eyes open

eyes open
"know thyself" is the cure, the answer, the process, the goal, the result


"Some of My Best Friends are Women": Why The New List of Women-Friendly Firms is Irrelevant at Best

I think I might just scream if I read another vapid blog post in praise of the new list of 50 "woman-friendly" law firms (find the link yourself; if you can't, how in the heck did you find this site?). What rushes to one's mind upon reading the results, however, is that it becomes glaringly obvious that precious little of note is actually being said. Bottom line: Some firms have a (very) few more women than others. Some firms have better benefits that more often impact women than men. Some firms apparently have better marketing departments.

I mean, honestly, look at the numbers. The identified "top-50" have partner cadres comprised of about 10 and 20% women. You might notice that these numbers do not square with the near-ubiquitous parity of the two genders among the associate ranks. (Sorry, non-gender-specific individuals are not numerous enough to be ranked). So what precisely are we praising here?

Are firms to be commended for still having women vastly underrepresented among the partnership ranks? For that matter, is it particularly note-worthy that large firms have better benefits than others that happen to benefit women or "flex-time" types of both genders? Is it particularly praiseworthy that the more sophisticated firms are doing everything their poor imaginations can come up with to retain talent at any cost no matter what their genitalia? Given the consensus, among lawyers at least, that women are the complete equals of men in intellect and the near absence of fear left among male lawyers of female leaders, then I would have to say "no". These numbers are not newsworthy. At least not as intended.

What precisely then is this list supposed to tell us? Frankly, I don't think it tells us anything that we don't already know. Neither do I think the list does, will or should have any impact on female lawyers' decisions as to the best law firms to work for.

Let's face it, the real pioneering work for women in law firms has already been done (although many thanks to those women who did that work!). The next frontier for law firms is not whether or not women are practice group leaders, managing partners or anything else--the next frontier is not about gender.

As a recruiter, I can tell you that there is no resistance whatever in firms for women leaders. Rather, firms are screaming at me for more women. I just can't find them.

Of course, women are still self-selecting out of practice for lots of reasons. Not the least of these is the still-present assumption among women and men both that women get stuck doing mommy duty (and of course there's that little biological thing). Now, I do believe that there is plenty of work to be done in firms in accommodating a variety of lifestyles, and the part-time/flex-time/smooshy-time movement has a place in law firms. But I certainly don't give firms any credit for being no further along the curve than, let's say, your average corporate structure. Frankly, lots of men bail out of law for the same reasons that women do (at least this one did); it just doesn't get noticed.

Mostly though, firms just want you 28 hours per day, no matter what you look like. I just don't see how we can still call that a gender issue.

And I have to say, the race and sexual preference barriers have also been largely destroyed, at least in major markets. When the president of the bar association for the capital of the nation is an openly gay African-American (Melvin White, pictured), you know that we are in a whole new world.

That brings me back to the list. I'm afraid you aren't going to get me to jump up and down because a few law firms have a few more percentage points of female partners than others and that a few have gone to better consultants than others to adopt better benefits packages more favorable to women. This is news?

When you can find me 50 firms of 50 or more attorneys that have 50% women partners and 50% female practice group leaders, I'll deign to golf clap.

Immediately thereafter, I'll start asking you real questions, like about your firm's plan for growing its China and India practices and how many MBAs and non-lawyer strategists you have on staff.

The dialogue has moved on, folks. Tell me I'm wrong.


Does anyone have a high-resolution photo of Melvin White?

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Embrace “Dasein”: Heidegger, Corporate Existentialism and the New Millennium.

I would have to say that lawyers are, as a group, unconscious philosophers. Whether we recognize it or not, we carry out the scholastic tradition begun in late Antiquity and brought to flower in the much-maligned 12th Century of the Common Era. After all, lawyers read, reflect, critique, add and subtract to a living corpus of thought (the law), do so with an eye toward logic and tradition, and necessarily presuppose an ordered universe (or at least a universe emerging from chaos). Just like our hair-shirted forebears.

Lawyers as Rationalists

If this is true, then lawyers are, essentially, believers in “the rationalist” approach to seeing that world. That is, we read about, understand and view the world through the prism of analysis, reason and structure. We are thus “rationalist” philosophers who essentially see ourselves as separate from that which we observe.

