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12 posts from December 2013

December 30, 2013

Happy New Year!


December 24, 2013

Merry, Merry!



I'm dreaming of a . . . .

Happy holidays,

The Careerist

December 19, 2013

Should Firms Grade Lawyers on a Bell Curve?

©-gerenme_iStockphotoWell, if Silicon Valley is doing it, it must be genius! In her effort to motivate the troops, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has returned to an oldie in the annals of performance reviews: Ranking employees on a curve.

First reported by Kara Swisher at AllThingsD, Yahoo's evaluation system sets the following parameters for employee grades:

- 10 percent employees to get grade of "Greatly Exceeds."

- 25 percent "Exceeds."

- 50 percent "Achieves."

- 10 percent "Occasionally Misses."

- 5 percent "Misses."

It's like reliving the first year of law school or business school all over again. How invigorating is that?

Ironically, just as news came out about Yahoo's grading system, Microsoft Corporation announced that it's trashing its own curve system. Generally, management experts applauded Microsoft's announcement. Writes Martin Buckingham in the Harvard Business Review blog:

And not just big news, but welcome news for anyone who has ever struggled to keep a straight face while telling a direct report that a “3” really isn’t that bad, that it truly does mean “meets expectations,” and that, hey, 60 percent of the company gets that rating, so don’t be too down on yourself.

Hey, that only 50 or 60 percent of employees will get the stamp of mediocrity doesn't seem too extreme to me. At my company, for instance, 80 percent or more must be rated 3.5 or below (only 5 percent of employees can get the top rating of "5"). Needless to say, those of us who aren't making widgets find all this a bit baffling.

But enough about me. What about lawyers? Arguably, in professions where there's little room at the top, a tough curve might be what's needed to drive home the message that partnership is reserved for superachievers. That said, giving people who've been working their buns off a "C" won't stimulate morale—much less performance.

These days, grading on a curve is falling out of style. It's regarded as a relic of a time when boxy suits with big shoulders were in vogue. Reports BloombergBusinessweek:

Forcing managers to rank their employees along a bell curve was popularized in the 1980s (thanks, Jack Welch), but lately it has fallen out of favor. The Institute of Corporate Productivity says the number of companies using either a forced ranking system or some softer facsimile is down significantly. . . Just over 5 percent of high-performing companies used a forced ranking system in 2011, down from almost 20 percent two years earlier.

So why do some employers persist in using curves? "The continued appeal is largely that rankings appear to take the 'human' out of human resources," reports Bloomberg.

The conceit, I guess, is that performance reviews have an objective basis. Yeah, like anyone believes that.


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E-mail  Vivia Chen: vchen@alm.com     Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawcareerist


December 17, 2013

Big Law Partner Buys House for $95 Million (Not a Typo)

It's almost Christmas—so naturally our thoughts turn to what money can buy. Here's the latest in money news:

Raymond-li-bysamxmeg-istock1. Paul Hastings partner owns the ultimate trophy home. Wow—this certainly puts those New York partners who think plunking down $10 million for an apartment is a sign of success to shame. Reports The Wall Street Journal:

Raymond Li, chair of the Greater China practice at U.S. law firm Paul Hastings, paid 740 million Hong Kong dollars (US$95 million) for House No. 8 at 28 Barker Road, according to a government registry.

The WSJ says it is is the second most expensive house in Hong Kong. And yes, Li (above) didn't need much in the way of mortgage, paying "for the home mostly in cash." But no, the article doesn't tell us where Li is getting his dough (we assume it's not because he's highest biller at Paul Hastings).

Sadly, the WSJ doesn't provide any lurid photos of the house (we expect 24 carat gold faucets, marble toilets and bidets, and doorknobs made from the horns of endangered animals). From the description in the article, the house sounds almost modest: Li's house "is a 6,863-square-foot, three-story property with five bedrooms, two parking spots and a rooftop pool with a panoramic view of Victoria Harbor." In fact, the house isn't even freestanding; rather, it is part of a new complex of townhouses.

I know, I know—your house in Fort Worth is three times bigger.

2.  Ex-smokers make more money. From Harvard Business Review blog:

It has been well documented that smokers make less money than nonsmokers, but it’s less widely known that former smokers earn a 7% wage premium over people who have never smoked, according to an analysis of nearly two decades of U.S. data by Julie L. Hotchkiss of Georgia State University and M. Melinda Pitts of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Why do ex-smokers make more? HBR says that the authors suggest "somewhat cryptically, that people who are able to stop smoking tend to have individual characteristics that are associated with higher productivity."

