Law: Seventh Grade Lunch

September 16, 2008

When I was in Middle School, every part of our life was micro managed.  From the minute I walked in the door until the minute I left, there was always someplace I was supposed to be and something I was supposed to be doing.  The most frustrating and important of these assignments was the lunch table. During the first day of school, after everybody sat down, a seating chart was passed around and the place you were sitting became the place you were required to sit for the rest of the year.
This was all well and good, except that over the course of the year, people you once liked really start to grate on you.  Worse yet, the whole “seating process” happens in four minutes, meaning that the first four minutes of lunch largely determine how much you will enjoy the rest of the year.

Why does this matter?  Well, when you walk into lunch that first day, all you really care about is getting a place to sit.  The better the people the happier you are.  Nothing is worse than being left at a table with the oddballs.  You know, the guy with the back brace, the girl that doesn’t shower, and the guy that picks his nose knuckle deep.  Thankfully, I was consistently able to dodge this fate however I will never forget the mad scramble:  Priority one, get a seat, priority two don’t sit with the weirdos, priority three, best seat possible to make the year go as well as you can, and hanging over your head during all of this is the likelihood that you won’t like whoever you find within a few months.

Those of you that have been reading this blog for a while know where this is going:  every day it becomes clearer and clearer to me that OCI is the first day of middle school lunch.  Here we all are, scurrying around campus in four weeks trying to find the best seat firm possible.  Just like cafeteria lunch, the first priority is getting a job.  Nothing is worse than being left standing (unemployed) when time (OCI) runs out.  After you know you will have a seat the priority is not being left with the weirdos.  In firm employment, the weirdos are the “semi-big law” firms.  I don’t mean boutiques or good midlaw firms, I mean the type of firms that are clearly second teir in a city:  you work the same hours for less pay, less prestige and worse exit opportunities.  Think Heller in CA, Locke Lord in IL, and anybody not in the Amlaw 50 in NY and DC.

After you avoid the outcasts, its just a matter of how high up the social ladder (Vault/AmLaw rankings) you can get.   If you have some good friends with the same lunch, you might gladly sit with them and say you didn’t want to be at the cool kids table (working for a lifestyle firm or s strong boutique that is still a notch below the big boys) but in the end, you will be judged based on where you work sit.

And of course, just like Middle School, no matter how fast you scramble or how well you consider your seat, after a few Middle School months (Law Firm Years) you will want nothing more than to leave your table and sit somewhere else, anywhere else (lateral).

At least the firms let us comparative shop during 1L and 2L year.

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Law: Cadwalader

July 31, 2008

I had every intention of doing a blog tonight about a few more things that have been bothering me in politics.  Instead, I feel the need to trash one law firm that has recently demonstrated why law students should not care about Profits Per Partner above all else. 

Cadwalader, Wickersham, and Taft one of the worlds most profitable firms, recently laid off 94 associates.  This is in addition to the 36 they laid off earlier this year (disclaimer, these numbers may be off by 2-4 either way).  In total, the firm laid off at least 120 attorneys in response to changes in the market.  Why did this happen?  A lot of reasons, but the major factor was the fact that the firm is poorly managed. 

During the height of the mortgage backed securities boom, Cadwalader went all in.  They created a massive practice and hired tons of attorneys without ever considering balance.  Now that the market has crashed, instead of folding these lawyers into the general business practice, Cadwalader is laying them off.  Why?  To preserve the almightly profits per partner.  I don’t normally blame companies for doing what they need to in order to make money, but here I find it troubling.  Not because I think it was wrong (firms should do what they want), but because I find it troubling that ANY law student with ANY choice would possible go for this trash-tastic place. 

I’m urging ALL LAW STUDENTS.  Screw this place.  If you are qualified, there will be other New York offers.  Sure you may have to swollow some pride and work for the tenth best firm in town instead of whatever CWT was, but at least you will know you aren’t working for a poorly managed third-tier-toilet. (Please note, I am not ignoring the fact that all firms are concerned with profits per partner or the fact that many firms are poorly managed, I’m merely saying, if you have any choice, ignore this trash firm.  They are quick to lay people off and apparently set up their lawyers to fail, such as loading up their firm with people that have exactly one skill which is now unmarketable).

