Re: Private Practice: What Went Wrong?

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I was very clearly dead-ended, and not by my own choice

Seems like that's true only if you construe "choice" pretty narrowly. You hated it and it showed, and despite "wanting" to do more and better, your heart wasn't in it. People aren't stupid; they notice these things. And now you're in a situation you prefer and don't have the "initiative" problem.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 11:44 AM
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Pacing!


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 11:45 AM
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I read it as a shmoozing problem, which carries a little less onus than 1 implies.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 11:45 AM
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Shoulda been a tax associate.


Posted by: Ugh | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 11:48 AM
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Remind me again why people want to become lawyers?


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 11:49 AM
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5: It's easier then becoming a Dr. and doesn't involve all that icky blood-stuff.


Posted by: Ugh | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 11:54 AM
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And shouldn't the "pacing!" bot be given a unique name so it isn't confused with 'er?


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 11:54 AM
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...your heart wasn't in it.

That was a remark in my worst annual review a few years ago, after a year when I had come close to doing myself serious harm in despair over the matters that kept me miserably toiling away on Saturday nights from Valentine's Day through Christmas. I nearly quit on the spot. Since then, I think I've cultivated good relationships with other partners and become a go-to guy for at least one very senior one, but am still stuck in an unhappy dead end generally.

A great deal of it must be luck.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 11:57 AM
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A great deal of it must be luck.

I think the luck is the personality of the organization, and how symbiotic it is with the personality of the individual.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 11:58 AM
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1: You hated it and it showed, and despite "wanting" to do more and better, your heart wasn't in it.

Oh, fuck off, Ogged.

You 'met' me after I'd had six years of this shit. While I was certainly disgruntled; the disgruntlement came after the problem with being able to get good work, not the reverse. If the assignment process had worked for me, I'd be a partner someplace now and I'd never have shown up here.

I mean, sure, I suppose if my heart had really been in it my burning desire would have shone forth and compelled partners to give me more and better assignments. All I had was competence and ambition, rather than that ineffable fire. But how much 'heart' are you really expected to have in a job for your supervisors to allow you to do productive work for them?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 11:59 AM
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I just failed somehow to successfully project whatever attitude was necessary to convey that I was competent and available and eager to do work

Were you just mommy-tracked?


Posted by: Gonerill | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:03 PM
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It could have been worse, LB. You could have managed just enough effort to actually *make* partner, and then once you held the brass ring in your hand, realized that your heart wasn't in it.

I'm posting this semi-pseudonymously, but I think the regulars can deduce my identity.


Posted by: Seekrit Commenter | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:07 PM
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how much 'heart' are you really expected to have in a job for your supervisors to allow you to do productive work for them?

Speaking ex recto, this has always been the key to law firm success. That is, it's simply not enough to be competent, but rather you need to be seen as willing to die for the cause.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:07 PM
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If I had to guess, I'd say either mommy-tracked or some form of weak institutional sexism, because 'initiative' seems to be one of those things that is harder for young women to demonstrate than young men. That's sort of a 'schmoozing' problem, because it can be harder for a woman to schmooze.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:11 PM
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It sounds like a schmooze problem to me--a click with a specific partner or case that often happens naturally but not always, & just didn't happen in your case. This isn't something I've experienced professionally; it's more analagous to the problems I've had meeting new people in a new city, or getting to know professors in college--I feel like I lack social initiative skills. (Fortunately professionally I did find stuff that really excited me, and so I have formed good relationships with people in that field over that.) But I don't really know what I'm talking about; I've never worked at a normal firm and am a little surprised that a manifestly competent lawyer would end up so under-used given the amount of work there is.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:12 PM
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(and, if firms do routinely rely on a partner taking a shine to you for success, I could definitely see mommy-tracking being a huge problem.)


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:14 PM
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I'd say either mommy-tracked or some form of weak institutional sexism

This was my first guess as well, based purely on ill-informed prejudices about BgLaw. Go-getters are those young, bright eyed, well-connected lads from good schools.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:19 PM
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I do find that there's nothing more energy sapping than pointless work; the worst job I ever had was at a startup that was completely obviously on its way out, and the work involved leaping from one last ditch, crazy idea-that-just-might-work to the next. It was readily apparent that anything we did would never get used and would make no difference: not an easy situation in which to motivate oneself. Some people can, I think, transcend this. These are the sorts of people who do well in big companies, I imagine.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:22 PM
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I'm going to be starting at a big firm in the Fall and your complaints are exactly what I'm afraid of. That is, I'm sure I'll be able to handle the work and if I can manage to be judged and advanced based on the quality of what I produce, I won't complain. (My career path may or may not be meteoric, but I'll be able to live with whatever consequences arise reasonably out of my work).

Right now I work about 50 hours a week, and when things are busy I get plenty done. I would like my work schedule to remain similar at my next job, with the allowance that once in a while a deadline will come up that requires late nights. I'm concerned that if I go home at 6 or 6:30 as a matter of routine I'll look lazy, uncommitted, like my heart isn't in it. Any advice from current or former lawyers on a) whether I can have what I want and b) if so, how?

As far as LB goes, my uninformed speculation is to go with the crowd and say Mommy-tracking is a likely culprit. I won't face that problem (yeah, Patriarchy!) although we do plan to have kids and I will not miss their childhoods for work.


Posted by: Mother's Younger Brother | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:22 PM
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LB - sounds very, very familiar - and very, very frustrating.

I have the same issue, as do about 1/3 to 1/2 of the other associates at the firm where I practice. I'm about 5 1/2 years in, and probably should move on sooner than later. The ways of the firm are frustrating and mysterious.

Don't know whether it hit you, but my sense is that many of us are having trouble because of a shift in the law firm's business. Most of us came here when the firm was still a litigation shop, with a fair amount of one-off litigation that demanded a lot of research. We've become, increasingly, an investigations shop that wants lots and lots of middle-managers who can herd the contract attorneys who are reviewing documents for hours on end. That, and charts, charts, charts.

That leaves very few opportunities in the part of the firm where most of us want to work. I think people (and I'm one) resisted the belief that this was a permanent or near-permanent shift. Who wants to believe that? The firm leadership kept signaling that they wanted to do the litigation work, and we all wanted to believe they could. Stupid us, as it turned out.

Whatever the cause, it will definitely mess with your mind - especially if you've always done well before, as I bet you have. It's a kind of institutional cowardice on the part of the firm, not to tell people honestly why they aren't getting work. There are real downsides to honesty, but can it really be that hard to be square with people? How much good does it do to let people curdle as they try to figure out wtf is going on with their careers?

And now, having blamed my firm, I'm going to look at some job listings...


Posted by: TedL | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:26 PM
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How did being at a BigLaw firm compare to the situation at Idealist's shop? I mean, I'm sure that you weren't billing as much as he does, but I wonder if you had more work or better relationships there.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:28 PM
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A more temperate version of 10: I'm happier here exactly because I'm allowed to work without first demonstrating somehow that "my heart is in it". It's not that my heart wasn't in it because I was unhappy with my job, I was unhappy with my job because I had to figure out how to project some emotional state before they'd let me work for them. (And sorry I snapped at you, Ogged, you flicked me on a raw spot.)

(And now back to actual work -- I'll check in again tonight.)


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:28 PM
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This does remind me a bit of my experience at the middle firm (of 3) that I worked for - it was a small firm, and after one interesting but small project early, I got shunted into doing cell phone stores (which was the lifeblood of the firm, but anathema to me). When I quit, not only did the boss not beg me to reconsider, but he also told me that I hadn't shown much initiative (it's possible he used a different word, but I think it's the right one).

Thing is, they still invite me to the holiday parties - it wasn't a personality conflict per se. I could have lived with the retail store stuff, except that I didn't even get a taste of other projects - it was a 4 person firm, which would normally imply lots of group input on design problems (whether aesthetic or technical). And that's really my forte. But it was a completely unutilized skill - one that most colleagues have noticed on my first day, and that I'm very good at demonstrating to potential clients in the first meeting.

Point being, it's easy for me to recognize the pattern LB found herself in, but it remains a mystery to me. And it's odd that it happened in 3 of 3 workplaces. How similar were they in terms of size/client type/culture? I assume that, at least by the third firm, you were looking for something clearly different. I wonder whether, given the near-universal strictures of private practice, the "right" situation is the exception, and you just weren't able to find it.

The one thing I'll say, contra 1, is that my bad attitude (such as it was) definitely followed the shunting aside - essentially, the selection happened in the first month or so, and the rest was denouement.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:29 PM
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Is there any point in asking a friendly or politically savvy partner from the old firm out to lunch, and asking this question?


Posted by: Constant Lurker | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:29 PM
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LB this is a classic mentoring problem, and one that happens in a lot of professions. Mommy track may be part of it, but also the very real fear of senior people not to try and mentor a person of the opposite sex, lest it be perceived as pervy.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:31 PM
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Perhaps I came in late too, but I never, ever heard you say a good thing about your job or most of the people you worked for.

I wasn't always successful, but I was constantly biting my tongue to keep myself from saying "Get away from that horrible place before it destroys you".


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:33 PM
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Yeah, I have thoughts on this post, mostly along the "hey, I resemble that remark" line.

||

But I want to ask about something else Has anyone here (esp. New Yorkers) ever made use of an alternative energy supplier instead of just ConEd? I'm moving into a new place and I want to figure out if there's some service that's environmentally better and/or cheaper that I should be using when I sign up for electricity. This link suggests the answer might well be yes.

|>


Posted by: washerdreyer | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:35 PM
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20 sounds like my last tech job, oddly. Change in company direction, being in the old-direction part, and a continuing half-hearted commitment from management to that stuff.

I know nothing about the lawyering side, except that this doesn't sound like a culture that's really optimized for anything useful to the world., and just kind of grew into the weird creature that it is. Seeing that makes me think that LB shouldn't feel bad about failing to succeed in an arbitrary insanely-structured enterprise.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:36 PM
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Seeing that makes me think that LB shouldn't feel bad about failing to succeed in an arbitrary insanely-structured enterprise.

100% yes. Firms are screwy.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:40 PM
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27: I don't know how it works in NYC, but upstate the functions of energy supply and distribution are separate. NYSEG does all the distribution, but when you move in and get the utilities set up they give you several options for suppliers, including NYSEG itself. This sounds like it could be a state-level thing, so I wouldn't be surprised if it's possible in NYC as well.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:42 PM
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And it's also just puzzling, because I never quite figured out (I still haven't) exactly what I was doing wrong.

There's a comment around here somewhere showing, I don't remember exactly, 15,000?, comments left by you on this site. I know you believe that's a symptom, not the cause (and I think that's surely right, especially since you've recently stopped), but you were clearly bored to death and not very focused on your job.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:44 PM
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One thing I think is that if you're at a firm (company, whatever) with enough resources that everybody doesn't have to be working their asses off all the time, "showing initiative" about getting the projects you want kind of means being a pushy asshole about making things yours. Being friendly and willing to work on whatever is actually sort of counterproductive; you're never going to get to do interesting work unless you insist on only working on interesting things.

This completely contradicts my previous comment, of course.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:47 PM
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Also:

But in eight years of private practice, I doubt I billed over 2000 hours more than once or twice, and was generally well, well, below that, and I had a lot of days, particularly at my last firm, where I billed seven hours to "Office Administration," a.k.a. blogging and tidying my desk.)

Surely the last "billed" should be "recorded"? Please tell me that didn't count as part of your annual "billable" time in your firm?

