Wednesday, December 3, 2008

a tale of two associates

An interesting story from HP's former firm provides some good material for today's example of how to be a great "all around" associate who helps advance her own career.

Associate 1.  Let's call her Susan.  Susan joined the firm laterally a short time ago.  Susan is a pleasant, cheerful person, but definitely at the firm to work hard, do whatever needs to be done to get the job done -- working late, weekends, etc.  Susan is pleasant and respectful to all -- partners she works with, other partners, counsel, and attorneys in the office, staff, etc. Susan does make an effort to attend firm events, such as holiday party, group meetings, women attorney meetings, etc.   Associate Susan is known as an extremely hard working attorney who is highly professional, trustworthy and personable.  She has also shown some business development potential by inviting her contacts to appropriate firm events and by developing a sub-specialty.

Associate 2.  Let's call her Mindy.  Mindy started with the firm as a summer associate and is now a mid level associate.  (Btw, no offense meant to our women lawyers here, these could be two men; they just happened to be two women at my former firm).  Mindy is a bright woman, with a strong pedigree.  Mindy does seemingly solid work for her group.  Mindy is seen socializing with her practice group, but not with others.  Staff complain that she does not really acknowledge them.  Other attorneys feel the same way.  While Mindy may be a good lawyer, we don't get the sense that she cares much about the firm (since she doesn't really participate in firm events), the other lawyers and personnel outside practice group, or really growing her career.  We don't see her involved in firm committees, or outside groups. Best we can tell, she bills her time, hangs with her friends at firm, and leaves.

So, if times are tough, who would you choose if you had to lay off one?    Well assuming both are fairly occupied on client matters...I would choose Susan as the one to keep of course.  She's got more long term potential -- solid firm citizen plus business development potential. And people like her, and she's building her network, reputation, knowledge base, etc.  

Second question, who has a brighter future?  Well, of course Susan.  She's getting out of the office, she's interacting with colleagues outside her group, and she's not causing any waves or creating bad feelings.

Third question, if I move in-house tomorrow and have a need...who would I call?  Duh...Susan.  Because I can trust her, and know that she will do a good job and know that she will make me look good -- because I have interacted with her and seen her interact with others.  

Fourth question, if my former colleague who is now a senior in-house counsel calls me down the road and says he is interviewing Mindy for a position and what are my thoughts on her...what do you think HP will say?  HMMMM.  

Mindy - for a smart gal -- is behaving dumb dumb dumb.  Perhaps finding a rich hubby is her game plan.  But, her behavior in the workplace -- being aloof (if not rude), clique-y, not getting involved in firm through committees, not getting to know her other colleagues, etc., is short-sighted in so many ways -- advancement in firm, advancement elsewhere, etc.  

Build your reputation, expand your friends, be respectful to all, get involved, be a good firm/company citizen -- be someone others respect, like, and trust.  Don't be a Mindy.  


Kelly said...

You had me until the comment about finding a rich hubby ... that made it about gender and revealed some very prevalent biases about women in law firms (even though you said it could just as easily be two men).

What would happen if Susan started having kids?

Anonymous said...

So it sounds like only extrovertors can be successful as lawyers and introvertors are generally screwed?

QP said...

I worry that you're underselling "Mindy's" commitment to the firm by valuing Susan's socialization over Mindy's work output. Unless Mindy's just the "punch in, make exact billables, punch out" type, it sounds like Mindy's just a more introverted worker who might actually be producing more product for the firm - not necessarily partner material, but strong for the "of counsel" track.

Also, Kelly's just pointed out that your "rich hubby" comment may indicate some level of discrimination against Mindy based on gender-related expectations, which means you might not be able to let her off without a huge Title VII litigation cost to the firm which firing Susan won't have.

Anonymous said...

Your comment indicated a disparity in work product. What if Susan's work product was slightly less good than Mindy's? What if Mindy spent more time billing hours while Susan was off schmoozing? In this market, Mindy may survive if someone in her clique happens to be a partner who will vouch for her.