Artificial Divide

In philosophical terms, lawyers have thus unavoidably divided the “subject” from the “object”; the viewed from the viewer. In other words, we see ourselves, as did Descartes, as ultimate realities in our own minds distinct from the phenomena of the world. We fundamentally and temperamentally agree with cogito ergo sum, which is to say that our fundamental, irreducible reality is the fact of our own thoughts, our own consciousness; all the rest can be done away with, and is ultimately unproven: fundamentally, then, it is not real. Therein lies the rub.

Really, Really Real

It is this very philosophical position (conscious or otherwise) that is hindering, I believe, the wholesale adoption of the management reforms, the global growth, the creativity in creating new legal products and new client partnership dynamics that are necessary to take the practice of law through the inescapable changes that new market realities demand. We cannot as a group re-conceive of our practice, our profession and our industry in new ways because the market “realities” are not “real enough.”

Managing-Partner Existential Angst

Any law firm leader worth her salt has seen legion articles, been to numerous conferences and had countless sleepless nights contemplating the challenges that face our industry. Most of these changes are bound up in the new reality of a one-world global market for legal services (as there is a one-world global market for everything else!). But the problem is, as just about everyone will agree, is that law firms will not or will not do so in the short term. They are stuck.

Fighting the Hypo

Specifically, and by way of example, lawyers, law firms, and even many of their consultants, are attempting to stick their collective heads in the sand about the massive capital investments that will be required to stay competitive in the coming two decades. Many lawyers still hold up the straw man of “law as profession” versus “law as business”, as if there were any vitality in making the two mutually exclusive. Some believe that facilitating larger firms is irrelevant because larger firms only correlate weakly with increased PPP, or that the capital infusions that could be made possible by law firm IPOs are unnecessary because no one will know what to do with the cash, or yet again that the globalization of firms is not necessary because firms can get along fine with just associating with a series of foreign “friendship” partners. I suppose reasonable minds can disagree on these issues—but that doesn’t make the other reasonable minds right, I’m afraid.

Breaking Free

What is the catalyst, then, that will allow law firms, and thus a critical mass of individual lawyers, to embrace the incredibly vital, exhilarating and terrifying opportunities presented by 21st-Century practice, and thus finally discard 19th-Century models of behavior like the old wineskins that they are? No amount of sermonizing will apparently make a difference. No amount of stating and re-stating the opportunities makes much of a dent on some of these Teflon minds. No reiteration of the economics involved can convince many that the market realities are realities that actually affect them, which in turn means THEY MUST ACTUALLY CHANGE.

Dasein: The Great Marriage of Phenomenon and Perception

What then? It goes back to fundamental beliefs, aka, philosophy. It is the very nature of the implicit philosophical bent of the “lawyer mind” that is keeping us as a profession from embracing all that is available to us. That rationalist bent that I described briefly above is to blame. It is that belief that we can analyze apart from the reality that gave rise to the analysis that hinders us. The antidote? Some good old-fashioned existentialism. We need to make the tectonic shift away from “cogito ergo sum” to “Dasein”, “being-in-the-world”, and “being there.” If you need a full refresher on existentialism, dust off your college-days copy of Heidegger’s Being and Time.”

Briefly, this new paradigm sees the UNITY between phenomenon and thought. It advocates a perspective that there is no artificial disconnect between the world as it is, and how we perceive it. In short, Dasein is a construct that imbues our thought processes with an understanding of temporality: all things are moving, all things are passing, and we must be a dynamic part of that movement.

Get With the Program: Irrationality Is Part of the Equation

The upshot, the “bottom line” (horrid phrase) of all this is just this: we cannot sit back and wait for our logic to dot all “i”s and cross all “t”s. Rather, we must embrace the chaotic nature of human existence. We must be willing to engage with the world as it is: a fluid state of “absurdity” and non-rationality that the true geniuses among us truly grasp. And it is those geniuses that create new products, envision new needs, create new modes and means of interacting with consumers, and how consumers interact with their world. In short, we must allow our analysis to “be good enough.” We cannot wait for an historical precedent to validate our hunches—we must act on them!