That felt good to get off my chest.

Law: Work Gunners

July 27, 2008

Before I ever set foot on a law school campus, I knew exactly what type of person I would most dispise – the gunner.  Everybody knows what a gunner is by now, so I’m not going to waste type rehashing this.  Thankfully, my 1L section featured very few of these annoying dbags.  We had one year-long gunner who would always ask questions and push points.  First semester we had an additional gunner, but after grades came out she stopped talking.  Perhaps this was random chance, or perhap she didn’t do as well as she thought she would.

Now that I’m working, I’ve discovered something even worse:  The work gunner. 

My summer class has two blatant work gunners and two other potential work gunners.

One of these is by far the worst.  It was once remarked that the only meaningful summer romance thus far in our summer class was Work Gunner A and Work Gunner A.  Seriously, I have NEVER in my life met somebody that was so impressed with himself.  Its actually funny when you don’t have to deal with him.  This person spent a few years (less than five) working for a massive american corporation and is rumored to have commented at least once that he was going to bring this massive corporation in as a client.  I’m sure major corporations are totally going to make their legal hiring decisions based on the fact that this guy spent a few years in their training program and also happens to have a degree from a T25 but not T15 law school.  Right, thats how it works, the management trainee has the big hook up.  On top of this, this kid things he’s great at everything he does and is constantly looking to be reassured.  Anything that doesn’t bring him praise he stops doing.  Thankfully, when he performs averagely, he thinks its great, so he takes that as a sign that he did that task well enough to keep doing it.

The second work gunner is a less annoying but equally frustrating variety – the work-a-holic.  This guy has routinely put in 12 hours, has done twice as many projects as some people, and works weekends fairly rarely.   Good work ethic you say?  Perhaps, but remember, this is a summer program and this work habit has essentially maken work gunner B a pariah.  Sometimes it seems like this gunner’s only goal in life is to compensate with being average at his/her law school by spending massive amounts of time working.  Somebody needs to make it clear you cannot get two offers if you do double the work. 

The ultimate “must be avoided” situation is a lunch with either of these two.  WG-A will only talk about how great he is which is boring as hell.  WG-2 will only talk about the work they are doing, how well they’re doing it, how much people love working with them, and how much they love the work and working long hours.  Not the best lunch conversation.

The other two potential work gunners both have traits of the above.  One of the most annoying traits these two exhibit is constantly talking about “if they will get an offer” and always telling people what they should/shouldn’t do if they want to get an offer.  Going to a law school where jobs are not a given makes these guys a little more nervous, but seriously, its almost the end of summer and nobody has said we screwed up royally.  It seems like baring a meltdown on a project (which isn’t out of question for one of the things I’m working on) we should be ok, so maybe these guys should calm down.

With two weeks of work left, I’d say I am in okay shape as it is.  I have three open projects.  Assuming I am able to complete all of them with something resembling quality, I should be in good shape to get an offer.  If I have a total meltdown on one of the projects (which is possible with one of these) then it could be a different story, but as things stand, it looks like I’m in ok shape.  I’ll follow up on my situation at the end of the week, at which time I should have a much better idea of where I stand.

Law: Recruiting

July 21, 2008

As a 1L I have had the wonderful opportunity to work at a law firm without feeling as if I am already committed to ending up there after graduation.  This isn’t to say that I won’t end up at my current firm (I am really enjoying this place) but rather, I am not in the position of having to either get an offer or go back on the market as a 3L (and somewhat of a pariah). 

