Thursday, August 20, 2009

Above The Law writes about a legal organization that asks for a family photo along with a resume.

We tried that.

We stopped.

Most of the people we hire? I don't want to see a picture. Have you looked around law school recently? Sitting in front of a computer all day doesn't exactly do wonders for the physical appearance. I don't want to have nightmares. The less I look at the people around here, the better.

And their families? That's the last picture I want. I don't want to know what your kids look like as I'm forcing you to cancel your family vacation. I don't want to know what your wife looks like as I'm telling you to stay late on her birthday. I don't want to know what your dog looks like as I'm forbidding you to go home and feed her even though you had no reason to think you'd be here all weekend and there's no one with a key to your apartment who can go in and give her some food. I don't want to know what you look like in casual clothes. I don't want to know what you look like when you smile. No one smiles here. I haven't seen a smile since 1993. I don't want to see it in a picture.

The only picture I want with an application is a picture of your acceptance letter from a top-10 law school.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

There's been some news recently about Kate, a 19-year-old heading to law school at Northwestern.

Much of the reaction on the Internet has been negative -- she doesn't have any life experience, she's too young to be deciding she wants to be a lawyer, she'll find it difficult to make friends....

I say good for her, and we'll save a place for her here at the Firm (assuming, of course, we're hiring again by 2012, and that we've already let the classes of 2009-2011 have their start dates). Getting someone in here whose mother is still making her lunch and picking out her clothes means it's like we're getting a free secretary along with her. Hiring someone without previous work experience means she won't realize working 24 hours a day is unusual. And, she's close enough to an age where spanking is appropriate that it'll be much easier for us to throw office supplies at her without getting an earful in return.

It'll also be easier for senior associates to order her around, since they'll actually be older than her, in contrast to the usual awkwardness of having chronological peers as your boss. And since she probably won't have many friends, she'll be fine with working nights and weekends, and won't have any social obligations pulling on her.

The downside is that (at least as a summer associate) she won't be old enough to drink, which means she'll have to find a new vice to take the edge off. I recommend anti-depressants, but that's just me.

We'd go as young as we can find law school graduates. Want to come work here at 13, 14, 15? Great. Young people have energy. They're still optimistic about the world. They adjust to difficult circumstances. They like to please adults. They're not jaded. They don't care about making a difference in the world. They have good computer skills. They take orders. They don't eat as much. They don't need quite so much salary. Better health-- means lower health insurance premiums. They (usually) don't get pregnant. They're good at text-messaging. They (usually) don't have sex with clients.

There are no drawbacks I can think of. We'd even hire an eight-year-old if she could do the work. Which, of course, most eight-years-old can.

Welcome to the firm, Kate!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I was on a panel this morning, a breakfast for unemployed lawyers through some organization that sprouted up sometime during the recession to help unemployed lawyers network with other unemployed lawyers so they can all pretend they're accomplishing something by talking to each other about unemployment. I like to go to these panels, collect resumes, and sprinkle them around the firm on the desks of associates slightly less qualified than the people whose resumes I collect, just to make the associates a little nervous. "See, there are people out there who we could hire, with just a little more experience than you, just a little better GPA, just a little higher LSAT score (yes, the LSAT score is on a good number of these resumes)." No, seriously, networking is great, I've seen a lot of my former associates at these events and I'm absolutely thrilled to run into them and find out they've had no success in the job market. Perhaps I shouldn't be happy about it-- perhaps it means our firm isn't respected in the industry, that our former associates aren't valued, and that we need to work on our image. But maybe I shouldn't overthink it. It probably just means there aren't any jobs out there, and it's not anyone's fault that they can't find legal work. Except it's no fun to think about it that way, no fun to believe it's all just about the economy, and the fact that all these specialists we trained to do securitization deals and real estate transactions just don't have much value in a world where those deals aren't happening. No, I choose to blame the individual.

That's what I talked about on the panel this morning. "Blaming yourself for the economy, and what you should have done better." That was the title of my talk. 74 slides, where I itemized out a series of things lawyers should have been doing before they got laid off. Not sleeping. Gaining experience in every other area of the law. Going to school at night for an additional degree. Training to be an expert in social media and search engine optimization. Inventing Facebook. And so forth. There were lots of things lawyers could have done to prevent being laid off, or to set themselves up for a fine career even once the legal industry imploded. Not my fault they didn't win that million-dollar Netflix prize for improving their who-likes-what-movie algorithm. Could have been working on it in their spare time. Not my fault they didn't win the lottery. Not my fault they didn't invest in land that ultimately proved to have oil beneath it. None of these things are my fault, or the firm's fault.