Also, now that I'm actually reading your post, I see that 31 may not really be applicable.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:49 PM
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Re: 31

Brock, I'm curious as to whether the decline in your commenting frequency is because you have found a way to re-engage with your work, or if it's just the demands of family drawing you away. I don't mean for this to sound snide or accusatory; I'm genuinely interested in whether you forced yourself to abstain, or your work satisfaction increased to the level that the temptation subsided, or something else entirely.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:49 PM
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34: maybe he just has a shitload to do?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:50 PM
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I'm in a similar situation at an investment bank. I think it has something to do with the capacity to deal with superiors; I certainly can't. I graduated from school 1 yr ago, where I was wildly passionate about my "job" and the resulting grades. Now it is a daily struggle to get motivated, much less grovel to my seniors. I occasionally make an effort to be more peppy, knowing that bonuses are approaching, but it just doesn't work. I'm severely introverted and my drive comes from within, not from pompous jerks who happened to go to good schools.

My biggest question is what is the best direction for someone like me to take? I can see the superior problem plaguing most efforts to rise in a firm environment, yet it seems to be the most reasonable place to advance my career.

And don't blame this on a millenial mind-set... I have a guy sitting next to me that is the same age and has the same background and he jumps around like a f-in monkey whenever someone says his name.


Posted by: flyfisher | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:50 PM
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This is a very interesting and thoughtful post. That sounds like a very frustrating set of experiences.

That said, here's my perspective on law firm life, coming from a firm that is an almost pure archetype of a large law firm. At first, being competent and willing to work hard will bring you success. But that lasts for a very short time. At some point, you're going to be just another competent hard-worker. You have to be invested in the success of your clients and, most importantly, in the success of the firm. To put it another way, you have to be worth the amount you are diluting the earnings of the partnership (whether through your salary as an associate or through your draw as a partner). If you're just competent, the firm might as well devote its resources to cultivating people who make less money than you. Firms aren't screwy, they're just interested in maximizing their earnings, like any other business.

Of course, this is not to say anything about your situation in particular. It would be depressing to want to be invested in the success of the firm and not be able to be, whether because of mommy-tracking, a lack of mentorship, or otherwise.


Posted by: unf | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:51 PM
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Is it that you were expected to generate your own work? In other words, someone who does what they are told and does it well is one thing, but even better yet would be someone who just brings in money on her own.


Posted by: Anon | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:54 PM
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I was really worried about continuing to comment on Unfogged constantly, like I did in law school and when I was summering at a firm, when I started my "real job." I was surprised to find that after the first couple months, when the "working 8 hours a day is hard" wore off, I have had little problem limiting my commenting. I recommend to all to join a very small organization (I am half of the total attorneys here) with incredibly needy clientele, a tremendous amount of responsibility, and (mostly) interesting work.

Of course, that means I've almost totally abandoned blogging, but you can't do it all.


Posted by: m. leblanc | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:55 PM
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KR--It may be both. I think he gave up unfogged for Lent.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:57 PM
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I recommend to all to join a very small organization (I am half of the total attorneys here) with incredibly needy clientele, a tremendous amount of responsibility, and (mostly) interesting work.

Yup, that's a good way to do it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 12:57 PM
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41: The main reason I think this works is that I don't feel like I really work "for" anyone (but my clients, of course); I have a supervisor, and he advises me and tells me what steps I need to take on a particular matter, but in the end most of what I work on are my cases and if I don't do it it doesn't get done.


Posted by: m. leblanc | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:00 PM
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34: 35 gets it right. It definitely has nothing to do with increased work satisfaction. And I don't see my family.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:09 PM
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::cough::sexism::cough::?


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:09 PM
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Real true low-information shooting off of the mouth:

To the extent that I understand what happened to me, I just failed somehow to successfully project whatever attitude was necessary to convey that I was competent and available and eager to do work

There's this thing that George Bush has, and people like George Bush have, and you do not.

It's comprised of having a dick, having a sociopathic attitude, not having children or having children that can be pawned off on a woman helpmate, being socially connected with the exact right people and generally being deserving of the nickname 'Reilly O'Rimjob' from underlings.

Nice, thoughtful, slightly reserved, sorta idealistic hard workers do not get the cookies; particularly in an enviroment where there are lots and lots of people competing for lots of money (but not near enough to go around). I think you would've needed to snort a lot more coke. (Because then you would've been DRIVEN! to get work and would've been willing to do whatever it took to get it and then, you'd have needed some more coke! DEVO!)

max
['I like you a lot better like this.']


Posted by: max | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:12 PM
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Not having a lot of client contact, or coworker contact, or anyone contact day to day definitely contributes to my procrastinating ways.


Posted by: Katherine | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:15 PM
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42: in the end most of what I work on are my cases and if I don't do it it doesn't get done.

That seems huge, and the question is how to replicate that feeling of responsibility--and the attendant appearance of total competence and reliability--when there are, in fact, people above you. If your superiors are unwilling to trust you or see you as reliable, whether it's because you're a woman or because they're just jerks, then things get harder.


Posted by: Mother's Younger Brother | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:16 PM
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I think TLL probably has a good point; at least, I had much the same feeling in my graduate program, where I was somewhat underpushed (though my advisor clearly liked me, he just wasn't quite sure *how* to express that). Having had a "poor fit" problem at my last job, ahem, despite liking my colleagues quite well, I wonder if there might not also be something in what Ogged's saying, actually: if the expectation is that you're gonna be a rowr, go-getter!! and your personality isn't that type (and my impression of your personality, fwiw, is that you are a thinker: you assess before barging in), you're going to "look" uncommitted or some shit.

Which I do think is based on an image of the ambitious young frat boy type, so is sexist, rather. I mean, women can surely try to fill this role too, and sometimes do, but, well, ykwim.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:17 PM
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46: Ugh, yes, I'm having to motivate myself despite the "low contact" thing myself these days.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:18 PM
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I wonder if this is a common issue for MIT graduates in BigLaw. A lot of the things you mention (pushing deadlines, not pretending to care more than you do, thinking that competence should be able to compete with schmoozing) seem to be typical MIT cultural norms. Law culture seems about as un-MIT-ish as an industry's culture can be.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:19 PM
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That sounds a lot like my experience, though I left after only two years and I'm not sure I would have been allowed to stick around for eight. I liked a lot of the work I did, and I had good relationships with a lot of partners and other associates, but I was always either scrambling for hours or billing more than I could handle. I'd have months of 70 or 80 hours and then months with 250. I hated the up and down, and the feeling that I was constantly in danger of looking like the "bad associate," but what I hated even more was the hit to my ego. In the end what I realized was that it was just not the right fit for me. I took a $100K pay cut to take a job that makes me happy, and gets me home before my kid goes to bed. I was real worried that I would regret that choice, but it's been almost a year and I'm definitely happier now than I was when I was a law firm associate.


Posted by: JDS | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:21 PM
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44: Well I assume LB has already considered that explanation, and doesn't feel that it explains (all) her problems. If nothing else, her experience seems so similar at all 3 firms, and it seems like there'd be some noticeable variation in levels of sexism - sexism is pervasive, but it varies in intensity and impact.

Although, unless Firm 3 was radically different from 1 & 2, I doubt that LB was likely to break out of the established pattern. So even if sexism were less at Firm 3, it was too late because the effects of sexism at 1 & 2 had (to put it simplistically) taught her bad habits.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:21 PM
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People are really hanging this on sexism, even with several men here complaining about the same experiences?


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:30 PM
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53: No, only one person.


Posted by: Fatman | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:33 PM
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53: Very possible. Law firms are, to the lawyers in and out of them if not to laypeople, very different from one another, and even the most humane partners in the most evolved firms can be kind of old-fashioned.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:35 PM
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FFS people, it was tongue-in-cheek. And plenty of people before me said "mild sexism" which HAS THE S WORD IN IT, as well as "mommy-tracking," which, hello.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:37 PM
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56: B seriously though, I can not believe that you would just instantly claim sexism based purely on ill-informed prejudices about BgLaw.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:39 PM
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Big prestigious law firms hire the best law students from the best law schools then make 10% of them partner. That is your problem right there. You really can't expect to beat that kind of odds given that the competition neutralizes some of your your best skills coming in. Everybody is smart and hard working.



Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:43 PM
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56: I just thought you were being reductionist.

I think it's extremely likely that sexism played a role, if only in the lack of mentoring (smart lawyers may be a dime a dozen, but why would firms essentially dead-end a smart lawyer while keeping her on staff, spinning her wheels?). But, taking various forms of sexism as a given, the interesting question still remains - why would firms squander resources this way?


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:43 PM
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I wouldn't discount it as a factor, no. If the image of the bright-tailed bushy-eyed eager beaver associate as the one who gets the prime assignments is accurate, then deviating from that, whether by being a socially clueless guy, or by being a woman who has a hard time getting a mentor (which sexism often underlies) is going to be hard on one's career.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:48 PM
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why would firms squander resources this way?

The words of a person who has not spent much time around old lawyers. There's an old system of promotion and partnership which has not adapted to recent developments like, say, women in the workforce. The system will not adapt because the people in charge do not adapt.


Posted by: Mother's Younger Brother | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:49 PM
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Big prestigious law firms hire the best law students from the best law schools then make 10% of them partner. That is your problem right there.

That's a pretty good point, but a lot of the attrition is mutual - people who never really wanted to make partner, people who aren't at all cut out for the job, people who go in other directions, etc. Most of that 90% culling happens without the firm having to do much (it's very common to have "weeder" courses at universities to thin the herd, but most don't actually need to mess with the curve to get to the desired number - students thin themselves).

That said, even getting the remaining 20% (or whatever) down to 10% involves a selection, and the criteria may not have much overlap with who LB is, deep down (or projects, right up top).


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:51 PM
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the interesting question still remains - why would firms squander resources this way?

Because associates are an expendable resource by design. The law firm profit model works on the principle of leverage. The pyramidal structure with a few partners at the top and lots of associates below creates the margin of exploitation that makes the partners rich. The path to partnership can only be open to a few, or the model breaks down. The optimal number of partnership promotions is that number which will optimize the generation of new revenues without cannibalizing the business or diluting the shares of existing partners. In an ideal world (from a partner's perspective), there would be no new partners at all, and all the revenue growth would be absorbed by additional leverage. But that runs into practical problems as far as how far you can stretch a partner, and also, there has to be at least a plausible path to partnership in order to motivate the associates to sacrifice the best years of their lives making someone else rich.

I don't see anything mysterious about it. Now, if LB had shown the "fire in the belly" that suggested she would become a big rainmaker, the calculation would be different. But the firm has only a very minimal interest in coaching a senior associate to become a better associate, absent any prospect of partnership; there will be a new crop of law school grads coming out next year, after all.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:51 PM
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61: As I wrote that, I knew it would sound like a clueless comment on sexism. What I meant was broader, in that they kept her on board; she was nominally partner-tracked, and would have stayed on indefinitely, earning a big salary without really advancing the interests of the firm. Perhaps, per my last comment, they just figured (correctly) that she would take herself out of that position, but it still seems odd. Fire her or fix* her.

* i.e., tell her what she's doing wrong


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:54 PM
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A lot of the things you mention (pushing deadlines, not pretending to care more than you do, thinking that competence should be able to compete with schmoozing) seem to be typical MIT cultural norms. Law culture seems about as un-MIT-ish as an industry's culture can be.

I think this is very true. I'm not from MIT, but I share all of those traits--and definitely don't give off 'die for the firm' vibes--and I've had to very consciously fight them to get out of ruts similar to (though, so far, not as deep) what LB describes. Moving into mostly appellate work--where these traits aren't quite as much of an obstacle, I think--also helped me quite a bit.

(And hi, TedL in 20! I used to work at your firm--we met a few times--and had much the experience you describe. Sorry to hear it hasn't improved.)


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:54 PM
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Spouse is a 3rd or 4th year in BigLaw, and she's getting the juicy assignments, etc. Unless there is a huge surprise, she's doing well. Partner? Who knows. She's at a firm with less than that 10% number listed earlier, so probably not. Also, she is now pregnant, which may or may not affect the way she is perceived by some partners.

