A law firm's thirst for revenue is not easily quenched these days. Parsimonius clients, fierce competition from other firms, and the quest to increase profitability have escalated pressures to win new business pitches. Being told that you did a nice job and will be considered for other matters is not a great consolation prize for firms that aren't hired.
A new crop of summer associates has descended on law firms and first-years will be coming in a few months. I have reminisced with colleagues, on occasion, about how different things may have been had someone shared career advice with us when we started. For all those who don't have a parent, sibling, or family friend who's a lawyer or don't have access to the Oracle of Delphi, incarnate, I offer five things that my informal group wishes others would have whispered in our ears when we embarked on our legal careers.
There often is a disconnect between a candidate's perception of how he or she did in an interview and the view from the other side of the table. In 15 years of recruiting, I can count on one hand the number of times that a candidate did not tell me that the interview "went great" or was otherwise a smashing success. Suffice it to say that clients have not responded in kind at such a high ratio.
Does what you say and what your client hears correlate? Is your vision of an outcome in line with your client's vision? Do you maintain sufficient communication with your client so, as the expression goes, you are "on the same page"? The client's view of our level of service often depends on the quality of communication and the similarity or difference in expectations.
Even though most lawyers will work for quite a few people throughout their careers, just one can have a major impact on their future. Quite a few lawyers have cited the influence that a single partner, general counsel, or other more senior lawyer had on them. In some cases, this could have been someone who was only in their professional life for a short period of time. In most situations, though, it was a lawyer for whom they did a lot of work, especially at a key time in their career.
In early October, the threat of Hurricane Joaquin making landfall on the East Coast was on the minds of many. For most of the East Coast, Joaquin had little impact. The devastation in the Carolinas, however, is a reminder of how powerful natural disasters can be and how overwhelming these events are to individuals, businesses and communities at large. The effects of these types of events are often multi-faceted, time-consuming and wide-ranging. As a result, recovery is expensive.
Legal industry observers have had a front-row seat to the continued expansion of firms abroad. Large law firms initially opened foreign offices in major European and Asian cities, but the flags are now fluttering in most corners of the globe, including an increasing number of secondary, and even tertiary, markets. While this has infused a much more international flavor into firm brochures and websites, and has made some firmwide meetings more exotic and interesting, has it actually benefited most firms and partners?
In several past columns at this time of year, summer reading lists have been offered. Most of those have contained recommendations that are business and law industry-centric. This year, I take a different tack, as I think there is considerable value in also enriching your mind and soul by consulting some non-legal-related sources. Doing so not only can provide important balance, it also gives a different perspective, which is sometimes useful in problem resolution, as answers are not always reached in a linear fashion.
This month's column is the second in a series that examines "five things" that various key people in the practice of law may not volunteer to their most interested audience. I analyze five things that associates are unlikely to tell partners in their firms.
This month's column is the first in a series that examines "five things" that various key persons in the practice of law may not volunteer to their most interested audience. We commence with five things that in-house lawyers are unlikely to tell the private practice lawyers with whom they work.
We surely are communicating at record levels in our 24/7, always-on-demand world. As hard as this is to believe for some, many readers of this column can recall the days when one could go home at night and be fairly confident that there would be no interaction with colleagues or clients until the next day (or more, if a weekend were ahead). Yes—no texts, email, cellphones, voicemail, or, as archaic as this seems—not even an answering machine in existence; unless someone came to your home or happened to reach you live on the phone, you were off-limits.
In nearly every industry, customer feedback is an effective way to illustrate a company's ethos, bolster its track record, and offer prospective clients a glimpse of the organization as a whole. Law firms, in particular, rely heavily on this measure to entice new clients and broaden their social presence. Client feedback is also beneficial in identifying areas requiring attention. That is, where can your firm improve in its customer service and other service offerings? Take a moment to consider your firm's clientele.
The demands that are placed on those in the legal profession are often unrelenting. A common complaint is that there is little free time in many lawyers' lives. Moreover, even when attorneys are out of the office, work still looms in the background (at best) and is omnipresent (at worst).
The American Dream was built on a foundation of hard work and that ethos still permeates our business world. In fact, if things come too easily, observers' eyebrows will be raised askance and even the doer may feel guilty due to not having broken a sweat.
