« April 2017 | Main | June 2017 »

8 posts from May 2017

May 24, 2017

Man-Up, Don McGahn


Dear Mr. McGahn:

I know you are a busy, hot-shot lawyer, but may I offer you some friendly advice from my little Careerist perch at The American Lawyer? Here it is: Please quit.

I urge you to leave your post as White House counsel not for the sake of the presidency or the nation, but for a more elemental reason: Your career. Unless you bail out fast, you run the distinct risk of flushing your career down the toilet.


Well, I hate to hurt your feelings, but you are doing a really, really crummy job. Unbelievably bad. Tremendously awful. Let's be blunt: You are neither serving the country nor Donald Trump. Nor yourself.

At first, not that many people seem to have caught on about your role in the various disasters of this administration. You were so visibly invisible that I was prompted to ask in February, "Yo, Where's Don McGahn?" Gradually, however, people are noticing your paw prints. (By the way, did see Sally Yates' recent interview with Anderson Cooper in which she mentioned you numerous times? Your name is getting out there!) 

I won't list all the mishaps under your watch—who has time for that?—but here are some that pop to mind:

The Michael Flynn fiasco: You got warnings—big red alerts—that this cowboy had no business being national security advisor, but it doesn't seem you did that much to stop him.

Weeks before the inauguration, Flynn's lawyers told the transition team (yup, you were the head lawyer of that team too) that he was under federal investigation for working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey. Then, after the election, acting attorney general Sally Yates met with you twice, sounding alarms that Flynn had lied about his chats with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. According to Yates, you asked her why the Justice Department should care if a government official lied to another. (Query: Were you asking her that question sarcastically or in earnest?)

White House spokesperson Sean Spicer said that you conducted an "exhaustive and extensive questioning of Flynn," and concluded that Flynn had not violated the law. How amazing.

Trump's firing of FBI chief James Comey: By many accounts, you played a big role in the firing. Putting aside whether Trump acted properly in axing Comey while his administration was under investigation by the FBI, why on earth did you allow Trump to write in his letter to Comey:

While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.

If there was any doubt that Trump firing of Comey was connected with the Russian investigation, that sentence wiped it out. Way to go, counselor!

Conflicts with the Trump empire. A vital part of your job is to guard against ethics violations, but you seem utterly bored with this task now. (Fun fact: you were an ethics expert when you were a partner at Jones Day and Patton Boggs. Who knew?)

Recently, Donald Trump Jr. gave the commencement address (for an undisclosed fee) at American University in Dubai, just days before his father's trip to the Gulf. Did it occur to you that the leaders of Dubai might be trying to gain favors with the Trump administration or that the Trump company is selling condos in the region?

And let's not forget these other little conflicts: Kellyanne Conway promotion of Ivanka Trump's products on national TV with the White House logo behind her, Trump's public condemnation of Nordstrom for dropping his daughter's fashion line and Jared Kushner's sister's use of her family's connection to the Trump presidency to sell condos in China. (Query: Did no one offer Ethics 101 to staff and family members?)

I'm exhausted already, though there are so many more ethical/legal lapses under your watch. I'm not even going into the way the travel ban was handled or how the White House recently told the head of the Office of Government Ethics to bug off about former lobbyist working in the administration. (For a more granular accounting, see Steven Harper's Belly of the Beast.)

Look, I'm not without sympathy for your plight. I know Trump must be a handful. Advising him must be akin to running after an unruly toddler who's constantly spitting and biting. You've probably warned him not to tweet so much. Maybe you've counseled him to count to three before he shoots off his mouth. Or you've told him not to brag about state secrets to strangers from Russia.

I'd like to give you the benefit of a doubt that you're doing the right thing. Truth is, though, who knows what advice you're giving?

And that's a problem. Because you are either incredibly ineffectual or you are a sycophantic enabler. Either way, I don't think it enhances your professional reputation.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into your lack of visibility, but you seem a bit sheepish about your job. You've given no interviews, and you seem extraordinarily inaccessible—and unaccountable. (Are you in a bunker?) It's all curious, because before you joined team Trump, you had a flamboyant profile—rocking with power brokers, playing your guitar late into the night. You were kind of an alpha-male!

So man-up: Show your face and own up to what you've done.

Or, if you won't do that: Quit. Believe me, going back to Jones Day has to be better than where you are now.


