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5 posts from June 2016

June 24, 2016

Senior Associates Left Out of Salary Boom

Begging-businessman-Article-201606141715Maybe I've been around the block too many times, but I'm having a hard time emoting about those newly announced salary increases that are sweeping big law firms. In case you've been in remote Mongolia, the going-rate salary for a first year associate just shot up to $180,000 (from $160,000). And, yes, Cravath Swaine & Moore started this whole damn thing.

Associates are cheering, as if they've won some kind of moral lottery. From some of the breathless news coverage I've seen, you'd think firms came to some divine revelation, like, "OMG, it's been almost 10 years since those poor babies have been stuck in that $160,000 ghetto, and we must do the right thing and lift them out." (Cravath associates reportedly raised the issue of salary increases in a town hall meeting with firm head Allen Park; soon after, the powers-that-be were presumably so moved by the argument that associates were having a hard time making ends meet that they voted to bump up salaries pronto.)

Since the arrival of the Cravath's salary messiah, firms have been tripping over themselves to announce that they're also joining that Big Salary Club. But while firms are spotlighting their generosity to their junior and midlevel associates, firms aren't giving many details about how their more senior folks are benefiting. (Most firms seem to cap their salary increase with the class of 2008, which is generally paid $315,000.)

In fact, its arguable that senior associates and counsel are ignored or getting the short end of the salary stick. My buddy Joe Patrice at Above the Law laments that senior associates at Brown Rudnick were capped at $300,000—meaning that the firm saw no need to treat a 10th or 11th year associate any better than one with only seven years of experience. Patrice writes:

But that “7+” suggests they have some senior folks kicking around and they just ain’t gettin’ raises. Income partners are also left in the vague “we also continue to monitor” world. Sorry folks. Make it rain or get used to not having an umbrella!

That’s a real kick in the shins for those senior folks. Perhaps it’s time to make full, equity partner, or find a firm that treats its elders a little better.

Kick in the shins? Maybe. Find "a firm that treats its elders a little better"? Good luck. While some firms seem more respectful towards their aged non-partners (Patrice notes that Debevoise & Plimpton treats its senior citizens well, giving them an additional $35k based on class year), most firms kind of sweep them under the salary rug—because they can.

Here's the reality: Senior associates, counsel and contract partners have no bargaining power. They can't lateral anywhere because they've aged out of the market, unless they have a skill that's in demand. What's more, few will dare complain, because they're either too busy kissing up, hoping to make partner, or feel lucky that they're still being allowed to stay.

Look, I know everyone is excited that these increases are helping to close the wealth gap between partners and their employees (query: is this a Bernie Sanders' thing?), but there's no moral imperative operating here. Firms do what they have to do to get the talent they need at the moment. Need I remind everyone that about five or six years ago, in the aftermath of the recession, firms were dumping associates by the wayside like yesterday's electronics.

My advice: Don't get too excited about those nice salary bumps. Enjoy it while you can.

vchen@alm.com

June 20, 2016

White Female Privilege

Grace_Kelly_1956You might find this puzzling and a bit infuriating, but here it goes: Career women are born of privilege, not necessity. What allows women to pursue and stick with careers is their high social-economic status. It's women who don't really need jobs—those born into comfortable circumstance who don't have to be the primary breadwinner—that have the best shot at success.

That's more or less the finding of a new study about women's career paths that analyzed data about Baby Boomer women collected from 1982 to 2010. Sociology professors Sarah Damaske of Penn State and Adrianne Frech of the University of Akron write in Harvard Business Review about their study:

Why do some women work steadily while others do not? Surprisingly, we found that women with the greatest financial needs – those who experienced poverty when they were young, were unmarried and lacked access to a second income, or were less educated – appeared to face the greatest barriers to continuous full-time work.  . . Women who worked “like men” – that is, full-time for the majority of the years we examined — were more advantaged both during their childhood and throughout young adulthood relative to their peers.

