As far as law firms are concerned, this gives them time to actually make decisions on interviews of corporate candidates that have been pending--some pending since the original August credit revelations. Thus, if you are in the midst of a search, I can assure you your recruiter is or should be humming along and exceedingly busy.
To all my own candidates, you can believe that I am either already embroiled in analysis and calls on your behalf, or figuring out how to get just one more profile through the system. This is like a "mini-tax" season (by analogy) and we are burning the midnight oil. Further, if you are considering initiating a search, this is a good time. Getting your hat in the ring now during this fairly optimistic period in terms of market perceptions (yes, really), is a good thing--even if no movement can happen due to logistics until the New Year.
In all, forget shopping for trinkets, get out there and shop for your next gig. Early worm and all that . . . .
Just a thought.
I am only one humble lawyer, but I salute those of you who have risked your livelihoods, your lives, and most importantly, your liberty, in the protest again the naked attempt to undermine the rule of law in Pakistan.
What paltry information we Americans receive about the situation, claims that in the past there have been questions about the integrity of some members of the Pakistani bar and judiciary. If that is so, after seeing your brave protests in the streets of Islamabad, all is now forgiven and more than forgiven.
I cannot tell you how moving it is to see hundreds, thousands of suited and cravatted lawyers yelling in the streets, arms and faces raised against tyranny. You as attorneys are truly perhaps the last bastion against absolute rule by fiat in your nation.
I only have to ask: what can we as American lawyers do for you????
For us American Lawyers, would we have the courage to do the same??? Our forefathers did, and put their lives and livelihoods similarly on the line.
First, I have to say that I was quoted somewhat incorrectly. The author of the piece indicates that I thought firms would use "tricks" to keep up hourly rates. This is not precisely the case. What will happen, however, is that firms will do everything within their power to keep their stated rates at the premium/premier levels, and use tools such as blended rates, and other devices, to keep clients happy, without admitting to lowering fee rates.
Second, there is no way in hell Walmart or anyone else is going to rein in legal fees. If it is not feasible to control "prices" on a national level with the full support of the federal government behind it, then a single firm, or even a group of corporate concerns is not going to keep this in check. Hello, people!!! The MARKET decides prices, not individual companies. Of course, Walmart and anyone else can price themselves down into the sub-prime market (if you will). There are plenty of attorneys who work work for Walmart at even $120/hour--but does Walmart want there people? Basically, the white shoe firms of the world (using the phrase loosely) will simply move on. If you want premier help, you pay premier prices. Period.
What Walmart surprising cannot figure out (as they are supposed to be savvy retailers as I recall) is that market demand and supply control price. Not testosterone-heavy corporate counsel's departments. Such a move by Walmart to enforce a "slow-down" of fee increases only helps some. It will help their current firms to decide whether they want to continue representing Walmart, and it will help the next-lower-tier firm who is willing to charge less for their less-then-premier services (as perceived by the market, of course) garner a new client. Add to that the well-known fact that as an industry, demand for legal services is incredibly inelastic. Just browse over to Bruce's blog for a primer.
The fact that the greatest global labor shortage of all time in the professional ranks of all professions is upon us and will continue for the foreseeable future means that premier prices--and all prices--will continue to rise because the cost of labor will necessarily continue to rise to attract and retain talent.
There isn't a damn thing Walmart--or anyone else--can do about that.
Just a thought.
What does the Faustus myth have to do with law firm management? Plenty. The whole idea of the originally-well-intentioned ingenue of knowledge-turned-lawyer who eventually becomes the rapacious firm-merging blunt instrument/capitalist-tool is so ingrained in our profession's collected psyche as to be a paradigm. The funny thing along the path of such a person is that while brilliant, charming and incredibly competent, such persons tend to have a phoenix-like quality. In other words, while they may temporarily build something grand, they have a distinct tendency to crash and burn--bringing their friends, family and devoted employees and colleagues with them.
San Francisco as Sanctuary: The Region's Diversity Buoys Fall-out from Questions in the Corporate Market
Some pundits relate a perceptible slow-down in corporate hiring and the traditional fleshing out in the litigation ranks. As far as the validity of this observation in the Bay Area, I have to say it is more nascent than fully realized, but the following are telling:
1. Firms at all levels are still SEEKING corporate candidates. This is an important point. It belies the fact that the economy is still fundamentally strong, which is to say that there is as-yet-untapped demand for legal services. The drivers here? Globalization, and a relatively stable and functioning global financial and transport/trade infrastructures. As long as these fundamental stay in play-and they have and will in spite of (or as a result of, depending on your politics) the current "pax Americana" wars.
2. Actual "trigger-pulling" has slowed perceptively in terms of corporate hires, however. While the process has continued unabated through the Summer and early Fall, I have noticed that some firms are slower on the draw than they otherwise have been in the past 24 months. The slow-down has been nearly perfectly contemporaneous with the credit debacle. Yet, after Citibank and other wrote off their 10-figure losses, the market rebounded and firms started hiring again.
3. Litigation needs have always been strong, if unremarkable, but there are rumblings about further needs. Standards for interview invitations have relaxed by a small, yet perceptible degree. It is not as bad as it was during early summer where Circuit Court of Appeals clerks could barely get a blink out of the top-tier firms.
4. The main-line "niche" practices are stronger, and ever more so. Labor & employment, real estate, estate planning, ERISA, energy, and even tax are growing. This is the result of the echo-effect of globalization. While the largest firms globally consolidate, those same firms, while unable to eschew the "all things to all people" paradigm, are unable to sustain the relatively depressed rates of these practices. Thus, they are fleeing rather precipitately to well-known boutiques. There are many, many opportunities here.
5. All IP-related practices are of course still untouched by any wobbles in the credit crunch. Even the still faint but perceptible visceral (and inaccurate) prognostications of world-wide recession cannot stop this juggernaut. Intellectual property is the "new" real property, folks. Gotta get some. Trouble is, they keep "making more." Oh yeah, I forgot, that's why it is the legal services side of the house that is so strong!
6. Population trends favor sustained growth in this market. I won't quote you the numbers, but suffice it to say that the Bay Area's population is continuing to grow unchecked. The need for legal talent continues to increase, and the pool of the 'right kind' of candidates continues to shrink as a percentage of the available pool of talent. Thus, these are, and will continue to be, salad days for attorneys. Even better for all of us are the continual seismic threats. That keeps away the merely idle on-lookers and attracts just that many fewer to flesh out the ranks.
Just got home from a great little marketing event especially for law-bloggers. It was a homely little event, although with some stellar attendees. Basically, we all sat around (about 50 of us at a single huge conference table) and chatted about a few central issues about blogging and how it affected our respective careers.