I'm not sure what this all means. I guess if you're still smoking, you should quit. But if you've never smoked, then you should start, and then quit.

3. Econ majors are more selfish—much more so. This study confirms what we English majors have always suspected: Those econ majors are cold and soulless. And yes, they probably all think working for Goldman Sachs, Blackstone or a hedge fund is life's ultimate calling. (Psychology Today; hat tip: Business Insider)

Click here to vote for the Careerist as Top ABA Blog in category of Careers/Law Schools. (Voting ends December 20, 2013)

E-mail  Vivia Chen: vchen@alm.com     Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawcareerist

December 16, 2013

Let's Kill Those Law Firms Rankings!

Today's guest blogger is Patricia Gillette, a partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.

Lawfirm-Rankings-mediaphotosiStock(1)Making a list and checking it twice. That's what Santa does. And then he brings gifts. For a long time now, law firms have been helping the legal industry’s equivalent of Santa (read "law firm publications") make lists to bring the ultimate gift: the appearance of success on any number of metrics in the eyes of our clients, peers, and colleagues. We have lists that measure diversity, women's progress, profits per partner, number of associates hired from top schools, mentoring programs, part-time policies, parenting policies, and top clients. You name it, law firms are ready to gather the information necessary to get on "the list."         

This list mania relies on two axioms: Lawyers love data, and they are competitive. What better way to inspire participation, than to provide an exercise that plays to both of these drives? Firms gather data, massaging it to make certain that the firm looks at least as good as its competitors. The lists keep expanding, leading one diversity coordinator for a large firm to estimate that she responds to more than 100 inquiries per year for data—each demanding different formatting and data calculations. Now, it seems that every law/business publication has a list, every diversity organization has a list, and every law school has a list.

The initial inspiration for this exercise was a good one: to bring some transparency to the profession and to pressure firms to improve gender and racial diversity, associate satisfaction, and client service. But what has the proliferation of these lists done for lawyers and law firms? Has it improved diversity or increased the number of women in leadership or equity partnership ranks? Has life improved for associates?

Yes, the lists have made firms evaluate and confront some important issues. But they have also inspired some law firms to engage in creative data reporting. It is not that firms are lying outright—but if you give lawyers the opportunity to present data in a way to make their point, they will do that. So when firms are asked about profits per partner, for example, there are ways to "count" people and to present compensation that skews the results favorably.

If we truly wanted to measure firms' diversity or financial success or any other quality, why not have an organization with no constituency and no profit motive—perhaps a law school—take responsibility for creating one survey for all law firms? This group would gather the data and report it without awards or rankings—no luncheon or dinners (paid for by firms) to honor the winners. 

Another alternative is to gather data, either regionally or nationally, without attribution to any firm, so that we can track the bigger picture of how the legal industry is doing. The National Association of Women Lawyer’s Foundation has done this with statistics about women in law firms with great success, giving law firms and the legal industry a report that appears to be more realistic than many other surveys.

While neither of these ideas is perfect, either would be better than the current process. Right now, promotion of women or diversity or other goals aren't being advanced in any meaningful way. In fact, lists can be harmful to firms' efforts, as those that receive the kudos—based on what may or may not be actual data—pat themselves on the back and think the problem is solved. 

In the short term, the solution may be to do what some law firms have already done: Refuse to participate in the list game. Because I think it is time to admit that, just as Santa isn't real, neither are the lists.


Click here to vote for the Careerist as Top ABA Blog in category of Careers/Law Schools. (Voting ends December 20, 2013)

E-mail  Vivia Chen: vchen@alm.com     Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawcareerist

December 12, 2013

Oh, No—Naughty Santa Is in Town!

©-sumnersgraphicsinc-iStockphoto(1)Oh, joy. It's that time of the year again—Christmas in the city. That means the huge tree is up at Rockefeller Center, the city is sparkling with lights, and the tourists have taken over every inch of midtown Manhattan.

It's also time for the annual office holiday party. At every firm, there's someone who's tasked with the thankless job of keeping the party under control—lest the Bad Santas get out of the bag.

I much prefer a raucous party where the stuffed shirts go completely out of control—preferably doing something incredibly lewd that will result in a YouTube sensation.

That's my idea of holiday fun. Sadly, though, everyone is so uptight these days.