The researchers don't say this but I assume that advantaged women were more likely to work "like men" because they were much more attuned to the workplace expectations of the dominant culture. In any case, the point is that women of privilege come out ahead. Even if they don't reach the pinnacle, they have more options to stay in the game. The researchers note, for instance, that "white, well-educated women were more likely to enter, leave, then re-enter the workforce than were women of color or their less-educated white peers."

So is all this an indictment of of "white female privilege"—the attitude of those who treat jobs like occasional indulgences—something they can opt in or out at their leisure?

Not at all. The authors propose a much more united view. First, they emphasize that most women work—and that they work much harder than people think, noting that over 90 percent of the women in the study had paying jobs through their forties. They add that "60 percent of the women followed what we would think of as a traditionally 'male' work pathway"—working over 50 hours a week. Moreover, even those who took time off for kids returned to the workforce.

As for getting underprivileged women onto a better career path, the researchers propose what's become a common plea for leveling gender inequities in the workplace: better parental leave, paid sick leave and subsidized childcare.

All good and fine ideas—except for two things. First, I'd wouldn't hold my breath about those policy changes. By most indicators, the U.S. just isn't there on that front. (Remember, the U.S. is the only country among the world's wealthiest that offers no paid parental leave of any sort.) Second, who says that having better parental leave, sick leave and childcare is enough? It's essential to have those benefits but that's just the starting point.

Fact is, even those privileged women aren't doing that great. They're far better off than their less-advantaged sisters, but compared to the men, they're just treading water.

 vchen@alm.com

Photo of Grace Kelly

June 12, 2016

How Women Can Be Assertive (Yet Lovable!)

Joan-Crawford-Article-201607191424

I know you're tired of hearing about how hard it is for a woman to be in charge. But despair not: This time we'll give you ladies some tips on how to manage avoid the pitfalls.

Another study confirms what we all know: To get ahead, women have to be likable. It doesn't matter one iota that our next president might be a woman, or that the U.K. is getting a female prime minister in the Brexit aftermath, the unwritten rule for a lady leader is that she must be a lady. And that means no blatant displays of aggressiveness.

Analyzing over 70 studies about how people react to assertive behavior, business professors Melissa Williams of Emory University and Larissa Tiedens of Stanford University find that women tend to be punished for the same behaviors that we find perfectly acceptable for men. Writing in The Wall Street Journal about their research, Williams reports:

We found that women, on average, were disparaged more than men for identical assertive behaviors. Women were particularly penalized for direct, explicit forms of assertiveness, such as negotiating for a higher salary or asking a neighbor to turn down the music. Dominance that took a verbal form seemed especially tricky for women, compared with men making identical requests.

Got that, girls? You'll get hammered if you give off bossy vibes. And no one will like you if you if you dare ask for a higher salary (though Williams points out that it's acceptable for women to ask for raises on behalf of others). Moreover, you better be prepared to be scorned if you tell that jerk down the hall to pipe down.

"Women get punished for behaving the way men do," says Ellen Ostrow, a psychologist and career coach who specializes in female lawyers. And that, she adds, is even true for women who are expected to be tough and contentious on the job, such as trial lawyers. It might be fine for women to be aggressive in court, but when it comes to internal firm politics, women have less latitude. "Women litigators who are aggressive [in the office] will tend to be labeled bitchy," says Ostrow.

So what's the solution? Well, women can be assertive (sort of) if they deploy indirect, mostly non-verbal tactics. Williams writes:

We found that women weren’t penalized for assertiveness that was expressed through nonverbal means—such as through expansive bodily stances or physical proximity. Likewise, they weren’t penalized for using paraverbal cues, such as speaking loudly or interrupting.

Thank goodness women can at least speak loudly or interrupt. But what's that advice about "expansive bodily stances" and "physical proximity"? For starters, Williams suggests that women stand tall. She gives other examples or projecting power: "Women should feel free to drape an arm over the adjacent chair, to touch a colleague’s arm when speaking, or to lean in—literally."

I get the power pose stuff, but touching a colleague's arm or leaning in? Maybe I have a dirty mind, but might those gestures be interpreted by male colleagues as flirting? Are the authors of this study suggesting that women use their sexuality (lightly) to get what they want?