But at least my second-hand report is that you don't have to be an ass to succeed, at least at her firm. That said, most of her friends, whom she naturally regards as the better of the lot, have gotten out. One of the few survivors was lost in a decade-long doc review, thinking that he had been sidelined for no discernible reason, and it turned out he was right. Whether lack of schmoozing or just the spin of the wheel, he hadn't been given interesting assignments. This year, it has all turned around for him. So, good people sometimes end up with bad assignments, and that seems to be self-perpetuating.

But bad people (or rather, those who are a bad fit for BigLaw) often end up with bad assignments. My spouse worked in retail and teaching for ten years before going to law school at a second tier program. She works with students from top-5 programs many of who--though clearly bright--have never had a real job in their lives. Sure, they put in hours at law school, but it's not the same thing.


Posted by: Alex H. | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:56 PM
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64

"... What I meant was broader, in that they kept her on board; she was nominally partner-tracked, and would have stayed on indefinitely, earning a big salary without really advancing the interests of the firm. ..."

If they are billing her at 5 times what they are paying her how is that not advancing the interests of the firm?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 1:59 PM
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10

"You 'met' me after I'd had six years of this shit. While I was certainly disgruntled; the disgruntlement came after the problem with being able to get good work, not the reverse. If the assignment process had worked for me, I'd be a partner someplace now and I'd never have shown up here."

What about the whole hating your clients thing?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 2:01 PM
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64: My sense of the system (which, again, I haven't yet joined) is that you can stay "nominally" on the partner track for a good long while. Rather than a frank, potentially helpful talk about where your work might be deficient, you get increasingly boring assignments and the stigma associated with everybody knowing you're not going to make partner. Then you leave on your own, and the bosses never had to have an uncomfortable discussion. Keeping people on board until they figure out that they're not welcome and leave just part of the way things are done.

Also, on preview, Shearer's 67 is right. Mid-level to senior associates are profitable.


Posted by: MYB | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 2:02 PM
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Ugggh. Reading all this at my desk as a summer associate at the big law firm, I am disheartened. What am I doing in law school? I'm shy. I'm a thinker, I hate back-slappers: I'm setting myself up for major disappointments in a few years.

What's the solution for me? Sifu, help me pick a drug.


Posted by: ed bowlinger | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 2:04 PM
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70: Public interest!!

I saw a description of a local candidate for (I think) judge, recently, that said that he had "left private practice to become a DA in order to spend more time with his family" and I thought of the Unfogged lawyers immediately.


Posted by: bitchphd | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 2:09 PM
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63: I know the managing partner at one sort of medium-sized firm through church. Another of his partners is the Senior Warden of my church which requires a massive time commitment. (Somehow my church manages to get pretty busy people to do this work; the last one was head of primary care at M/G/H.) They bill a lot less than the really big firms, but none of them are poor. In fact, the managing partner was saying to me that he thought that the husband of one of the women who worked for them had to do obscene amounts of work at his firm.

I think that they probably work as hard as big law people did 20 years ago. Apparently, they've been ranked as an extremely ethical firm, whatever that means. The fiduciary duties of charities seems to be one of their specialties.

Anyway, tehy don't recruit at all. I don't think that they hire entry-level associates, though, of course, not everyone is a partner.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 2:11 PM
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70: Go part-time after a few years' experience.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 2:12 PM
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If they are billing her at 5 times what they are paying her how is that not advancing the interests of the firm?

Nonetheless, most firms exercise some form of "up or out" discipline. They need to prevent a "log jam" at the top of the pyramid to open up spots for junior people to advance. Let's say that there is not quite enough work to keep all the associates 100% (or 150%) billable. You could use the experienced, talented LB for the job, and let the eager-go-getter twiddle thumbs, or you could give the eager go-getter a "stretch role" and maintain his career momentum.

Also, there is an element of pour encourager les autres to the up-or-out policy.

Mid-level to senior associates are profitable.

There is a sweet spot in profitability between the totally green associate and the very experienced associate (who, unless he/she aspires to partnership, eventually tires of devoting his entire being to the firm).


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 2:14 PM
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"Big prestigious law firms hire the best law students from the best law schools then make 10% of them partner. That is your problem right there. You really can't expect to beat that kind of odds given that the competition neutralizes some of your your best skills coming in. Everybody is smart and hard working."

Smart is not a binary trait. Even at places like MIT some people are smarter than the rest and it makes a difference. I gather LB has always been near the top for smart everywhere she has been. It is natural (although often unrealistic) for someone like that to expect the pattern to continue. So perhaps she finally reached a level where she was only average and was unable to deal with that. Or perhaps she was still tops for smart but lacking in some other way. So LB how would you compare yourself to your peers? Was there any obvious trait associated with success?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 2:14 PM
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help me pick a drug

Jenkem, ed! You can grow your own.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 2:17 PM
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While the economic motivations (as identified above) are important, I strongly suspect that there's a social / cultural element, too.

Law firms are a sort of self-replicating voluntary association, akin to fraternal or religious groups. Senior people tend to have major portions of their ego and identity wraped up in the association, and want to perpetuate the sort of group that values them. Obviously, a group in which they are apppreciated and valued is a most discerning and wonderful group of people, and they want recruits who will maintain that quality.

In other words, we need to start a blog called What Senior Partners In Big Law Firms Like, so we can all learn to pass.


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 2:17 PM
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So perhaps she finally reached a level where she was only average and was unable to deal with that.

At a law firm, after being at MIT and U of C? Not very likely.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 2:19 PM
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76: I'm going to start looking for a place around the office to get that a-brewing.

Come to think of it, there's probably a ban-worthy analogy to be made between child soldiers in Africa, terrorized and hopped up on drugs, and young associates in big law firms.


Posted by: ed bowlinger | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 2:21 PM
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Come to think of it, there's probably a ban-worthy analogy to be made between child soldiers in Africa, terrorized and hopped up on drugs, and young associates in big law firms.

No, not really.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 2:23 PM
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So perhaps she finally reached a level where she was only average and was unable to deal with that.

That is an uncharitable way of putting it. "Smart" is a necessary, but far from sufficient condition for success in that kind of environment. Once you are over a certain threshold value for "smart", the marginal utility of "smart" relative to other traits drops off dramatically. Certain of the traits with a relatively high marginal utility might be considered virtues (discipline, focus, capacity for self-abnegation), while others are not so much(self-regard, shamelessness, willingness to claim credit for the accomplishments of others, capacity to suck up to superiors, willingness to stab peers in the back).

LB may well have found herself "only average" or even below average along any one or more of those dimensions. But it is only the warped perspective of the hierarchy of the Big Law firm (and our culture's celebration of success and wealth) that makes any of that meaningful. A lot of people discover that they aren't willing to "do what it takes" for reasons totally unrelated to their position on Herrnstein & Murray's Bell Curve.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 2:50 PM
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we need to start a blog called What Senior Partners In Big Law Firms Like

Someone already has (though it is dormant now).


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 2:58 PM
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There are a lot of jobs where I think that a total and untroubled commitment to the goals of the firm is a necessity. This might be especially true of firms doing problematic work. It seems likely to me that Liz's completely justified lack of enthusiasm for the firm's mission came through.

The worst I've seen is in sales. You have to have a total enthusiasm for the product, the company, the customers, your coworkers (according to rank and merit), your performance goals, everything. Talent and ability are nothing if you can't project.

Law isn't like that, but maybe LB just didn't seem like a comfortable fit.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 3:03 PM
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So perhaps she finally reached a level where she was only average and was unable to deal with that.

The competition to make partner in in a big lawfirm isn't really based on IQ. It mainly has to do with people skills, leadership ability, personality fit with the big lawfirm environment, charisma, and luck.

This guy has a model of IQ and earnings that makes sense to me:

http://www.halfsigma.com/2006/08/the_tracks_theo.html

According to this guy, jobs effectively have qualifying IQs. As long as you have the qualifying IQ for the job, additional IQ doesn't help you out that much.

Knecht Ruprecht is right about the economics of big law firms in 63.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 3:07 PM
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I have a family member who is a partner at a large law firm. The only thing I can contribute to this conversation is that even partners at these prestigious law firms have to work their butts off. It is not unheard of to be pushed out as a partner. And if you've already invested most of your life becoming a partner, chances are you're going to spend your 40's and 50's making sure that you maintain your position as a partner. In the end, it's a miserable way to make a living.

So don't plan on rising to the top of a large law firm. And, really, why would you want to? It's full of lawyers up there.


Posted by: 56 and sunny | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 3:07 PM
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Oh wow. Really enjoyed this post. Can't wait to read this thread. But, I have some underproductive lawyering to remedy...


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 3:15 PM
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I am completely powned by KR in 81.

re 85
Making partner has been called a pie eating contest where the prize is more pie.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 3:17 PM
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I'm pretty surprised to see so much talk of (a) sexism as the reason and (b) the notion that being successful at a law firm is about being a go-getting back-slapper. LB's sentiment is shared by about 90% of lawyers I know in private practice, male or female. The problem is that, unlike a large corporation, there are two levels of authority -- the associate, who has none, and the partner, who has it all. It is so profoundly unsatisfying to be "highly qualified" or "highly educated" and be endlessly bossed, with nothing that is your own. That is the fate of all associates, until they make partner.

And as for making partner, the idea that it's the guy who glad-hands a room full of people and is always at "lunch" with "connections" or something -- I mean, have you met lawyers? People become lawyers because they do not have faith that they can make it on those kind of intangibles. This is why the majority of successful (rich) lawyers cannot manage or interact with or relate to people well -- which is why their employees are miserable. They are successful because people need them -- for an arcane tax issue, etc. -- not because people want to be around them.


Posted by: dan | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 3:20 PM
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81 (& 84): Not specific to law firms, but thanks for coherently stating my thoughts on the obsessive focus on ranking of IQs/SATs/whatever. The threshold analysis accords much more closely to my experience.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 3:27 PM
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Once you are over a certain threshold value for "smart", the marginal utility of "smart" relative to other traits drops off dramatically.

Very true. I've noticed that what seems to get the most me the most effusive recognition these days is the one big pre-trial matter I'm involved in, for which my responsibilities consist of various forms of cat-herding, and where what I would call simply 'not being an idiot about things' and heading off unnecessary crises (law firms are incubators for unnecessary crises) seem to make people very, very happy, far out of proportion to what I'd have expected. In contrast, a nicely done brief--where 'smart' is more of a direct input--is appreciated and acknowledged, but also not exactly cause for celebration.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 3:36 PM
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78

""So perhaps she finally reached a level where she was only average and was unable to deal with that."

At a law firm, after being at MIT and U of C? Not very likely."

Actually I agree. An alternative, she was used to environments where being tops for smart was an overwhelming advantage (possibly leading her to neglect other important attributes) and was unable to adjust to an environment where just being smart was not enough.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 3:54 PM
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Shorter James: Somewhere, somehow, it's all about the "smarts".


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 3:58 PM
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Geez, tough crowd (eg 88).

I know what I think 'failure to take ownership' means, but it's not really fair to attribute it to the dopes who failed to appreciate LB's talents.

I'd be interested to hear some argument to the effect that the attributes a firm is looking for when considering who to bring into the ownership of the business are fundamentally different from those a customer is looking for when hiring a lawyer.

I really wish I knew how to deal with the primary caregiver problem: the customers aren't interested in our lives or lifestyles, they want a TRO and they want it tomorrow. (In government contracts, the limitations period from the meeting with the government over why they didn't pick you, until you have to have your case on file, is five days. That's the less intense version: you could go for a TRO, in which case you have to fit three times as much work into twice the time. And of course you have no idea whether there will be a case even a week earlier). During trial you're either meeting with witnesses, arguing with the opposition about exhibits and instructions, or in the courtroom from 8 am to 10 or 11 pm.

