Re: Not Exactly, But It Was Part Of The Problem

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What is it that you do now? I missed the announcement.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 8:33 PM
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I'm a faceless bureaucrat, defending some of the most comically unappealing bits of my home state's government against all who assail them with legal process. So far, it's great -- I've already appeared in Bronx County Supreme against a mentally ill pro se litigant (who was very pleasant, and actually wrote a very competent set of papers; I describe him as mentally ill only because his self-description as such was a peripheral issue).

If I mention that my workplace was recently roiled by the gubernatorial sex scandal, because everyone who used to have resumes characterized by close relationships with those in power now has resumes tainted by association with the terminally sleazy, you know where I work.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 8:38 PM
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This sounds right, to this outsider. Why not a legislative fix?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 8:41 PM
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I think this point has been made before; I thought by you. There are some interesting responses at XX as well.

Also, Shulevitz blows.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 8:41 PM
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Yeah, I know I'd thought it, so I've probably said it here sometime.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 8:42 PM
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2: have you had to fake blindness yet?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 8:43 PM
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What blows about her? She's a familiar name, but not familiar enough that I actually remember anything she's written to have thoughts about it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 8:43 PM
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Imagine, he said, that law firms billed by the project, rather than by the hour, and that they bid against each other for projects.

This is, on some level, exactly what architecture firms do. TBH, results vary, but one of them is that architects - whose schooling and licensing are at least as rigorous as lawyers' - get paid a fraction of what lawyers make. Like, in most cities, junior partners at most Downtown firms are making more than all but the half-dozen most established principals at arch. firms.*

A lot of that is supply and demand, and the value placed on design in our culture, but the de facto bidding for services model keeps prices low. Profitable firms tend to be ones that establish themselves in a line of work that's pretty cookie-cutter - they can underbid all but the lowest-end firms, whom they beat out based on reputation.

The worst thing is that - although the architecture culture is nothing like the law firm culture - architects are still expected to be able to put in long hours. I never worked in a big firm myself, so I don't know exactly how the dynamic works, but in big firms, young architects (say, under 30) are presumed to be available for indefinite hours. As you move up the ladder, you're required to pull fewer all-nighters drafting, but you spend more evenings at client or community meetings, or 12 hour days driving to another city where your firm has a project.

I'd say that the big difference is that you can have a fairly successful career while avoiding those things - but you have to work at it, and accept that you'll never reach the top (income) rung.

* Pretty sure I've got the law firm title correct - $120k/year, easy, right?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 8:44 PM
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Boy, I've been working with architects, and what a grind that job must be most of the time. "Okay, drawings tomorrow! Cut the scope in half! Do it in yellow! Yup, no problem!"


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 8:46 PM
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Business consulting firms also work on the bid/project model, and consultants seem to make fine money.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 8:48 PM
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7: I disagreed a lot with some of the other stuff she's written in that same space, that's all. It's not germane to this discussion.

I did think some of the other responses were interesting, including the response that had an anecdote about a childless female editor at WaPo, which--IIRC--made the argument that in a lot of jobs, being on call is part of being the perfect employee, sadly. That seems sort of right. Which is to say that (a) I don't think this is necessarily billable hour linked, or not alone, and (b) I'm not sure this is solvable in any straightforward oggedian-legislative fashion.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 8:49 PM
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Besides, how do you measure efficiency anyway?

In a business with lots of one-off projects it's possible that the added time to have both the client and the firm estimate the time required for a project would be more overhead than the current model.

I work for a small programming shop and we would almost always prefer to work on an hourly basis than on a per-project basis, because the only way to bid a project in advance is to try to spec it completely in advance and our experience is that the most successful projects are the ones in which there's room for either us or the client to renegotiate the scope of the project after it's started relatively easily.

Again, it's a different field but in general I'd rather have to deal with the problems of billable hours (of which there are many) than the problems of endless change requests.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 8:49 PM
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Business consulting firms also work on the bid/project model, and consultants seem to make fine money.

Also often brutal hours. And travel.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 8:51 PM
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As tempting an explanation as it is, in mo small par because recording billables is one of the most irritating elements of my job, I don't really think the billable hour is responsible for much here. It's the highly-responsive client-service model itself that prizes constant availability. See, e.g., investment bankers (who don't bill their hours but do work constantly in an effort to deliver top-notch service to their clients). And there are even some law firms that do bill by the project instead of by the hour--most famously, Wachtell--whose lawyers work as hard (or harder) than anyone. And there are plenty of people in non-legal fields who bill their time by the hour that don't work so hard, because they're not under pressure to deliver the same level of service and responsiveness. So I don't think the billing unit is really so much to blame.

(And, fwiw, I'm not so sure most law firms wouldn't actually prefer a lawyer who's twice as efficient. Clients don't like big bills, and firms generally don't like to send them. It's just that "efficiency" isn't as easily perceivable as working twice as many hours.)


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 8:55 PM
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And, fwiw, I'm not so sure most law firms wouldn't actually prefer a lawyer who's twice as efficient.

Don't make me get all "Econ 101" on your ass.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 8:57 PM
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I blame being pwned by 11 and 12 on my wife, who interrupted me while I was writing 14.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 8:57 PM
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Is she reading?

HI BROCK'S WIFE!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 8:59 PM
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What is it that you do, Sifu? I'm always baffled by your hints (not the right word, but whatever).

FWIW, the small firm model often does involve billable hours, but almost always rounded down.

No, I'm serious. "OK, Erik, you worked 20 hours on that project last month, but I can only bill 14." Or "Jody, I'm going to up your hours to 20 for last month, but not bill my own [says the principal]."

I try to identify which parts of the project will have unpredictable workload, bill those hourly, and offer a fixed fee for contract documents, which are usually pretty cut and dry (if you've done design phases right). Gives the client some cost certainty, as they say.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 9:00 PM
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18: various things. I was doing something totally different a year ago than I am right now, and I won't be doing what I'm currently doing a year from now, but right now I'm doing something vaguely proximal to development, so I've been getting a taste of how much hop-to architects are subject to (along with how many reams of bullshit one must assemble into binders when dealing with the government, but that's neither here nor there).


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 9:05 PM
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19: OK, good enough. Interesting.

how much hop-to architects are subject to

Spread the word. We feel underappreciated.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 9:13 PM
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I have never understood why law doesn't work on the project model, but in some areas (e.g., IP), I might be concerned as a client that a project model was going to get me shoddy work.

That said, as people have noted above, tons of jobs with a project model have terrible hours and force out caregivers.

Also, hours worked has a kind of egalitarianism and transparency to it: everyone knows who is working long hours. Efficiency is harder to measure.