The content itself: dull, dull, dull--nothing I couldn't have thought up myself. I only say that (other than it being true) to give voice to what most of you are thinking about the next (or last) marketing event you went to. Bottom line: sure!, the content was weak, with maybe "one or two" little nuggets of thought to take "away."
But think! Those one or two nuggets might just be the "single grain of rice" that puts you over the top in your next negotiation. To say nothing of the chance to meet lawyers from across disciplines--an occasion fraught with marketing possibilities for now and in the future.
Again, no matter how simple, homely, or down-right boring your next marketing event may be, it, in addition to all the others you have already participated in and those you'll be participating in next week and next month and next year, will all add up.
Yup! I've got a new client (candidate) out of this event. Got some advice for improving my blog, found out about a better (and cheaper) hosting company, etc., etc., all from one short little two-hour event. Think of each marketing event as one brick in your overall career structure. One brick doesn't matter? Try leaving out a few and see where it gets you.
It's not so much being the "early bird", it's being the EverReady bunny. Being there really does matter.
Just a thought.
Click here to indulge your curiosity.
Of course, one cannot as a resident of San Francisco (even if only during the day) fail to recognize "the City"'s single greatest holiday of the year: Halloween. On the other hand, what more is there to say about the pageant? Of course we all know of the spurious superstitious roots (both "Pagan" and Christian) and we all hear quite enough laments about rampant commercialism, etc. Neither do I have anything witty to say about the net Zeitgeist of casual eroticism and lavish ennui that currently reigns.
But I do have an "All Hallows' Eve" story all my own. My wife's favorite and closest Aunt passed away on Sunday. Thus, as my wife is the family designee for all things logistical and was closest to our beloved aunt (no offspring) today, on the Eve of all Souls (All Hallows), we are, as a family, checking with florists, meeting with the lawyer (not me, thank g-d, I'm just sitting here in this non-descript Starbucks knock-off with the kids in tow trying to write a blog entry), finishing plans with the cemetery, calling friends, sorting sympathy cards, trying to figure out what to do with 94 years worth of stuff, stuff and more stuff. Oh yes, and dealing with the realities of the trust allocation--different than we thought.
Ironic for my aunt ("absolutely NO religious ceremony, no prayers, no 23d Psalm" at the ceremony) but fitting for me, the burial is tomorrow, the Feast of all Saints. It only serves to emphasize how important family, life, sacrifice, and just plain "doing things together" is. Amid all the memories, plans, sadness, craziness, and details, I'm glad that having been a lawyer for all those years hasn't (yet) burned out that core of caring, softness, weakness and irrationality inside. It is at times like these when I am glad I practiced in the Bay Area, where the "24/7/365 lawyer" paradigm is weakest.
I hope that if you have someone to miss, that you miss them well today and tomorrow.
Just a thought.
A transferable skill
The same principle works in other spheres as well, however. Yet there is a tendency among lawyers to restrict ones energies towards the practice, all it entails, and only what it entails. An attorney will spend all his or her mental and emotional energies on a particularly nasty contract issue or pivotal brief, but be unwilling to spend even a fraction of the time analyzing his/her own personal issues. I can hear one hundred voices simultaneously asking "but why would I?"
The Holistic Approach
By “personal issues”, I don’t mean keeping track of how much one’s home has appreciated in the last quarter. I don’t mean keeping track of the rate of return on one’s stock investments. And I don’t mean worrying about hiring a new pool guy. I’m referring to those issues which are the most personal to the individual lawyer, and yet, paradoxically, can have the greatest impact on one’s career: one’s particular mental and emotional health.
Getting Your Brain Around It
It is a trick, I admit, to develop a sufficiently sophisticated intellectual construct to even see that such issues as mental and emotional health matter and have value--other than in the abstract, or as applied to someone else--anybody else. Even surmounting that hurdle, it is still more difficult to start to see one’s self objectively and make a determination whether one is indeed mentally and emotionally healthy—indeed, mentally and emotionally healthy compared to what, precisely??? As a now former litigator, it still amazes me how much we used to laugh about, even idolize, ridiculous and destructive behaviors. The depth of our cynicism knew no bounds. Anyone who didn't enjoy dark humor about the insane life we lead was dismissed as Pollyanna, beneath contempt. At the least, they were certainly NOT one of "us."
Yet I know that even the most jaded attorney can see that at least as it applies to "others", good mental and emotional "hygiene" is conducive to good practice, sound judgment, and longevity in the field. The trouble is to know, as to which I have already alluded, just what mental health "looks like" and how to make an assessment.
subscribe to AD ARGUENDO now
Let's face it, your practice, my practice, everyone's practices, are going global. Twenty years ago, when the practice of law first began to grow out of the "single-time-zone" mentality, we could incorporate the additional burdens on our time by simply sleeping a little less here and there and then making it up as possible.
As practices now routinely cross the four most popular US timezones daily and more often than not include regular forays across the dreaded international-date-line, we simply cannot as a profession continue to burn the candle in the middle as well as at both ends.
In short, I think we need to revisit the old adage: "early to bed, early to rise." I will waste no ink reiterating the nauseatingly repeated negative consequences of a 24/7 lifestyle. Suffice it to say that we cannot function well long-term on four hours of sleep, and that on an irregular basis. To those partners who routinely have no internal body-clock left to speak of, I can only say: you are a walking timebomb. Please, please give up the "machismo" of pretending this is not costing you your health (eventually) and, more importantly for your clients and your partners, your judgment.
I'm sure I don't need to also prove that lack of regular sleep will do a number on your synapses. Do I really need to dig up hyper-links to prove that one? Let's face it, there is enough work for all of us to fill 48 hours a day, every day, for the rest of our lives. And, no, you are NOT allowed to try to do that.
We were mammals long before we were homo "sapiens, sapiens." Let's start acting like the latter (the sapiens part!) and get back to a more sane approach to living. Figure out a time of day that is most productive for you and decide to make that your "day". Figure out what time of day is "down" for you, and call it "night." Then, stick to it. Yes. You really, really, really will get more done. And, let's face it, delegation of work, and intelligent delegation, is the secret to true leadership success.
My new mantra: "healthy, wealthy and wise."
Churchill called it his "black dog". Harry Potter has his allegorical "Grimm". Whatever you call it, a vast number of men suffer from intense unhappiness, despair, self-loathing and hopelessness. Nor does this spectre seem to fall into any one demographic category. Men who are otherwise extremely successful, fulfilled and functional are just as likely to suffer as those whose life circumstances might provide all the necessary explanation for the condition blithely called "depression." Some distinguish between mere "black feelings" and a "clinical" depression characterized by a lack of feeling. Regardless, a very great percentage of us suffer from such thoughts and feelings. Especially lawyers.