Corporate Existentialism: Corporate Identity

And to get at those hunches, we must be “existential” as organizations. That means that as an organization (a particular law firm) we must determine who we are first and foremost (our strategic advantages in terms of product and service) and then extrapolate what we have been and what we WANT to be into that ever-changing milieu of the global—the universal—market.

If we can do that, if we can embrace that shift, we can get fully into the deep water, the center of the channel of our client’s world—and thereby also, not only become better capitalists and managers, but become better lawyers.

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Salary Compression, Lock-Step & Adding Value

I was intrigued to hear that Pennsylvania firm Fox, Rothschild has refused to raise first-year salaries to the new $140K market-rate. Of course it was their rationale that piqued my interest. Their refusal is based, ostensibly, on the rather boldly-obvious reasons that: 1) they didn't want to further impact their clients on rates; and 2) that the partners "had no stomach for the increase." No doubt. You've gotta give them credit for honesty.

Why Whine?

It is true that clients cannot be thrilled with the industry-wide raise in salaries. Still, clients as a group have been complete lambs about massive rate increases over the past ten years (well, basically) so I really don't see the point of drawing the line at how the most junior associates are compensated.

It is also perfectly clear that higher first-year salaries do not mean that all big-law lawyers are suddenly richer. Rather, of course, it means greater compression in the ranks: the difference between what a first-year and what a sixth-year makes tends to shrink for all but the very wealthiest firms (and it is pretty impacted even there).


Where I differ with many on the issue is that I do not think this is a terribly bad thing, nor do I think that it impacts retention. Regardless, I think it is unavoidable. The real question is what the implications are for the practice.

The Rub

And the implications are these; the industry as a whole is moving toward a dawning realization that the value-added of any particular piece of hum-drum legal work (research, drafting, even arguing) carries with it only so much value. In short, legal work, or certain types of legal work, will be and are becoming commoditized. An expensive commodity, albeit, but a commodity nonetheless.

Not that firms will not pay more for higher-quality work (there will always be $400 per hour associates at white-shoe big-law and $120 per hour associates at small defense shops). Overall, however, we are moving away from a paradigm that values time-in-service. I don't think clients should be complaining necessarily that they are paying too much for first-year work (they always chew this down in terms of hours-cutting anyway). What they should be thinking is "why should I pay x% more for the fourth-year version of this?"

New Billing Schema

I'll cut to the chase. We are moving toward billing schema that value project billing over hourly calculations and we are moving toward ever-increasing squeezing of associate compensation at the top. The true (and basically only) dividing line in compensation will be between partner and associate. Thus, associate salaries will approach (although likely never reach) a single, austere plateau of hegemony.

The real, and only, interest will be in partner compensation. And by "partner" I mean to emphasize the "project manager" aspect of legal work versus those performing lawyerly tasks. Moreover, partners are going to stop wearing all three hats simultaneously (1: shareholder; 2: manager; 3: worker), and begin wearing just one or two at a time.

Parting of the Ways for Partnership qua Partnership

Thus, partnership itself will become more rigidly differentiated. Once we adopt the Clementi reforms, we will have (hat number 1) non-working and even non-lawyer "shareholders" who can't or need not practice (IOW income based merely on equity position will become a reality one way or another). Once partner compensation becomes more universally tied to aggregate, "team" performance, we will see partners begin to let go of billing for their own analysis and spend the bulk of their time keeping their fee-earning troops motivated and in line (in short: truly managing as a primary function) (IOW, hat number two). Finally, we will see a distinct minority or partners who continue to bill out their own time as high-level strategists (hat number 3), but their compensation will be far beneath that of their colleagues, except for a rock-star few.

Thus, the triumvirate of phenomena: increased salaries for junior associates, compression of associate salaries overall, and the realization that the true value-added kicker in terms of chargeable rates wil be the management of legal work, rather than the 'mere' performing it.

To all the Fox, Rothschilds out there: rather than worry about the impact on your clients of higher compensation for your junior associates, worry more about attraction of talent in the first instance and how your overall billing scheme fits into the new, coming paradigms.

