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18 posts from April 2011

April 28, 2011

Yale Law Women's Picks of the Year

Thumbsup I'm quite jaded about those "best places to work" lists, particularly ones touting employers that purport to be good to women, children, and pets. But I do like Yale Law Women's annual "Top Ten Family-Friendly Firms" list.

Why? First, Yale Law Women is not a commercial venture, so there's no consulting arm that's tutoring firms on how to get on the list. Second, it's not dependent on employers' submissions (YLW weighs firm submissions against responses received from questionaires sent to its alums). Third, the Yalies seem awfully earnest and nerdy about the way they compile the list. "We have statisticians [who are students], and the survey is blind," says 2-L Carly Zubrycki, the chair of the list. "We assign random numbers to firms, so I don't even know their score during the process."

Now the official Yale's sixth annual list for 2011:

Arnold & Porter

Covington & Burling

Dorsey & Whitney

Kirkland & Ellis

Mayer Brown

Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo

Perkins Coie

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman

Sidley Austin

Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr

Granted, it's a small, selective list that probably omits some worthy contenders--just like admission to Yale Law. Two firms on the list last year that got dropped are Debevoise & Plimpton and Steptoe & Johnson. But Zubrycki cautions against reading too much into it: It's "possible for a firm that  made the list last year to have submitted similar numbers, or even improved numbers, this year but to have nonetheless been beaten by a firm who improved more."

Anyway, here's the good news from the survey:

Flexible and part-time work options are also becoming the norm: 100 percent of responding firms offer a part-time option, and 98 percent offer a flextime option, in which attorneys bill full-time hours while regularly working outside the office. More than 99 percent of part-time requests were granted on average at responding firms. On average, 7 percent of attorneys at these firms were working part-time in 2010.

The not-so-good news:

Although YLW found that, on average, 45 percent of associates at responding law firms are women, women make up only 17 percent of equity partners and 18 percent of firm executive management committees. Additionally, on average, women made up just 27 percent of newly promoted partners in 2010.

And the bad news:

Despite the greater availability of flexible work arrangements, part-time work may still limit one’s career. . . Women make up the vast majority (81 percent) of the 7 percent of attorneys working part-time. .  . . Part-time work is rarely used by attorneys in leadership positions. Of the 7 percent of attorneys working part-time, only 11 percent were partners, a number that may also include partners approaching retirement. Only 5 percent of the partners promoted in 2010 had worked part-time in the past, on average, and only 4 percent were working part-time when they were promoted. 

In other words, the study reinforces what we already know: Don't count on making it to the top as a part-timer. Yes, some women have done it--like Audra Cohen of Sullivan & Cromwell--but how many times have we heard the same names?

Which brings up another question: Do men really pay attention to this kind of list? "There are times when we’re frustrated that men are not as interested in this issue," says Zubrycki, though she adds, "A lot of men realize it's not just a woman's issue."

I also found this encouraging trend: This year, 85 percent of the men used the maximum parental leave offered, while only 51.4 percent did the year before. Frankly, I was floored by that jump.

So maybe there is a bit of movement on the equality front.

 

Related post: Can You Trust Working Mother's List of Top Family-Friendly Firms?

 

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

Follow The Careerist on Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist

Photo: Andres Rodriguez/Fotolia.com

April 26, 2011

Flex It

Contortionist It's no secret that I'm all for job flexibility. For years, I've fought for flextime in my job. If you can get the work done--be it a brief, contract, or blog--does it matter whether you are doing it at your desk, Starbucks, or Gymboree?

Though most firms boast flextime, it means different things to different people. It can mean almost never having to show up at the office, or it can be a very prescribed schedule.

Recently, a reader asked The Wall Street Journal's Juggle how to negotiate a flextime arrangement with a new employer. The Juggle answered, "Few companies will allow her, as a new hire, to work from home"--unless the employee has unique skills.

Getting flexibility without a track record is tough--certainly in the law firm context, unless you're doing scut work. But what about the seasoned associate? Is it still tough to get a firm to buy into a flextime arrangement, or are those horse and buggy days long gone?