Phenomenon without a Cause?
I have no idea what the cause of depression is. Some blame an overactive "Area 25" of the brain. Others point to synaptic breakdown; still others blame serotonin levels. More commonly, men are blamed for their depression, calling it a character flaw or even laziness.
I do know there is much ink spilt on the topic, but little in the way of social understanding of the phenomenon. Any way you slice it, I am sure that there are multiple responses to depression. Many men, as stated, lead productive and fulfilled lives in spite of and in concert with their "black feelings" their "black dog", their "ghostly specter."
Work: The Pyrrhic Victory?
Some I have spoken with tell me that the one cure for them is work, productive and satisfying work. I can believe this, and my own layman's perspective is that male depression is probably characterized most by, or generated most frequently by, a perceived lack of control over their work circumstances--work still being the primary way in which men self-identify.
For myself, I have no idea whether my periodic bouts of unexplained lack of interest in work, feelings of helplessness in the face of failure, and even sometimes of success, are true "depression" or not. Surely all or nearly all of our great bards, our great novelists and great poets describe at one time or another a state that has no other universal description other than depression. Perhaps human beings are not set up for eternal happiness. One wonders also why it is that so many high-functioning, highly educated and high earning-capacity men seem to suffer from the condition at least as often, and perhaps more often, than others. It is a mystery.
I can tell you, however, that as attorneys, we owe it to ourselves, our firms and our profession (if duty to self and family is not motivating enough) to ensure that we are not allowing our professional judgment to be swayed, or our responsibilities neglected, due to our interior emotional or physiological states.
One must start somewhere to answer the question. I provide a link to the Mayo Clinic's male depression site as a beginning.
Badge of Honor
Either way, if I can add anything to the dialogue about male depression, I can tell you that there is no need to feel ashamed about the condition. Churchill's dogged determination, his prolific written output, his political savvy and his longevity should be beacons to men of all ilks. Depression is something that we can live with, shine with, succeed with. But, like Churchill, we may not be able to survive without naming it.
subscribe to AD ARGUENDO now
Let us also agree not to lie to each other, shall we? Let's agree not to tell each other that "it won't happen to me" for mere wanting. Let's agree not to believe that this only happens to attorneys of a certain generation and that "we" "new" "younger" attorneys won't suffer the same fate merely by virtue of our youth and more "modern" outlook. Do you (those under-30 types) seriously believe that your forebears did not start out with the same vitality and optimism?
As I am not a scientist, not a sociologist and not a psychologist, I'll dispense with the niceties and proofs and just give you my theory straight out: our profession suffers from dis-ease because it emphasizes rational thought processes to the exclusion of emotion, of creativity, and, perhaps most importantly, of the "sub-conscious."
Those who have read Jung's last great work (and the only one accessible to the layman) "Man and His Symbols," may see his influence here. Let me paraphrase and "translate."
The unconscious (subconscious, whatever) is a vital and important aspect of human existence and sanity. It is not a relic of "primitive" man; it is not a sissy-haven and scapegoat for bad behavior. Rather, it is a font of creativity--perhaps THE font of creativity--of the human psyche. It is a vital part of (link to) our interaction to our own histories (memories) and that of the world at large. And, unfortunately, it is neglected, suppressed, and without a voice.
But for our dreams.
Jung's theory is that our dreams are vitally important to our mental, and even physical, health. Our dreams are the only way for "civilized" man to interact with (listen to, learn from) an entire thought process, almost another entire "being" within us--and one that we cannot live without. Primitive man (per Jung) had not lost the interaction between the strange, wonderful and grotesque projections that the unconscious mind projects onto every interaction, thought, and sight. Primitive man sees a shaman in a wolf, an angry god in a storm, a ghost in a rustle of the wind. Importantly, however, these fantastical associations have important meaning to us as human beings. Most importantly, they come from the same source (arguably) that all our creative, generative and new thoughts and ideas come from. We ignore it to our peril.
Yet, that is precisely what "modern" man (yes, woman, too) has done. We have collectively decided to--and "consciously" I might add, relegate the unconscious to "persona non-grata" status. As stated, what remain accessible to us, are our dreams.
The Source of Our Collective Discontent
I have not worked out just how we as modern professionals are to integrate the important messages that our unconscious gives to us, but I do know that we can and must do more to do so. We as attorneys particularly are in need of this integration. We work in a society-within-a-society that even more strongly and exclusively values "reason" and "rationalism" over emotion, sentiment, and the fantastical than the layman. I suggest, then, that our malaise, our depression, our destructive and compulsive behaviors, stem from a mind that is diseased because it is not nourished by the creative and generative powers of the unconscious.
Two quick examples. First, Jung relates the story of an otherwise high-functioning professional who had a recurring dream of walking off of a cliff. Jung, given the man's background, was gravely concerned. The individual had been engaged in a string of rather sordid financial and other engagements, and had begun to adopt a series of high-risk physical projects (involving mountain climbing) that Jung thought was some sort of unconscious intent to restore an equilibrium to that individual. Despite repeated warnings to re-evaluate his new-found passion, the individual continued to take ever-more dangerous mountain treks. Two weeks after the dream, his mountaineering friends related a telling and horrifying event--the man (otherwise apparently happy, fulfilled and successful) simply walked off the cliff--just as in his dream. Let me emphasis, he did not fall, he walked off. Trouble is, this unconscious obedience to a long-ignored call took another colleague with him to his demise.
Second story: I recall a vivid dream just before my wills and trusts final in law school. It was an intricate and peculiarly sharp, concrete and vivid dream; one that I could not understand, but knew was important. However, I had better things to do. I sat for the exam (and nearly failed it). I recalled only later that night the details of the dream--and realized that I had dreamed every detail of the exam fact scenario, and every single answer. Had I perhaps been more disposed to listen to, value and care about my dreams--indeed a full third of my human existence if you will--perhaps I might have averted a small (but painful nonetheless) perceived failure in my life.
I can't promise you can avoid all professional set-backs by paying undue attention to your dreams--but then again, you might.
The Terrible Secret
In Praise of Angst
The Few, The Proud, the Dour
No More Tears
We Get to Fit in Now?
What follows is an in-depth analysis and re-statement of what the legal resume should resemble in the early 21st-Century. Executive summary: throw out your old resume and begin thinking about the eight golden keys to describe your work experience: degree of autonomy; caliber of client; sophistication of the work; volume of the work; client industry; degree of client access; dollars involved; and social/political significance of the outcome. The point is to incorporate "leadership" thinking to your resume: emphasize action, functional qualities, success stories--de-emphasize mere description.
A Little Less Conversation-A Little More Action!