In some societies, more senior members are celebrated, if not revered, due to their age. Respect comes automatically, especially since wisdom, among other things, is rightfully ascribed to those who have spent longer periods on the earth. This had been the case in the legal profession, also. More seasoned lawyers were treated as senior statesmen, were sought out as mentors, and were well taken care of as their careers wound down.
The benefits associated with playing sports have been extolled in this column over the years. For instance, a two-part series, "Ten Lessons From Athletes to Excel in the Boardroom," was published in the May 20, 2013, and June 17, 2013, editions of The Legal. The series discussed some of the most significant characteristics embodied by those who participated in sports—such as perseverance, goal-setting and the ability to operate in a team environment—and gave examples of how they were a boon to the careers of lawyers.
Actions and results define our careers. In some cases, we achieve resounding victories in winning a trial, closing a deal, landing a major client, or taking the mantle of leadership and driving a group, department or organization to great heights. At other times, we may have suffered defeats, but, in the process, learned valuable lessons that ultimately paved the way to future accomplishments.
Although some firms do quite well at cross-selling, it has become a Holy Grail for many others. In light of the difficulty of landing new clients, firms understandably see value in marketing additional services to existing customers. There should be lower hurdles to surmount with such clients, as they hopefully respect the firm, which makes the sales effort much easier.
The National Football League's lengthy draft of entry players recently concluded. Watching a portion of it led me to wonder just how things might play out if law firms or other organizations that hire aspiring lawyers operated under a similar system. Just imagine, for a second, the president of the American Bar Association striding to a podium and declaring: "With the 14th selection in the third round, DLA Piper selects Courtney Johnson of Harvard Law School. Kirkland & Ellis is on the clock."
The relentless pursuit of revenue in this era of decreased legal spending has made it anathema to turn away work. The battles to land new clients and matters are fierce and the consequences of losing are far more damaging than ever.
The relentless pursuit of revenue in this era of decreased legal spending has created an environment in which it is anathema to turn away work. The battles to land new clients and matters are fierce and the consequences of losing are far more damaging than ever. Nevertheless, there are times when the smart play is to decline, no matter how alluring the likely fees are.
The great recession of 2008 was transformative. One change, which law firms still feel today, is that the balance of power swung to the side of in-house counsel. Pre-recession law firm growth rates, particularly as they relate to revenue and profits, seem like the "good ol' days" to many partners.
Almost all law firms and corporate law departments I am familiar with provide their attorneys with remote access to files, the organization's intranet, and the accessible portions of the computer system. And, even if that is not available, or the system is down, emails and texts proliferate and follow us around the clock.
In last month's column, the first five books on the list were discussed. Those tomes covered the subjects of finance, happiness, networking, reading body language and achieving goals. The final five follow.
This is an ambitious title for this month's column. I normally espouse that there are very few things that one can say with 100 percent certitude, but will acknowledge an exception here, as I'm sure there is zero chance that all (or even a majority) will agree with this list.
I was quite excited, as an important interview was under way. I had been enmeshed in a challenging, senior-level in-house search. A rather unique set of requirements made candidate identification extraordinarily difficult.
In the wake of Dewey & LeBoeuf's collapse last year, Legal affiliate The American Lawyer published an article we had written about an issue that turned out to be a major contributing cause of that implosion: the wide compensation spreads within the equity partnership of large law firms. With the release earlier this year of regular Legal affiliate The Am Law Daily contributor Steven J. Harper's book, The Lawyer Bubble, and a recent American Lawyer survey that detailed the compensation spreads at many large firms, the issue has gained even greater attention.
Lawyers rightfully pride themselves on knowing the facts, understanding the value of applying their keen analytical skills to assess that information, and using their sound reasoning skills to pull things together to influence the ultimate result.
I have observed throughout my career that many of the most successful lawyers I know either play sports or have an athletic background. In last month's column, five characteristics of athletes that merit emulation were discussed: (1) having confidence; (2) being a team player; (3) being prepared; (4) demonstrating perseverance; and (5) setting goals.