Flextime is generally not a big deal at medium-size and big firms, says Cynthia Calvert, a founder of  Project for Attorney Retention (PAR) at UC-Hastings College of Law. The reason flexibility has caught on is that it "costs firms little, if anything," says Calvert. Plus, male lawyers are using it too, though male lawyers "often do so in an ad hoc way, or more regularly, but without seeking formal approval," adds Calvert.
 
Still, there are old-school partners in every firm who want to see their associates at the office--first thing in the morning and last thing at night. For some, it's just what they're used to.

It's also a matter of trust, suggests Calvert. She adds that some firms fear that off-site lawyers will be unproductive, or will goof off. But "given that the combination of billable hours and completed work product is evidence of a person’s productivity," Calvert finds those arguments pretty lame. She also says that some firms insist that flextime lawyers will "become alienated from the firm’s culture, be forgotten when opportunities arise, and won’t get the mentoring and professional development they need."

Personally, I'm not convinced of those "it's good for you to be here" arguments. Let's be real: Most lawyers do their work in isolation, and few firms really care about mentoring and development anyway.

So the big question is this: How can you convince those old-timers or tradition-bound firms to accept flextime? Calvert suggests the following:

1. Start slow. "Work from home occasionally, a half-day here and a full day there, before making any formal proposal."

2. Make note of who's working from home. "See if it works well for them and their colleagues, and see if they are doing it formally or informally. If others are doing it without formal approval, you may be able to do so as well."

3. If you make a formal proposal, "focus on the firm’s business needs. No one needs to know, or probably even cares, what your reasons are for wanting to work in a different location."

4. Be specific about your work arrangement with your supervisor, such as how clients and other lawyers will be able to reach you, your proposed schedule away from the office, your availability to come into the office if necessary, and the technology you need. "Make sure people feel comfortable calling you at home; work extra hard to maintain social connections at the firm."

5. Emphasize that you will be billing full-time, and offer to share an office so the firm can save on rent.  

Calvert also advises to keep in mind that it's a negotiation, where you should "anticipate the other side’s objection . . . and plan counterproposals, such as 'if not full-time teleworking, how about just on Mondays?'" Moreover, she says, "know your bottom line; if your proposal is rejected, would you leave the firm?"

Readers, how prevalent is flextime at your office? Do women and men use it?

Related article: Flextime--Perk of the Moment.

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

Follow The Careerist on Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist

Photo: Inspiredme - Fotolia.com

April 25, 2011

High Heels

Ladies, it's time to kick off those sky-high heels. The fashion forecast calls for chunky and kitten heels. It must be official because even The Wall Street Journal is reporting on it: Louboutin

On the spring runways--where perilous stilettos and platforms have ruled for seasons--designers such as Chloé, Stella McCartney and Valentino squashed, kitten-ized and gave chunky mod treatments to heels, resulting in truly cute (and truly comfortable) shoes.

Cute and comfy--is that what women professionals want in a shoe? Personally, I feel torn about the issue. Being petite, I've always counted on high heels or platforms to give me that extra three or four inch boost. At the same time, though, I've been a bit alarmed by the escalating heights of women's heels in recent years--particularly those by shoe designer Christian Louboutin, whose signature red-sole stilettos usually sport at least a five inch heel (see right). As any woman can tell you, teetering at such height is not only excruciating, but scary.

So shouldn't all women be celebrating that foot fashion is returning to sensibility?

Well, not every woman. Far from it. "Professional women divide into two tribes," explains Susan Scafidi, the director of Fordham's Fashion Law Institute. "Second-wave feminists who've metaphorically burned their high heels along with their bras, and third-wave women who embrace the option of towering over naysayers." Scafidi adds, "I'm firmly in the latter camp."

Ferragamo Indeed, wearing stilettos, rather than those low, sensible heels, has become accepted--maybe even expected--as part of the power look. But the question is how high can you wear them without looking like--well--another type of professional woman?