I was thinking about this today in the context of a law, drawn out game of telephone, when I realized that the summer program isn’t really for the summers, its for the next class.  Think about it.  If the firm a 2L was at stopped doing the “spoil the summer” routine in early July, its not like that student would be in a good place to just stop working, or to say “screw this firm I’ll find someplace better.”  As a 2L, you are largely in a “take-it-or-leave-it” position.  On the flip side, if a firm stopped spoiling their summers in early July, word would get out and the following year they would be less desirable.  Even though nobody would ever say “I went to X,Y, and Z because I hear their summer program is awsome,” a student is equaly unlikely to go “well, A, B, and C have a reputation for working their summers to death and not doing anything nice, I think I’ll go there.”  The summer program makes the current summers happy and we certainly appreciate the effort, but in the end, its really about keeping up appearances for the next group. 

What does this have to do with anything?  Well, think about it.  The hardest part for the firm is getting summers to join their summer program in the first place.  If a firm get their first choice summers, even if they scaled back on the quality of their program, they would still bring in their first choice talent.  Despite this, the “woo’ing” phase is about the same everywhere.  Bring you in for a callback where the balance of power is still unclear (you don’t have the job yet), then do a bunch of interviews and tours, tell you how great the place is, and take you out to lunch.  This is all bookended by comp’d flights and hotel rooms.  Every firm does basically the same thing.  In fact, I can only think of one firm (Quinn) that tried to do any sort of above-the-call-of-duty recruiting during callbacks.  If firms really wanted to recruit their way into the best young associates, they would focus more on this part of the process and less on the summer.   What does this look like?  I’m not sure.  Some suggestions:

1.  Scrap one of the expensive summer events and replace it with an “acceptance scholarship.”  Pay some set amount of tuition for everybody that accepts a summer offer (perhaps $1500, offset by eliminating one lunc and one dinner a week).  This may be a little much so I also suggest:

2.  Arranginga deal with a local drycleaner to pick up and press the applicants interview clothes the night before on the firm’s dime.

3.  Instead of doing pre-finals care packages have something nice waiting for the interviewee in their hotel room.  Perhaps

4.  Do an event for everybody who was given the offer, make it something fun instead of something stuffy

5.  Post-callback social event.  This might be tough for people doing multiple callbacks, but use the firm seats/suite (if its open) to take an interviewing 2L to a game the night of their callback.  At the game you can give the subtle sales pitch.

I realize these are all really materialistic and sound like a future 2L going “give us more stuff.”  I’m not suggesting that.  Instead I’m suggesting that firms spend more resources trying to get people into their summer program and less on their summer program itself.  On a related note, if firms really want to find the “right person” they would spend more time explaining the culture/nature of the firm and less on the “interview” portion.  An interest opinion firms should consider:  Letter everybody that has an offer do a real job shadow and follow a junior associate for the day with no hand holding.  Let the summer see how that associate’s day goes.  Did they spend 6 hours reasearching on the computer?  Did they spend 6 hours doing meaningful work?  Did anybody come and yell at them?  A real opportunity to see what the firm is like in an uncontrolled environment would be extremely valuable.  That said, I don’t know if this is even possible.  After all, pick the wrong day and you could be watching somebody read a computer screen for 10 hours and really, this wouldn’t accomplish much at all.

A lot of this isn’t feasible, but the concept needs to at least be looking at.  Instead of preaching to the choir, try to get the type of people you want into your choir before you start to tell them how great the firm is.

Law: Not dead

July 12, 2008

After getting about ten IM’s this week asking if the blog is still alive and well, I felt the need to post and let everybody know:  Yes the blog is still going, no we aren’t dead, yes I’m enjoying summer, no Kurzman hasn’t succeeded in solving cancer yet. 

First things first, why the lack of posts.  Well, several reasons.  First, most of my stories are firm related and given the fact that I have not had professional responsibilities yet, I’m afraid to tell a story only to find out I disclosed information I am not allowed to put up here.  For that reason, a lot of my material has been eliminated.  Additionally, firm life is actually time consuming.  Its fun, but the nights go late.  As for why Kurzman hasn’t posted, I dunno, I think he’s still trying to solve the puzzle of how to treat a terrible disease.  God how lazy of him.

