destruction that those who are now senior partners or recently retired senior partners have caused to the profession.

Anonymous said...

I'll take that associate's job if he doesn't want it.

Steve Waterhouse said...

My son is a law student and Villanova. I pointed him to this site for your great insight.

Steve Waterhouse

Anonymous said...

Hiring partner are you a parent?

Anonymous said...

From my perspective as a law prof and former big firm attorney, HP is right on the money.