Anonymous said...

To a certain extent, I agree with the critiques above (esp. The Pedant and 10:15am). However, it seems to me that there are two levels at work here: short term and long term. Or alternatively, the immediate picture versus the big picture.

As 10:15am points out, Mindy may survive in the short term when the modus operandi is keeping your head down. However, HP's post also addressed longer-term scenarios (future referrals and recommendations). If a senior partner calls up HP and says, "I want someone who can help me build my practice," then it seems Susan should win out, so long as she didn't let her work quality fail while schmoozing.

I am constantly reminded of a piece of advice one CFO gave to a finance person, "Who cares if you produce the most kick-ass air-tight 10-Ks and 10-Qs?" HP's "Susan" scenario is about someone who not only produces, but also keeps the big picture in mind. Mindy produces too, and possibly produces more, but is she developing the broader strategic picture necessary for firm leadership?

Anonymous said...

HP, do you really mean that the quality of the lawyering is much less important for professional advancement than being on committees and otherwise participating in firm activities? Or do you just mean that if one is already a mediocre lawyer, networking may make up for undistinguished work product?

Anonymous said...

HP, my ass! This blog is written by 2L.

Anonymous said...

Susan won't be so valuable down the track when she burns out (as many lawyers do), has a nervous break down and is off work on your dime.

The culture in law firms and in many other workplaces can be dangerous because it encourages over-commitment and over-work. Compulsory work/life balance firm activities (sport, dinners, social events) makes it hard for people to separate themselves from their "work" identity and can easily lead to mental health issues.

There has to be a healthy middle ground somewhere. And no, I have no idea where it is.

Anonymous said...

So, a woman has to be Martha Stewart meets Rodge Cohen to be a successful lawyer?

When a partner wants someone sharp to help with depositions of tricky witnesses, or to help press on a client to tie up the last pieces of a deal, do you really, honestly think he is going to pick Susan Sunshine because she is cheerful around the office? Of course not. If "Susan's" name was "Michael" we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Law student analogy: Susan is the Student Association President, Mindy is Editor of Law Review.

Now, who do you want working for you?

Anonymous said...

See also, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228. Supreme Court held that not promoting a woman to partnership because she wasn't "lady-like" and was "too rough" was discrimination. The direct evidence of discrimination? Comments made by hiring partners that maybe she should wear some makeup, or try to join some committees.


Hiring Partner said...

Price Waterhouse is distinguishable in many ways; for instances, several comments of her not being feminine, being too manly, etc. Here, HP was just encouraging some involvement in firm and in outside activities of Susan showed overall commitment to firm and good networking for future.

And why do you folks assume because Susan does these things she is Student Body President instead of Law Review editor. Hello??? I said Susan was an extremely hard worker and dedicated attorney. She wasn't Martha Stewart or just social butterfly. Again, you are missing the point. In any firm I know, people (both sexes!) would be encouraged to become involved so that, among other things, they can meet people in other departments and in other offices, which helps them expand their base in the firm and ultimately helps them get promoted since they may need to be nominated and voted on by the whole partnership -- not just the group they work for. Building a reputation in your firm and outside is a very important point -- for advancement in the firm -- and for giving you more opportunities outside of the firm.

And what if some of Mindy's group left for another firm or her main mentor moved in-house and left her....who is going to be her big supporter? Well if she hasn't gotten to know other people, her future isn't too bright.

This is not an extrovert/introvert thing or a man/woman thing or a lazy/not lazy thing. it is doing great work and doing other things to help advance oneself and build one's reputation.

Finally, someone once said, in firms there are 3 types: grinders, minders, and finders. Mindy is only a grinder. Susan has potential to be a grinder, minder and finder. Believe me, being a finder is a lot more pleasant and bodes better for long term sustainability than grinder. Grinders have nothing to grinder without finders.