For some reason, no one seemed to like my speech.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Day Pitney beat us to it. They've got a "new definition" of their summer program --

"The summer apprenticeship program will be an eight-week course designed to prepare law students for the practice of law through practical, day-to-day applications and on-the-job training. Apprentices will learn by shadowing Day Pitney lawyers and working with firm professionals in one-on-one coaching scenarios."

Yeah, that's called "we're having summer associates replace our secretaries," and we're doing it too. Every summer is shadowing an associate from the distance of, oh, about fifteen feet, in a cubicle, with a phone and a message pad. One-on-one coaching scenarios? Absolutely. "Here's how to pick up my dry cleaning and order my dinner."

Day Pitney says: "The newly designed program expands beyond reading, research, and writing assignments. We want a program that revolves around the key values that we stress for our attorneys."

Exactly. And over here, those key values are obedience, deference, and silence.

In fact, we're expanding our summer program to create year-round apprenticeship opportunities for all of the unemployed law school graduates seeking work. We'll be offering "apprenticeships" in document review this fall, in proofreading this winter, and in janitorial services this spring.

And the great thing about an apprenticeship? We don't have to pay anyone. If you're a summer "associate," we're compelled to give you market pay. If you're a summer "apprentice," we'll give you bagels every Friday and a voucher good for dry cleaning in the firm's laundry center (which will be staffed, of course, by our apprentices).

"We have decided to move beyond the traditional assignment-based summer associate program," says Day Pitney.

Well of course you have. Because there are no assignments to be had.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Jones Day apparently thinks it's better than we are. Or at least one of their partners wrote a memo claiming so. Didn't name us personally, but I'm sure we're one of the firms he's referring to. "[P]rotecting partners' incomes on the corpses of associates and staff," "slash[ing] and burn[ing]" -- I'm pretty sure that's us. Describes our behavior in this economic downturn pretty accurately.

I'd like to argue in our defense. What's wrong with firing staff and associates? What's wrong with protecting partners' incomes? What's wrong with using the recession as an excuse to trim the dead weight and put the firm in the best position to thrive not only when the economy recovers, but right now?

Why not protect our partnership above all else?

Our value is in our partnership, entirely-- sad to say, but staff and associates are fungible. No firm in the top 50 can stand up and say its associates are any better or any different from anyone else's. No matter how discerning the hiring partner wants to think he is, no matter how many times you read a resume or how carefully you evaluate a second-year law student's ability to eat lunch at a fancy restaurant without choking, we're all interviewing the same pool of students and making offers based on four or five twenty-minute interviews and a cursory glance at a transcript.

We're all making the same offers to the same students, and they're choosing us based on whatever intangibles they can pretend set one firm apart from the next, but, really, if you switched our first year associate class with Latham's or Jones Day's or any of the top firms, it's a crapshoot. And once the economy recovers, we'll be able to go out and pluck a whole new batch-- a whole new, younger, cheaper, hungrier batch-- of associates to do the scut work. You think law students are going to be in a position where they're turning down offers anytime soon? You think they're going to care which firms laid people off and which didn't? They're going to be grateful for the jobs. And it's not like they all can't do this work. We're not asking our associates to do rocket science. Any graduate of a decent law school can do everything we ask them to. That's why offer rates for summer associates are 95%+, everywhere. And that's why in good economic times, no one ever gets fired. We can pretend we have the best associates, the best training, the best whatever-- but it doesn't matter even if we do. We just need bodies. Bodies to bill out to clients, bodies to do document review, bodies to burn out and throw away when we're done with them.

So if the associates don't matter-- and, sorry to say, they don't-- why not dump them when we don't need them, save the money, and hire some new ones back later?

The alternative is a fair bit worse. Jones Day may be proud of lowering partners' incomes to save associates, but how happy are the partners about it? How many wouldn't be just as happy keeping their old salaries, or even getting bigger ones after we cut expenses by 30% by firing the idiots we don't need anymore? Truth is, not everyone is so giving. For a lot of us, there's a number we're waiting for-- a number in the bank account that tells us we can finally leave and not worry about our future. The faster you can get me to that number, the more I'm willing to stick around. So why not move over to a firm that's willing to fire people to protect my partner income?

And as far as clients? What do they care? We're service providers. We provide good service, what difference does it make whether or not we're laying off staff and cutting summer programs? In fact, we lower our overhead enough to trim 10% off the bill, and I think they'd be mighty happy with that trade-off.

Associates felt no loyalty to us when times were good. They left in the middle of projects, they went in-house, they switched firms at will. Why do we need to be loyal to them now? How about we reward the people who make the business run, who bring in clients, who actually add value through their own competence and hard work? Partner vs. associate, I choose the partner, every time.

Take that, Jones Day.

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