I had lunch recently with a lawyer who had been a standout athlete. The conversation underscored a realization, based on almost 30 years in the legal profession, that many of the most successful partners, CEOs, general counsel and law firm leaders who I have worked with have athletic backgrounds.
Most mergers fail. Not just law firm mergers, mind you, but most mergers period. Studies cited in the Harvard Business Review peg the failure rate between 70 and 90 percent, a staggering figure when one considers the amount of time, energy and capital that is invested in M&A.
The quest to not only retain clients, but to acquire new work, can be daunting. It has been well-documented that the legal pie, from a relative perspective, is shrinking. The recent recession caused many companies to rethink their legal spending strategy.
Year-end is normally a busy time. Law firm partners and administrators are hustling to collect fees (at least in those firms that are on calendar years), associates are scrambling to complete assignments with the hope that they'll be able to squeeze in some time off, and in-house and government lawyers are feverishly completing budgets, staffing projections and forecasts.
A path to a legal career is not easy. It entails long years of study and considerable sacrifice. It is an expensive journey, which, for many, requires a heavy amount of loans that will follow them for at least a decade, if not more.
Increased competition, downward pressures on fees and elevated client expectations require lawyers today to respond faster while maintaining high quality. Law firms and individual attorneys need structural aids to improve productivity and assist in quality control. Systems let lawyers spend more of their time on the high-level, challenging work they enjoy most. Following are some of the reasons why systems matter:
As with most bold proclamations of the type that accompanies this month's column, an important clarification is necessary. Many law firm partners know something about most or even all of the topics below. Moreover, in some cases, especially where partners are members of their firms' leadership teams, they often know quite a bit about these points.
After the success of our survey of law firm associates several years ago, in March, Abelson Legal Search surveyed paralegals to assess the job satisfaction, backgrounds and experiences of these important legal professionals. Like the original survey, this one produced meaningful results and inspired thoughtful comments and discussions. Survey highlights include the following:
I have reviewed tens of thousands of law firm Web bios during my career. Setting aside the diminution in my visual acuity as a result of that activity, my overwhelming, consensus reaction can be aptly characterized by one word: "meh." While there are some outliers on both ends of the spectrum, the vast majority are unremarkable and seemingly interchangeable.
The caliber of law firms that have failed in recent years is staggering and includes the likes of Brobeck Phleger & Harrison; Heller Ehrman; Thacher Proffitt & Wood; Wolf Block; Howrey; and now, Dewey & LeBoeuf.
I vividly recall the chat I had years ago with a teammate on a youth basketball squad. We sat high above the court, killing time between tournament games. The teammate, whom I'll call Bob, was easily our most talented player — he had a near-perfect shot, was adept at dribbling with both hands and was highly skilled in all other facets of the game. Yet, he was not our most valuable player, did not lead the team in scoring and, in fact, shied away from taking the big shot at the end of games.
Understandably, most lawyers tie their professional identities to their employers. For example, a lawyer not only introduces himself as Joe Attorney, a partner with XYZ firm, but also has created a similar internal persona that defines him. While this is admirable, especially with respect to promoting your firm or company, it is important to remember that, if you cut through everything, you are a one-person enterprise. Regardless of whether it is ultimately defensible, you could be fired tomorrow, no matter who you are. Similarly, your law firm, even if it has been around for decades, could be gone quickly — as we have seen happen in recent years — or your company could be sold or merged out of existence.
It seems to be a truism that teamwork is a good thing, right? After all, unless you are a lawyer who runs a solo practice, you are working in some type of organization in which you may be unceremoniously dismissed if you eschewed the value of working together with others.
Much as we see patterns in our lives emerge as we age, so, too, do trends in business reveal themselves with greater clarity as our careers lengthen. This has proven to be the case with the work I have done with partners, which now begins its second decade.
The irony that unfolded during two recent phone calls, which occurred within the span of an hour, was rather remarkable. The first conversation was with a partner who had been targeted by another law firm because of his unique experience and some special opportunities, i.e., clients it could essentially hand him, if he were to ultimately come on board. Neither Sigmund Freud nor Tony Robbins could have found the key to unlock the vault in his mind where reason was stored, as he summarily proclaimed that "all law firms are alike" and stopped the inquiry in its tracks.