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Associates: They "Know Your Name"- "The Odds Will Betray You!" (or "How To Navigate the Interview Process Unscathed")

Casino Royale is my favorite action movie of 2007. The new James Bond is smart, fast, strong, ruthless-and a hacker. He jaw-droppingly pierces the veil that surrounds the pompous and pampered but no less hard-boiled "M," breaks into her penthouse condo, steals her cyber-identity, and uses his ill-gotten gains to catch the bad guys. What a guy!

Perversely, movies like this give the lie to the notion of cyber-security. It doesn't take a James Bond-or even an MI6 dropout-to ferret out secrets...your secrets. If you think you have craftily hidden something during an interview or hiring process, I'm afraid the odds say you are wrong--dead wrong. The odds will betray you. You associates need to read the below to get some perspective. You partners and law firm managers should scan this as well--you need to get a read on what your potential associate hires are facing.

Angels Fall from Blinding Heights.

Okay. What you need to understand first and foremost is that you are your own worst enemy. Most fibs about background are unearthed by the culprit.

I once had a candidate who flubbed an otherwise-terrific interview at a fabulous firm because she lied about completing a CLE class, of all things! The firm couldn't have cared one whit whether she went to that darn class, but it did care very much whether everything on her resume was correct-100% correct. How did she get found out? She made a slip of the tongue in the interview. The inconsistency was as plain as day.

This is common-common!-folks. Take it from a professional recruiter who does this for a living. Moreover, your grandma was right; it is easier to tell the truth than to conceal a lie (even if it's only a "fib" or a "slight gloss on the unvarnished truth"). You can never anticipate all the ways in which misinformation can come up. Don't bother. Don't fall off the "blinding heights" of the moral high ground.

No One Else Here Will Save You.

Now it's time to really understand what your employer's background check will, and will not, uncover. In the legal arena background checks are actually quite limited. Generally, due diligence (other than review of documents you yourself submit) will only consist of the following:

  • verifying your admission to practice law with the appropriate state bar(s);
  • sending you through a gauntlet of interviews with between three and as many as 12 attorneys in the firm (nice, that!);
  • a heart-to-heart with your recruiter, if you are using one;
  • perhaps a criminal background check (not even standard); \
  • a call to one of your references (who must be a lawyer at a law firm, by the way-preferably, and sometimes exclusively, a partner).

Of course, law firms feel pretty safe knowing that (at least if you were admitted in California) you've gone through the fairly rigorous background check that the state bar put you through as you exited law school. But any nasty little secrets beyond that point won't have been caught. Neither will firms have conducted credit checks (which, actually, they really should do).

The bottom line is that the formal process is not terribly daunting, assuming you can handle your own references (which a surprising number of people do not adequately prepare). On the other hand, you can do quite a bit to ensure that the process goes smoothly.

A Spin of the Wheel.

The biggest wild card in the entire process is your reference. It is amazing what indiscretions will be allowed to slip into that one phone call between your reference and the hiring firm.

First of all, these folks will not be contacted until after the firm has already, or already nearly, decided to extend an offer. They just don't take the time beforehand.

Sometimes even well-meaning references will inadvertently say negative things, usually in the form of left-handed compliments such as "Johnnie has done really well, considering his rocky start." Priceless. Here is what you must do when selecting and preparing a reference:

  • Call your reference ahead of time to ask if s/he will serve. (Yes, I know this is basic. But people fail to do this all the time. You must first ask the reference if s/he will be so kind as to serve as one.)
  • Ask your reference if s/he can give you an "unqualified reference." I put that little two-word phrase in quotes for a reason: use it and no other. What this does is put the reference on notice that s/he must not say stupid, backward, irrelevant, or in any other way less-than-stellar things about you. Usually a reference, when asked this in a point-blank fashion, will say "yes," even if there is some tiny little part of his or her mind that thinks you have chinks in your armor. There is social pressure to acquiesce to requests. This will also ferret out the posers. When confronted with such a request, a few references may back out. They won't say, "Darn, I could give you a lukewarm reference, but 'unqualified' is too strong a word." They will say something like, "Well, our policy is that I really can't give out references. Maybe I'll have to get in touch with HR." No thanks. Don't bother. They are telling you that they won't do such a thing. Find someone else. Fast.
  • Don't ask over and over. Asking once is sufficient. Once you know that your prospective firm is actually going to call a reference (meaning it's actually asked for one-because you should never volunteer references at the outset), leave your reference a friendly message informing him or her that so-and-so from blah-blah law firm will be calling to ask for a reference. "Just a heads-up!" That's plenty. People do not like being asked more than once. (If you have kids, you are smiling right now.) Plus, asking again just gives your reference an opportunity to back out. You don't need that.