Not at all, Williams tells me. "My advice would not necessarily be that women should be more physical overall," says Williams, "but rather that they should use these specific nonverbal behaviors —e.g., using a louder tone of voice, putting an arm on the adjacent chair—that are known to communicate dominance." 

Contrary to my fears, Williams says "there’s no evidence that [the physical gestures] communicate flirtatiousness or sexuality in the minds of perceivers." Instead, she says they signal "warmth and engagement"—which is what women need to project if they want dominance and influence.

So once again women have to contort themselves into "nurturers" if they want to end up in a dominant position. Personally, I'd rather be brutally blunt and just be done with it. But Williams cautions that's probably foolish. She says it behooves women to learn what works: "While waiting for the world to change, aspiring women leaders will have at least a few tools available. Think of nonverbal dominance as a side door to achieving influence at work."

Well, at least women can go through the side door instead of the backdoor. Guess every little little bit counts. Pathetic.

vchen@alm.com

 

June 9, 2016

John Quinn Feels Your Pain

NYC-Fire-Escape-Article-201606071050

John Quinn has never struck me as the touchy-feely type. The fearless leader of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan has a reputation for being tough, brash, jockish and ridiculously successful (the firm's profit per partner is $4,420,000).

But my view of Quinn (below) might be too one-dimensional. He has a different side—apparently, a tender side. Recently, he launched the Museum of Broken Relationships in Los Angeles, which showcases personal objects associated with doomed love. So we're not talking about complaints or motions. We're talking about the kind of things that make people cry.

Your museum is all about heartbreaks—the thousand ways people leave and betray their lovers—and it exhibits the odds and ends from a broken marriage or love affair. It reminds me of a weepy country-western song. Shouldn't this be in Nashville?
It could be put anywhere. It's not just about romantic breakups. It's also about the broken bonds between parent and child, friends, siblings. It explores different kinds of relationships and their consequences. These type of traumas are universal experiences.

Oh, this is not ironic? But the museum's location is too much!  You're in the space occupied by the old Frederick's of Hollywood—that legendary purveyor of cheesy lingerie. 
It was hard to find space. People might think it's tawdry because of the location, but we try to show a serious endeavor. We're not looking to collect dollars from tourists. We hope it will be taken more seriously.

You also have to admit that exhibiting household items, stuffed animals, old perfume bottles, etc. seems a bit kitschy. That exhibit of the wedding dress stuffed into an old pickle jar sounds pretty funky.
Wedding dresses are a common donation. People can't bear to just throw it away. But what are they going to do with it? Giving it to the museum can be a healthy way to deal with it.

12.08.01-QuinnAre you personally involved in curating?
I'm not making selections on a daily basis. We have two full time professional staff members—two women. They are gifted people. Before the space was ready, they worked at our law offices and there were donations everywhere. They kept coming in.

Really, so you had no problem collecting momentos of failed love. Did lawyers at your firm add to the pile?
I don't know for sure, but it's possible. Everybody has something from a prior relationship that they've kept . . . I'm surprised you haven't mentioned something that you'd like to donate.

I'll check my closet. But what about you? Did you contribute to the exhibit?
No! I'm a happily married man. I've been so for over 30 years.

Well, that doesn't mean you didn't have your heart broken at some point. In any case, is this museum meant to show your romantic side?
I don't regard myself as a romantic, but I'm interested in relationships. Litigation is all about broken relationship—usually people go into a business relationship thinking that it would last, but then something goes terribly wrong. . . There's something about objects that provoke memory. It's Proustian. And even if it's someone else's object, it has an impact.

This all sounds pretty heavy. Are you concerned that people will come out of the museum depressed?
No. Because the point is that people have gone on with their lives. There were some very sad stories in the exhibit—a couple of suicides—but we try to be thoughtful. We don't want people to leave with a downer. We tried to plan a journey where people tell their experiences and come out at the other end. There's an inherently positive message: Certain relationships don't work out. People suffer and feel alone. But you learn that everyone experiences that at some point. So the takeaway can be positive and cathartic.

vchen@alm.com

Photo: Wedding dress on fire escape, New York, June 2016 by Vivia Chen

June 1, 2016

Best and Worst Law Schools for Jobs

Students-reading-Article-201605261207This is for all you ranking-obsessed lawyers and lawyer-wannabees: Our annual listing of law schools with the best and worst employment figures based on information from the American Bar Association.