The end of the calendar year is the time to shop and buy — Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the prime season for lawyers with valuable books of business looking for a new home. With Dec. 31 fast approaching, it makes sense for attorneys looking for a better fit to consider making that lateral move now.
I recognize the obvious here, namely, that skeptics assume that a recruiter will automatically skew an article like this toward all the ills associated with counter offers, as acceptances of such entreaties block placements and the fees that follow. It is a fair point, but I approach this topic from a much broader perspective, as I have been a candidate myself at various points in my career — and have received several counter offers — and have been significantly involved in recruiting as a member of senior management teams, a manager of my own departments, and as a law firm partner who was heavily involved with the hiring committee.
Some lawyers may eschew this topic, as it may seem too "soft" and even ephemeral. I actually believe that this subject is more important for lawyers, since they often rely so heavily on their intellect, precedent and facts that they miss crucial physical and tonal clues.
A recent episode of the stylish and popular series, "Mad Men," which depicts a fictional, mid-1960s New York advertising agency, forcefully illustrated a point that lawyers, law firms and companies often overlook.
The most common refrain echoed by lawyers I know is that their biggest enemy is not an opposing counsel in a case or deal, or a rival law firm or company; rather, it is time (or more precisely, the lack thereof).
After practicing law and perhaps specializing in a particular area for several years, you cannot help but think, "I wish they had taught me [blank] in law school." You start to wonder whether you could teach a class at a local law school. Here are some tips for pursuing such an endeavor.
Part One of this series discussed five of the attributes that are embodied by many winning lawyers, which are their propensity to be: 1) goal setters, 2) self-motivated, 3) strategic, 4) risk takers and 5) well networked. This month, the final five characteristics will be analyzed.
Much has been written about the skill of making rain, that is, generating revenue for your law firm. For most attorneys, "rainmaker" is a much sought-after title, since the more rain they make, the more valuable they become and the higher their compensation will be.
In the midst of all the changes occurring — or at least being talked about — in the legal profession today, many people forget that two of the basic principles that successful firms have always followed have not changed.
Today's solo and small firms often vie for the same business as larger firms with much larger marketing budgets. Therefore, it is crucial for solo and small firms to employ marketing and promotional tactics that will help them acquire new - and retain existing - business. The first line of offense is to identify target audiences and make sure your tactics will reach them in their homes and places of business.
Partners with whom I have worked have many common characteristics, which include, among other things, high levels of intelligence, keen analytical skills and a propensity to be dogmatic in thoroughly reviewing facts and data.
Q. Our firm is on a calendar year. We are in the midst of our normal cattle drive to collect as many fees as possible. It is also the time during which we are finalizing our rates for next year, and I am working through whether my rate will be increased and by how much for my clients, especially my biggest one.
Q. I always start a new year with wonderful resolutions but invariably veer from my plan within a month! I am now a 45-year-old partner and feel I am just treading water as client demands, firm commitments and other responsibilities leave me with very little time for my family or to really take my career to the next level. How do others like me not only keep up but find time to continue to build their practices?
Q. Our firm is watching the recent spate of starting-salary increases with great interest, and it is causing more than a bit of uneasiness. While we're sure that recruiters are dancing in the streets, many of us feel that it is sheer lunacy. What do young lawyers tell you about this?
Q I am a mid-level associate in a well-known law firm. I have been strongly encouraged by some partners in the firm to get involved in activities outside of the firm so that I can start to develop a more recognizable profile and, hopefully, build a network.
Q. I am a second-year associate in a big law firm. I would love to go in-house, as the lawyers who are part of the in-house staff for clients that I have worked with seem to have great jobs. Is there any real downside if I made such a move?
Q. I have been practicing for nine years now and feel that I am doing well. However, I can see that a few others of my vintage in my firm have made partner, and some law school classmates who are in-house have risen to positions that may be a step or two ahead of me.
Q. I will be running our firm's summer program, which starts later this month. Although we solicit feedback from our participants, I am not so sure that we are receiving responses that are as critical as they could be.