It would seem the place to look would be jobs where you control your own, personal P&L. The rainmaker/percentage/commission occupations -- agent, sales, private placement -- would seem to be most accommodating to the high efficiency/low hours model (because if you're a killer sales rep and blow out your quota, you can tell everyone to kiss off when you leave at 4:00). I wonder if these occupations tend to have higher female/caregiver representation.


Posted by: baa | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 9:27 PM
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I'm doing something vaguely proximal to development

This reads like you've been in consulting too long. Or maybe graduate school. Real-estate development? Personal development? Evolutionary development? Working next to a 1-hour Photo place?


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 9:31 PM
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22: the kind of development an architect would immediately understand.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 9:34 PM
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Software development? But I thought Sifu was a student...

I have never understood why law doesn't work on the project model, but in some areas (e.g., IP), I might be concerned as a client that a project model was going to get me shoddy work.

I think the adversarial nature of law makes it pretty unsuited to the project model. The amount of work required can vary wildly depending on if the opposing counsel notices the smoking gun document during discovery or not (or whatever).

Billing hourly and paying salary seems like it could lead to trouble, but there's an easy solution to that.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 9:35 PM
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22: the kind of development an architect would immediately understand.

Oh, career development. OK.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 9:35 PM
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I guess it depends on the kind of practice, but my clients certainly want efficiency. And I'm interested in repeat business, so I try to give it to them. (Not that I should be any kind of model for a profitable enterprise). It's hard to see how you'd do non-commodity litigation on other than an hourly basis. See, there's another guy over there trying to undo whatever it is that I do. I can't guess how many motions the other guy is going to file, how many times a judge is going to ask for supplemental briefing on some point, whether summary judgment is going to be granted on one or more of the various issues. How many depositions the other guy is going to take, or how many I'm going to want to take.

If I quoted a fixed fee of say 200k for an ordinary contract dispute, and then brought it in really quickly -- with, say, 200 person-hours of work -- a client could complain to the bar that my fee was unreasonably high. (I just won a case on this issue, after 7 years of litigation -- and only the other guy knows if there'll be an appeal). The same case could take 5 years and 8,000 person-hours. I'm working on a case we filed in 1996.

I suppose you could create an elaborate set of fixed-fee charges -- 5,000 per deposition, 35,000 per summary judgment motion -- for each case. You'd then have tension between whether to file a discovery motion on the one hand, and getting second-guessed in a malpractice suit if you didn't on the other. And whether you'd cut short a deposition that was threatening to become unprofitable, or do some Yoo-style legal research for a motion you'd spent all the money on.



Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 9:36 PM
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The rainmaker/percentage/commission occupations -- agent, sales, private placement -- would seem to be most accommodating to the high efficiency/low hours model (because if you're a killer sales rep and blow out your quota, you can tell everyone to kiss off when you leave at 4:00). I wonder if these occupations tend to have higher female/caregiver representation.

A good friend's wife is an unbelievable saleswoman for a local cable company - she hits her annual quota by the end of summer, year in, year out. They both work, and split random caregiving (eg, running home to be with sick kid), but she definitely works fewer hours than most people who drive Mercedes.

a 1-hour Photo place

Ah, the site of the only successful pickup of my life. Where have you gone, J/ll Jacob/y?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 9:37 PM
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Having just pulled my first literal all-nighter since college for work last week, this is of immediate interest. Is it just me, or is the idea of constant hours grinding something that's spread more? You don't see Jack Lemmon spending all that time at the office in the '60s.

I used to work for the Military Industrial Complex, where constant hourly billing and finoogling was a way of life, but it doesn't seem to have the same culture of masochism, maybe because you're dealing with a bunch of GS-12s who are going to go home at 3:30 whether you're still working or not.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 9:39 PM
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21: Part of my dissertation is trying to determine how organizations measure efficiency and how they define a "good worker," because the typical measures (face time, billable-but-not-productive hours) are usually proxies, and definitely force out caregivers (which tend to be women, hence the systemic, institutional gender discrimination angle I care about).

Hours worked may be a transparent measure, but this tends to reward workers who have no family obligations, or workers who have supportive spouses who can support that work model (typically men).

It's hard to get to positions where you can control your own hours, esp. in the legal work environment. Most women are shunted out before they can reach the partnership track.


Posted by: Belle Lettre | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 9:41 PM
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27: yup if you can handle high pressure but don't like long hours sales is a great way to go. One of my friends is a sales engineer who "works" from home and basically sits on his ass until he's sent on site, at which time he has to be absolutely golden, and makes fabulous money for it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 9:44 PM
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Another case I have: we filed in 2003 and had a preliminary injunction round. Discovery, with disputes galore in 04 and various dispositive motions in 05. Trial in early 06. Appeal briefed in the summer of 06, argued in December, decided in mid-summer 07. We're remanded for a new trial, on somewhat narrowed ground, but we're having new discovery right now, with a new round of expert reports in the early summer, new dispositive motions late summer into fall, maybe trial in January 2009.

If someone had a way to price it so I'd get more and the client would pay less, we'd both like that.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 9:44 PM
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Some things just arent fixed fee appropriate.

In my area, the cost of litigation has a worth while purpose. A client has to decide whether the fight is worth the financial cost. Is this issue really worth $5,000? $10,000?


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 9:50 PM
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if you can handle high pressure but don't like long hours sales is a great way to go.

Some sales jobs require shitloads of travel. No thanks.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 9:50 PM
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28: Have you seen The Apartment?


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 10:23 PM
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A cluster of near-identical searches from different IPs, all located in the same Canadian city, arrived at my blog in the past few hours. They are all searching for the answer to an essay question.It seems like an old post of mine is set to be the plagiarized source du jour.


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 10:28 PM
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Change your post so all the essays contain the same mistake.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 10:31 PM
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I really, really hate billing my time by the hour, but I think that just means private practice doesn't work for me, not that it's the wrong business model for law firms. And I agree with those who have suggested that the expectation that professionals should be constantly available is a cultural thing that's neither created by nor limited to law firms or hourly billing.

But WRT the last sentence, I'm coming up on a year and a half out and I still don't really know what I think.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 04- 2-08 10:53 PM
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Is it just me, or is the idea of constant hours grinding something that's spread more?

It isn't just you. Average workweeks in America have been going up each year since the seventies at least and if you are in a well paying job you'll be feeling it more. People at the bottom rungs also work longer, but often spread over multiple parttime jobs; It tends to be cheaper to hire two parttimers for 20 hours eacht han one for 40.

Here in the Netherlands we've seen some of the same trend, but not nearly to the same extent. I work in the IT industry , where there is an expectation that you'll work overtime if need to, but not consistently and you don't need to prove your dedication to the company by pulling allnighters. Even fairly highup people tend to come in at nine and leave at five.

A lot of this is thanks to legislation protecting the workers.