It makes perfect sense that someone who can't afford to spend that kind of time, or have that kind of flexibility, would prefer an in-house position, or something in one of the quieter specialties.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 4:00 PM
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Shorter James: I refuse to join you liberal mollycoddlers in seeking structural explanations to excuse personal failures.


Posted by: Knecht Ruprecht | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 4:02 PM
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Cat herding is a big damn deal. Anyone can write a brief, but keeping little things from turning into big ones: that's what earns the pay.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 4:04 PM
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81

"... Once you are over a certain threshold value for "smart", the marginal utility of "smart" relative to other traits drops off dramatically. ... "

Depends on the job, many jobs are designed for people at a certain smartness level and have limited opportunity to utilize greater amounts of smarts. Others not so much, but the advantage of being smarter may show up as being able to produce the same amount with less effort than as greater output. Of course this advantage is vitiated when you have to log your time working to the tenth of an hour.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 4:09 PM
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94 nails it. Well done, KR!


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 4:11 PM
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There are a lot of human talents that go into the thing other than smarts. I can't tell you how much time I have to spend talking really smart people out of doing dumb things.

There are also the survival skills. I filed a motion for summary judgment last week, on limitations grounds. The case was two days late, and I'd guess that some associate at the big firm opposite me is to blame for not reading the applicable provision carefully enough (they certainly knew about the claim far enough in advance, and won't have a good tolling argument). Whether he or she can survive this will depend on a number of things, I suppose. (The face value of the claim is 7 or 8 figures, even though they could have filed in a different way on the very same day, the way they did it means that the claim is forever forfeit.) I wonder if the associate even knows . . .


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 4:13 PM
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James, while you're passing judgment on people who've written interesting, incredibly personal posts for all of our benefit, perhaps you'd take a moment to explain your own apparent success -- given that you seem to be an insufferable prick, without an ounce of humility. No offense, of course.


Posted by: Ari | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 4:17 PM
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98

"... I procrastinate, so I have a tendency to push deadlines, but I never missed a deadline in a way that made getting the work product out the door on time a problem, and I do better with deadlines the more stuff I have to do - pressure works for me. ..."

Well if you want more work making a point of finishing the work you have quickly would probably help. You were billing less than the other associates, were you producing less output?

"... doing a good job on the assignments I did get and hassling the assignment partner for more assignments was insufficient. ..."

Was the assignment partner familiar with how much you were billing? If he was giving you 3000 hours of work for a typical associate and you were handing stuff in at deadlines it would be normal to discount requests for more work.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 4:24 PM
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Well, as a former attorney (and a big firm one at that) and partner to a woman who's a partner at a very large firm, I'd say yes, sexism is a big part of the dissatisfaction. You get these fall associate classes that are half women and by the time they approach partnership, most of the women are gone. Why? They get mommy-tracked - often pre-emptively (that is, mommy-tracked before they've done the mommy part) and/or they're not getting good assignments b/c they never got mentored well. No one's taking them under their wing to give them good work, good training and to keep them from being farmed out to the yearlong doc review assignments.

And yes, mentorship usually falls along gender lines, so even when you get mentored by a female senior associate or partner, how often do they themselves get disenfranchised enough to leave? I've seen it happen a lot. It's incredibly demoralizing for the junior female associates who hitched their fates to these more senior women.

On the flip side, watching the GF do her thing, she openly acknowledges that she has to work harder than the men do. She also believes that you have to play the politics. Certain partners need to be made happy. Certain partners will never be made happy (so try to avoid working with them altogether). Stop complaining and go to work.

In some ways, these things make the whole idea of working at a big law firm sound untenable but the upside is that she's getting bigger and sexier cases, and playing a bigger and better role in all of them. She may hate the hours and the politics, but man, the girl loves her work. And she can't wait to REALLY get more clout so she can be the go-to female partner that all the junior female associates aspire to be. (And in doing so, make the place a little less sexist and more of a meritocracy.)

The other thing which you might find interesting is that in mentoring her own junior associates, she's already picked which ones are the lifers and which ones aren't. These are women who've been with the firm for 8 months - and already they're being sorted. You probably also got sorted, right or wrong, in about that much time.

I guess to LB, I'd say that your experience might have been affected by so many factors out of your control - the absence a strong partner who was willing to mentor (and protect) you, you somehow giving off an impression - right or wrong - that you weren't 'lifer' material, not getting the right case at the right time to showcase your skills, etc. It could also be that if the firms weren't that busy, you, as the efficient worker, wouldn't look good. Also, I've seen some people lateral into a firm and get stuck with a toxic partner and they've no choice but to leave after a year or two. There's literally nowhere for them to go within that firm. (This must sound insane to non-biglaw peeps, but it happens a LOT. I used to be a legal recruiter, briefly, and #1 mistake attys made when lateralling was underestimating importance of vetting the partner they'd be working for.)

Sorry for the long post - but this is a subject near and dear to my heart.


Posted by: Moira | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 4:28 PM
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99

What limited success I have achieved is largely due to being in environments where being smart can compensate (at least partially) for other personal failings.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 4:33 PM
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Oh, and re James' comments re the 'SMAHTS,' I went to a much better law school than the GF did. My LSATs were higher, my undergrad better, etc. She thinks I'm smarter than she is. And I was a failure by law firm standards while she THRIVES at a law firm. It's not about smarts alone. It's a bit about playing the game, about loving the game.

At the end of the day, you gotta have wa.


Posted by: Moira | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 4:33 PM
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102: A good and seemingly fair answer. Thank you.


Posted by: Ari | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 4:35 PM
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It's incredibly demoralizing for the junior female associates who hitched their fates to these more senior women.

I would say this is true for anyone whose mentor leaves or is forced out before you are "ready". Similarly, in Fortune 500 types, when one gets promoted, the team moves up, including the downlines. Some are frozen out without ever even realizing they were in competition. But this is pointy hair boss stuff.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 4:37 PM
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102 - The message may be the same for everyone, but where the mentor is one of, say, four female partners in an 85 attorney office, the subtext is 'see? Women can't cut it here.' I know the comeback to that is that it's the same in any industry dominated by men, but this is an industry where there are more women than men in law school, where the incoming classes have gender parity.


Posted by: Moira | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 4:49 PM
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whoops - meant in re 105 on that last one. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to exercise my lesbian prerogative (one of them at least) and go to the hardware store.


Posted by: Moira | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 4:50 PM
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A member of my extended family has been an associate in several law firms in Manhattan as a single mother for about the past 15 years (she had a number of years of mixed experience before that, some on the prosecution side). Her experience has been similar in some ways (note "firms") and different in others to LB's (and others) noted here, but the recurring element that I have seen is that the environment is even less tolerant of many kinds of deviation from the norms of the office than most business environments (JE's mention of sales is appropriate as one notable exception). She has made it, but has had to work through a fair number of issues that went right to self-esteem and overall psychological health. Even where her work has been "appreciated", it is clear that they just do not know what to make of her choices (and needs) with regard to time and family commitments.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 5:00 PM
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108: That sounds familiar. Someone called me a "renegade" last fall.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 5:11 PM
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109 -- And does that shoe not fit?

101 -- I'm not surprised that your GF can tell right away. Although she might be wrong about one person or another, I think I can tell pretty early too. I don't think your GF is being sexist in formulating her observation, though, do you?


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 5:25 PM
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110: It fits. When I was a kid it would have been the best thing I'd ever heard, and now it doesn't seem that great, but it fits.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 5:32 PM
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I'm not surprised that your GF can tell right away. Although she might be wrong about one person or another, I think I can tell pretty early too.

Isn't sorting that early a self-fulfilling prophecy? Not that that makes it necessarily inaccurate, but you can't really tell how accurate it is by looking at the results,

On the sexism front, I can't say one way or the other that it had any effect on my lack of success; I never had much in the way of explicitly sexist-seeming interactions, but I can't rule it out.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 5:42 PM
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LB--how was smaller than BigLaw private practice life?


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 5:49 PM
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110: How can you tell? I'm starting at a firm this fall and would really like to succeed.


Posted by: August | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 5:54 PM
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On the sexism front, I can't say one way or the other that it had any effect on my lack of success; I never had much in the way of explicitly sexist-seeming interactions, but I can't rule it out.

Most of it's not explicit, though. Thinking back, how often were you invited to go have a drink with partners at your firm? Or to a client meeting? How often did your male colleagues get invited? If you did go, how much did you have to worry about scurrilous rumors? How often did you hear scurrilous rumors? At what rate were other women in your firm(s) advancing as compared to their male peers?

You get these fall associate classes that are half women and by the time they approach partnership, most of the women are gone.

Sigh. I just lunched with our summer associate class today. "Half" women seems like rainbows and ponies from where I sat. Exactly 20% female. And this after the bells and whistles parades all year about how we are recommitting ourselves to diversity. Ha!


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 6:04 PM
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113:Hard to generalize about. The little firm I was in, while there were about ten lawyers, better than half of the work for associates came from one guy, who I did not successfully develop a good working relationship with. I had my best experience with private practice there, though, on a big case that went to trial and involved such a crushing workload that the work couldn't be rationed out or closely supervised.

That was nice; one time when I felt as if I was actually getting things done.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 6:23 PM
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114 -- Your job is to make your superiors look good, with as little effort on their part as possible. Superiors including clients, who outrank everyone. Beyond that, it's individual chemistry. Just remember, it's never about you. Or, especially, how smart you are. Oh, and know the law. And remember all the facts they tell you, and trust but verify.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 6:27 PM
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112 -- I could tell before I had anything to do with making partners and firing associates. But now, yes, I'm part of a pretty proactive system. I don't like drift, and once we know it's not going to work out with someone, we're all better off implementing an exit strategy. Sure mid and senior associates are profitable, but guess what: I can make exactly as much money with someone I think is going to make me a bunch more money in the future. Slots are limited, and I don't really want them filled with people who don't have a future.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 6:36 PM
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And go out of your way to get involved in the social opportunities in the beginning -- it'll be easiest to do right when you start before you get swallowed by the work, and it's part of how you build the chemistry. Don't be afraid to ask questions -- though the trick is finding out who the people are who are genuinely eager to help a new kid.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 6:38 PM
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117 continued -- Take really good notes.

And you really have to love the work. Which can be forced in the same way you can force yourself to love another human being: hardly at all.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 6:41 PM
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118: Sure mid and senior associates are profitable, but guess what: I can make exactly as much money with someone I think is going to make me a bunch more money in the future.

Right. Whatever happened with me, it can't possibly have been a sensible economic decision for the firm I was at -- they should either have been giving me enough work to let me bill at a respectable rate, or should have shown me the door to replace me with someone else who they would have given work (and they really weren't interested in getting me out of there at any speed at all. Part of the reason I was so intent on leaving was looking at the Awful Warning, a fourteenth-year associate who hadn't been doing any real lawyering for about a decade. God knows what her next job is going to be, but she won't be a litigator -- she was pretty much professionally broken. And I could see ending up like her.)

I can't see any way that having highly paid senior associates hanging around not billing much makes sense for anyone.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 6:42 PM
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I called the people you last worked for dopes above, LB, and I think that was very charitable.

My colleagues and I are far from perfect, but we're not making this kind of mistake.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 6:46 PM
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I am not a big firm partner, like Napi, so he speaks with greater authority than I, but I was a big firm associate before becoming a small firm associate and partner. From that perspective the only thing I would quibble with in the sage advice in 117 and 120 is the idea that it's significantly about individual chemistry. Getting along with bosses and clients is important, no doubt, but I would say that all of the other things listed in 117 and 120 are more important than chemistry.