Q: I hear and read a lot about partners' book of business and portables. While I understand those terms, I am not involved in the hiring process at my firm, have spent my entire career here, and do not know about the realities of how the numbers really play out.
Q. I am on the management committee of our small/medium-size law firm. It seems to be more of a challenge these days to remain independent and we have noticed that a number of firms like ours have been acquired.
Q: I am interviewing right now with a law firm that is considering bringing me in as a lateral partner, although I do not know if it will be equity or non-equity. I also am in the late stages of the game as a candidate for an associate general counsel position with a major corporation.
Q: I am a summer associate in a large law firm. I entered the program with a lot of hope but was very disappointed by how I was treated (very brusque manner, no feedback, and no appreciation for all the time I put in on a project) by a partner for whom I did an assignment.
Q. I could use some advice for the following dilemma. I am general counsel of a publicly traded company and have been getting killed on fees by a major law firm that has close ties to members of our board of directors. We have been hit with a big piece of litigation and I would like to hire a small firm that I am confident will do a good job and will keep costs in line. I am having a hard time selling this to our CEO and suspect I would ultimately face a brick wall with the board, under the theory that this
Q: I am a young partner in a firm that recently merged with a larger law firm. Although I have a solid, growing practice, I certainly was not a key to making the deal happen, as my firm has a number of other partners who have much more substantial practices. What are things that I should look for to determine if the new firm is really the home for me? How long does integration take?
Questions -- all of which are appreciated -- have been accumulating throughout the year. Quite a few recent ones have focused on job searches, which is not surprising in light of our economic downturn. One of the most common such inquiries focused on a core component of a search, namely, one's resume.
I recently attended a CLE program that featured a nationally renowned law professor. Although this was a well run event in an attractive setting, my expectations were muted, as the discussion topic focused on an interesting, but procedural provision that was unlikely to stir the passions of most lawyers. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised.
A watershed birthday inspired this series of articles concerning some lessons learned during a 25-plus year career in the law. Some of this education was based on personal experiences, but much resulted from observations shared by other lawyers.
True adversity, outside the context of a deal or case, is a foe with which many lawyers are not intimately familiar. After all, most have been blessed intellectually, have excelled in school, and, through hard work, have done quite well in their legal careers. The recession has brought misfortune into greater focus, at least a bit more often, which was evidenced by recent discussions with two rather accomplished attorneys who were dealing with setbacks in disparate ways.
Lawyers frequently ask for advice as to the best way to keep in touch with their contacts. They also are quite interested in knowing how often they should do so, as there is a discernible concern about not becoming a pest. As ongoing technological advances have increased the number of contact options and have made it so easy for instant communication, I will share some thoughts on keeping in touch today.
As difficult as this is to acknowledge, I turned 50 in the past year. This has triggered some reflection on what has been learned through 25-plus years in the legal profession. It has also led me to ask others who have recently passed this milestone, or are approaching it, about what they may have done differently "if they had known then what they know now." The following are a few things I've picked up along the way.
I had just completed a withering cross-examination during a trial advocacy program 20 years ago. I was quite full of myself, as I elicited a key admission from a recalcitrant witness who was loathe to help me. A local lawyer, who was serving as one of the teachers for the program, congratulated me, but offered some suggestions as to how I could have better achieved the same result.
The five earlier predictions were that law schools would focus more heavily on providing practice-based education; law firms, especially the so-called megafirms, would decrease their entry-level hiring; starting law firm salaries would decline or at least stay flat; small and midsized law firms would have a deeper pool of lawyers available for direct hiring from law schools; and the death or decline of traditional (and expensive) summer programs would be on the horizon.
Two of the most common questions I have received in the past few months have been: "Should I be more open to at least considering a move to another law firm, especially in the midst of this recession?" and, "If I do decide to explore a move, what factors should I examine when looking at other firms?"
Q. I have been following all the developments with respect to first-year salaries, postponement of start dates, summer program cancellations (or curtailments), etc., with great interest. It is of interest to me not only because it impacts law firms such as mine, but also because I have a daughter who will be starting law school in the fall. What are your thoughts about how permanent these changes may be and what this generally portends for the future?