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 12:12 AM
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Here's my take:

Fixed price contracts suck. A job can never take less than no time, but it can take an unbounded amount more than the estimate. So with fixed price contracts the risk is asymmetric, and falls largely on the one paying for the work. Time and materials sucks, for the same reason, though it is the other party (the one paying) that takes on all the risk.

My preferred method is to use a series of small contracts. This helps limit the risk of both parties, and gives more flexibility to change the project during its course.


Posted by: W. Breeze | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 4:22 AM
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32: Slightly shorter will: High fees for lawyers are socially beneficial because they discourage the use of lawyers.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 4:51 AM
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Sharing a profession with David Addington?


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 5:37 AM
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Sharing a profession with David Addington?

Hey, we don't tar all doctors with Harold Shipman, do we?


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 5:56 AM
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I'd argue with the 'client expectations of total availability' as the exclusive driver of long hours. For most of my time in private practice, I hardly spoke to a client, and when I did I was calling them for information, not fielding calls from them. Clients wanted information and reassurance from partners, not associates. I can't think of a client I worked for who would have had an opinion about how available I was.

IME (limited, one person's) experience, long hours I worked were sometimes driven by bona fide exigiencies in the cases I was on, but more often driven by a desire to appear immediately responsive internally to partners, rather than to clients (and for work that most often was not going to clients for review in any immediate fashion.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 5:57 AM
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Addington doesn't measure his time in billable hours.

LB, surely the partners were representing to the clients that the team was totally on top of the problem, taking aggressive steps to resolve it, ready to stay all night if necessary.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 6:09 AM
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Brock gets it right in 14. The fixed fee project has its own set of incentives, and they end in overwork of junior staff just like the billable hours system.

In my line of work, the project budget gets debited a fixed amount for every day a staffer is assigned to it. That's true whether the staffer works eight hours or 18. The inevitable consequence is that projects get priced too cheaply in order to win the business (or the partner accommodates "scope creep" to keep the client happy), and the equation gets balanced on the backs of the 20-somethings.

Recall:

Hence, the cost of production of a workman is restricted, almost entirely, to the means of subsistence that he requires for maintenance, and for the propagation of his race. But the price of a commodity, and therefore also of labor, is equal to its cost of production. In proportion, therefore, as the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases. What is more, in proportion as the use of machinery and division of labor increases, in the same proportion the burden of toil also increases, whether by prolongation of the working hours, by the increase of the work exacted in a given time, or by increased speed of machinery, etc.

Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 6:50 AM
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I think that billable hours, per se, are a relatively recent development. That doesn't mean that lawyers weren't always billing their time. I think that they used to put down how much work they'd done and then bill. The billable hour was, in part, demanded by clients. Where would one find a history of professional billing practices?


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 6:52 AM
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In a book excoriating law schools and the legal profession, I read that in the 19th century law was in fact done on a fee-for-service basis. Don't remember the title, though.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 7:00 AM
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I don't see how the alternative is going to make an associate's life better anyway. Once I know how much money I'm going to make off that brief you're writing, I might as well demand that it be on my desk when I get in the office tomorrow morning. So I can give you another assigment, and collect another flat fee for your work.

We sometimes have 'all you can eat' arrangements with clients, which is fine for counselling engagements. Same problem, though: client calls me at 4 pm, asks whether the particular product they want to sell the defense department meets the specialty metals requirements, as recently revised. I tell her 'we'll work that through and talk to you tomorrow.' I can now ask an associate to do whatever is required to have a comprehensive answer for me by 8 am.

And why shouldn't I? It's not like I have to pay overtime. And by the way, I'm not asking you to work any more hours than I did, although you're getting paid more than twice what I was 12 years ago, blah, blah, blah, violins.

The bottom line is that associates will work long hours in the hope that they'll be made a partner and get lots of money and the fear that if they don't want to do that, they'll be replaced by someone who does. There is no shortage of people who would be willing to work long hours for what is a pretty good paycheck (say $70 per hour at the low end) with significant upside potential -- dozens of unsolicited resumes a week tell me that -- and this doesn't have anything, really, to do with how our clients pay us.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 7:39 AM
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$70 per billable hour, I should say.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 7:46 AM
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Concatenating all of the above, the "billable hours" system is a convenient way to wring as much as possible out of lawyers, but the underlying problem is that partners want to do this, and they could easily do the same under other systems.

The only comprehensive solution is working hours regulation that's enforced, plus a social understanding on the part of managers that they only have a claim to so much of their employees' lives. (OMIGOD SO RETRO.)


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 7:50 AM
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I tell her 'we'll work that through and talk to you tomorrow.' I can now ask an associate to do whatever is required to have a comprehensive answer for me by 8 am.

Wait, Nápi is a partner at Anonymous Law Firm LLP?


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 7:51 AM
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The only comprehensive solution is working hours regulation that's enforced

Communist!

a social understanding

See? I knew it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 7:52 AM
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The only comprehensive solution is working hours regulation that's enforced, plus a social understanding on the part of managers that they only have a claim to so much of their employees' lives.

...and a pony that shits butter pecan icecream.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 7:53 AM
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53: Right, I almost forgot that one.

Seriously, it is possible. LB said that most lawyers worked 40-hour weeks in the 1950's. The penchant for loyalty as expressed in all-nighters is as much a fetish as a business decision, I think, and the pendulum could swing back.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:08 AM
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At least in transactional work, it may be impossible to go back to the 50's world. A friend of mine who's a lawyer said that globalization has pushed this culture, because you need to get things done in time for somebody in London or China to work with it.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:17 AM
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54: I was being flippant, sorry.

Although I support restrictions on working hours, I am less sanguine that they will result in a more level playing field for women all by themselves, even if by some miracle the U.S. would adopt them.

If you look at the international data points, women are underrepresented in the elite ranks of business (and professional services firms in particular) even in some countries with strong working hours regulations (e.g. France). Ex recto, I suspect that women are even more underrepresented in the top law firms, investment banks, and consulting firms in France than in the U.S.

That's not to say we shouldn't support limiting working hours, but I wouldn't rely on them to dissolve the glass ceiling.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:18 AM
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56: Comity. I was caught up in the long working hours problem and forgot the original issue whence it sprung was the playing field for women.

Flippancy: Never apologize, never explain!


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:21 AM
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At least in transactional work, it may be impossible to go back to the 50's world.

Another very important factor at work here: deregulation. It used to be that law and financial services were pretty cozy businesses where competition was severely curtailed. Lawyers could not advertise on pain of disbarment, and brokers could not deviate from standard commissions. That's a radically different world from the one we live in now. Deregulation has unleased enormously valuable gains from innovation and productivity, but part of the gains have surely come at the expense of people's personal time.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:23 AM
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54 -- And what were they paid? Our starting associates -- people as young as 25 who may've done nothing but go to school -- have incomes well into the top 10% of American households, and if they're married to another similar lawyer, are flirting with the top 1%. I doubt that lawyers did as well in the 50s. Indeed, most aren't doing that well now -- the AmLaw100 accounts for, what, 5% of lawyers?