When I sit down to write an article, I usually try to come up with some reference to classical antiquity, or perhaps Enlightenment-era philosophy. I like to think that the progenitors of our society have something relevant to say that sheds light even in our relatively “dumbed-down” pop-centric, go-go culture. But when I sat down to write this article on re-approaching the professional resume, I felt that the sedate, reasoned approach to life exemplified by our intellectual forebears just did not catch the spirit of the modern job search. Not at all.
I am not the first to notice that the interview process is analogous to a dating relationship. Moreover, in this age of increasingly short law-firm tenures, the law firm/attorney dance can resemble a singles’ bar scene. If this is the case, then recourse to the timeless Justice Holmes is in order. Recall his admonition: “the timid may stay at home.”
You do not want to stay at home—you want to fulfill your professional goals and get into a platform that creates the synergies you need. You have to get your name noticed, and for any given person, you do not have two chances to do it. Just one.
I pride myself on writing extremely detailed and evocative cover letters. I do my best to answer in a cover letter all the questions that a hiring partner would want answered before extending an offer. A fantastic cover letter will open doors and get you past multiple gatekeepers, but a resume must still deliver. At some point, a decision-maker is going to pour over that resume and hope that the skills and experience that she has been looking for will finally appear. And this person does not want to guess and surmise—she wants answers. I hasten to add that your resume has approximately 11.3 seconds to communicate those answers. This is why your resume very likely needs, “A little less conversation, a little more action.”
Action v. Conversation
While I would normally hesitate to quote the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll for the centerpiece of anything worth writing about, I have to admit that his injunction “action over conversation”, is the perfect synthesis of the interview process as dating ritual, and the need to truly communicate and impress in a resume. Basically, what I mean is that your resume must be taut, dense, full of “answers,” not “questions.” In short, your resume must be an action saga, not a job-description, or mere ‘conversation’.
With this as a philosophical basis, I provide the following broad perspective and practical advice on how to re-imagine your resume as a fearless piece of pointed advocacy, rather than a timid, milquetoast recital of unsupported conclusions.
A vital preliminary word about format.
Many of my candidates initially have a difficult time listening to my suggestions because they cannot get out of their minds the outdated rubric that a resume can be only one page long. They hear about the extra detail I want them to add and they are afraid that they will exceed this outdated and lifeless magic circle, which they conceive of as a cardinal rule. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. A resume, if well-read, is a pleasure to read. In the context of a professional resume--especially for a lateral attorney with at least one year of experience--two and even three pages are perfectly acceptable. Thus, if you are following me, I hope that you have allowed yourself to completely deconstruct in your mind your current resume and its format, the better to begin your reconception of that document anew.
First: The “Legal Experience” portion of your resume is going to be reconstructed to demonstrate your abilities, not describe them.
Think of your resume as a piece of advocacy. A good brief shows a judge how and why your client’s position is the only reasonable one. Similarly, your resume must be designed to answer the “how?” and “why?” behind statements like: “Experienced in all aspects of litigation” or “complete mastery of corporate formation tasks.” Something like that lyric “A little less conversation . . .” is going through the mind of someone who reads multiple resumes in a week. The hiring partner or recruiting coordinator is thinking “why can’t this highly educated person tell me something interesting about themselves—why does this resume look like every other one I’ve ever read except for the name, the school and the graduation date.” You as a candidate must make it your mission to foreclose the possibility that those thoughts go through the mind of the decision-maker at the firms you approach. Thus, I want you to conceptualize of your resume as a showcase for success stories that highlight your skills, and puts them into a particular context.
Second: Write the perfect bullet point with my “eight golden keys” to grabbing attention.
Your resume is going to be full of detail, but it must be snappy. The best way to draw a reader in, without making him or her feel ‘trapped’ by undifferentiated text, is to use bullet points. You have seen bullet points before—short sentences, or perhaps two or more sentences, set off by text above and below it by a dash, arrow or round dot, a “bullet.” Your resume should use them strategically, but the most important aspect is to craft the text. In my view, the way to view bullet points is similar to how you may have used them in a brief—as a recitation of evidence supporting a conclusion. The first line or two of any heading under the “Legal Experience” portion of your resume is your firm name, and title (“associate” or “partner”). If the firm is a well-known one, your “conclusion” may already have been stated (“I am a world-class [litigator, corporate attorney, etc.]”). Further, you may want to simply write out a two-line “conclusion” just under this information, to give the reader an idea what you have practiced. The idea is to communicate the way you frame yourself to other attorneys—you are communicating to the reader that you are a competent and well-rounded litigator (for example) that has lots of experience in sophisticated work. Alternatively, this could also be done at the very outset of your resume in a “Profile” section (a 3 to 5 sentence narrative paragraph summarizing the most important points about your legal skills).
Regardless how you frame the “argument” of your resume, the “bullet” points are the meat that backs up the conclusion already made. And those bullet points need to deliver. Note that these are not simply “further information” for the reader. No. They are a presentation of facts that prove—that demonstrate--your competence. The way to prove competence is through the eight golden keys, which individually or in combination provide the “scope”, the “context” of your work. They are:
a) degree of autonomy;
b) caliber of client;
c) sophistication of the work;
d) volume of the work;
e) client industry;
f) degree of client access;
g) dollars involved; and
h) social/political significance of the outcome.
Ideally, each bullet point throws in powerful phrases or word-clusters that allow each bullet text to contain 3 to 5 of these “golden keys.” Let me demonstrate. A bullet point in a litigation resume may say: “Took the lead in several complex commercial litigation matters.” I see this type of phrase every day in resumes. The candidate should have focused on one of these matters and touted his own, individual work. For example, the following communicates much more: “Wrote, argued and won summary judgment defending a Fortune-100 worldwide chip manufacturer in a $50 million licensing and distribution lawsuit based on appropriate application of choice of law provision.” Notice that I have used at least five categories including: a) degree of autonomy (“wrote, argued and won”), b) caliber of client (“Fortune-100”), c) sophistication of the work (“motion for summary judgment” and “choice of law provision”; e) client industry (“chip manufacturer”); g) dollars involved (“$50 million”). If I didn’t have any of these facts, I would try to find at least two categories that did apply. The point is to take the time to dig back into your past successes and mine them for gems. In the day-to-day practice, we tend to think only of our current projects, forgetting past successes—don’t make that mistake.
Third: Make sure you covered the basics.
Every attorney resume should have at least the following sections: a) biographical information (name, cell-phone number and email address); b) legal experience; c) education; and d) affiliations/admissions. If applicable, add the following: e) “Other Experience”; and f) “Publications and Presentations”. Try to use the above principles when describing your law school and undergraduate careers.
Fourth: Honesty--The ONLY Rational Policy.