Though I'm loath to do so, it is my duty to give you the do's and don'ts (actually, just "don'ts") of office parties. So here's my annual refresher on how to throw a perfectly blah, humbug holiday fete:

1. First, remind people that the office party is no time for fun: Send a stern memo to employees that the holiday party is a business function, and upright behavior is expected.

2. Say it again: Do not have fun: Circulate the antiharassment policy before the event. Tell them that means no touching and no jokes involving sex, race, religion, politics, or anything genuinely funny. (Seriously, don't have fun.)

3.  Invite spouses—just to make sure it's really joyless: "Employees may be more reserved and less likely to engage in offensive behavior when accompanied by their significant others," says former employment lawyer Kate Bally, who now works at Practical Law Company, a knowledge management company.

4. Ban anatomically correct chocolate. No suggestive or offensive gag gifts, provocative decorations, or risqué entertainment—or anything else that might invite a sexual harassment suit.

5. Kill the slow dance music. It's best to avoid situations that could spark rumors about office romances, says Nigel Telman, an employment partner at Proskauer Rose. (Personally, I'd go a step further and forbid all dancing. Dancing lawyers are a pathetic sight.)

6. Confiscate all cell phones. This is to ensure that there will be no unauthorized images taken in case dancing erupts.

7. Snip the mistletoe. See reason number 5.

8. Unplug the Xerox machines. Many employment lawyers advise off-premise parties to avoid liability. But if you're holding the party in your office, make sure that employees know it's not acceptable to photocopy their body parts during the party, advices Out-law.com, a site run by the U.K. law firm of Pinsent Masons. (U.K. firms must have rowdier parties, because Pinsent Masons also warns, "Don't ignore drugs in the loo.")

9. Keep the decorations spartan. "Party balloons can kill: Around 3.6 million people in Britain suffer from some degree of latex allergy," says Out-law.com. The site offers other tips: "Use paper cups, not glasses; move computers out of range of spillages; and avoid indoor fireworks, flaming puddings, candles, and smoking."

It's a sad day when even the flaming pudding must go.

This post was originally published in The Careerist on December 7, 2012.

Click here to vote for the Careerist as Top ABA Blog in category of Careers/Law Schools. (Voting ends December 20, 2013)

December 11, 2013

Female Associate Numbers Decline—Again

Exhausted-Woman-by passigattiiStock(1)Post updated December 12, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. with additional comment by James Leipold.

NALP just release its annual report on diversity, and the news is none too cheery. In a nutshell: Women in the associate ranks declined for the fourth year in a row, while women and minorities in the partnership ranks show some (tiny) improvement.

Here are the top findings in the NALP report, which looked at race and gender information of over 110,000 lawyers nationwide (the vast majority work at big, national firms):

1. Female associate numbers fell: In 2009, women accounted for 45.66 percent of associates; in 2013, it was 44.79 percent. (In 1993, the percentage of women associates was 38.99 percent.)

2. Minority associate numbers recovered, except for minority women: Overall, minority associate numbers recovered from a decline in 2009 to 2010. From 1993 to 2013, minority associate percentages increased from 8.36 to 20.93 percent. But minority women associates in the last two years "barely exceeded the 11.02 percent figure for 2009."

3. Female and minority partners numbers rise—a bit. In 2013, minorities accounted for 7.10 percent (up from 6.71 percent in 2012) of partners in big firms, and women 20.22 percent of partners (up from 19.91 percent in 2012).

But NALP points out that the total change "has been only marginal" since 1993 when minorities accounted for 2.55 percent and women 12.27 percent of partners. Minority women make up 2.26 percent of partners, which NALP calls "the most dramatically underrepresented group at the partnership level." (Minority men are 4.84 percent of partners, up from 4.55 percent in 2012.)

4. Overall, there's an increase of female lawyers—by 1/10 of 1 percent! "For lawyers as a whole, representation of women (both minority and non-minority) was up by only about one-tenth of a percentage point and remains lower than in 2009." 

5. Compared to women, minority lawyers fared slightly better overall. "Minorities now make up 13.36 percent of lawyers at these law firms, compared with 12.91 percent in 2012." Women, however, have seen their numbers drop steadily, albeit in tiny increments: 32.78 percent in 2013; 32.67 percent in 2012; 32.61 percent in 2011, and 32.69 percent in 2010—"all lower than the 32.97 percent mark reached in 2009." Minority women showed some improvement: now 6.49 percent, up from 6.32 percent in 2012.