Corporette founder Kat Griffin, a former associate of Cahil Gordon, says "four-to five-inch heels are inappropriate for most professional women and most offices." However, the blogger of EverySixMinutes, a former associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, says female lawyers there favor Manolos, Jimmy Choos, Guccis and Louboutins, up to four-inches, though most wear three inch high heels.

But Scafidi, who zips around Fordham Law School in her five-inch Loubotin pumps, isn't so strict about the height limitation. For her, wearing high heels is not a matter of appropriateness or comfort; rather, it's all about power. "When I'm in heels, you can hear me coming," says Scafidi, adding that she likes "the elegance and authority of a polished black pump with a heel named after a weapon."

In fact, many women agree that a pair of high heels give them a sense of authority. "Heels make us feel confident," says EverySixMinutes.

SamEdelman But no one seems too excited about low heels or kitten heels (right). "The only kitten heels I like are the paws on a real kitten," says EverySixMinutes. "They make one seem insecure--afraid of the sex appeal of a high heel, but not confident enough to go for the comfortable flats." For Scafidi, high, high heels are the only way to go: "Why embrace mid-level mediocrity when you can soar to the heights, in footwear or in life?"

Readers, are you celebrating or mourning the demise of those towering high heels? How high is too high in your office?

Related posts: Ladies Who Wedge and Little Toe Peep.

 

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

Follow The Careerist on Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist


Photos: top (Louboutin slingback & platform); center (Ferragamo pump); bottom
(Sam Edelman peep-toe with kitten heel).

 

April 24, 2011

Maybe You Shouldn't Do Social Media

You have to wonder if the legal profession is really ready for social networking.

As reported by the Tex Parte Blog, personal injury firm Eberstein & Witherite of Dallas is having a contest to give away an Apple iPad for people who "like" the firm's 1800Car-Wreck Facebook page--and also submit a photo of themselves to be posted on the Facebook page's wall, either wearing a 1800Car-Wreck T-shirt or a photo of themselves holding a sign that reads "I like 1800Car-Wreck." Ipad2_400

Is the law firm just craving a Sally Field moment? Or does it think this is really a good marketing tool?

Personal injury firms don't have to stay within the same conservative norms of white-shoe law firms, but this kind of contest can't be the most effective way to get new clients (or impress existing ones). Interestingly, on Eberstein & Witherite's official law firm Web site, there's no mention of the iPad contest, just the subtle link to its Facebook page. So apparently, the law firm drew some sort of line for itself. So what's the point?

Speaking of the point of social networking, TaxProf Blog's Paul L. Caron linked to a video of a flash mob breaking out in the last session of a contracts class at Pepperdine Law School. The video was posted on YouTube on April 14. One might quibble at whether you can call it a flash mob when people are already assembled for a class.

What song did the students choose to serenade their law professor with? "LoveGame" by Lady Gaga, with the memorable lyrics "I wanna take a ride on your disco stick." Hmm.

 
The video has clearly not gone viral yet, having garnered a little over 1,500 YouTube views as of early Thursday. There's this curious comment about the video: "And we wonder why no one hires our graduates."

Then there's a firm's attempt at flash mob video. According to an article by Adrian Dayton in The National Law Journal, lawyers at Toronto-based law firm Blake, Cassels & Graydon orchestrated a flash mob in a busy shopping center, videotaped the performance, and posted it on YouTube. Want to see the video? Well, you can't, because as Dayton notes, the YouTube video was removed at the request of Cherry River Music and Will.I.Am Music, for using the song "I Gotta Feeling" by Black Eyed Peas without permission.

Makes you wonder if the firm has ever heard of copyright law.

Related posts: Social Media Virgins and How to Control Those Blogging, Tweeting Lawyers.

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com, or deputy blogger Audree Wong at awong@alm.com.

April 21, 2011

Our Secret Sauce

Our guest blogger today is Jennifer Queen, the chief recruiting and development officer of McKenna Long & Aldridge.

Sauce By Jennifer Queen

The Careerist blogger, Vivia Chen, interviewed me recently regarding McKenna Long & Aldridge’s use of a hiring assessment. She dubbed our assessment the “recruiting couch.” Although I do not have a special couch in my office where candidates are interviewed, Chen was correct that the firm does use an online assessment tool with law students and lateral associate candidates. Since that post, numerous people (law schools, law firms, and headhunters) have reached out to us for additional information. This post will hopefully address their questions.    