Anyway, in order to get a few law related elements into this post, I’ve decided to catch you up on the projects I have worked on thus far:

  • A memo regarding an evidence issue in litigation
  • An extended (25 page) summary of one element of a broad federal law for a partner’s marketing project
  • Update a presentation with recent “sports law” cases relevant to the topic 
  • Draft certain tax documents a fairly large acquisition (seller side)
  • Tax commission summaries
  • Incorporate a holding company
  • A doc review
  • Other short litigation research projects

So there you go.  I’ve been a little bit all over the place and I tried to keep that vague.  I’ll try to keep up the posts from now until stchool starts, when we all know I’ll be posting much more frequently.

Law: First Day

May 19, 2008

Today was our first day and it can basically be summed up as follows:  Training, training, training.  We came in, watched a powerpoint.  Talked for a while, watched a powerpoint.  Had lunch, sat through more lecture, then went home.  Tomorrow we will be doing more of the same but at least this is more job oriented (computer training).  Hopefully it will be somewhat interest.

Additionally, work sports start tomorrow!  I’m excited for our first softball game, but I don’t know how well I will do with this whole “not being super competitive/co-ed game” thing.

We’ll see. 

Law: T-Minus 8 hours

May 19, 2008

At 9 AM today I start my job as a summer associate.  I am not sure what I am supposed to think right now.  Part of me is really nervous, after all, this is a 12 week long interview/recruitment event in the middle of a weak economy.  On the flip side, this will be my first experince acting like a real lawyer.  I could see this beaing great but I could also see this being a lot of work.  Perhaps it will be both.  Priority 1 for this summer:  Secure an offer.  Priority 2 for this summer:  Learn some stuff.  Priority 3 for this summer:  Learn if this is a place I want to be.

I’m hoping for the best and planning on the middle.

I don’t even know my schedule for tomorrow.  I know that I am leaving my apartment at 8 and supposed to be at work at nine.  This gives me an hour to get there, get parked and get to the office.  With luck, I’ll have to kill some time in there.  I also know that they will be serving us breakfast and that Tuesday I am going to lunch with my associate mentor.  Beyond that, I have no idea what to expect from this week.

Wish me luck.  For any other summer associates starting tomorrow, feel free to leave me thoughts on how your first day went!

 

Law: Transition

May 18, 2008

So class ended Wednesday and now (assuming all classes are passed) I’m a 2L!  Yey!  Now that I’m done with 1L year, what am I doing?  Getting ready to start my job!  Today I flew in, met my family, and moved into my summer housing.  Its sort of bare bones but given what I’m anticipating the firm being like, I cannot see it mattering too much that this is bear bones. 

Monday I start work!  I still cannot believe that somebody is going to expect me to be able to do the type of work that real attorneys do!  I mean, I’m glad somebody is going to pay me what they pay real attorneys, but still.  This next week will be interesting.  I’m hoping they take it slow and help us get transitioned into our new life as “sort of lawyers.”  I read an email saying there will be a lot of orientation/training stuff the first week which is good.  I need to learn even simple things like how to bill a client.

On an unrelated note, I’m feeling healthy again.  My throat is all better and I’m feeling good in that sense (although I have a foot that randomly goes numb from time to time) so

Sometimes I consider asking Kurzman to post a little big about the job market for doctors because, well, I feel guilty constantly talking about the legal job market all the time.  To this end, every once in a while I’ll be having a conversation over AIM with Kurzman (less frequently recently as we both try not to die as the semester ends) and I’ll start to ask him “hey dude, can you throw something up about the medical job market, just so I don’t feel guilty,” then I remember, the job market for doctors is about as interesting as traffic court.  Unlike lawyers, there never has been (and I’m guessing never will be) a surplus of doctors.  First of all, the service they provide extremely useful (If you are going to list most useful professions to society, it starts with doctors, then there is a big gap, then there are the teachers, then a big gap, then everybody else though I’m not sure whats in third).  Additionally, the schooling they have to go through is insane.  I don’t mean to say that law school isn’t difficult, you can see the last five 8 months of me crying like a baby commenting on my experience for evidence of the fact that I find law school to be a difficult experience, but realistically, a huge chunk of the population can get into law school if they are willing to pay enough and accept a low end school.  Not so with Doctors.  Even the worst medical schools still turn away thousands of graduates and take extremely intelligent people.  Simply put,there aren’t enough doctors, so I imagine the market for their services isn’t particularly “interesting” in the same eat or be eaten way.