Frankly, neither women nor minorities are doing well. Still, let's go back to that third point above: Women's representation in the profession has increased by one-tenth of one percent in the last four years. Whoopee! I mean that is just spectacularly depressing.

James Leipold, NALP’s executive director, also sounds alarmed by that trend. He says the four year decline in women associates establishes a "trend." He adds that more women seem to be "opting out of the BigLaw scene right from the start," plus, he adds, women are leaving associate positions at  higher rates for men. 

Leipold also notes in NALP's press release that the drop in female associates, unlike that of minority associates, has not rebounded since the recession:

This is a significant historical shift, and represents a divergence in the previously parallel stories of women and minorities in large law firms . . .While the percentage of women partners, small as it is, has continued to grow each year, sustained incremental growth in the future is at risk if the percentage of women associates continues to inch downwards. This should be a red flag for everyone in legal education and the law firm world.

Indeed, it's high time to raise the red flags. Not that it will do much good.

Click here to vote for the Careerist as Top ABA Blog in category of Careers/Law Schools. (Voting ends December 20, 2013)

E-mail  Vivia Chen: vchen@alm.com     Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawcareerist


December 10, 2013

Time to Come Out with Your Househusband?

Man-Ironing-by akit via iStockDid you catch that front page article in the New York Times about Wall Street mothers and their stay-at-home husbands? The article made a big fuss about the arrangement—like it's something wild and radical.

But isn't that the oldest trick in the book? I thought everyone knew that having someone back on the home front is the secret to success. Isn’t that the primary reason men have always had-it-all (or at least more)? 

From what I've seen, it's not an unknown model in Big Law. Yesterday, I wrote about the NYT article for Time's ideas section, looking at it from the legal profession angle:

You can go to any number of big firms in New York City where there’s a modicum of female partners . . . and the buzz among the associates is that those women in power are either unattached or married to men who stay at home. “They seem to belong to some sort of househusband club,” said one associate about the female partners with kids at Davis Polk & Wardwell.

But the real sticking point is that women in those types of arrangements "didn’t like to talk about it." As I wrote in Time:
Often, successful women are loath to admit that their husband is really the one minding the home. “He has primary responsibility for the kids, but he also works on the side,” explained one partner about how her husband spends his time. But when pressed about what type of work the husband does, the reply is often vague. “He’s doing consulting” is a popular explanation.
I don't know if female Wall Streeters are more open about being the breadwinner in the family than their sisters in Big Law. But as I noted in Time, the arrangement "might be more palatable if the wife makes an outrageous amount of money." In other words, if the wife is an I-banker pulling in gazillions of dollars, maybe everyone will learn to make peace with the gender reversal.

"The problem might be that women lawyers aren't making enough money to feel they can justify having a househusband," one female lawyer explained to me. "Making half a million or even $1 million doesn't compare with what bankers bring home."
I don't know whether that means female lawyers can't afford stay-at-home spouses or that only the super rich have the freedom to break gender stereotypes.
Anyhoo, what do you see at your firm? Do many of the female partners have stay-at-home spouses? And are they cool about it?

Click here to vote for the Careerist as Top ABA Blog in category of Careers/Law Schools. (Voting ends December 20, 2013)

E-mail  Vivia Chen: vchen@alm.com     Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawcareerist


December 9, 2013

Law Schools Slash Tuition—But Will They Come?

Here's a quick update on law school news:

Happy-Family by Roman GorieloviStock1. Shopper alert: Law school tuition sales are on! The University of Iowa College of Law joins the tuition-slashing bandwagon. It just approved a 16 percent tuition cut for both out-of-state residents and resident students, after suffering a 30 percent drop in enrollment, according to sibling publication The National Law Journal.

The NLJ also gives us a very helpful synopsis of other recent law school bargains:

Pennsylvania State University Dickinson School of Law announced it will offer $20,000 annual tuition grants to all admitted Pennsylvania residents starting next fall. That grant will cut tuition costs almost in half for recipients. The school has also seen enrollment tumble, particularly at its campus in Carlisle, Pa. It maintains a second campus in University Park, Pa.

The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law; the University of Akron School of Law, the University of Cincinnati College of Law, Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law have also announced tuition cuts in the past year.

Sadly, however, tuition sales are not happening (yet) in more glam locations. So far, it's mainly the big farm and Rust Belt states that are trying to lasso you to their law schools.