Re: 113: Full disclosure: much of the time at that firm LB worked with (and often more of less for) me. So, you know, what can she say . . . (except 116, which is about the case on which we worked most closely together) I will add that ever since she left our firm, I have been trying to convince LizardBreath to come back. Alas, to no avail. (but I'm happy to see that she is happy in her new job)


Posted by: Idealist | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 6:47 PM
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two points;

1: people promote people who are like themselves. Every morning, we in the stockbroking industry have a meeting with the HR people where we say "how can we get more women and minorities into the firm? How? How can we solve this seemingly insoluble problem, Beavis?". Every afternoon we have a meeting with the HR people where we say "we need two more salesmen on German accounts. does anyone have any mates at other firms who they think are good?". the connection between the two is never noticed.

2. I think it was Norman W Dixon who noticed that "personal responsibility" is a phrase used by the military, with the rough meaning "not complaining about obviously unjust treatment". "Taking ownership" appears to me to have a similar taint.

and for a bonus, don't underestimate pure QWERTY effects here. I am not a director at my current firm, but I was a director of Laz / ard when I was 33 and I am the same insufferable cunt now that I was then. The difference in career paths (and the difference in career paths between me and everyone I've ever known in the broking 'n' banking industry, some of whom are zillionaires and some of whom have left the industry) basically comes down to "at time X, things zigged rather than zagged".


Posted by: derauqsd | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 6:48 PM
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Meh. Join my firm. The more one complains about work, the more likely one is to get buried. I always consider it a blessing when 'they' go to someone else.


Posted by: Kitty Darfour | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 6:49 PM
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121

"I can't see any way that having highly paid senior associates hanging around not billing much makes sense for anyone."

What does "not billing much" actually mean?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 6:49 PM
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I would add that in all probability, my single greatest asset in forging what I laughingly refer to as my career is a pathological inability to say "no" to anything.


Posted by: derauqsd | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 6:51 PM
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much of the time at that firm LB worked with (and often more of less for) me.

Not really -- we worked together on that big trial, and on some stuff the next fall, but hardly anything before that. You know the guy I was talking about. Obviously, I had a blast working with you -- this is why I can overlook your troglyditic politics.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 6:51 PM
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I'm concerned that if I go home at 6 or 6:30 as a matter of routine I'll look lazy, uncommitted, like my heart isn't in it.

AAAAGH!!!


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 6:56 PM
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126: Normal for a big firm associate is somewhere around 2000; a well-thought of associate who's being relied on will go up from there, with lunatic workaholics (present company excepted from that description) clocking in over 3000. I probably had a career average around 1500, and that's with a couple of higher billing years in there.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 6:56 PM
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we worked together on that big trial, and on some stuff the next fall

Right, and some stuff before that (remember the case where we were going to be co-counsel with your first firm that ended up settling and the crazy clients whose dream was a hot dog stand on Sixth Avenue). So about a year out of two and a half. That's much. So there!

I had a blast working with you

Thanks. And yet you refuse my pleas that you return. Why represent the state when you can represent clients like ours. I bet you will never get as much experience defending motions for contempt of court representing the state.


Posted by: Idealist | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 6:57 PM
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131: Okay, one of those cases consisted of one meeting before MyFirstFirm cut us out completely, and I don't think I did anything on the hot-dog/billboard case but one reply brief. Mostly, I was working for that other guy.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 7:01 PM
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127: Making your recent weightloss entirely inexplicable. Congratulations, by the way, although it's a shame to lose a good tagline like that.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 7:02 PM
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Mostly, I was working for that other guy

OK. Still, ten lawyers and all you can do is remember the one sociopath. So picky!


Posted by: Idealist | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 7:03 PM
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Is MyFirstFirm like an Easy Bake oven?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 7:05 PM
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112/118: Yes, the sorting is probably a self-fulfilling prophecy in some respects. She's guessing who's got potential to be a lifer and then by mentoring them, hopes to fulfill that potential.

But also, and I can't say this strongly enough, firms have distinct personalities and within them, practice groups, and within them, partners with their own little teams. Some people simply won't fit in culturally at certain firms/practice groups/partner teams, and the on-campus interviewing process doesn't help at all. Moreover, what do you expect?

You're in law school, thrilled to get a summer gig with that top firm, you're not exactly clear whether you want to do real estate law or securities litigation (you really have no idea what either entails), but this firm gets good scores on NALP and they've got nice alumni who came to campus, so you go. Three years later, you don't understand why you're specializing in insurance litigation. Oh, wait - that nice partner you met when you were a summer took you under his wing...


Posted by: Moira | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 7:12 PM
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134: He was the one who generated all the work. If I could have worked exclusively for the enigmatic genius, that would have been entirely different.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 7:13 PM
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James, while you're passing judgment on people who've written interesting, incredibly personal posts for all of our benefit, perhaps you'd take a moment to explain your own apparent success -- given that you seem to be an insufferable prick, without an ounce of humility. No offense, of course.

It's important to have a job that suits your strengths and weaknesses. Analytic intelligence and underdeveloped people skills go well with a job as a research mathematician / computer programmer.

BigLaw associate is one of those jobs where the attributes that get you on the career track are not the same as the ones that lead to career success.


Posted by: water moccasin | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 7:15 PM
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This is getting into the lottery / relationship area.Firms are structurally organized to hire ten and keep one. Why fuss about who wins in musical chairs? There aren't enough chairs. The system was designed to hurt a bunch of people, and LB was one of them. Unless they run short of good partners at some point, they don't care why they hire someone or why they fire someone. They just do it. Maybe LB would have been as good or better than whoever they did hire, but I'm sure they're satisficing.

I'm starting to feel like an nagging Buddha here, but life is full of games which are designed so that most people lose. LB played one of them and lost. Big whoop.

American life especially, because competition governs almost everything here, and the whole thing about competition is that it produces more losers than winners.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 7:21 PM
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If I could have worked exclusively for the enigmatic genius, that would have been entirely different.

Aw shucks, I do not think of myself as enigmatic . . . . Oh, wait. You mean the other genius. Yes. That is very nice.


Posted by: Idealist | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 7:22 PM
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"Nagging Buddha" is a fantastic concept. I'm trying to figure out what the shrine looks like.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 7:22 PM
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I'd love to hear Not Prince Hamlet's thoughts on this too.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 7:24 PM
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BigLaw associate is one of those jobs where the attributes that get you on the career track are not the same as the ones that lead to career success.

My first reaction to this was to say that it is exactly right. But my quibble with it on reflection is the definition of success. I do not necessarily view a BigLaw associate failing to become a BigLaw partner as failure. The main purpose of being a BigLaw associate is to get great training on how to practice a certain kind of law, not to become a BigLaw partner. Indeed, the big firm at which I worked never pretended that it was much of anything else. That honesty--and the great training and opportunities to lawyer--are a big part of what I liked about it.

Do I wish that I had stayed and made partner at my first firm. Sure. It is one of the country's great law firms. But I certainly do not view myself as a failure because I am now a partner in a small firm. Nor is LizardBreath a failure for become a government lawyer rather than a partner at the McFirm she just left. Maybe I'm just sort of agreeing with some of what Emerson in saying in 139.


Posted by: Idealist | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 7:34 PM
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143: Not making partner is one thing, but I didn't get much in the way of lawyering experience at the big firms I was at -- really, I've spent a decade writing briefs and not much else. Getting the education and doing something with it other than making BigLaw partner is one thing; not getting the education feels like unambiguous non-success.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 7:39 PM
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The system was designed to hurt a bunch of people....

John, I have no reason to love the system, but I think that overstates the case quite a bit.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 7:49 PM
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If they hire ten to keep one, that's what it is. The cruelty is structural. A lot of stuff is like that.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 7:51 PM
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But it's not "to keep one", it's "to make one fabulously wealthy". They keep most or all of them, for various purposes.


Posted by: Ardent reader | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 7:54 PM
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146: That assumes that the one kept is blessed and those not kept are damned, and that seems (nay, is) hyperbole. I appreciate your devotion to the dialectic, though.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 7:56 PM
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No they don't. A BigLaw firm doesn't have a lot of lawyers over forty who aren't partners. Some 'of counsel', and the occasional geriatric associate like the Awful Warning I mentioned above, but mostly if you don't make partner, you go someplace else.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 7:56 PM
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Flippanter, LB doesn't seem to be too happy with a ten-year period of her life, and I'm just explaining that the system is designed so that it inevitably puts a lot of people into the situation she's not too happy with.

A lot of this structural brutality comes up in the academic world too.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 8:04 PM
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LB doesn't seem to be too happy with a ten-year period of her life,

Eh, I had my feelings hurt and was kind of depressed -- on the other hand it was indoor work with no heavy lifting , and I paid off my student loans. I can't bitch too much.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 8:08 PM
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Of Counsel means a lot of things. I know someone who was a managing partner of a large law firm. At some point he stepped down from that. He's still head of the mutual fund company he founded. I remember when he stepped down, because he had to step down from being a trustee of trusts set up by my great-grandfather which explicitly required that the trustees be partners of his firm.

The guy's in his 80's, he runs every day and keeps an office that he's in a lot, and he serves on a lot of boards. He worked 7 days a week through his 70's so that he could keep his commitments to the firm and do his charitable work. He just wasn't up to keeping his obligations to the firm as a partner. Anyway, he's got many millions.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 8:08 PM
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You could have been landscaping and close to nature, naturally building your strength through wholesome work. And no school loans!


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 8:09 PM
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139

"... The system was designed to hurt a bunch of people, and LB was one of them. ..."

To quibble, the system is designed to be selective and hurting people is a side effect.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 8:19 PM
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No such thing as side effects. Just effects.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 8:21 PM
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150.2 is totally right. And for that reason, this whole thread has hit a little too close to home for my comfort (which might be why I reacted as I did to James's comment).


Posted by: Ari | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 8:27 PM
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121

"... Part of the reason I was so intent on leaving was looking at the Awful Warning, a fourteenth-year associate who hadn't been doing any real lawyering for about a decade. God knows what her next job is going to be, but she won't be a litigator -- she was pretty much professionally broken. And I could see ending up like her.)"

What was so awful about her? By your account you were well paid, there are worse things than well paid dead end jobs.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 8:55 PM
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Most people find spending most of their waking hours in a position where they're useless and held in contempt wearing after a while, whatever the pay; she certainly seemed unhappy with it.

Admittedly, it's a First World problem. Not up there with finding potable water for your family. But it still looked like a situation I wanted to avoid.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 8:58 PM
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158

"Most people find spending most of their waking hours in a position where they're useless and held in contempt wearing after a while, whatever the pay; she certainly seemed unhappy with it."

So the firm really wanted her to quit but was unwilling to fire her?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 9:01 PM
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I would think, though, that academia is quite different in that no matter how exciting the next 3 people are who join the UC faculty in tenure track positions, there are only going to be so many slots when it comes time to decide about tenure. Partnership in a law firm is wide open. I'm asked to vote on incoming lateral partners every month. There aren't 'openings' only candidates with appropriate financials and chemistry.

Moving associates up is different, but really only because their business profiles are way less developed than the lateral candidates we see. So it's a leap of faith, and while we'll know the person better, and know his or her legal skills better, the business aspect is what the selection is really about. Good lawyers are a dime a dozen. Good lawyer-business people are far rarer. And the first step, of course, is wanting to be one. Really wanting it, not just sort of thinking that it's the next step on a ladder that began back in pre-kindergarten.

I suppose Emerson would say that major league baseball is designed to hurt people too. All those people try out, and some get minor league gigs, and then so few make the big leagues much less the hall of fame.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 9:07 PM
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Seriously, I have no idea what the firm wanted. They gave her junior associate work, and the partners who she worked for treated her badly interpersonally. (I don't actually know what her competence level was, either originally or after years of this, I didn't work on cases with her.) I can't think that this was productive for anyone, but she wasn't getting fired in any direct sense.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 9:10 PM
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Liz, your first firm wasn't as badly run was it? Nor was your second as opaque in its expectations and interests?


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 9:13 PM
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OT: your depressing/scary enviro-horror post for the day.


Posted by: strasmangelo jones | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 9:13 PM
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160: "It's designed to break your heart."