I think we'd all like to work less and get paid the same or more. I know I would. There must be clients out there who'd be willing to pay me more to do less.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:28 AM
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59: Two words: Punitive redistribution.

I can dream, can't I?


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:29 AM
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I think we'd all like to work less and get paid the same or more. I know I would.

Say, me too!

Let's start a company!

"We work smarter, not harder, for you."


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:32 AM
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61 -- Sifu, I don't want to work smarter. This is as smart as I get.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:40 AM
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I wouldn't expect firms to change failing gov't intervention (exempting fewer people from overtime regs. or some such) or so much attrition & trouble recruiting that it threatens profits, neither of which is happening anytime soon. This model works well for partners; why change it unless they have to? Other potential models might be useful if new, smaller firms can start that way--as it is now, public sector & public interest jobs are harder to get than Biglaw, so they're obviously preferred, but there just aren't enough of them for firms to care much. But then, there are specific areas oif practice where small firms are more the norm & hours seem to be saner despite hourly billing.

For a large firm, one possibility would be to pay associates a lower but still comfortable base salary for a certain # of hours & pay them on a simple hourly basis after that. That lessens the financial incentive for hours-for-the-sake-of-hours a bit, & it's less discretionary than bonuses. But, of course, the hourly wage would still be less than what the hourly billing rate, so I'm not sure how much difference it would really make.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:42 AM
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Geez it's just a slogan.

"We work more smart, not more long!"


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:42 AM
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A friend of mine works for a medium-size firm, though it's big enough to recruit at NYU. Her hours are more decent, and the partners make less, but I think that this is a conscious choice on their part. It's somewhat more family friendly.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:45 AM
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Indeed, most aren't doing that well now

It is all about choices. I bill by the hour. I leave many days at 5 pm to pick up the kids.

If I wanted to work all night long and make more money, I could. But, I make choices.

If I wanted to work with/for Napi, I would make a lot more money.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:45 AM
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@8

First year associates in New York (and soon DC and LA) now make $150,000 a year.


Posted by: Cain | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:45 AM
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I had a funny moment a few months back, talking to a friend of mine who works at [notoriously long-hours-requiring prestigious law firm] where I said, "I want to work at [smallish firm]!"

"Why?"
"They've done away with their billable hour requirement!"
[hysterical laughter]
"What?"
[more hysterical laughter]
"What"
"Dude, my firm has "done away with" the billable hour requirement, too."
"Oh."

So it seems that some firms have gotten rid of the "you must bill 2100 hours" or whatever, but since they still work in billable hours and not some other measure of work, the de facto requirement is still there. Sucks.


Posted by: m. leblanc | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:46 AM
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A lot of the talk here makes me happy I never became a lawyer. Granted I work for a law firm and still have to work long hours, but most of my time gets written off and I make overtime.


Posted by: Cain | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:47 AM
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67: You're behind. Everyone in New York, Chicago, and DC has been making $160,000 starting since last summer.


Posted by: m. leblanc | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:47 AM
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I am surprised that the big firm model still works.

I simply do not understand why firms think that they get value from paying a first year associate $350 an hour to research very basic concepts in the law.

I am surprised that more clients havent moved to boutique firms.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:47 AM
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How do you justify a huge bill for a dumbass 1 to 5 year associate, Napi?


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:48 AM
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work less and get paid

In art and science, people compete for badly paid but interesting jobs; pay is only part of the dynamic. Interesting work requires assumption of responsibility, which is hard to distribute between two part-time individuals, and the need for decisions or difficult fact-gathering comes in bursts.

For all the griping about working hours, many professions are pretty open to accepting new workers, and frenetic change introduces new types of work every so often. People vote with their feet if a field treats its workers badly.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:49 AM
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@70

Goddamn! Maybe I should rethink this "not being a lawyer" thing.


Posted by: Cain | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:53 AM
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I simply do not understand why firms think that they get value from paying a first year associate $350 an hour to research very basic concepts in the law.

Perhaps such research is often irrelevant, but I cited an old S.J.C. decision by Justice Holmes on a very basic issue in a financing negotiation once, and when the dust settled many moons later the point was probably worth several million dollars to our clients.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:55 AM
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Flip:

My point is that many basic issues would take an experienced lawyer 15 minutes resolve, but take a young associate 5 hours.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:57 AM
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74: that's how they get you, Cala. That's how they get you.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:02 AM
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74: that's how they get you, Cala. That's how they get you.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:03 AM
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I'm a contingency fee alwyer who is always oppsed to big firm lawyers who bill by the hour. Since we don't bill by the hour (although we do keep track of our time), our time at work is generally much less than the loyal opposition. I've neve understood why the insurance companies don't do reverse contingency arrangements with the big firm lawyers, e.g. law firm receives 20% of the amount saved within policy limits. With a $50 million policy, $10 million for complete victory, nothing (or some agreed-upon minimum) if policy limits are exhausted by the verdict/settlement. It makes winning the motion to dismiss incredibly profitable. Then everyone could get some sleep, and a few lucky folks get rich from time to time. It does make teh practice of law much riskier, but on the plaitniffs' side we fien dthat with higher risk comes higher reward.

We are constantly speculating about how hourly billing makes defense lawyers srew their clients, e.g. by spending hours writing motions that can't possibly win, or by failing to raise the best issues at the dismissal stage so the gravy train keeps coming. The biggest area is defense lawyers dragging on litigation for years past the point where it's obvious to us where it should settle.


Posted by: unimaginative | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:04 AM
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75: Same deal with my line of work. The $350/hour associate is providing leverage to the $675/hour partner; you'd rather pay for the former than the latter for the simple stuff.

Many, many times I've seen $65K/year 21-year-olds (whom we bill out at around 6-7X their cost to us) come up with simple analyses that saved clients hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. If the value wasn't there, the clients wouldn't pay it (and our engagements are almost always discretionary a discretionary expense, unlike in the legal world where you sometimes have to hire a lawyer just because someone else sues you).


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:07 AM
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72 -- I don't send huge bills for associate time; I'm always running the case very lean. On the other hand, I only hire smart associates. Really -- I don't recruit at law schools, but pick up people who've already been out a couple of years, and know what they're doing.

Firmwide, our associates average under 1900 billable hours. It shows in my paycheck, to be sure, and of course there are people having big years, big months, or, like Idealist, have internal drivers.

70 -- Yes, so long as "everyone" means something less than AmLaw100.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:08 AM
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79: Law is an unclean profession, like economics.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:10 AM
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If the value wasn't there, the clients wouldn't pay it

Wait... you're saying this about Big [ n ] consulting, right?

Haha!