As starting salaries spiraled upward in the spring of 2007, the firm formed a task force to take a closer look at our hiring and talent development practices. We focused on two questions: What is the return on investment of our hiring and talent development efforts? And, are we getting what we planned/hoped for when we hire associates into the firm?

Our attrition statistics were better than the national associate attrition rates published by NALP and the NALP Foundation. However, the disruption of a departing attorney is costly to our clients and their matters in terms of knowledge transfer, the learning curve, and time invested in the relationship. The cost of one bad hire can be as high as $250,000 in recruiting costs, salary and benefits, severance package, time spent managing the issues, and morale. Even one bad hire is one too many. Since the task force discussions started when the economy was booming, our decisions were not influenced by the downturn.    

 The task force studied the hiring models of accounting and consulting firms as well as those of our corporate clients. We found that six 30-minute interviews and a lunch are not the norm in their processes for hiring candidates who will earn a six-figure salary. Corporate America uses one-on-one interviews with psychologists; personality, leadership, and emotional intelligence assessments; simulations and case studies; written essays; and behavioral interviewing in making an informed hiring decision. We wanted to better align our process with how our clients conduct their operations.

To utilize an assessment tool effectively, you must know what you are trying to measure.  Understanding what success looks like in your firm is critical in defining who is best suited for your culture and environment for the long term. Once the task force identified our success factors/characteristics, we focused on finding an assessment to help us determine which candidates had these characteristics and provide an objective element to qualitative interviews. 

We looked at many products and companies to find the right assessment. The test we selected takes approximately 30 minutes to complete and is composed of Myers Briggs-type questions and some problem solving.  There is no perfect score. There are no right or wrong answers.  The assessment helps identify the “shades of gray.”

When candidates are hired, they receive their assessment results to help their career and personal development plan. We also use the success factors/characteristics as a framework in improving our talent development initiatives. We created firmwide and departmental core competencies that now provide a road map for our associates to progress toward partnership. Feedback during performance evaluations has improved, and we have eliminated “random acts of training.” 

How do we use the assessment in the interviewing process? Assume we want to probe further into whether the candidate has the attributes of a team player (being a “team player” is a characteristic of successful attorneys at the firm). If the assessment results show someone who strongly prefers to work independently and is extreme in the self-confidence trait as well as someone who is unconventional (ignores rules and authority), we would use our behavioral interview questions to probe into the candidate’s past behaviors to find out if he or she likes to collaborate or prefers to “run with the scissors.”  One behavioral-based series of questions includes: 

    - What teams have you been a part of? 

    - What role did you play in those teams? 

    - What did you do to fulfill your role? 

    - What did you do to develop productive relationships with others on the team? 

Our hiring committee would have concerns about the cultural fit of a potential hire if the responses indicate that he or she:

  Has avoided being a part of teams or groups where possible;

  Has held few or no leadership roles in any teams;

  Did not offer assistance to others on the teams;

  Did little to gather or consider input from other team members;

  Made little or no effort to get to know other team members or build rapport and relationships beyond what was absolutely necessary;

  Blamed other team members for the problems on the team without considering his/her own actions; and

  Continuously self-promoted.  

After three-and-a-half years of using the assessment, we are clear on the return on our investment.  Our hiring process has become more efficient and effective. Our process smokes out the subtle red flags that we might have ignored previously.

Hundreds of candidates have taken the assessment, and only one student has declined. The feedback from candidates has been overwhelmingly positive. They appreciate that we have put so much effort into the interview process to ensure a solid fit on both sides of the equation.

Now, how is that not a win-win for our clients, the firm, and the candidate?

Related post: The Careerist Goes on the Couch.

April 20, 2011

Quirky News Update--Hungry Judge, First-Borns, Mug Shot

I'm paid to digest the news of the day and spew out my opinions--which I do with alacrity on a regular basis. But every now and then, I come across news that leaves me scratching my head. So dear readers, won't you give me a bit of help on what you make of the following?