A special column is presented this month. I have received an increasing number of calls and e-mails from lawyers about the impact of the economy on their professional lives. What started as concern has grown to worry, and for some, especially those who have lost their jobs, despondency.
Q: I am an associate general counsel in a large company that has 10 lawyers in its legal department. I want to become a general counsel in the next few years, but think the odds of that happening here are slim, as there are three lawyers in the department who are senior to me and rank higher on the organization chart. Any suggestions as to how I can position myself to become a general counsel?
I am a partner who now has more time on my hands than I would like. My hours have been down during the past six months, and I expect that will continue to be the case until the economy rebounds. I am doing as much as I can internally to find more work, help others and generally contribute to the firm. What suggestions do you have for things I can do with clients and to help me prepare for the future?
Individual coaching can enhance the performance of a law firm and its top performers; however, the cost of providing it to every attorney in a law firm is prohibitive. Yet, coaching improves individual career development, accelerates culture change, improves organizational effectiveness and enhances personal productivity. Additionally, it is a benefit to law firms that are looking for non-monetary benefits to provide to their associates and to associates, who in these turbulent times, should be looking to develop and maintain a competitive edge.
Q. I am very curious as to how the down economy is affecting the lateral partner market. Are people more interested or less interested in moving? Are law firms more active in recruiting or are most sitting tight right now? Is the recruitment process more time intensive?
Performance excellence means more than winning a trial or doing thousands of deals if you have responsibility for the growth and development of an entire law firm. If you are, or will be, responsible for leading a law firm, your skill set must be much broader. How do top leaders develop the necessary skills and improve their abilities to lead?
Given up on New Year's resolutions because they're so hard to keep? Frustrated that you don't make the time for practice development or frustrated with the results from the time that you do devote to it? The following suggestions can make business boom for you in 2009.
Q. A topic of conversation among some of our partners is the relative merits of open versus closed compensation systems. What is the norm among most firms that you see? What do you think are the pros and cons of each system? Which one do you think is better?
Q. I am a law firm partner who is considering an in-house opportunity versus a lateral move to another firm. There are a number of factors I am weighing. My question to you focuses on a piece of the compensation puzzle, namely, the capital contribution that will be required by my prospective law firm, which wants to bring me in as an equity member. My current firm has a corporate structure and no capital is required, so this is new to me. The in-house opportunity provides a base salary, bonus and equity. Any insights would be helpful.
Q. I am a first-year partner and recently landed my most significant client, which is a mid-market corporation. It took a lot of effort to get this client, and I'd like to keep the client for a long time. Do you have any general advice for building a solid, long-term relationship with clients? The client has a general counsel and four other lawyers on its in-house staff.
Q: I am a member of our firm's executive committee. We are trying to be strategic in positioning our firm for continued growth. I am interested in knowing if you foresee any changes coming that could help to differentiate law firms. We have worked hard to improve our profits, have a good culture, provide solid training, especially for our younger employees and, all modesty aside, have a nice law firm. I am particularly interested in any thoughts you have that bear on retention.
Q. Our firm enacted a policy that will require our lawyers, including partners, to pay for part of our marketing expenses out of our own pocket. We were told that this has become more commonplace at firms. Is this consistent with what you are seeing?
Q: I am an associate general counsel in a publicly traded company. I was originally trained as a law firm litigator and then moved in house. I transitioned from litigation management to doing commercial work. In my new company, I now do a full range of work, which encompasses multiple practice disciplines. I am considering enrolling in a part-time Master of Business Administration program, as I think this may improve my knowledge of business, which should also improve my business judgment and hopefully make
Q: I am a partner in one of the city's biggest law firms. Although I have been with my firm for many years and generally like it here, a number of recent events are leading me to consider moving. I am friendly with a partner in another firm that I respect who has long been after me to join them. I have built a strong portable practice and think I know my market value.
Q. Our firm traditionally has done very well in recruiting lawyers and students who interview with us. We still do quite well with law students and lateral associates, but have failed in the past year to land a number of lateral partner candidates we really wanted.
Q. I tend to do a fair amount of client entertaining but always wonder if I could be doing a better job of it. Ball games and dinners are what I do most often - are there other things that others do that you think are better? What do in-house attorneys tell you about what they prefer?