Oh, you.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:10 AM
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Another piece of the puzzle is: small & midsize, firms that do things differently actually exist. But, if you're a student at a fancy law school, it's harder to get a job there. They don't come to campus, wine & dine you, interview you, & offer you a job at the end of your second year summer. In general, there's more of an attitude that recent grads are dumbasses (true! But they don't necessarily stay dumbasses for all that long) & there's a minimum experience requirement & less frequent turnover & hiring that relies more on word-of-mouth. So you're not even comparing $160,000 to the prospect of a (guaranteed) lower salary & (less certain hope of) higher quality of life. There's also the risk that you won't find a job--a risk that feels higher than it probably actually is if you're a type A law student.

Of course, the first years are probably much less useful to firms than the third year, fifth year, etc. associates; if smaller & higher Q.O.L. firms started stealing those, the big firms might notice.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:12 AM
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We are constantly speculating about how hourly billing makes defense lawyers srew their clients, e.g. by spending hours writing motions that can't possibly win, or by failing to raise the best issues at the dismissal stage so the gravy train keeps coming. The biggest area is defense lawyers dragging on litigation for years past the point where it's obvious to us where it should settle.

Hmm... none of those seem plausible to me. Well, the first, maybe, although you and they might disagree about their chances of success. But the second and third seem flat wrong, at least for any reputable lawyer/firm. Most lawyers have plenty of
work to do, and stand to gain much more fby earning a reputation for successfully making cases go away than by unecessarily dragging out existing matters.

Maybe a lawyer/firm that was otherwise struggling might do this sort of thing from time to time, but as a general rule I think it's just not even close to being true. Defense lawyers I know like nothing better than having a case go away (in a manner that represents a good outcome for their client).


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:13 AM
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79 -- And on our side, we talk about how the contingency fee lawyer is neglecting the case, once the punitivce damages claim is stricken. Insurance companies have a number of tricks to hold costs down, and drive firms like mine out of commodity work. Thank God.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:15 AM
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76: This is a problem in big firm mentoring/training -- if a partner could solve it in 15 minutes and a new associate is taking 5 hours, the associate either isn't effectively using or isn't being provided appropriate resources. Far, far too common in my experience.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:16 AM
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87=me


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:16 AM
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"spending hours writing motions that can't possibly win, or by failing to raise the best issues at the dismissal stage so the gravy train keeps coming"

The first of these, certainly. But some of that is as much the culture of litigation as the financial incentives for firms; I've written motions that we all knew were unlikely to succeed in contigency cases for what people more experienced at litigation than I am assured me were sound strategic reasons.

The second thing does not sound right to me. Don't have enough experience re: settlements to speak to the third.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:21 AM
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They don't come to campus, wine & dine you, interview you, & offer you a job at the end of your second year summer.

Katherine, am I misunderstanding you or are you saying that it is customary for law students to wait to be pursued by potential employers?


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:21 AM
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But Di, you're never going to know about the Act of March 3, 1851 unless you have a case controlled by it. But once you do, you'll never forget. (It has to do with recording and proving up Spanish land grants in California).


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:22 AM
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90: law students at top schools are aggressively pursued (usually in the fall of their second year) by legal employers (almost exclusively big firms). And the vast majority of students don't bother even to look for positions anywhere else.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:26 AM
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Wait... you're saying this about Big [ n ] consulting, right?

Haha!

There is clearly a pretty wide dispersion of return on consulting spend. Lots of engagements create no value for the client in excess of the fees, or no value at all, or even negative value; and probably an equal number create value for management (e.g. providing a scapegoat) without necessarily doing anything for the shareholders. To deny that would be foolish.

But the payoff on the engagements that work out can be such a high multiple of fees that it can still be a good bet overall. The growth of the industry would not have been possible otherwise.

As with everything else, success has a thousand fathers while failure is an orphan. Lots of failed business decisions get blamed on consultants, and it's a rare manager who gives his consultants any credit for his successes. The paycheck makes it possible to get over the lack of recognition.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:28 AM
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91: And I could take 5 hours figuring out myself to look there, or I could run the relevant issue past a bright, experienced lawyer who could tell me, "look at Spanish land grants."

Periodically, I get called upon to do something out of my normal practice area and periodically I find myself reinventing the wheel because either the people who could point me in the right direction are unwilling to take the 10 minutes to do so or because I can't find anyone to even point me toward the people who might be able to point me in the right direction. It is a huge pet peeve of mine and a very large part of my dissatisfaction with my current firm (and likely would hold for just about any other firm). It's especially unfair to the client who is paying 4 hours for what could have been one hour of my time plus 15 minutes of a smarter attorney's.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:29 AM
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90: There's no waiting about it; most law students at my school did on-campus interviewing at the beginning of their second year, for summer job between 2L & 3L years that turned into a post-graduation offer. No one other than the big firms hires that early. Of course, you can opt out of that & actively search for your own thing--I never did on campus interviewing for either summer. But people tended to look at me like I was completely crazy not to. And it's unnerving being the only person you know w/o a job offer your 3L year.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:30 AM
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Top firms visit top law schools and interview top students. For well paid summer internships that lead to career position offers in all but the most egregious cases. (The percentage of internships that lead to offers is published, and top students have a competitive advantage).

IMO, much of the disgruntlement among associates at big firms comes from the loss of status this entails. It's a long drop from golden girl at the top of the class at Stanford to presumptively dumbass (see 72) minion.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:32 AM
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(It's especially unnerving if you're totally neurotic & have just been rejected for 75 clerkship jobs in a row--but neither of these things are uncommon among 3Ls.)


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:34 AM
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94 is spot-on, and is amplified by the frustration of knowing that in many cases an almost identical memo/brief/motion already exists, if only you could track it down in the firm's document management system.


Posted by: Amber | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:34 AM
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85: The suggestion that lawyers try to lose at the dismissal stage is facetious. Lawyers dragging cases on for years seems to be standard operating procedure from our point of view. "Most lawyers have plenty of work to do" may be true, but (1) some do not, and (2) fewer would if cases settled earlier.

86: Yes, it goes both ways. We are also regularly accused of accepting lowball settlements against our client's interest early on because it provides a better hourly return.


Posted by: unimaginative | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:36 AM
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Lot of pwnage there.

94 -- You're not getting emails every day asking if anyone has recent briefing on this that or the other question?


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:36 AM
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But the payoff on the engagements that work out can be such a high multiple of fees that it can still be a good bet overall. The growth of the industry would not have been possible otherwise.

I think this is sort of true, but I think at a point the biggest firms can coast, to some degree, on reputation and a fairly formulaic approach, especially when dealing with large, slow-moving organizations with a lot of layers of management needing CYA.

Certainly there are cases where consultants can be transformative.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:37 AM
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law students at top schools are aggressively pursued (usually in the fall of their second year) by legal employers (almost exclusively big firms). And the vast majority of students don't bother even to look for positions anywhere else.