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 9:19 PM
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Thanks, Stras. I'm going to drown myself in the bidet now.


Posted by: Ari | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 9:20 PM
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You could have been landscaping and close to nature, naturally building your strength through wholesome work. And no school loans!

OTOH: Melanoma!


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 9:20 PM
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160: "It's designed to break your heart."

I call academia "The Wheel of Pain" now. Thankfully there's basically no chance I'll stay on it a second longer than it takes for the ink to dry on my thesis.


Posted by: TJ | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 9:23 PM
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162: I was junior enough when I left my first firm that I don't have an informed opinion of how it was run -- the impression I got was that it was saner than my final firm. I left because I was dissatisfied with the work I was getting, and even as a third year I was already noticeably not under anyone's wing, but from a career point of view there's a good shot I would have been better off sticking around there and stalking some partner until I frightened them into letting me do some work.

I wouldn't call the second firm opaque, precisely; it was small enough that talking about the firm's goals and so forth doesn't mean much. It was a bunch of people -- three or four, really, with any effect on my work-life.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 9:28 PM
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Twenty five year olds who've never had a job before are getting $160k. With lockstep raises every year. And a chance to play for much more if they can just figure out how. It's not really much like academia at all, is it?


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 9:29 PM
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163: That shit is giving me nightmares.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 9:29 PM
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Just wait for the McCain administration to announce its Green Skies Initiative.


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 9:32 PM
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To quibble, the system is designed to be selective and hurting people is a side effect.

To quibble even further, the system wasn' designed. It developed as a result of a lot of individual decisions (most of which were probably poorly understood even by those deciding) and it functions in such a way as to reproduce itself. Much the way that those who were abused as children go on to become child abusers.


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 9:32 PM
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$160K?!?

That sort of thing...well, it makes me wonder what would prevent me from paying back my entire student loans in my first two years, or even one year since I don't have any loans from undergraduate.

Are new lawyers forced to start spending eight times as much money on food, housing and clothes as they did when they were in law school? Sure, you have to buy some suits, but aside from that, how is that not an investment that pays for itself virtually immediately?


Posted by: Ardent reader | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 9:33 PM
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"how is that not an investment"..."that" = "law school"


Posted by: Ardent reader | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 9:36 PM
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173: First, that's just BigLaw, not most law firm graduates.

On a BigLaw salary, with no kids I probably could have burned through my loans very quickly -- hiring a fulltime nanny slowed things down. And people acquire mortgages, that kind of thing. It's amazingly easy to spend money, particularly if you're busy,


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 9:40 PM
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173

"... how is that not an investment that pays for itself virtually immediately?"

Only a select few get the 160K a year jobs.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 9:44 PM
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OT: your depressing/scary enviro-horror post for the day.

Everyone, don't kill yourselves quite yet. The cause of the end Triassic even is still debated. Lots of links here that discuss various theories.

http://www.uky.edu/KGS/education/EndTriassic.htm

Yes, CO2 from massive volcanic events might have been a causative factor. But, keep in mind that CO2 levels above 1000 ppm was a feature of the atmosphere for the entire Mesozoic, and the planet was not a wasteland. I'm too lazy to find a better graph, but squint at this small one. Note that a hell of a lot of periods with a rich and varied biology have extremely high CO2 levels.

http://palaeo.gly.bris.ac.uk/Palaeofiles/Triassic/images/camp3.jpg


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 10:05 PM
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173

Here is more about how law school can be a bad investment from the blogger Half Sigma who was mentioned earlier. Warning most of the unfoggedtariat will find his politics even more deplorable than mine.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 10:05 PM
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Oh sure, plenty of people are getting law degrees that aren't worth any more than a Humanities BA from Emerson's Last Chance University. Do well at a good school, though, and you can get a shot at the heartbreak sweepstakes.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 10:19 PM
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Emerson is right that this is structural. There is no reason to to take it personally. Ten to one odds.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 10:21 PM
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One way to make partner.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 10:54 PM
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I would think, though, that academia is quite different in that

associate is almost always a tenured position. I think Harvard is the big exception here.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-29-08 11:34 PM
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Regarding the issue of the "failure" of the 9/10ths of associates who don't make partner.

My metier is consulting, not law, so there are some significant differences involved (you don't need to invest three years and gazillions in debt to qualify for an entry position, most people start out in the job without an expectation of remaining for life, there is no particular sense of shame associated with using the job as a springboard to something else).

Nevertheless, I think the comparison is instructive. The people that I have observed "failing" come in several species (and I am deliberately leaving out the self-selected departures, which consist mostly of people who never intended to stay in it for the long haul, and (tragically) women who want to have children and can't see a way to make that compatible with their continued employment):

1. Didn't have the smahts. This is by far the rarest case, because the hiring process weeds them out pretty effectively. (For better or for worse, they have tended to come from "non-core" colleges, which reinforces the tendency to restrict hiring to Ivy League and similar; we let their admissions committee do the hard work of selecting for smarts.)

2. Didn't know what they were signing up for. There are various subspecies here: too much of a free spirit to conform, not willing to sacrifice personal life for career, etc. This is also pretty rare.

3. Assholes. This isn't a career-ender in every firm, but it is in ours. If someone can't play nice with their team colleagues, or if they condescend to the client, they're out.

4. People with bad luck. As noted above, their career zigged instead of zagged. They got staffed to an impossible assignment, or they had bad chemistry with a case manager. They get a single bad review that shakes their confidence, they get a reputation as difficult, and one bad thing leads to another. This is probably the largest single category.

5. People who give too much and expect too much of themselves. This is a sadly commonplace species. They tend to be among the smartest and nicest new hires. They have an incredible work ethic and desire to please. Many of them are from small towns or from Flyover Country. They aren't the crazy workaholics, but the well-mannered high achievers. They get staffed on a case and do incredible work. They are smart and fast learners. But they never figure out that the workload is theoretically limitless--that it is never possible to do every validating analysis, to verify every possible assumption--so they never stop working. We attempt to coach them to apply the "80-20 rule", but they can't internalize the appropriate standard of "good enough". So they burn themselves out.

Taken together, out of 10 new hires, I would estimate that seven self-select out at some point along the way, two "fail" in some sense (most of those categories 4 or 5), and one makes partner.


Posted by: kecnht urpercht | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 5:45 AM
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.Assholes. This isn't a career-ender in every firm, but it is in ours.

I have been told this during the interview process at nearly every firm I've worked for and it has never once been true.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 6:07 AM
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it has never once been true

1. You're in banking, what did you expect?

2. My firm is not, alas, entirely free of assholes, but AFAICT they are all lateral hires, i.e. they brought a book of business with them. You genuinely cannot make it through the ranks here as an asshole; the career assessment procedures are too biased against it. Unless, I suppose, you can keep your assholeness concealed from your evaluators until such time as you have a book of business of your own, or your assholeness is dormant and springs to life once you have a book of business of your own.


Posted by: kecnht urpercht | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 6:20 AM
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In track and field, in a given decade everyone in a given event is an objectively proven failure except for a few people (the Olympic champions and the world-record setters). In some events one individual dominates for a decade or more.

On the other hand, unlike law, sports are intrinsically fun. And you can have a lot of small victories on the way to your defeat.

Look at the worst basketball team or baseball team in pro sports. Look at the worst player on that team -- the 12th man in basketball. He was probably a champion in middle school, high school, and probably college, but now he's a famous joke that everyone in the world laughs at.

Competition creates losers and winners, but structurally, more losers.

For LB, law is fun in a way it wouldn't be for me, but I doubt that it's something she'd so on her own free time, the way people do sports.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 6:47 AM
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Assholes, too, are structurally necessary, because of the shit produced by these unclean professions.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 6:52 AM
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BTW, LB self-selected out. She wasn't fired or squeezed out. Nonetheless, she was clearly one of the 90% who lost.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 6:54 AM
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There must be tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of law school grads not working as lawyers in the sense most people would expect—representing clients in some way. Yet they—we—are not often among the homeless, so they must be doing something.

I had a decent career in legal publishing, until that industry radically downsized. It's been hard to find something else, but I'm not much worse-off than many whose careers soared far higher, or seemed to. What I mostly see is a vast waste of talent, of the adaptability and practicality, and shear smahts lawyers have as a class.


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 7:00 AM
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Sure, you have to buy some suits, but aside from that, how is that not an investment that pays for itself virtually immediately?

Not everyone ends up being the BigLaw hire, but even granting that, there's a lot packed into 'buy some suits.' One of my friends went to law school, and landed a solid job at a firm in Philly. And so, we were happy that he was now a rich lawyer boy, but then being nerds, we sat down and did the math. Once we added up all the stuff he had to buy to keep up appearances that I didn't: the clothes, the car, the parking, the daily lunches out, the gas for the car, the gym membership, &c., we realized he had about as much discretionary spending as I did.

Nonetheless, she was clearly one of the 90% who lost.

For some value of it, sure, but $80K (or whatever it was) on a government job where she's happy is hardly wailing and gnashing of teeth territory.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 7:13 AM
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A fair proportion of lawyers go into the biz because they had nothing better to do. Perhaps in most cases the profession works for them, in that even if they don't make it as lawyers their credential helps them in some other job.

Of the half-dozen lawyers-to-be I used to know that come immediately to mind, it seems that two did well, one or two made good use of their degree outside law, and two or three were wasting their time. Two of them porobably were never very serious anyway.

However, LB was a talented person who really wanted to compete at a high level, yet it's not surprising that she didn't, nor can we (except Shearer) conclude that she did something wrong or wasn't good enough. Furthermore, my guess is that at that level, most of the lawyers who self-select out started out pretty ambitious and feel a considerable degree of hurt. Two of the people I knew were unambitious small time players from the start.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 7:15 AM
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190: The premise of the thread is that LB went through some bad years and came out depressed and with her self-confidence shaken. My sil had a similar experience in academia and she's never really gotten over it, even though a perfectly good job grew out of her terminal MA degree. My point isn't mostly that competition is bad and wrong just that you don't want to invest too much in being successful because these are intrinsically cruel systems.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 7:19 AM
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I think you need a good sense of the total picture of a given firm to figure out what part of a failure to connect is coming from you, what part is coming from the general culture of the firm (or all firms) and what part is a matter of needing a specific senior mentor who comes to see you as a go-to person and has work available to direct to you.

I saw a lot of changes in the hours-billable work that the law firms my father was in did over the years. There was steady business and crazy-bubble business, and the crazy-bubble people looked busy as all hell for as long as the bubble lasted and then sat around doing nothing when it crashed (and then started dragging the rest down with them). Then there were lines of business that were started up in an investigatory way, to see if there was any chance of making inroads, and there wasn't.

Combine that dance with personalities and it got pretty complicated--in the steady lines of business, the senior partners probably only had room for a few associates to work with them, were only looking to mentor a couple of very reliable people who had the skills for that area (some of those lines were heavily oriented to litigation, others to bargaining or arbitration, etc.) Each senior person had a very different idea about what kind of people they liked to work with (and yes, sometimes that involved low-level institutional sexism, etc.)


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 7:27 AM
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192: Sure, I'll agree it's wise not to invest too much of one's self worth in a system where 90% of people aren't going to make partner. I have a hard time describing that as losing, let alone cruel; it's really not like investing your life in a sport at all.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 7:42 AM
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Actually, I'm not sure how useful the 90% figure really is. You're including people who move away because a spouse got a job in another city (which is a big deal in DC), people who switch to another firm and make partner there, people who feel a calling to do a different kind of work. (I have a favorite example of the latter. As you'd expect, intelligent senior associates start thinking about Plan B as they get close to the partnership vote, and even interviewing. One fellow at my firm got a Plan B offer to work for a non-profit representing poor people in S. Jersey. By the time they made the offer, he'd already made partner, but he took it anyway.) We lose plenty of people we'd like to keep to inhouse positions. And a non-trivial number of those come back after a year or two, none the worse for the experience.