When The Storm Arrives, Will You Be Seen With Me?

While most layers are not adept hackers, they can, amazing, read, and browse the internet. That means they know how to use "Google." Astonishingly, they even know that lots of attorneys (in some silly fit of willful ignorance) put their weirdest secrets on "Facebook" (by the way, do you think recruiters don't know you do that? get real).

The Coldest Blood Runs Through Our Veins.

Remember that law firms are businesses first, second, and last. They have procedures for a reason. They don't deviate much. If you as a candidate give them any excuse not to hire you, they won't. There are quite simply too many fish in the sea--even during a strong market (which we now have in California, at least). This means that you must be honest about verifiable facts and you must prepare your references to ensure everyone is "on message."

However, there are things that you do not need to tell your prospective employer--and that you shouldn't. These include various subjective reasons you left your last firm. As far as I am concerned, there is really only one acceptable reason that you left your last firm: the firm or practice, while it initially made perfect sense, later changed and was no longer fulfilling your professional goals.

If you please, read that sentence one more time...it implies a lot. That statement implies you are a sure-footed, right-thinking, rational professional. You have overarching goals, you evaluate options based upon them, and you constantly update your analyses to ensure that you are always on path.

For a few good and solid-sounding reasons, your last firm was no longer on path. If you need to dig around to figure out some great-sounding reasons, call a professional recruiter. He or she can help you dig down to your own true professional goals and figure out what really went wrong.

What you cannot and should not tell your next employer are reasons for leaving that have nothing to do with your professional plan. Moving because your girlfriend got a whim to live somewhere sexier is not a reason. Neither is wanting to be closer to Mommy and Daddy. Neither is wanting a fresh start because you ended up alienating every single lawyer in your past firm. No. A thousand times, no. Read my lips: it is all about the work.

Once you get inside the firm, of course, it's a whole other game. I'll leave you with my favorite part of the lyrics (snippets of which I presume you figured out have been used above as headers):

If you come inside things will not be the same /
When you return to the night /
And if you think you've won /
You never saw me change /
The game that we all been playing!


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Gödel, Escher, Bach: Out of the Refuse of Meaninglessness and Despair, Build Your Own Golden Braid

Law School was an epiphany for me. I experienced a secret, shameful joy at finally realizing what I had suspected all along in my then-young life: our language, seemingly so solid, so understandable, is built on shifting sands of fluid assumptions that no one can pin down. It was a blessed relief to finally accept that nothing I had ever known had any substance: words, after all, have etymologies (histories), but no definitions. For some, however, the tearing down of their paradigms was a crushing blow.

Blame Socrates

Don’t give me that: you and I know full well that our torts professors were hard pressed to put meat on the bones, as it were, when discussing “proximate cause,” “cause in fact,” “reasonableness” or anything else. This is why the Geneva-convention-violating mental torture that is the first-year of law school is called “the Socratic method.”

Yes, it was the sartorially-challenged, pig-faced philosopher of the preceding era that finally woke us up as an intellectual community to the fact that no one can sufficiently define a damn thing. What is “honor” anyway? What is “evil”? What is “good”? All of these words carry huge stores of collective imagination, but they are perniciously resistant to specificity. In short, our words appear to have real meaning and specific references, but in reality they are little more than shorthand for clap-trap piles of images, emotions and memories—no one can agree on what they really mean.

Ditto The Practice of Law

The same is true for our professional lives. We are paid by our clients to navigate the waters of the treacherous, labyrinthine locks of the legal system. We are charged with explaining a conceptual framework that is ever-changing, with its own vocabulary, and one that more closely reflects the paucity of meaning that our language necessarily carries with it than the layman is comfortable, or capable, of understanding. Not only this, but we must also navigate the troubled waters of building a practice.