This seems (from the outside) like a system prone to some pretty bad `echo chamber' failure modes to me. Does it mostly work out ok for those entering the system, or are some just grist for this particular mill?


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:42 AM
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You're not getting emails every day asking if anyone has recent briefing on this that or the other question?

Knowledge management is the new plastics.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:42 AM
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101 -- Sifu answers Will's question in 71. CYA. Nobody ever got fired for hiring [big ass NY law firm, for example] to represent the company in a very high stakes case gone bad.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:42 AM
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I will also add that whenever a big firm lawyer gets involved in one of my cases, it becomes a nightmare of unproductive costs. Overly long and unnecessary motions and hearings.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:44 AM
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102: see the Anonymous Law Firm link above, soup. That mill needs loads 'o grist.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:44 AM
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100: Me personally, once I know what the issue is I need briefing on, I'm pretty comfortable figuring it out myself. But yes, I get those emails all the time. On the few occasions I've sent them, I've generally gotten sparse and not terribly helpful responses. It's possible this just means no one at my firm knows shit, but I'm fairly sure it's more that those who know shit can't spare the time for some moron associate who doesn't even know ____.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:44 AM
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104 and variants of it seem pretty well entrenched in all business big enough to survive being sloppy that way. Which I guess makes intuitive sense.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:46 AM
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CYA. Nobody ever got fired for hiring [big ass NY law firm, for example] to represent the company in a very high stakes case gone bad.

I knew that answer, but it is a lazy way to think.

I often tell clients that they have to decide whether they want to OJ Simpson defense case. Because I can spend lots of their money if they want me to research and fight over every single issue.

(Of course, my cases are very different from Napi's.) I haven't even gotten to crave oyer in years!


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:47 AM
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Does it mostly work out ok for those entering the system

Of course not. See, e.g., all the comments in this thread.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:47 AM
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107: Clarification, when I say I'm fine figuring it out myself, I mean when I know what the issues are. I get pissed when I'm given something that involves x,y, and z "standard" issues by someone who knows that I know nothing about x, y, and z but doesn't bother to give me the heads up so that I wind up spinning my wheels and having a panic attack when I finally discover x, y, and z 3 days before it's too late. (Knock wood, never yet 3 days too late...)


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:48 AM
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You know what sucks? Because almost everyone who goes to fancy law schools does the on-campus interviewing process that Katherine is talking about, if you don't do it, and then are still trying to get a job at a law firm, people are like "he went to _____ and he graduated, but is still looking for a job? He must be damaged goods."

It's a weird way of thinking, but it almost becomes like once you graduate, having gone to an excellent law school is actually a liability, if you're unemployed. Fucked up.


Posted by: m. leblanc | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:50 AM
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100: Not so many of those emails flying about here. Responses do tend to be sparse and unhelpful, as Di Kotimy observed, and in some instances send you in the wrong direction entirely.


Posted by: Amber | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:54 AM
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54 -- And what were they paid? Our starting associates -- people as young as 25 who may've done nothing but go to school -- have incomes well into the top 10% of American households, and if they're married to another similar lawyer, are flirting with the top 1%. I doubt that lawyers did as well in the 50s.

Gosh, then maybe lawyers would start making less money again, too. Wouldn't that be horrible.


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:58 AM
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serious question

I have been in real estate for over twenty years now. I am thinking about going to law school. Obviously, after passing the bar, I would specialize in that aspect of the law. The question is, is it worth it to trade the sometimes ridiculous payday of the broker for the steadier salary, and would firms look to the experience as a plus or minus?


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:59 AM
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115: the experience would be a definite plus, although certainly not a "twenty year" plus. Your knowledge of the industry would put you a few years ahead of others starting out in the field. The salary trade (which may also involve some lifestyle trades) is your call.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 10:02 AM
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Gosh, then maybe lawyers would start making less money again, too. Wouldn't that be horrible.

I need that money to fund the consumerist acquisitions and expeditions that soothe the angry, smouldering sense of failure that keeps me awake by night.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 10:03 AM
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105 -- Efforts to spend the other side into submission don't usually work, in the short run. Longer run: I can't but think that budgets get stretched, and issues you'd ordinarily fight get dropped.

114 -- That option is available now.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 10:07 AM
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115, 116: it seems like real estate lawyers are just itching to jump into development anyhow; doing the opposite seems strange to me, but maybe I just don't understand the work well enough.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 10:08 AM
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Certainly there are cases where consultants can be transformative.

Exceedingly rare, IME. Being transformative is exactly what consultants are not good at. Management rarely is, either, which is why they sometimes lean on consultants to have a go at it, but ultimately it's something only management can do. For one thing, "tranformation" happens over very long time periods, and the effectiveness of consultants drops off dramatically after they have been on the property for 90/180/360 days.

The eye-popping successes are often the result of taking a fresh look at an old problem--"out of the box thinking", if you will. This becomes less probable the longer the consultants are intertwined with the organization.

One of my favorite personal successes was stopping a client from investing $20M on a facility expansion. Their numbers showed that there was no alternative to expansion. I suggested that clearing out "long-dwelling units" (the details are unimportant) could free up enough space to make the expansion superfluous. They showed a graph with a snapshot of facilities usage that showed that only 15% of the units were "long-dwelling". I had my team re-run the numbers, weighting the percentages by average dwell, and we were able to show that long-dwelling units accounted for 70% of facilities usage.

This was neither brain science nor rocket surgery, but it had never before occured to the client to look at the facility in this way (mostly because it had never been full). Management subsequently made a bunch of transformative changes stemming from this insight, but that's to their credit, not ours.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 10:09 AM
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TLL, as an older person, you'd really need to ace law school. Top 10 spots in your class ought to be good enough.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 10:10 AM
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In 120, "facility expansion" s/b "salary increases", "long-dwelling units" s/b "expensive older workers", "average dwell" s/b "accumulated pension" and "it had never been full" s/b "they had erroneously considered their employees people with whom they should empathize".

Kidding, kidding!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 10:13 AM
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114 -- That option is available now.

No it isn't. You were responding to people advocating transformative changes in the profession as a whole, remember?


Posted by: ben w-lfs-n | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 10:15 AM
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Kidding, kidding!

Oh, I've been there, too. Went from a three-shift operation to two-shifts, outsourced all support functions, eliminated 250 of 800 employees in a town of a couple thousand where the plant was the only major employer within 50 miles.

On May 1st, the union built a pyramid of 250 hardhats outside the door of our hotel. We stayed in a different town after that.

I've said earlier in this space that I am not important enough to be first up against the wall after the revolution, but they'll get around to me 90 days in.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 10:18 AM
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I sometimes wonder why there isn't the legal equivalent of medical residencies with a centralized matching system.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 10:19 AM
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It's a weird way of thinking, but it almost becomes like once you graduate, having gone to an excellent law school is actually a liability, if you're unemployed. Fucked up.