It should go without saying that every single statement and every portion of every statement in your resume, transactions list, bio, or any other piece of writing you submit to a potential employer must be 100% accurate. There is no puffing, no stretching of the truth, no artful lapses of completeness to convey the wrong idea. Most real or perceived ‘blemishes’ can be handled. What CANNOT be ‘handled’ is even the hint of misdirection. The legal market is too tight to deal with the cognitive dissonance that results from partners having to re-think their analysis of a candidate’s fit for a firm, after realizing some important aspect of their profile that wasn’t immediately obvious from the original submission or resume.
Action, Action, Action.
Basically, this all boils down to making the job of the hiring firm easier. By doing the analysis yourself of what you have done, where you’ve done it, what the results were and how it impacted on clients, you are leading the reader to the conclusion you want, without the reader having to work to prove or disprove any representations you’ve made. Thus, less conversation—less space-taking chatter about “abilities”—and more action: more direct demonstration of your proven successes. If you can make that cognitive leap, you are much farther down the tarmac than your competition. And believe me as someone who is in a position to see trends in the industry, competition for premier positions will only increase.
Octavius Augustus Caesar was the first and "real" Augustus, the first heir of Julius Ceasar, and some say the first true emporer of Rome. It is easy after the fact to see the amazing prowess, endurance and wit the man had, and it is easy to think of his reign, like that of every other wildly successful monarch, as inevitable. He had, however, a very shaky start.
Named as Julius's heir and assuming his position at the tender age of 18, Augustus (Gaius, then) had no money, no connections, no power and no family to fall back on. Worse, he had very, very powerful enemies.
Someone to Listen To
You may remember Marc Anthony was running around claiming the 'throne' for himself (sorry for the anarchronism). At any rate, it all worked out, obviously. It helped to have the greatest orator of all time take up his cause (Cicero) and it helped to be completely ruthless (siding with the Senate as he did at need against Antony, then, when more powerful, switching alliances and "purging" the Senate of the traitors to Julius). Either way, I believe Augustus and his brilliant success sufficiently makes his case as someone to listen to for advice.
World's Greatest Aphorism
And Augustus was all for aphorisms, most of which he coined himself. My favorite? Festina lente. Now, many of you have heard this one, roughly translated "hurry slowly." But there is more, far more, to it than mere irony. The point is, of course, that one must have plans and move as direcctly toward their fulfillment as possible. And, of course, one must have the determination, patience and "stick-to-it-ive-ness" to take the long view when necessary--switching alliances when convenient, professing loyalty the next, and taking direct and perhaps ungentlemanly action when prudent. (You can see how this philosophy might appeal to a headhunter).
Gloss on the Phrase
More importantly, however, is a further nuance to the injunction. "Lente" also carried with it the connotation of "toughness", "durability", "flexibility" and "suppleness." It makes me think of trying to put a nail through stucco--the hammer just bounces back at you. Thus "festina lente" is an encouragement not to just be "deliberate" (which attorneys often use as an excuse to simply "bide their time" and take no action) but also to be tough, to be tenacious, to be able to bend with the wind.
Bringing it Home
And thus I finally come to my point: One must take action where one's actions will count. Simply to strike without knowledge of where to place the hammer is fruitless at best, possibly injurious (you can hit your own hand) and even fatal (if the hammer bounces back into your face). This is particularly true when dealing with transition between law firms. (Yes, I realize this is not a partiuclarly graceful segue).
At any rate, firms have their own pace; their own way of making decisions. In other words, they make decisions about bringing on new attorneys at in their own sweet time regardless but not heedless of the consequences. Firms are completely aware that taking too much time will mean that some fantastic candidates will simply move on and look for new positions. But even in a tight labor market (which we indeed have and will continue to have), firms know that eventually they will find the fish in that great sea that will fit within their framework, and that will put up with their impossibly opaque and glacier-slow decision-making processes.
Thus, my moral for dealing with a firm after the interviews are done, the conflicts statements are written up and the offer is yet to be seen: relax! The firm will either act or it will not. In the meantime, keep looking for more possibilities. There is no one perfect firm for you and simply "willing" for that "perfect" firm to act is pointless.
Rather, demonstrate the strategic mind that Augustus had: find your target, move in towards it, but do not hesitate to take the mountain-trail-like switch-backs sometimes necessary to move in a straight line.
The Celia Paul group refer to themselves as career "counselors", not coaches. The distinction being that as counselors, they focus on working with attorneys who are contemplating an exit from practice. Conversely, coaches focus on working with attorneys who are committed to remaining in practice. My questions:
What are the three most important reasons that (first) a rising associate (and second) a partner needs your service?
A lawyer's career counselor is one who works with an attorney who is not satisfied being at a firm, or being in house, or being a traditional lawyer. The career counselor:
(1) identifies the options (maybe a venue-change, maybe a change in direction within or outside of the law, maybe an entrepreneurial activity) available to him or her;
(2) helps identify whether those options exist in the actual marketplace; and then
(3)helps the individual land the job. (A "career coach" is one who works with a lawyer who's planning to stay on the job).
The three most important reasons that an attorney might wish to see a 'career counselor' are...
1) the attorney is dispirited, distressed, disappointed, or fed up with the law or his job;
2) the attorney is looking for more satisfaction, balance, fulfillment, or a well-lived life;
3) the attorney has been downsized, fired, excessed, or made redundant.
In short, the career counselor's focus is not the firm's efficiency or bottom line, but rather the attorney's career well-being. (These are not incompatible.) In fact, we've developed a "Career Well-Being Inventory" which you can scrutinize to compare yourself against those lawyers who have changed career directions and who say their new or current career provides career satisfaction and well-being. We have been using this 47-item career well-being inventory to help partners and associates measure their satisfaction at work, and how readily they could change directions if they wish.
Okay, what's the point of having a career counselor who claims an expertise in lawyer's problems? For that matter, are there really problems particular to lawyers that other business professionals don't have?
The point is twenty five-years of experience counseling lawyers has given us the perspective that lawyers’ career issue are both unique to them, and also shared by other professionals like doctors and scientists. This counts when lawyers refer other lawyers to us.
Are there problems unique to lawyers? The unique problems: law-firm work-life balance, partnership demands, rain-making, long hours. “Getting tenure” and “making partner” are not unique.
In a study of why lawyers are unhappy, three reasons emerged:
1) much law, especially litigation, is a 'zero-sum game', meaning someone wins, someone loses;
2) most lawyers (partners & associates) have a small 'locus of control', meaning others tell them what to do;
3) people who are attracted to law tend to be prudent; prudent people may tend be pessimists (optimists live longer, but pessimists are more realistic); some pessimists may tend to become disaffected or depressed.