First, let's take a look at the general picture for the class of 2015. Here's how The National Law Journal summarizes the situation:

A slightly higher percentage of graduates landed in long-term, full-time jobs that require bar passage 10 months after graduation: 59.3 percent had such jobs, compared with 57.9 percent for the previous class. But the overall number of those gold-standard law jobs declined by nearly 1,700 year-over-year. In short, the employment rate went up because of the 9 percent decline in the number of new law graduates, not because of growth in the market for new lawyers.

Bottom line: The market for bona fide legal jobs continues to shrink. So if you're looking to make a solid upper-middle class living, you might be better off going to dental school.
 
That said, some law schools are definitely worth the investment more so than others. (Click here for NLJ's chart of top 50 schools for jobs—interactive too!)
 
1. Best schools for jobs: The following law schools placed at least 80 percent of their graduates into  "gold-standard" jobs (full-time positions requiring bar passage that are not funded by the schools themselves)—
 

1) University of Chicago Law School (90.82% employed)

2) University of Pennsylvania Law School (89.84%)

3) Cornell Law School (89.62%)

4) Duke Law School (88.94%)

5) New York University School of Law (87.42%)

6) Columbia Law School (87.17%)

7) Harvard Law School (85.91%)

8) University of California at Berkeley School of Law (85.25%)

9) Stanford Law School (85.13%)

10) University of Michigan Law School (85.03%)

11) University of Virginia Law School (84.74%)
 
12) Baylor University Law School  (81.48%)
 
13) Northwestern Law School (81.25%)
 
14) Yale Law School (81.22%)
 
15) University of Kentucky Law School (80.31%)
 
This year, with almost a 91 percent employment rate, University of Chicago Law School gets the top prize, bumping out Penn, last year's winner. But before you dump Philly for Chicago, keep this in mind: "The actual number of Chicago Law’s graduates finding full-time legal jobs was about the same in 2015, but a slightly smaller graduating class size helped the school move up from No. 5 on the list in 2014," reports NLJ's Karen Sloan.
 
Though most of the schools on the desirable list are fairly predictable, it's worth noting that small schools like Cornell and Duke seem to be doing exceptionally well by its graduates. (Could students there be getting more personalized attention and love?)

Two big surprises on this coveted list: Baylor University School of Law and University of Kentucky, which seldom appear on the same list with those snotty T-14 schools. Though neither has a very impressive ranking in U.S. News & World Reports (Baylor is #55 and Kentucky is #60), these two regional law schools are finding jobs for their graduates.

Not so impressive in this category is the much more illustrious Georgetown Law Center. Though it holds an enviable 14th ranking in U.S. News, nearly a one-third of its 2015 class was not employed in full-time legal jobs 10 months after graduation. William Treanor, a dean at Georgetown, says, however, that an additional 24.9 percent of its students are employed in positions that do not require bar passage, and "many of these other jobs are significant."

2. Worst law schools for jobs. The following law schools had the highest percentage of underemployed graduates—meaning, they are unemployed, employed in temporary or part-time work, or working in nonprofessional jobs:

Charlotte Law: 51.32% underemployed
Detroit Mercy Law: 44.44% 
Southwestern Law: 40.51% 
Golden Gate Law: 39.87% 
San Francisco Law: 39.76% 
Santa Clara Law: 39.73% 
Ave Maria Law: 39.53% 
Thomas Jefferson Law: 39.00% 
Ohio Northern Law: 38.10% 
Florida Coastal Law: 37.31%

There are a lot more law schools that could be put on this "no-go" list; it just depends on where you want to draw the line as to what you consider an acceptable underemployment rate—and an acceptable risk.

I think spending money on Powerball would be a safer investment.

vchen@alm.com

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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