The point remains, though, that most of the people we hire out of school have been in the 90th percentile most of their lives, and they obviously can't all be in the 90th percentile in our outfit as well. (I went with my older brother to his orientation as a freshman at Stanford. They felt the need to explain to new students that their lives would not be over if they got some Bs, or even a C.)


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 7:58 AM
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my guess is that at that level, most of the lawyers who self-select out started out pretty ambitious and feel a considerable degree of hurt.

I'm really not sure about that "most". An awful lot of incoming biglaw types have their eyes on something else down the road (either something comparatively non-mercenary like govt or teaching or public interest, or else something still mercenary but less intense, like in-house positions), and fully intend to leave the firm track after a few years of paying down loans, making connections, etc. Granted, that often enough changes when they get on the hedonic treadmill. But not all nine out of ten that can't make partner are having their life plans torn to shreds, by any stretch.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:00 AM
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I'm pretty sure I could be happy billing a 1500 lifetime average on a big firm salary for a long damn time. That's plenty of discretionary income and plenty of free time in which to enjoy it. If the policy isn't "up or out", I'm not sure I'd care all that much about the "up". The Awful Warning sounds to me like she's living the dream.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:16 AM
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people who switch to another firm and make partner there

this can't happen on a net basis if the industry-wide 90/10 ratio is correct though; every person who switches to another firm and becomes a partner there, occupies a slot which therefore can't be occupied by someone at that firm.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:18 AM
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My dad used to describe this 'problem' as 'what color is your Cadillac?'

Which is why I find the 'winners-losers-cruel, cruel structure' an unhelpful frame. (If LB finds that thinking of herself as a loser is helpful, more power to her, but I will be rolling my eyes at my screen in an uncharitable manner.) Sure, it hurts to find out that you're not the shit you thought you were, but you're still some pretty good shit, and 'life plans torn to shreds', even when it happens, means, what, being more successful than 95% of your countrymen?

I mean, seriously, another one of my college buddies designed his law career so he ended up somewhere like LB has ended up. (He intentionally decided to be a loser!) Intentionally went to a second-tier school because there they gave him a free ride; went straight into a solid paying, but not superstar, lawyering job with the government that he liked so he never had to do the rat race to pay back loans.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:20 AM
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My husband left BigLaw after 7 years to become a prosecutor. The firm culture was insidiously evil, not just because it was a competition that ensures 90% of the people fail, but because it encouraged the idea that it was actually a meritocracy. If you didn't make partner, there was something wrong with YOU, not the firm structure. Also, eerily reminiscent of academia, a lot of lawyers identify their work with themselves. I think we can see some of this with LB talking about her problem with billable hours as reflective of a problem with herself.

The evil part comes in when for many people at the firm (this is not exactly like LB's case), they get validation for 5 or 6 years--you're doing great, etc., then they come up for partner and are told they don't have what it takes. It was a lot like the denial of tenure process. It's hard for the losers not to think that it is their fault--there's something wrong with ME, why don't they like me, etc. This is reinforced by the people who DID make partner (who had completely internalized the ideology of their oppressors) seeing themselves as "good" or "smarter" or "better lawyers" than those who didn't make it when the only thing different was that they would completely die for the firm. Really the people I know from my husband's cohort who made partner either a) were trust-fund babies who were able to bring insane amounts of money and clients (their parents' rich friends) into the firm; real rain-makers or b) lawyers who would give 110% for the firm, make any sacrifice, stay there till 10 each night, but it wasn't just hard work. They really believed in the firm. They were true-believers, and you just can't fake that. They were essentially Stepford lawyers.

Anyhoo, it's better to be out of that poisonous culture. They push partners out, too, (one partner was pushed out because he wouldn't reschedule his daughter's wedding) so it's never really safe and you have to give up any personal life or desires you might have had to succeed. But DON"T let it depress you or color the rest of your life! It sounds a little bit like you still have the Stockholm syndrome produced by working in a big firm. They were wrong; you are fine; your life is better now; there are all kinds of metrics for personal success--keep saying that until you believe it.


Posted by: Miranda | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:20 AM
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If you didn't make partner, there was something wrong with YOU, not the firm structure. Also, eerily reminiscent of academia, a lot of lawyers identify their work with themselves.

The thing is, there is something to be improved about most people, and working to identify problems and improve is part of coping with the world. The insidiousness of most-applicants-lose competitive environments is the illusion that the environment (partnership, academic dep't, military) provides discipline and an assessment mechanism that ultimately needs to come from inside. I sure don't have the discipline to be a relentless self-improver, so any structure helps. It's a difficult balancing act.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:30 AM
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200 -- The partner who was pushed out because he wouldn't reschedule his daughter's wedding -- why did they want him to do that? It sounds a lot more like an excuse than a reason, and a whole lot more like a straw that broke the camel's back.

Stepford sounds a little over the top, but then these are voluntary associations, and they get to decide how low an apathy threshold they'll set for inviting people to go into business with them. (Mine is probably mid-range: people who'd rather work somewhere else are more than welcome to do so.)

198 -- Is that an actual industry average figure? If so, you're obviously correct. I don't perceive it to be, though.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:34 AM
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and 'life plans torn to shreds', even when it happens, means, what, being more successful than 95% of your countrymen?

This seems really rather excessively heartless.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:36 AM
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Heartless?


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:38 AM
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My sil the failed PhD believes that she was strung along for three more years after the faculty had decided that she didn't cut it. They liked her TA work.

There may be questions about the scope and degree of the dynamic I'm talking about, but it's there, just like the lottery payoff percentage and the relationship payoff percentage, and it applies to everyone, even to people who plan to sail above it.

Note that everything I've said here is rational and even true, but still sounds crazy to normal competitive optimist types.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:39 AM
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Heartless, yes.

My lifeplans are measured, admirable, and canny.
Your lifeplans are delusional, but may lead to a benign fate if fortune smiles on you.
His lifeplans are toxic, he'll deserve what he gets.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:41 AM
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But I didn't say any of those things in 206.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:44 AM
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On the other hand, unlike law, sports are intrinsically fun. And you can have a lot of small victories on the way to your defeat.

There are a few of us freaks out here who do indeed find law to be intrinsically fun -- not unlike the way sports are fun. (And this is likely why, despite all the other factors that make success so improbable -- see 2, 4 and 5 in KR's comment 183-- I still seem to be hanging on by a thread.) I love to analyze shit, love to write carefully crafted expositions of my analysis, love to get up in front of a panel of judges and have a conversation about my analysis.

I've often considered leaving the firm to find a nice, comfortable position teaching legal writing -- but I wouldn't do it unless I could find a way to keep a few appeals going on the side because that's what is fun. That's what I love. If I burn out on lawfirm life, it won't be for lack of a love of the law but because of a failre of the profession to adapt in ways that are compatible with a work/life balance and a failure on my part to learn how to cope with "good enough" rather than expecting myself to simultaneously be a perfect mom and perfect lawyer.

(Have a meeting today to discuss whether going part time would be career suicide - and whether I should go that route even if it is.)


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:45 AM
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203. I suppose this is heartless if one enters into the mindset of one who has hitherto only had to associate with the the most successful 97% of their fellow countrymen. The ability to look at the situation and think, "Ah well, at least Maria's still cleaning my house rather than vice versa" is an acquired skill. But one worth acquiring.

Or what was your point?


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:45 AM
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Di, would you do amateur legal work for free just for the hell of it?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:48 AM
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My sil the failed PhD believes that she was strung along for three more years after the faculty had decided that she didn't cut it. They liked her TA work.

I hope she was able to restrain herself more than some.


Posted by: Ardent reader | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:50 AM
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210 -- I bet she would. I know I would. Except for the malpractice liability.

Read LB's posts on legal topics not directly related to cases she is handling.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:53 AM
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I made a Streleski joke in front of my sil once and she was not amused at all. Never again.

I did a study of failed-PhD faculty-killers once. -- there are about half dozen of them. They're notably better-organized and more rational than the normal psycho killer. They make prioritized lists and work down from the top in an orderly fashion --they just don't spray the room like a half-educated undergrad or HS-grad psycho.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:56 AM
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I have been told this during the interview process at nearly every firm I've worked for and it has never once been true.

Word. Doubtless some lurker will reveal that he rides a unicorn to the asshole free company on Lollypop Lane, but I'll believe it when I see it.


Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:56 AM
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would you do amateur legal work for free just for the hell of it?

We call it 'pro bono'.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:59 AM
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Except for the malpractice liability.

Do "good Samaritan" laws apply to free legal aid? I think they typically protect doctors and medical professionals who provide emergency care (e.g. in a theater or on a plane) from malpractice liability.

Regardless of what the statutes actually say, I could see a good public policy case for and against applying them to pro bono legal counsel.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 8:59 AM
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Look at the worst basketball team or baseball team in pro sports. Look at the worst player on that team -- the 12th man in basketball. He was probably a champion in middle school, high school, and probably college, but now he's a famous joke that everyone in the world laughs at.

I think that would be the current shortstop for the Royals , who got his job through nepotism.


Posted by: Ardent reader | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:00 AM
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Is LB permanently off the partnership track? If she does very good government work, can't she get back into private practice? If she becomes expert in some regulation or whatever? I bet that this works better in DC than in NY, but if she'd gotten a job with the SEC, wouldn't her experience make her valuable to a lot of Wall Street firms?


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:06 AM
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216: Yes, but legal counsel is often a zero-sum scenario. Meaning that if you give advice that makes someone worse off, it could make someone else better off. Therefore you could have been paid by the adversary of your "client" to do so intentionally.


Posted by: Ardent reader | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:07 AM
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Do "good Samaritan" laws apply to free legal aid?

No. In fact, I know one solo practitioner in IP who doesn't do any pro bono work, because she doesn't have a team to work with and doesn't feel competent to do immigration work.

She says that when she lived in Maine, it was easier to get discrete assignments that were doable without having to worry about the liability.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:10 AM
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Maine?

Well, at least the French Candian potato-farming migrant workers have more to fall back on if deported than the Mexican ones.


Posted by: Ardent reader | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:12 AM
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219: that would be well beyond malpractice, which is sort of a species of negligence (i.e., unintentionally but recklessly bad), and would amount to a much more serious breach of fiduciary duty.


Posted by: potchkeh | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:12 AM
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222: But could it be proven?

I have no idea what I'm talking about here. Have already posted too many comments.


Posted by: Ardent reader | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:13 AM
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209: My point is that the implication here is that it's misplaced egalitarianism to always insist that "privileged" (for some usually unstated definition of privileged) people don't have the right to complain about anything because they're privileged. Of course the travails of rich people aren't really as important as the life and death struggles of the really poor, but if a system is set up so as to consistently and predictably leave a lot of people with totally wrecked life plans, then that matters whether they're rich or poor.

The limiting case of this fallacy on this site is the three-minute hate that we all had on Paris Hilton because she was unhappy about going to prison. Lots of people seemed to think that she had no right to be unhappy about being sent to prison, because she was rich. Which is obviously ridiculous, but to pretend that lawyers aren't genuinely unhappy when they don't get made partner also flies in the face of the evidence for anyone prepared to look.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:14 AM
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I'm sure there's a lot of truth to best-of-the-best-of-the-best, at all previous levels effect for many high achievers. But it used to be in sports—I'm not up to date on any stick-and-ball game so I can't give a contemporary example—that there would also be pro players who had not been stars, or at least not the top star at high school or college; good, yes, but not the top. But there they were.

My point is something like one of Moira's above, referring to her GF: some people's wa doesn't show for a while.


Posted by: I don't pay | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:14 AM
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I didn't say any of those things in 206.

You didn't. I was trying for wry, failed apparently. I intended to mock d^2 more than you, I try for feeling lucky myself.