These issues are not unique to lawyers, as we have found physicians and scientists with similar career issues.
Alright, what is this counseling thing all about anyway? Lawyers are so socially conservative as a group (I don't mean politically, of course)--and they get only more so with "age" in the industry.
Is your life a worthy expression of who you are? Is your life a well-lived life? How does it feel to get up in the morning to go to work?
Here’s what career well-being feels like . . . You fully enjoy the exercise of your talents, skills, and signature strengths. Your work is ‘a worthy expression of who you are’. Your work (in law at a firm, in-house, or in public service) feels as if it is inevitable, like the good fit of a hand-in-glove. You feel energized by an area of law (working on a matter, or with a client, or in the courtroom, or doing public service, or simply ‘lawyering’). You feel good when learning new legal skills or exercising your favorite muscles. You often think of new ways to use these skills, or others related to the job or career.
Thus, if I talk with you as a counselor , are we going to be doing funky guided meditations? Group hugs? Or is this something that a hard-boiled professional can get his/her arms around? We are NOT going to be talking about our childhoods, right?
Career counseling for lawyers is a logical, systematic, and orderly approach to lawyers’ career circumstances period. No hugs, no meditations -- no ‘ands’, ‘ ifs’, or ‘buts’. (It’s not astrology, not touchy-feely, on the one hand -- but on the other, it is not Newton's Laws or Quantum Mechanics either. Indeed, our career counseling instruments quantify “career disappointment” and give you, the lawyer, concrete next steps.)
Your profile, you and the market place, and organizing your campaign are the three concrete steps that our lawyer-clients find orderly, systematic, and logical:
(1) your profile…
The purpose in the first step, "Assessment", is to identify a range of desirable career options for you, given who you are, and to help you acquire the ability to describe yourself clearly, fluently, and self-confidently during interviews in your new career direction(s).
(2) you and the marketplace…
The second step, "Options Exploration Research", develops timely knowledge and realistic marketplace data -- as they pertain to you -- for each of the options above.
(3) organizing your campaign…
The third step, "Implementation", gets you where you want to be. Our purpose is to produce an efficient job-landing in a career direction that provides career satisfaction. For details, click here.
What do you see as the major challenges facing first, partners, and second, associates, in living up to their potential as practitioners/ rainmakers?
The major challenge -- from our perspective of 25 years counseling lawyers -- is to find the type of (legal or other) environment that makes you, the lawyer, feel "this career or job was inevitable for who I am--the best possible career circumstances I could hope for at this point in my life". In short, finding a balanced life.
So why should I have my candidates contact you? What makes someone a great counselor?
You shouldn't! They should decide for themselves if career well-being is important to them, and discuss with us if we are able to deliver the goods...career well-being.
Many of our former clients say we're good at what we do. Take a look at our success stories.
By the way, we pioneered distance career counseling to lawyers anywhere in the US and overseas.
What if I as a potential candidate really do have some problems (performance issues, personality deficit (wink), maybe some other inappropriate behaviors)? Can you handle this?
Short answer: some we can deal with, such as pessimism; others such as clinical depression we refer to appropriate professionals. In several cases, we were given permission to exchange views with our client’s clinician. See the study referred to above...”Why lawyers are unhappy?”
To sum up, what is your operating philosophy towards success and professional development in the legal market? How do I know you and I would have a similar idea about what constitutes a "healthy", "successful" career?
If you fully enjoy the exercise of your talents, skills, and signature strengths, your work will be “a worthy expression of your life”. This is what it feels like…
1. a sense of ownership, authenticity in exercising your skills (‘this is the real me’)
2. a feeling of excitement when using or displaying them
3. a rapid learning curve as the strengths or skills are developed and used
4. continuous learning of new ways to enact the strengths or skills
5. a sense of yearning to find ways to use them
6. a feeling of inevitability in using them (‘try and stop me’)
7. invigoration rather than exhaustion while using the skills or strengths
8. creation and pursuit of personal projects that revolve around signature strengths, that tap skills and strengths
9. joy, zest, enthusiasm, (perhaps even bliss or rapture) while exercising them
10. the sense that you could “whistle while you work”
11. the central feeling that your job, career, or vocation is “nice work”. (Based on M. Seligman)
If you agree that you possess all of these qualities… no further improvement is possible. You already have found “nice work”. You do not need to change jobs or careers. You do not need career counseling. You have a "calling".
Bios of Stephen Rosen & Celia Paul.
Celia Paul Associates specializes in career change, career planning, and career coaching for lawyers. Since 1980 we have guided over two thousand lawyers to satisfying careers both within and outside of the law. Celia Paul Associates is the largest, oldest, and most well known U.S. career management firm specializing in attorneys. Articles about the firm's premium career planning services have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, National Law Journal, New York Law Journal, and in Bar Association publications. Several thousand attorneys have participated in the career transitions programs developed especially for lawyers by Celia Paul Associates. The firm is also consulted by well-known large law firms on the outplacement of their partners and associates, and on the professional development and retention of senior and junior law firm associates.
A psychologist friend of mine and I were lamenting the antics of a mutual friend. The three of us are in leadership roles in a high-minded fraternal organization. Admittedly, however, we don't always live up to our ideals of efficiency, orderliness and professionalism when it comes right down to it. At any rate, my psychologist friend bandied about the phrase "learned helplessness" in a half-joking jab at our friend, who tends to hang us up until the last minute, and in unpredictable ways. His point, I came to find out, is that our friend's overbearing and unpredictable behavior was teaching us to just "put up with it" rather than take effective action.
The Ravages of a Lack of Control
The concept intrigued me and we began to chat about the phenomenon. Apparently, in researching depression in the 70's, Dr. Martin Seligman discovered that animals do not respond well to situations they perceive as not under their control. A dog, for instance, will recover eventually from the trauma of having electric shock administered to him, if he is given an environment where he can learn that a particular action will consistently grant him a reprieve. Conversely, a dog given the same doses of shock therapy, but in an environment where no action on its part has any effect on administration of the pain of electric current, will eventually lay down passively and take repeated shocks, despite the fact that the animal (once so conditioned) was permitted to simply walk away from the trauma at any time. In short, the dog gives himself up to his fate and enters a semi-fugue, or even catatonic, state. This, in a nutshell is "learned helplessness." Under some particular controls, humans have been demonstrated to react in the same way.
Been there; done that!
Of course, all of us who have worked in law firms already know this! The legal industry has been pretty consistently immune from increased humanity in human management in the corporate world. Thus, lawyers still tend to exist in a milieu of inconsistency and incredible power imbalance where the whims of high-producing partners are catered to, no matter how counter-intuitive and destructive they may be. Indeed, many associates simply learn do keep their heads down, bill, and take what comes, "hoping" they will eventually make partner, or that things will somehow just get more humane. And we wonder where all the lawyers go!