Burger Feed the Judge. You'll get a better verdict if you present your case first thing in the morning or after the judge has had a nice lunch or snack, reports Discover Magazine (hat tip: ABA Blog) According to more than 1,000 parole hearings at Israeli prisons, researchers found that judges' decisions were influenced by their eating/break schedules.

"Judges, even experienced ones, are vulnerable to the same psychological biases as everyone else,"  explains Discovery magazine. "They can deliver different rulings in similar cases, under the influence of something as trivial as a food break."

Moms with First-Born Daughters Work Harder. The Wall Street Journal reports that there's a correlation between the sex of the firstborn and how much moms were likely to work. Here's what the WSJ reports about the finding published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research: "In the U.S., the U.K., Italy, and Sweden, women whose first child is a boy are less likely to work in a typical week and work fewer hours than women with first-born girls.”

The reason: Who knows? According to the WSJ, the authors found it "a puzzle."

Women, Don't Look Too Hot in Your Mug Shot. Women shouldn't attach photos of themselves onto resumes--particularly if they look attractive, reports CNBC. The reason, says researchers (Israeli economists Bradley Ruffle and Ze’ev Shtudiner), is that human resources departments are dominated by young women who "do not want any competition" from attractive female job applicants.

JcrewAd-new1 Men, Do You Wear Nail Polish at the Office? This is not exactly career news, but I can't resist: J. Crew apparently has been getting a lot of grief for its spring catalog (at left), which shows a woman cuddling the foot of her young son whose toes happened to be painted a bright, cheery pink. They look like they're having a lot of fun.

Predictably, I suppose, news outlets have been going nuts about the ramifications of the ad. Is J. Crew advocating/approving homosexuality, transgenderism? And is the mother unwittingly encouraging gender confusion? It goes on and on.

I have no idea where this discussion will go. But I did wonder about how men present themselves during interviews. Question for you guys out there: Would you go to a big law firm or in-house interview sporting earrings, nail polish, or some other gender-bending indicia? Well, would you?

 

 

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

Follow The Careerist on Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist

April 19, 2011

Point and Shoot

Fotolia_21452063_XS Postscript. In light of some of the comments received on this post, I'd like to make one thing clear: In no way does this blog advocate or condone violence of any kind. This post is obviously tongue in cheek, and the analogy between wolves and white males is not meant to be taken literally.

I'm beginning to sympathize with hunters in states like Wyoming and Montana who are fed up with animal protectionists. Do packs of wolves that prey on cattle and threaten the livelihood of hardworking, God-fearing ranchers really need protection?

Okay, so I know zilch about wolves and livestock. (I'm not sure I'd know a wolf from a German Shepard if one crossed my path at the information booth in Grand Central.) But let me tell you I'm feeling protectionist fatigue just reading the title of Newsweek's latest cover story: "Beached White Males."

It must be in vogue to champion middle-class Caucasian men as endangered species. (Click here and here.) Here's what the Newsweek article says:

The same guys who once drove BMWs. . . have now been downsized to BWMs: Beached White Males.

Through the first quarter of 2011, nearly 600,000 college-educated white men ages 35 to 64 were unemployed . . . That’s more than 5 percent jobless—double the group’s pre-recession rate. That might not sound bad compared with the plight of younger, less-educated workers and minorities, but it’s a historic change from the last recession, when about half as many lost their oxford shirts. . . In New York City, men in the 35-to-54 kill zone have lost jobs faster than any other group, including teenage girls. . .

Oh my, teenage girls beating out middle-aged, white men. Who knew they were competing for the same jobs at American Apparel and Wendy's?

In a way, the Newsweek story is yet another take on Hanna Rosin's article ("The End of Men") in The Atlantic last year that predicted the eventual rise of women in the workforce. The Newsweek piece, though, kicks up the end-of-masculinity hysteria another notch--what it calls "the psychic toll of the Mancession." The piece cautions:

It might be tempting to snark at these former fat cats suffering lean times. But when Beached White Males suffer, so do their wives and children. Lives, marriages, and futures are at stake. Examining who these guys are, and what washed them up, is not an exercise in schadenfreude. It's a cautionary tale. To quote Arthur Miller on the most famous Beached White Male, "Attention must be paid."