This is a long way to introduce a website full of articles that a friend sent me today.  The website, available here contains a variety of write ups about various elements of the legal services market.  A lot of the information the article contains is pretty self-evident.  Fo example, we already know top school grads are currently still seeing opportunities while lower school grads face long odds.  Furthermore, I think by now it is clear that the market is in a recession less bullish phase than it was 18 months ago (Republicans don’t use that nasty R word).  After reading the article, there are two points that jump out at me that I would like to comment on.

First, the articles mention several times that “law firms are hedges against a recession” and this seems to be conventional wisdom among a lot of people.  To some extent I understand this.  Bankruptcy, litigation, an employment practices all seem like they would generate significant additional work when things go back and problems arise.  Furthermore, areas like IP seem removed from a recession.  That said, whever everybody seems to be ignoring is this:  why would partners want to pass the “hedge” along to the associates? 

In theory, if the firms goal was to break ever every year after paying salaries this “hedge” would make good sense.  After all, when one group goes down, others can pick up the slack.  What this approach ignores is the fact that, when one group struggles for work, there are a lot of associates in that group that aren’t billing.  Sure some of them can be shifted over to bankrupty/reorg/whatever, but many of them can’t.  This means that regardless of the rearranging, partners are essentially face with “eating” the salaries of many associates or cutting heads.  Since associates salary is directly related to the money partners take home, it seems to me that shedding headcount allows them to better “hedge” their salaries despite the fact that these “hedging” benefits aren’ passed on.  Why mention this?  Well it sounds great when you say that a firm is hedged against a recession.  As a future associate, it makes me feel all warm, fuzzy, and safe inside.  That is, untill I remember that the hedge only works because they can fire/reassign me and make up my hours in a more robust practice group at that time.  Furthermore, even if this whole “replacing A work with B work” can succeed in practice without cutting heads, it ignores the fact that, by and large, M&A/corporate stuff is where the big $$ comes from in a lot of places.  Often these deals allow firms to charge flat rates/bonuses in addition to or instead ofthe almighty billable hour.  As these types of deals go away, firms are going to stop being flushed with cash and this change will likely be passed on down in the form of lower associate bonuses.

The second thing that I noticed in this series of articles is the total misfortune of a certain group.  This recession, at least for the legal market, seems a lot different than the 2001 recession.  In reality, a whole practice group may very well be severly cut in a way that it will never recover from.  Yes there will always be assets to securitize and securitization will always be an area of firm practice.  That said, some firms developed entire practice groups around this area and a good number of lawyes that are not midlevels or highr have built their whole career around securitizing risky home loans.  I cannot imagine there is much of a lateral market for a 6th year associate that has done securitization deals (the types of deals that have almos completely dried up) for the majority of their career.  For these guys, I’m not sure there is another harbor in the storm.  If contract attorneys are about to become the legal equivalent of the Michigan autoworker as I have argued before (read:  outsourced), then is it also possible that securitization lawyers are the legal equivalent of typwriter repair men?  Hopefully I never have to experience the frustrations of having my field blow up over the course of a few months, but if I did, I honestly don’t know what I would do. 

Consulting anybody?  Anybody?  Bueller?  Bueller?

Good read to summarize the legal market for anybody considering it/curious:

 

http://www.chicagotribune.com/chi-080406lawyerwoes-story,1,4459899.story?page=1