Break Out of the Mold
The good news is that even in the canine world, many do not fit the pattern. A healthy number (but a minority) of dogs subjected to the barbaric treatment outlined above refused to give up and did not succumb to "learned helplessness." In psychological terms, these canines, and their human counterparts, did not "internalize" their trauma. Neither did they succumb to the belief that their condition was permanent. This fundamental belief that the individual indeed has control and that things do indeed change--no matter what evidence to the contrary--is a strong indicator of mental health going forward.
Take Effective Action
The moral? We always, always, always have control in our situations, no matter how bleak they can appear. And this doesn't mean just "walking away" as last resort. Rather, we can as professionals take positive steps within our firms and alongside our "tricky" partners and colleagues, to make terrible situations better. To maintain our effectiveness and our sanity, we must always react to disappointments and complex problems with the attitude of what ACTION we intend to take. Analysis is our stock and trade, but if our "logic" leads us to conclude that we have no acceptable options, we must remember the fundamental truth that we do have options, and we do have the power to act on them.
I am not a determinist, really. But I do believe that movements within societies are inexorable, ineluctable, unavoidable. That means that new ideas and new values and new social morés come about seemingly of their own accord; and they cannot be stopped, cannot be forestalled, cannot be ignored--at least not ignored without risk.
Don't Get Caught With Your Pants Down
In short, a leader can never be comfortable in his/her own skin. A leader can never believe that s/he has "found" a mode of being that will maximize his/her personal reputation, fortune or standing. Rather, a leader is always open to perceive needed changes in his/her approach, philosophy, and style of implementation. A leader realizes that what is acceptable, even laudable one year, may be actionable or even criminal the next.
I can't help but bring up a startling example of this type of "sea-change" in outlook from the early 19th Century. Lord Nelson (once again), shows us that a true leader always leads from the cutting edge of society's cultural milieu.
Yet Again, Nelson as Management Guru
Nelson is famous for his approach to battle. In case you aren't familiar with it, he was known for the shocking proposition that the enemy existed merely for him to annihilate. In short, he did not believe in "saving" his men or material for a later day. He did not believe it advisable or permissible to consider how much he might lose in the relentless pursuit of his enemy. Rather, Nelson thought only of how he might destroy his enemy, and utterly remove his enemy's ability to carry on a fight.
While the above description sounds blood-thirsty, it is does not sound terribly innovative to our 21st-Century ears. After all, the entire last Century is full to overflowing with examples of "total war." But in Nelson's time, nearly precisely 200 years ago, this was a new way of thinking.
A Bygone Era of Manners
In the prior century (the 17th), naval tactics had favored equipoise, balance, synchronicity and even beauty to be higher values than destroying one's enemy. The ruling paradigm was that of courtesy, sensitivity and prudence--and prudence to the exclusion of action. In the extreme case, it was thought more gentlemanly to dissemble, even prevaricate, rather than to offend.
Moreover, there existed rules of engagement so intricate as to seem laughable now. Ships in a line were disallowed from engaging their enemies any closer than that of the flag ship engaged its chosen target. Movements of ships were timed not for efficiency, but for perfect uniformity of motion. Basically, the movement of ships in battle was dictated more by the artistic flair of a choreographed underwater swimming routine than of the hurly-burly and quick-decision-making required (now, at least) in battle.
Nelson Smashes the Paradigm
Imagine then what a dashing figure Nelson made. He routinely gave orders to his captains that specifically authorized them to take decisive and independent action; to react as they saw fit once the chaos of battle began. He gave few guidelines. Basically, once the ideal alignment of the fleet was achieved, captains were to simply get a close as they could to an enemy ship of their choice and blow it to kingdom come. The beauty and symmetry of "the line" be damned. This new approach took root quickly in the officer ranks.
Politics and Public Sentiment Dictate the Terms
But the swiftness of the shift among the naval community was nothing compared to the swiftness and abruptness of the shift in mood of the populous back in Britain. One of Nelson's colleagues, admiral of a different fleet, took the standard approach in attacking a Spanish armada. After engaging the enemy and decisively trouncing it, Nelson's fellow admiral decided not to follow up the battle the following day. Rather, the admiral allowed his enemy to limp back to port, and took his fleet to a safe harbor nearby. His reasoning? A very 17th-Century concern that he not lose a single ship (basically, why tempt fate?), and also, that he preserve those ships that he had taken from the Spanish and were now his by right of conquest. This sort of gentlemanly and rather passionless take had been doctrine just a few years earlier.
Notably, however, these actions, sanctioned and approved for a century at least, now became the subject of a court-martial, and end of this admiral's career in ignominy. After a bloodbath in the press and a strongly worded reprimand by the Admiralty, he was never given another command.
No "Comfort Zone"
Just what was the "crime" of this very stately admiral? Only this: that he did not keep his eyes to the horizon. He did not feel it necessary to push the boundaries of his own experience and read the writing on the wall. In short, he was smug with his own (quite vast) success, and sat on his laurels.
How much less can leaders today afford to rest on any laurels? Our markets and our style of business are changing beneath our feet. It might be risky, yes, to take a new direction, but it is very likely more risky to adopt the status quo. It is often more prudent to continue on a path where the end is not in sight, than to wait for the press of the known inevitably to crush you.
Thus, leaders of all levels of honor may do well to heed the conflicting and changing movements within our society and the emergent, (developed) world zeitgeist. If one is small-minded and petty, one can at the least realize that to protect oneself one cannot simply do what worked before. If one has the desire to create something new and lasting, he must take the same course. The seas may be choppy, but there is only shame and death for the captain that hides his ship from the battle.
subscribe to AD ARGUENDO now
A regular reader gave me a ring today to ask what he could do to get his own career kicked up to the next level. He likes where he is, but he opines that as an associate with a subject-matter expertise and clientele that do not lend themselves to incorporation into some global, über-Nietzschean, $1000/hour practice: does ad arguendo still have any thoughts?
Well. There is a saying that masters in a field do not so much have learning that their neophytes to not have access to, but that instead they are masters at the basics. I'll share one of those basics now: build a network.
Seize the Fire!
I am having tremendous fun listening to Adam Nicolson's "Seize the Fire", a fantastic and really ingenious look into the battle of Trafalgar and what it had to say about naval history, the English (not the British!), leadership, and genius. I'm sure I could fill a dozen posts with the insights that Nicolson brings to bear, but one will suffice: Lord Nelson was insanely commited to his network.
Nelson As Leader
Nelson built an entire career around building and sustaining trust in his subordinate commanders, and by extension with all of the men under his command. Like some sort of 19th-Century Achilles, Jack Welch and Tony Robbins rolled in to one, Nelson expected the world from those around him, but also paid scarce resources of time and energy to ensuring that the needs of these men were satisfied.