Yes, And Our Business-Building Too

And the practice itself is fraught with difficulties. We are asked to create a synergistic vibe that will suck in business, fees and adulation, and pour out pristine written product and oral gymnastics. We must market, write, cajole, woo, manage, politic, strategize, hypothesize, inspire and command.

There is a reason why there is an entire industry of gurus whose function it is to explain again and again and always in new ways, what precisely all these tasks really are, how they are to be performed, how they are to be understood, and how they are to be communicated. In short, not only our legal vocabulary, not only our procedures, not only our practice, but our entire professional lives are themselves edifices built upon, and with, stones that in turn have no meaning, or meanings that we can barely understand, much less agree upon.

And yes, folks, that is a good thing.

The Golden Braid

Twenty-five years ago I had the pleasure and challenge of reading Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. Published in 1980, it was the darling of the intelligentsia for several years. It is an intriguing book alternately as clear as crystal, and murky as mud. I’m afraid it is also at times as “turgid and confused” as J.S. Bach’s music was accused of being centuries earlier. For me as a 9th-grader at the time, it was exhilarating.

The book’s title names three pre-eminent geniuses: J. S. Bach, M.C. Escher (you remember, he drew the photo at top, famous for depicting the physically impossible), and Kurt Gödel (the famous 20th-century logician). The book is worth the cover price (still in print) just for the exposition on the work of these three subtle minds.

But the point of the book is far more ambitious than a mere recitation of the virtues of three dead white guys. Rather, Hofstadter tries to communicate in fable, analogy, statistics and dense prose, that it is possible—nay, unavoidable—that our most treasured beliefs, ideas and constructs are based upon building blocks that cannot be defined, that are self-referential, in short, are “loops in logic.”

We Just Can't Help it.

By means of these three giants of thought, Hofstadter helps us to see the power, beauty and vitality of living freely and fully in the world of ideas: there we are unfettered by the need to nail down every hole in reason. The world as humans perceive it does not consist in unalterable truths, but rather in powerful ideas full of rich and ineffable meaning, built upon perhaps shameful, ugly and sweaty lapses in logic and un-pin-down-able truths.

The upshot? Life and sanity are to be based, quite probably, on constant movement. Bach’s music only makes sense when listened to as intended; upon analysis and examination, it is hopeless confused. Escher’s drawings are to be enjoyed for the mind-bending quality, not torn apart pixel by pixel. And last, the world of logic as illuminated by Gödel is a process, but based upon un-provable hypotheses.

The Moral of the Story:

The injunction: go with it. Take the meaning you have in experiencing the whole, and fret not about the messy underbelly of the details. Learn by doing.

For me as someone who has lived in and now serves the legal profession, this is a very pivotal idea. As I mentioned above, attorneys are faced with a life’s work based on explaining the unexplainable, and with creating a practice based on activities that no one can actually pin down the secret of success to. All that remains is to move forward, to run with your current opaque understanding, and find meaning and even joy in the race.

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Keep Associates and Keep them Happy: Start Grading Partners on the Curve

It is axiomatic that associates are tired, frustrated and ready to walk at a moment's notice. Many commentators have warned that the sky is going to fall on the profession if we can't as a group figure out how to make lives for lawyers more bearable (read here and here and here). And yet, of course, the world keeps right on spinning and lawyers keep right on billing. I think there is no danger that the "legal market" as such is going to implode, but it is true that many firms are losing profits needlessly and that many poorly-managed law firms find themselves either facing extinction, absorption or reduced greatly in prestige. To bring it closer to home, just how much is your firm spending for every instance of associate turnover? That's what I thought. What to do?

Well, there have been many well-meaning folks who have tried to preach the gospel of basing partner compensation on soft factors (you know, time spent mentoring, 'team-player' attitude, pro bono work). Trouble is, the only way to make these work is to have highly arcane and individualized compensation structures that tend to breed discontent and rightly so: if you are going to infuse a rational process with subjective standards, you are going to get irrational results and decreased loyalty and morale.