Hope you like the taste of corn or the smell of coal.

2. What?! LSATs might not be necessary to get into law school? The law school at Rutgers University at Camden has been admitting students who had not taken the LSATs, and the ABA is not amused. In fact, the ABA has fined the school $25,000. Reports the NLJ:

From 2006 to 2012, Rutgers-Camden ran a special program that admitted students using scores from other graduate tests—including the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), according to the censure issued by the ABA’s Accreditation Committee.

The school did not obtain the ABA’s permission to do so, and did not evaluate or provide evidence that those alternative tests are valid and reliable predictors of success in law school.

So why did Rutgers-Camden use this ruse? You guessed it--it has to do with its ranking:

The censure notes that the alternative admissions program helped the law school to increase the size of its new classes and improve its acceptance rate without hurting its LSAT percentile scores, which schools must report annually to the ABA and which factor heavily into U.S. News & World Report’s influential law school rankings.

I am not a fan of standardized tests but substituting LSATS with GMATs or GREs (much less MCATs) seems unfair and a bit ridiculous. I mean, why stop there? You might as well use the SATs or the ERBs (that's the test for private school kindergarten applicants) to select the future lawyers of America.

3. Portrait of Nelson Mandela as a law student. Interesting interview with George Bizos, Mandela's lawyer and law school friend. (Al Jazeera; hat tip—Above the Law

Click here to vote for the Careerist as Top ABA Blog in category of Careers/Law Schools. (Voting ends December 20, 2013)

E-mail  Vivia Chen: vchen@alm.com     Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawcareerist


December 5, 2013

Ready for Tights with Open-Toe Shoes?

Margarita_M_02713Winter is here, but thankfully we have global warming. Recently, New York hit almost 60 balmy degrees. With the capricious weather as a backdrop, a reader cornered me with this question: Is it okay to pair her favorite open-toe suede shoes with opaque tights for those warmish winter days?

I know this might seem like a frivolous issue, but I can assure you that Careerist readers do not take fashion quandaries lightly.

So let's give this question the seriousness it deserves. Let's start with the golden rule about open toe shoes: Thou must never wear them with sheer or flesh-colored hose. And don't even think about  pairing them with sandal-foot nylons (the ones without reinforced toes)! That look is strictly for grandmothers or those who hail from the provinces.

That said, what about opaque tights and open-toe shoes? I often see that combo these days, and I think it can look adorable. But can you do that in a corporate setting?

I asked a half-dozen of my fashionista lawyer friends, and the responses came quickly.

"No, no, no!" says a lawyer in Los Angeles about the pairing. "It is déclassé to wear nylons with open-toe shoes."

"It's one step removed from the Queen Mother—like wearing hose with orthopedic sandals," says another L.A. based lawyer.

But those on the East Coast aren't so opposed to the look—so long as the toe peekage is restrained. "A summer sandal with a very open toe would not be appropriate," says a Big Law associate in New York. "But if it's a 'fall' shoe with a small open toe, showing no more than two toes, then I think it's fine."

Some don't mind the idea of sporting colored tights—even in bright hues of blue, red or purple—but not with open toe shoes. Others are horrified about wearing tights other than black, gray or navy, but think that dark tights with dark open-toe shoes are fine.

Like true lawyers, several mention that it's simply "illogical" to wear any sort of hosiery with toe-revealing footwear. "Isn't the whole point of open toes to show your toes?" asks a Fortune 500 counsel. "If it's cold enough to wear tights then you shouldn't be exposing your toes!" adds another New York lawyer.

All these rules seem a bit rigid to me. As I said, I think the pairing can look quite fetching—provided you have the legs to carry it off. I tend to agree with Kat Griffin over at Corporette who says it "depends on the shoe and the woman." Griffin says she remembers an Armani ad from a few years back that "featured blood red tights with blood red peep toes and blood red suits." She adds, "for the right woman it could work in a professional setting."

For most of us mortals, however, Griffin is cautious: "I would not advise attempting this unless you have a specific high-fashion look you're imitating because there's a fairly large margin for error."

Large margin for error just for wearing tights with open-toe shoes? Oh, can't you go on a little fashion limb?

Click here to vote for the Careerist as Top ABA Blog in category of Careers/Law Schools. (Voting ends December 20, 2013)

E-mail  Vivia Chen: vchen@alm.com     Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/lawcareerist


 Photo: Margarita M, A Doll Without Style blog.

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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