Lord Nelson and Radical Commitment to Colleagues
This was not a mere matter of logistics, tack bread and lemons (read the book). Rather, it was a monomaniacal dedication to the soul-life of these men. He appealed to their honor, their avarice and their deepest drives. In short, Nelson became the most famous sea-captain in British naval history not by dogmatism and distance (although both were present) but by dogged and undeniable dedication to a network of trusted advisers and subordinate commanders. By means of that dedication, he was able to lead, mobilize, demand and expect respect, total loyalty, and crushing victories.
It All Begins with a Thought
But it had to start, my friends, with a philosophy of valuing and a practice of implementing an ever-increasing network of contacts, confidantes and colleagues. And that work, I can tell you, can never be shortcut. It takes painstaking attention to detail and determination to keep on meeting new prospects, for investing bit-by-bit in relationships that may or may not pan out, and to continue to dedicate oneself to the realization that the value of a man or woman is not in his or her individual successes, but in the aggregate value they can bring to bear in service of some greater ideal.
Start small, dream big, implement like hell. If you want more practical tips and a step-by-step on building your network, click here.
Deconstructing the Communication
For associates, picking a law firm is like picking a mail-order bride, only worse. You start with a healthy number of glossy marketing fliers in your hand; you see a hundred smiling faces; you read a hundred vapid, nearly identical descriptions of each firm's "culture" and how "nurturing" each is. Just as untrustworthy as you may conceive of a "bride" (or "groom"!) catalog to be, don't believe a word of this nonsense.
Worse, neither should you take at face value the bracing assurances from third-year associates who promise the firm isn't too harsh and the partners are really great people after all (even if a few do scream just a little). Likewise, take with a grain of salt what interviewers say about firm training and "development." Nor should you put stock in the dark and usually spurious rumors spread by disenchanted senior or mid-level associates that their firm (otherwise stable and highly respected) really has some deep flaw or is about to "go under." None of these sources can give you the information you really need. At best, this information is irrelevant to a proper analysis.
On the other hand, neither do I suggest that you pick at firm at random. Instead, I suggest that you take an entirely different look at what "firm culture" is and apply this new paradigm to your analysis. Doing this is both easier and harder than you may think.
Whatever Happened to "Culture?"
First of all, just what "firm culture" is has changed in the last 10 years. It used to be that even the larger firms truly had unique approaches. There was a slightly different mix of perspectives, attitudes, and energies. Some firms just felt right; other didn't. That quantum of culture was never easy to describe, but "you knew it when you saw it." Things have changed. If I may rely on a rather humble analogy: Recall to mind your high school physics class.
You may have conducted a simple experiment of taking water chilled to below the freezing mark, but under pressure. Amazingly, although the temperature of the water was below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the pressure applied to it would not permit the water to freeze; it remained a chilled, uniform liquid. Something like that has happened to many law firms. While it is almost by definition that we could say each firm has a nascent cultural "feel," you often can't "feel" it anymore.
Previously, the pressures upon partners to manage cases, market existing clients, cross-sell with other departments, lecture and write, serve on committees, and, oh yes, "mentor" junior associates were not as great, nor as varied. Now, however, I perceive that the immense pressure on partners to perform all of these tasks (and well) has created an atmosphere of pressure so pronounced that what would otherwise coalesce into a cognizable firm "culture" remains cold, immobile, and sterile. Thus, I posit that an aspiring lawyer cannot trust whatever "cultural" signals he or she is receiving; they are being transmitted in a necessarily distorted way. Rely on these signals to your peril.
A New Paradigm
Next, what validity does "culture" still have in terms of law firm "fit"? I still believe that some firms are better suited to certain lawyers than others. But there is a better way to divine which is which. As alluded to above, partners (and by extension their firms) simply cannot and do not take the time and effort to put their individual stamps on their firms. Instead, these functions are being carried out by professional vendors. Marketing companies help write fliers; consultants help write mission statements; specialists are brought in to conduct training classes; coaches are brought in to groom the up-and-coming (at best).
With all these mixed and often disharmonious voices added to the mix, how does a prospective associate decide what is a good fit? By returning to basics. I hate to betray my deterministic leanings, but the best way to find out if a particular firm is a "fit" is by looking at the market forces that will inevitably shape the firm's practice.
Here are the criteria I look at:
What region did this firm originate in?
What are the component merged entities that have led to the current monster mega-firm you are considering?
What is the firm footprint (where are they now, and what has been the progression through markets)?
What are the firm's stated goals in terms of growth?
What are the last few "leaked" merger partners that may have fallen through?
Where did their managing partner come from (is she homegrown or a fairly recent lateral)?
What is the mix between litigation and transactional work? Who are the firm's clients (are they "mid-market," Global 50, or merely Fortune 500)?
A New 'Gestalt'
The above and other similar questions attempt to understand where a particular firm is going. This is all you can realistically hope to see as an associate. In reality, how the firm "feels" for the first several years of your career is not terribly relevant anyway. Junior associates are shielded from the forces that are really shaping the firm; and by the time associates do begin to discern the realities, they may be confronted with the necessity of a lateral move to find a better "fit"-or with the realization that one may have to shape one's career in a way inimical to his or her temperament if they want to continue to thrive. Thus, what I have tried to describe is more a gestalt of culture rather than seeing culture as a static state of being.
All firms are going through growth pains as the legal industry begins to catch up to the market realities that have been shaping corporate America for the past 25 years. Culture-as-process is the new paradigm. The insightful attorney is the one that understands her or his own interests, working style, and goals and finds a firm that has demonstrated through its market decisions the intention to create a practice that is in sync with those personal traits.
Face it, firms are larger now; they are almost small societies in and of themselves. They are being shaped by individuals, but the totals are greater than the sum of their respective parts-and more complex than perhaps any one attorney can really get his or her arms around. Frankly, the realities of the direction of a particular firm may not be in sync with the "culture" exhibited by the current rank and file. If you want to succeed, you need to think a little beyond whether the firm offers margarita parties or yearly retreats. You need to think about a future practice.
The 'Zen' Part
Thus, my proposed "gestalt" of law firm cultural analysis becomes a nearly "zen" approach. This is because no matter how much you analyze a firm, it is hard to know whether the "right" firm is really the "best" for you. You are going to grow and change as an attorney: Your interests will change; your skills will change; your temperament will change; your personality itself is definitely going to undergo some realignment. It comes down to a gut-level decision-but a gut-level decision made after an appropriate analysis. Regardless, you have to make your choice and run with it-and be prepared to be flexible down the road.