Though the Newsweek piece didn't say it in so many words, it suggests that white men were being replaced by women--especially their wives--on the workfront, and that's what causing this "stain on your masculinity for becoming the bread-loser." (Hey, anyone notice that those guys are lucky to have working wives who can support them? Would it enhance their masculinity if the whole family starved?)

In any case, Newsweek must be way ahead of the curve, because last time I looked, white guys still seem in charge. That's certainly the case in the legal profession, where women and minorities didn't fare so well during the recession (see NALP report). In fact, white men rule in most professions--including journalism, I might add (though Tina Brown now heads Newsweek).

Please, can we stop putting white men in the endangered category?

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

Follow The Careerist on Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist

Photo: Kelpfish / Fotolia.com

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April 18, 2011

You're in the Army Now

Dan Bowling, who penned 10 Happy Tips for Lawyers for us last year, is again our guest blogger. A former head of global human resources for Coca-Cola Enterprises, he is a senior lecturing fellow at Duke Law School and teaches positive psychology in the master's program at the University of Pennsylvania. He can be reached at bowling@.law.duke.edu.

by Dan Bowling

Army Lawyers love war metaphors. They are constantly “doing battle,” “facing Armageddon,” or “donning armor.” Rhetorical flourishes aside, there are parallels between the life of a lawyer and that of a soldier. Actual combat is a different thing altogether, of course, but both occupations involve constant stress: Failure is not an option; only the mission matters; and family needs run a distant second.

The U.S. Army is doing something to address these pressures. It has started training its recruits to better adapt to that life emotionally and mentally. Lawyers should pay attention to its efforts.

In response to increased incidents of mental and emotional distress among troops facing repeated deployment, the Army started working with positive psychologists from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009 to teach resilience skills to the 1.1 million men and women in uniform. Using warrior-friendly terms like “mental toughness” and “battle-mind,” the program teaches techniques to reduce pessimism and anxiety--the building blocks of stress disorder.

A friend of mine, the famed psychologist Martin Seligman, one of the driving forces behind the effort, suggests in the April issue of The Harvard Business Review that resilience training can be as effective for business leaders as for military ones. What about lawyers? I asked Seligman. “Given the degree of negative emotion and awful events that lawyers deal with daily, I can think of no other profession that would benefit more from resilience training,” Seligman says.

Lawyers suffer from mental and emotional disorders at a rate far higher than that of their professional peer groups. Job satisfaction among lawyers is low, and associate turnover is high. Unemployment among recent law school graduates is at record levels. Yet few legal institutions seem seriously concerned about the well-being of lawyers. Why should they be? Law firms suffer no shortage of applications.

There are reasons to be concerned, however. Law is a profession, an important societal contributor; it should be concerned with the mental and emotional fitness of its membership. The profession has made some spotty efforts to address this issue. Some efforts fall into the category of “work-life balance” or morale-boosting. Other efforts seem downright silly: Yale Law School recently announced it will allow stressed students to check a dog out of the library to soothe nerves! 

The Army's resilience program provides a credible, straightforward training methodology, the principles of which can prove helpful in teaching lawyers to navigate professional ups and downs. And it doesn’t involve therapy dogs. 

Resilience training is based upon evidence that humans fall roughly into one of three buckets when faced with adversity:

1. Some crumble;

2. Some emerge unchanged; and

3. Some are strengthened by it.

In the last two decades, researchers have discovered there are teachable skills that can help people wind up in the two latter buckets, or “insulate them from depression,” in Seligman’s words. These skills are the core of the Army program. Here's how they can be useful for lawyers:

          • Develop awareness of personal strengths. The Army performs personality testing on participants and teaches soldiers how to align their personality strengths with their tasks, which help enhance performance. If your top strength is meticulous attention to detail while working ungodly hours, you will thrive as a Big Law associate.