I sort of ran into this, having eschewed the big firm internship in favor of a position at a plaintiff's boutique that had no chance of becomming permanent, and having only applied for appellate clerkships during my third year (bad move!), I ended up jobless with a mountain of debt. I finally caught on at another plaintiff's boutique, but four years later I still get irritated when thinking about people who graduated with a 30% lower class rank making four times my salary. Quality of life? I'll trade you my crappy apartment and unpaid bills for your extra hours and car that has windows that roll down.


Posted by: Grumps | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 10:22 AM
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It's a weird way of thinking, but it almost becomes like once you graduate, having gone to an excellent law school is actually a liability, if you're unemployed.

I think having been, or being, unemployed is a tremendous liability for anyone applying for big law firm jobs, firms being very conservative places with little room to accommodate irregular histories. That's what's kept me working for the past few years, when I've got enough money and grudges to keep me grinding my teeth through a year or two of backpacking or whatnot.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 10:32 AM
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But the payoff on the engagements that work out can be such a high multiple of fees that it can still be a good bet overall. The growth of the industry would not have been possible otherwise.

Eh. I can think of twenty stories in twenty minutes in which the value of the consultants was either (a) tie-breaking an internal disagreement, or (b) offering cover for a decision that was likely to be unpopular. The value proposition is not always precisely what is stated in the marketing material.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 10:39 AM
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I work at a firm much like unimaginative's (though not as a lawyer, obviously), and I've got to say I haven't seen much evidence of bill-padding from opposing counsel. If they're reasonably competent, which is not always the case, they generally try to settle as soon as possible. These are generally small or medium-sized local firms rather than true BigLaw places, though there is one type of case we do where we regularly go up against big firms and they tend to be pretty settlement-oriented as well. When we do encounter things like useless motions and appeals they are usually the result of decisions by the clients rather than the lawyers.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 11:00 AM
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115: I know nothing about your area. I have known a couple of people who did something similar in the sciences/technology career to patent law direction. That seems a much more natural fit in some ways, and these guys were in pretty high demand because it seems that many patent lawyers don't understand the technology they are working with well enough.

Have you considered asking a couple of firms who work in the area what they would think of such a candidate (assuming you do well in your class, as someone mentioned above)?


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 11:07 AM
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128: aaaand... go!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 11:08 AM
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128 is very much my (limited) experience, too. Occasionally consultants can make a really transformative improvement, but that seems to be as much serendipity as planning.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 11:08 AM
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Of course not. See, e.g., all the comments in this thread.

Well that's my impression, but I didn't want to presume.

Serious question: Why do you all put up with this collectively? Is it the school debt? Is it that students don't have a clear picture of what the realistic future looks like (i.e., like many grad students)? Is it that there are a few great, high paying jobs (and a few more terrible, high paying jobs) out there and people are delusional about their likelihood of landing them?


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 11:13 AM
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Thanks all for the input.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 11:14 AM
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In real estate for the last 20 years, why aren't you retiring?!?!?!?!


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 11:18 AM
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135: Because it's about the music.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 11:19 AM
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135: Because it's about the music.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 11:20 AM
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I saw a lot of frivolous stuff in immigration court, where it would make me very angry--those clients are not rich. (On the upside, the motions didn't look like they took very long to write)


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 11:34 AM
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TLL, what law school you go to makes a big difference as well. Here are some links:

law school is a big lie. People enter law school with the idea that a law degree is their ticket to a comfortable upper middle class lifestyle. In fact, just the opposite, law school for most is a ticket to a worse financial state than if they had not attended at all.

and

The legal profession is really two professions: the elite lawyers and everyone else. Most of the former start out at big law firms. Many of the latter never find gainful legal employment. Instead, they work at jobs that might be characterized as "quasi-legal": paralegals, clerks, administrators, doing work for which they probably never needed a J.D. Although hard data about the nature of these jobs are difficult to come by (and rely on self-reporting, which is inherently unreliable), the mean salary for graduates of top 10 law schools is $135,000 while it is $60,000 for "tier three" schools. It's certainly possible that tier-three graduates tend to gravitate toward lower-paying public-interest and government jobs, but this lower salary may also reflect the nonlegal nature of many of these jobs and the fact that these graduates are settling for anything that will pay the bills.



Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 11:51 AM
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Why do you all put up with this collectively?

Because the range of alternatives is limited once you've committed to being a lawyer. The firm where I work is in the process of developing a "part time" policy where people can put in a percentage of the billable requirements for a percentage of the pay -- which is great, and a huge step forward, etc. But they are also very clear that this is to be used as a non-permanent arrangement, effectively a "mommy track" for a few years, maybe, reviewable annually and subject to having a good reason for wanting to do it. Which sucks about 70% of the progressive wind right back out of the sails. I will probably end up taking that track, for lack of better alternatives, because being a single mom and a full-time lawyer sucks. But I'd rather it be a more permanent option and not just a temporary stop gap clearly meant chiefly for mommies. (This is not just my interpretation -- it's how it's been presented by the firm.)


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 11:55 AM
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People enter law school with the idea that a law degree is their ticket to a comfortable upper middle class lifestyle.

Are law school students that naive? I would have thought the numbers would make it obvious how this was different in general from, say, medical school.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 11:55 AM
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140: Interesting. I guess the oversupply of law degrees really works against you, there.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 11:56 AM
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141 came out a bit too focused on law school. I certainly don't want to suggest that law school students are particularly naive. This is exactly the same sort of thing that academic graduate students often screw up. But there is an impression, perhaps faulty, that professional school graduate students are more aware and focussed on these practicalities.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 12:00 PM
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In real estate for the last 20 years, why aren't you retiring?!?!?!?!

Vainglorious pursuit of the American Dream? Kids still in school? To lazy and stupid to do anything else? Pick 'em.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 12:09 PM
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Eh. I can think of twenty stories in twenty minutes in which the value of the consultants was either (a) tie-breaking an internal disagreement, or (b) offering cover for a decision that was likely to be unpopular.

Far be it from me to offer a blanket defense of consultants. After all, most of them are my competitors, and so of course they suck. No, seriously, the consulting trade has as many charlatans as any other, and probably more, because the only barrier to entry is the price of printing up a business card that says "consultant".

Two responses, though.
1. I can offer equally compelling anecdata about phenomenally successful engagements. Last year I worked briefly for a client from which my firm collected about $18M in fees over two years. The payoff for them was $1.5 billion over 10 years. And those aren't pie-in-the-sky projections; they are written into a legally binding contract with a creditworthy counterparty. There is literally no way the client organization could have done it without us, as they would be the first to admit.
2. There is a salience issue with consultants in the general population. The most important consulting engagements are the least visible, and the most professional consultants are the least in the public eye. Just as the guy who advertises on TV that he can "get you the money you deserve" is a poor billboard for the legal profession, the guy who does a brainstorming session with the frontline employees to develop a new vision statement is a poor billboard for what high end consultants do. (There's also the whole genre of IT consulting, which is as different from strategy consulting as accounting is from law.)