The other thing I wanted to mention is that up to a certain point, measurement of success is pretty impersonal-- you make your numbers or not, a committee or someone not personally known to you approves or not. But at a certain point, your problems become particular people one or two layers above you, people whose failings and weaknesses are known to you. The injustice of having important decisions affecting your fate in the hands of THAT NEPOTISTIC IDIOT, that's hard to swallow. The misguided one is subject to structural pressures, someone else would have different but equally risible defects-- easy to say, hard to accept.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:16 AM
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but to pretend that lawyers aren't genuinely unhappy when they don't get made partner also flies in the face of the evidence for anyone prepared to look.

This depends on whether they've been raised in the expectation (by their parents, teachers, mentors) that they're entitled to such an outcome. Or whether they see it as gravy.


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:19 AM
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221: The immigration stuff is in Massachusetts. I think it's mostly asylum cases. There are a lot of Brazilians in Mass.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:21 AM
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224: But that wasn't my point. Not some Pollyanna-ish thing. But realizing that while the system sucks and not making partner wrecks your life plans*, one doesn't have to buy into the the frame that says failing at a system that is one third smarts, one third hard work, and one third career zigging when it should zig means that you're a failure all things considered. There was too much of 'those who lose are losers the system is set up to make them losers, those losery losers' in this thread.

The 95% thing was a little glib. But, this isn't like sports where the difference between first and second place is fame and poverty. It's not even like the academy, where losing means not getting to do your field any more. Here losing means finding a lower-paying, but still UMC job, in the field for which you trained, with better hours that is more intellectually fulfilling, and while it wasn't a 'choice' in the sense that the newer post explains, it also didn't come as shock that meant scrambling for income, etc.

It's not that it can't sting, but saying, e.g., LB is a loser because she lost at partner seems to let the partner game define her unhealthily.

*To the extent that it does, of course.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:24 AM
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Brazilians, gay marriages, tassel-loafered elitists, Ivy league hookup sluts, the whole ball of decadent wax.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:25 AM
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Why would a Brazilian be eligible for asylum?


Posted by: OneFatEnglishman | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:29 AM
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I personally don't believe in success at all, but to a degree LB herself feels defeated, as my sil certainly does, and to the extent that they were invested in the game that way, they're right to feel that way. I think that LB is much, much better off now, but I'm not her and I'm not certain that she does.

My sil's situation is different because if she had succeeded in becoming a research geologist, I'm sure that she would have absolutely loved it. But LB didn't seem to love it.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:30 AM
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Brazilians are delectable, OFE. There's a delectability clause in the asylum law.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:31 AM
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With asylum, there are worse things than malpractice: you screw up and your client gets sent back to a place they fled in fear of their lives. I've done asylum, and it was very rewarding, but not having kept up with developments over the last 10 years, I'd really have to stay away from it.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:34 AM
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Brazilians aren't eligible for asylum, and I actually think that we say refugees here. (I've heard too much British TV and radio talk about "asylum seekers" that I've incorporated the phrase into my own idiosyncratic usage.) The asylum cases are different.

I'm just saying that we have illegal immigrants in Massachusetts even though we're not on the border, and they aren't all Mexicans or Canadians who came in over land. There are plenty of people who come in on a tourist visa and try to stay.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:35 AM
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However, LB was a talented person who really wanted to compete at a high level, yet it's not surprising that she didn't, nor can we (except Shearer) conclude that she did something wrong or wasn't good enough.

And this, to me, reflects a real structural failing of law firms. We all know that LB is smart, thoughtful, and a skilled writer. I think I can make some pretty informed assumptions, based on her analyses here, about the quality of her legal analyses. She should be an asset to any firm. Good God, really good writers are a scarce resource, in my experience, in this profession. But somehow her firms never learned how to take advantage of that and, I suppose, LB never really figured out how to sell it. That's a waste and a shame. Though, you know, good for the people of the State of New York who got to snag her for their team.... I see it where I am at, too. The really top quality lawyers* stagnate and mediocre twits who aren't afraid to look like snivelling sycophants rise to the top.

*I don't mean me. I've actually done a good job resting on quality over quantity of work... for now.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:39 AM
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Something like four million illegals* are overstays on various visas.

*I dislike the term because it is imprecise.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:40 AM
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210: Di, would you do amateur legal work for free just for the hell of it?

Yes, if I could afford to do so financially. We call that "pro bono," though, not "amateur."


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:40 AM
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238 multiply pwned, I see...


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:48 AM
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I suppose that somewhere there's blooded trust fund aristocrat doing artisanal lawsuits just for the pure joy of it. Or even an Artisanal Law Society, reviving beautiful old motions and torts that haven't been used for centuries.

I wonder if there are any hobby morticians about?


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:49 AM
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240 -- A few years back, I filed suit for detinue, or in the alternative trover. Or it might have been trover, or in the alternative detinue. I forget.

The other guy called, and we had a laugh.

I did get paid for it.

I didn't get paid for the suit to bring up to date some old takings cases, but that's because we lost. Here's a snippet:

Plaintiffs rely on Meade v. United States , 2 Ct. Cl. 224 (1866), aff'd , 76 U.S. (9 Wall.) 691 (1869), and Gray v. United States , 21 Ct. Cl. 340 (1886), for the proposition that extinguishment of a claim against a foreign government may be a compensable taking under the Fifth Amendment. In Meade , plaintiff filed suit in the Court of Claims for an alleged taking by the United States of his claim against the government of Spain, which he alleged was espoused by the United States as part of the 1819 treaty between the United States and Spain. The court opined that extinguishment of a cause of action may be a compensable taking under the Fifth Amendment, but that Meade had no claim against the United States since under the treaty his exclusive remedy was before a special tribunal which had been set up to pay compensation for claims extinguished by the treaty. Meade , 2 Ct. Cl. at 275. The court held that, while in its opinion the tribunal erred in denying Meade's claim on the ground that his proof was insufficient, Meade had not appealed the tribunal's decision and the court had no power to reopen the matter. Id. at 263, 276-78.

Gray is a Court of Claims advisory opinion to Congress in one of the so- called "French Spoliation Cases," dealing with relations between the United States and the revolutionary French Government between the time of the execution of King Louis XVI and 1801. The opinion, reported at 21 Ct. Cl. 340, runs some sixty-five pages, in the course of which the court opined that "the citizen whose property is thus sacrificed for the safety and welfare of his country has his claim against that country; he has a right to compensation, which exists even if no remedy in the courts or elsewhere be given him." Id. at 392-93. At the end of the opinion the court noted, "[w]e have been required not to investigate legal rights, based upon the doctrines and principles of the common law, but to inquire into and to report upon the ethical rights of a citizen against his Government; rights which are never enforceable except by the consent of the sovereign...." Id. at 406. No judgment or order as such was rendered.
Plaintiffs argue that the Court of Claims' statements in Meade and Gray apply in this case, and that the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1491(a)(1) (1994), now provides a remedy for these Fifth Amendment takings. We are not persuaded. For one, in neither Meade nor Gray were plaintiffs awarded a recovery. Thus the cited statements are dicta, and not binding law. For another, even if Meade and Gray correctly state propositions of law applicable to the circumstances of those cases at that time, the evolution of takings law in the last 100 years brings additional considerations to light.

Sure there was the possibility of money, and that's why the management approved the thing. That's not what motivated our team on a day to day basis, though.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 9:59 AM
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History of the Distinctions between Trespass, Detinue, and Trover, 1905


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 10:03 AM
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There are actually plenty* of lawyers, John, who take on pro bono work for the sheer love of it and not as part of their actual job. Back when I was a young sapling with a government job and time on my hands, I did one of those asylum cases a few people talked about above. One of the best experiences of my life thus far. I pick up a pro bono criminal case every year or so now because I enjoy it.** Seriously, I know it's hard to imagine that people could actually find this stuff fascinating and invigorating, but it is true!

* "Plenty" as in "more than you'd think." Not as in "enough."

** Technically, I get billable credit for this and some "points" from a very narrow segment of the partnership. But I could easily choose not to do those cases -- most people in my firm do not do pro bono.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 10:07 AM
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BTW Napi, that pro bono policy you and your colleague helped me out on finally made it to a committee a few months ago. They hope to move it forward to the next committee by the end of the year...


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 10:11 AM
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I hate all of you who love you jobs.


Posted by: Brock Landers | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 10:12 AM
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242 -- Good times.

245 -- Sue someone for detinue. It'll perk you right up.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 10:14 AM
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Or do pro bono work for U2. Or for Sonny's Congresswoman widow.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 10:18 AM
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Pro bono sounds like a sop for idealistic types and a way of legitimating a system that excludes all but corporations and the wealthy.


Posted by: Michael Vanderwheel, B.A. | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 10:21 AM
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245: If it helps, I love the practice of law, not my actual job.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 10:21 AM
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I could do some pro bono work defending t hose accused of mopery. But only thanks to all the security cameras I've set up everywhere.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 10:24 AM
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248: In a way, that's true. But it is also a good way for cynical, cold-hearted firms to give their saplings valuable practice experience without subjecting paying clients to their inexperience and it helps firms to woo idealistic clients who might be persuaded that the firms do this pro bono because they indeed have souls....


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 10:24 AM
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248 -- Sure. But, you know, anyone who doesn't want to help our clients with their problems has basically two choices: bring in new clients, or go somewhere they like the clients better.


Posted by: Nápi | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 10:27 AM
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245: I love all of you who hate your jobs.

Does anybody else go right to the "Losses/Obituaries" section of their alumni magazine so that you can be sure of finding someone who you are doing better than?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 10:36 AM
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If there are any hobby morticians, I suspect they're in need of good lawyers.


Posted by: eb | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 10:56 AM
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The mortician who did my father was also a taxidermist. After the showing he took us around the corner to show us his trophy elk and mountain sheep. He kept his hunting dogs upstairs in the mortuary, and when we walked in they were all looking at us with their tongues hanging out.


Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 10:59 AM
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191

"However, LB was a talented person who really wanted to compete at a high level, yet it's not surprising that she didn't, nor can we (except Shearer) conclude that she did something wrong or wasn't good enough. ..."

I didn't "conclude" anything. It is possible her failure was mostly due to bad luck. As I recall she believes she wasn't on Law Review because they lost her application which certainly sounds like bad luck.

In general a lot of variation in outcomes is just luck.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 2:25 PM
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186

"On the other hand, unlike law, sports are intrinsically fun. ..."

As others have pointed out there are people who think law is fun (just as there are people who think mathematics is fun). Something to consider if you are considering a law career as you are likely to be competing against such people.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 2:32 PM
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224

"... but if a system is set up so as to consistently and predictably leave a lot of people with totally wrecked life plans, then that matters whether they're rich or poor."

Failure to make partner should not totally wreck your life plans any more than failure to get into Harvard should. People apply to safety schools because the odds are against getting into Harvard and similar considerations should apply to making partner, you should have a realistic backup plan.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 2:53 PM
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236

"And this, to me, reflects a real structural failing of law firms. We all know that LB is smart, thoughtful, and a skilled writer. I think I can make some pretty informed assumptions, based on her analyses here, about the quality of her legal analyses. She should be an asset to any firm. Good God, really good writers are a scarce resource, in my experience, in this profession. But somehow her firms never learned how to take advantage of that and, ..."

Most people would do better in a job optimized for their strengths and weaknesses but it can be a trap to dwell on this too much (ie its the company's fault I'm not more productive because if they catered to my strengths and covered for my weaknesses I would do better). It is unrealistic to expect society to optimize everybody's output simultaneously, you have some responsibility to adapt yourself to society's needs as well.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 3:02 PM
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James, talking to one's self is generally frowned upon. It is often mistaken as a symptom of psychosis. Even if one is sporting a bluetooth earpiece.


Posted by: Tassled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 05-30-08 3:10 PM
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