         • Manage emotions. Out-of-control emotions help no one; they eat away at one’s mind and body. The program trains soldiers to recognize and balance emotions in themselves and those around them. This training could be useful for that partner who's walking into your office right now to bark about your billable hours.

         • Fight overly pessimistic thinking. “Worst-case scenario” planning is useful at times, especially in law and the military, but applying it to every situation is harmful. Chronic pessimism often leads to depression, so learning the difference between prudent risk management and persistent negativity is an important skill.

         • Build self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-motivation. The Army knows that to lead others, one must be able to lead oneself, so much of the program is focused on self-awareness and motivation. Many lawyers have been trained to please others--parents, professors, senior partners, clients, and judges. Unfortunately, this type of conditioning doesn't help when things don’t go as planned.

It is time for Big Law to incorporate training based on these principles into its associate orientation programs, or for interested individuals to pursue it on their own (check out The Resilient Factor by Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte). Whether a lawyer is at risk of developing an emotional disorder--and many are, if statistics are to be believed--or merely wants to develop additional skills to perform at his or her highest level, resilience training can help.

Lawyers, be Army-strong.

April 17, 2011

Is This the Life You Want?

For all you dreamers out there: Ever wonder what a typical day is really like for junior associates at a law firm? This YouTube segment ("A Day in the Life of an Associate"), which was put out by Vanderbilt Law School, will give you a bite of reality (hat tip: Solicitor). Here's a sampling of what the three associates (Daniel Flournoy, James Bowden, and Josh Rosenblatt of Waller Lansden, a 200-lawyer firm in Tennessee that was featured in Above the Law last year) in the video say about their day:

Josh: "There's a lot of document touching."

James: "A lot of my job is information management/document management."

Dan: "You're never in control when you leave [the office]."

The clip is not slick or cute but it rings terrifyingly true:

 

April 14, 2011

The Judge Gets It

Eric_photo_t180.JPG Is the legal profession getting soft? And are those activist judges to be blamed?

Reports The New York Times: A federal judge in Wichita granted a lawyer's request to delay a trial involving a commercial dispute so that the lawyer could be present for the birth of his first child. (Liberal agenda alert: Now even expectant fathers want time off!)

Not only did district court judge Eric Melgren (at right) grant the delay request to Bryan Erman, a lawyer for the defense, but he chided the other side for being bad sports for objecting to the delay. Here's what the NYT says:

The judge’s three-page order, first reported on the legal humor Web site Lowering the Bar, is what lawyers call a “benchslap.” It opens ominously with the suggestion that the lawyers opposing the delay are the unhappy sort who “lose sight of their role as professionals, and personalize the dispute; converting the parties’ disagreement into a lawyers’ spat.”

The judge proceeded to quote Shakespeare on the proper comportment of legal adversaries, who “drive mightily, but eat and drink as friends” and noted the “famous disregard” that newborns have for schedules. “For reasons of good taste which should be (though apparently, are not) too obvious to explain,” Judge Melgren declined, with jurisprudential delicacy, to address arguments made in the opposing brief about the date of conception.

The judge also didn't appreciate opposing counsel's argument that Erman could easily shuttle between the trial in Kansas City, Kansas and the birth in Dallas, even though the judge noted that the opposition "helpfully" pointed out "the number of daily, nonstop flights between the two cities."

The judge concluded his ruling with these words of admonishment:

Certainly this judge is convinced of the importance of federal court, but he has always
tried not to confuse what he does with who he is, nor to distort the priorities of his day job with his life’s role. Counsel are encouraged to order their priorities similarly.

Family matters should take priority even in federal court? How shocking.

Frankly, though, what the expectant lawyer requested and what the judge granted shouldn't be newsworthy at all. All things being equal, isn't it just common sense that we should help and encourage coworkers--and even our opponents--to be present for life's major events?

But apparently, making allowances for our personal lives in the workplace continues to be news--which in itself says how we still regard the smallest gesture of humanity in the legal profession as an anomaly.

 So is this an example of how far we've come, or how far we still have to go?

 

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

Follow The Careerist on Twitter: twitter.com/lawcareerist

About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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