Moreover, everybody knows about (and I constantly harp on) the need for law firms to incorporate some of the more modern and humane management principles long-ago adopted (or at least embraced) by the business world. Where is the nexus?

I'll tell you, and this should be easy for a law-school-survivor to figure out: start grading partners on the curve.

Now I'll tell you right now I do NOT mean these "360-degree" reviews where associates colleagues and practice group leaders alike get to weigh in with more subjective talking points. (Those are fine for identifying the "screamers" but I don't think they are an adequate tool for judging productivity). Rather, we need to start making equity partner compensation based solely (or very largely) on the gross revenues and profitability of his/her team.

Here's my analysis:

1) We need partners to be motivated to do whatever it takes to retain their associates and non-equity partners (of counsels, etc.). We all know that simply raising associate salaries in lock-step or otherwise will help (and lock-step is better), but does not fix the problem. The "whatever it takes" part means actually spending time with individual lawyers in the firm mentoring them, helping them improve their work, motivating them, socializing with them. There is no substitute for this work. And I'll tell you that every single new lawyer wants this and says so--the rest just want it but don't bother saying it anymore, even to themselves.

2) To do this, equity partners must go back to the days of high associate/partner ratios. To be clear, that means more bodies per equity partner. Any decent economist--and lots of economists with JDs and a law firm practice behind them--will tell you this. So why does it not happen? Well, the partners on the ground say it is because their clients want to see only senior people working on their cases given how high rates are. I think this is bunkum. Clients will be happy if you give them high value for money. Giving them high value for money in part means paying high dollar for high-value (strategic) work (partner work) and less money for grunt work (research, run-of-the-mill hearings, drafting contracts). No, the real reason partners are hoarding work is that they are desperate to cover the tracks of their inability to lead associates and build a team. That, and the fact that law firms aren't universally compensating them for their aggregate billings, or it is difficult to assign things appropriately.

3) People will work harder, longer, and better when they feel part of a group that gives them esteem.
Building teams means that people actually have to work together. This means that they don't operate as free-lancers ready to take whatever comes along. Thus, associates' time should be monopolized and assigned to a single equity partner. I can tell you that associates will grumble far less about working weekends when they know: a) their partners actually notice they are there; b) their partners are actually invested and investing in their professional development; c) they know their partners and know that the one's future is all tied up in the other's. The much-vaunted benefits of associates working for every tom, dick and jane in the firm are over-rated: this is just more "non-learning", but with more people involved in the confusion, and with loyalty and connections diluted.

4) Further, equity partners must be compensated solely upon the effectiveness(revenues and profitability) of their individual teams. This is going to force partners to spend more time hunting down that work, yes. And it is going to force partners to spend the time keeping their team motivated. In short, it will help partners actually take the time to educate themselves about management principles, rather than just review memos and to their junior partners' and associates' work for them.

5) Partners must be "graded" (compensated) relative to each other.
We need to break out of the miasma of accepting "ok" profits and force equity partners to innovate in terms of emotional-intelligence (human management) skills. To do that, we are going to have to continually compensate partners relative to each other in terms of team revenues. And I don't care if one group has different rate sensitivities, etc., etc. The presidents of small divisions at huge multi-nationals do not get compensation the same as large ones. Get over it. The point is that partners will work toward high compensation as a group. To do that, we must force them to spend the time and thought-resources strategizing how to maximize their team's overall productivity. They cannot be spending 75% of their time doing traditional billable work. That is insane. If they know that the financing of that Jamaican beach-house is tied to how effectively they can actually manage their subordinates attorneys, and that there is NO WAY that they can personally bill themselves out sufficiently to do it--they will actually start thinking about building their teams.


If we want law firms to enjoy greater stability, better profits, world-class management, high retention rates and overall a higher-quality service to their clients, they are going to have to start treating equity partners as VP-level business managers. Practice-group leaders and regional managing partners are going to have to start acting like company presidents, and managing partners as CEOs. Team-building is essential. Mark my words, firms that refuse to adopt practices that will reward partners--on a rational and consistent basis--for overall productivity will fall in prestige, size and profitability relative to those that do.

Have a great rest of your Monday!

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