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 1:19 PM
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145: Or specialty financial consulting, which is what I have friends doing. A fair amount of really valuable consulting seems to just be a way to temporarily bring in people who have a lot of expertise and experience in areas that aren't needed by your firm every day, or who are better-qualified/brighter than you could cost-effectively hire for a full-time position.

Or hiring auditor consultants who know all the tricks and can help you hide the bad stuff, but they sure don't do that anymore since SOX passed, eh?


Posted by: Po-Mo Polymath | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 2:50 PM
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The problem is that `consulting' is too broad. At a minimum you've got from the consultants side

- actual experts in obscure things
- actual experts in more common stuff that might not be worth having in house
- good people who don't like staying in one thing
- pretend experts in loads of things nobody has really sorted out who can talk a good game, i.e.
- opportunists
...
- random worker bees

and from the client side you've got at minimum
- people with a well defined problem they can't solve inhouse
- people with an ill defined problem looking for answers
- people with a political game in-house
- management trying to justify a decision
....
- short term labor shortage

matching up the latter two in both lists is useful, matching up the first two potentially very helpful. Everything else is more of a crap shoot, to varying degrees.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 3:04 PM
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There is literally no way the client organization could have done it without us, as they would be the first to admit.

I'd be astonished if it were true the company couldn't have purchased the necessary expertise for something less than $1.5 bil. I'm not saying all or most are charlatans. Indeed, I think exactly the opposite. Tie-breaking and cover for hard decisions are good reasons to spend. Those are, in fact, successful anecdata. And, obviously, there are occasions when consultants to bring success because of peculiar knowledge. What I've said is that the actual reason consultants are hired varies a lot, as does the value of the analysis, as does the difficulty of the analysis. (That is, they're like doctors, lawyers, indian chiefs. )


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 3:05 PM
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I'd be astonished if it were true the company couldn't have purchased the necessary expertise for something less than $1.5 bil.

In the case described, they purchased it for $18 million and reaped $1.5 billion.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 3:09 PM
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(Perhaps I am wrong to think you misread that?)


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 3:09 PM
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150: Yes.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 3:10 PM
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I don't find much to disagree with in 147. Obviously there can be differences of opinion about the relative frequencies of each case, but I'm not particularly invested in my opinion on the matter.

Re: 149. No, I mean literally literally no way. For the amount of money they had at their disposal (far less than $1.5 billion, BTW), they could not have hired and directed their own employees to get this job done in the time my firm did it (it was on a tight deadline). The task exceeded their organizational capabilities as well as their expertise. Consultants were the only feasible option. Maybe another provider could have done the job for less than $18M, who knows, but in the final analysis, the possibility of saving a million or 10 was immaterial to the cost-benefit equation. Not all cases are this clear cut, but clear cut cases do exist.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 4:28 PM
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152: My comments seem to be coming off as an attack on your profession, which wasn't intended. My initial objection was to this pair of sentences:

But the payoff on the engagements that work out can be such a high multiple of fees that it can still be a good bet overall. The growth of the industry would not have been possible otherwise.

This looks formally the same as the justification for extraordinary CEO salaries, which I don't find compelling because I think there are many factors at work. That's all.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 5:12 PM
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153 was me.


Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 5:13 PM
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139 -- This is why, TLL, I said you have to ace it. Even at a middle tier school, you can do ok jobwise if you're one of the top 5 students. Which means you need to finish with an A average, most likely. I've no doubt this is possible, but you'd really have to want it every single day. (And remember, for virtually all classes, 100% of the grade is the final; certainly in the first 2 years). And edit the law review.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 5:16 PM
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You're reminding me why I didn't go to law school in the first place.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 5:22 PM
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133 -- I've probably said it before, but I love my job, and have from the very first day. Lots of people don't like this kind of thing. And you spend a damn long time at it, so if you don't love it, you're going to have a pretty rough ride.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 6:01 PM
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You know, I love the legal side of my job -- the research, the analysis, the writing and argument. It's the bullshit that goes along with it that makes me want to quit 3 out of 5 days a week. Like getting emails while I am on spring break with my daughter from a partner who damn well knows I am on spring break with my daughter, telling me to make phone calls to opposing and co-counsel to coordinate shit that it the partner supposedly was going to coordinate Monday and which is a pain in the fucking ass to try to coordinate via cell phone from spring break with my daughter. So when I say I hate my fucking job, I'm probably just saying that I hate this fucking partner who really rather routinely makes my life unnecessarily difficult.

But then, I'm cranky and bitter tonight.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 7:51 PM
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157: yeah, see that makes sense to me. If you love doing something and can find a way to keep at it, great. It just seems like it's not true for a lot of people


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 7:56 PM
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158

What would happen if you politely refused?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:03 PM
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160: I'm not sure I'm prepared to find out.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 8:07 PM
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161

Well, I am not particularly qualified to give career advice but that sounds like a totally unreasonable thing to ask somebody on vacation. And like an unhealthy work environment if you are afraid to object. So I would advise trying to improve things and looking into changing jobs if you can't.

Assuming of course you have represented the situation fairly.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:09 PM
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161 -- Di, you're senior enough to have minions. Aren't there junior lawyers just waiting for you to ask them to take care of basic stuff for you? And even if you can't delegate the whole thing, the minion can get a date range from opposing counsel, and 3 alternative phone times -- or set up a call in number on your firm's system/subscription, if you need it.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:22 PM
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I have no minions, but even if I did it would be as much a pain in the ass to try try to track one down tomorrow, explain the conversations that need to take place and then wait around for a call confirming that things got done as it would be to call counsel and wait for calls back. I want to take my kid swimming and to the movies and do fun things on our time off that don't involve being tied to my cellphone all day. It's not huge, it's just pointless and part of a recently developing pattern of "me partner, you associate" jerkiness that I just don't have much tolerance for.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:50 PM
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Oh well, good luck.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 9:56 PM
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Thanks -- it really boils down to a seethingly unpleasant interpersonal conflict that really wouldn't make much sense without filling in four years of history. If I can manage to wriggle my way out from underneath this particular partner's thumb, it is entirely conceivable that I could actually learn to like my job again.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 10:07 PM
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Yikes Di. That doesn't sound like fun at all.

If I ever end up back on the corporate side of things, I'm pretty sure I'm going to declare cel phone blackout times. I've watched too many people chained to them. Of course, being inflexible about that might bite me but them's the breaks, I guess.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 04- 3-08 10:12 PM
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