Vivia Chen, The Careerist






May 19, 2017

Are Trump's Endorsements Helping Morgan Lewis?


Time for another roundup of news and gossip. And yes, they all center around our president (so let me apologize in advance).

Creepy lawyer dad award goes to: Yes, it is a Trump's lawyer.

New York Magazine reports that Michael Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer and advisor, recently tweeted about his daughter: "So proud of my Ivy League daughter…brains and beauty channeling her Edie Sedgwick.”

So far so good, though the Edie Sedgwick allusion is a bit puzzling. (Sedgwick was a fixture in Andy Warhol's orbit in the 1960s who died of a drug overdose at age 28.)

But the really unsettling part: Tweeting about it with a photo of his daughter in black lingerie (photo above).

Guess he's just taking a page from Trump's fatherhood playbook.

Trump is doing infomercials for Morgan Lewis. If you believe the adage that all publicity is good publicity, then Morgan Lewis must be beside itself. That's because its client Donald Trump keeps putting the respected, if somewhat quiet, firm in the limelight.

You might recall that Trump put Morgan Lewis on stage at his first press conference as president elect in January when he trotted out tax partner Sherri Dillon. She spoke for 14 minutes at that time about how Trump would successfully dodge potential conflicts of interests.

Last week, Trump gave Morgan Lewis another big shout-out during his interview with NBC's Lester Holt. Asked by Holt if his family, businesses or surrogates "have accepted any investments, any loans from Russian individuals or institutions," Trump said he was in the clear, pointing to a letter written by Dillon and her colleague William Nelson. Though he didn't mention Morgan Lewis by name, he told Holt, it's "one of the most prestigious law firms in the country, tremendous, highly rated law firm."

What firm wouldn't want to be called "prestigious," "tremendous" and "highly rated" by a sitting president?

Well, when that president is Trump, it invites scrutiny. The New York Times, among others, jumped in, asking legal experts to opine on Morgan Lewis' letter. (The consensus was that the letter contained lots of ambiguity, including the definition of what constitutes Russian sources and lenders.)

Then, Saturday Night Live splashed the letter—with "Morgan Lewis" prominently displayed—as a backdrop on its Weekend Edition (photo below). In fact, the firm's name was on the screen for over 30 seconds. Granted, SNL lampooned the contents of the letter, but, hey, it was free advertising on a highly rated show.

Talk about product placement!SNL-screenshot-Article-201705151818

To be fair, I don't know how Morgan Lewis' lawyers feel about being tied so closely to Trump. Some probably think it's great, amazing, tremendous to be endorsed by the president of the free world. Others might want to hide under a rock. (We do know that at least one of its clients wasn't so keen about the association. Wallace Global Fund publicly fired the firm for its representation of Trump, calling it "ethical carnage.")

I don't know how long Trump will profess his love for the firm—probably until it's no longer useful.

In any case, Trump now has a hand in making Morgan Lewis a household brand. Like it or not.

This is why lawyers have a slippery reputation. First he supported Trump by hosting a party for him at his home; then when the tapes came out in which Trump bragged about groping women, he publicly withdrew his support. After all that, it turns out he shelled out $500,000 for Trump's inaugural ball.

That's how Houston trial lawyer Tony Buzbee handled the election mess he created, according to Texas Lawyer.

There's nothing wrong with changing your mind, but those abrupt turns are a bit unseemly. When Buzbee withdrew his support for Trump, he made a big deal about how he was doing it for his daughter, whom he described as thoughtful and "very kind." As a result of his daughter's influence, he said he told Texas Lawyer he couldn't support Trump: "I just can't do it."

Yet when Trump emerged as the winner, Buzbee plunked down half a million dollars for the party.

Oh well, so much for daughter and principle.


May 15, 2017

To the Single Ladies


Add this to the list of items we would rather not talk about: Women, even ones in the most selective professional programs, prioritize marriage over career, and will downplay their ambitions to achieve that goal.

That's the upshot of a recent study that analyzed the responses of male and female M.B.A. students at a top U.S. business school. In the Harvard Business Review, the study's authors (Leonardo Bursztyn of the University of Chicago, Thomas Fujiwara of Princeton University and Amanda Pallais of Harvard University) describe experiments that looked at how male and female students view career and personal ambitions.

Here's a summary of the results:

Single women signaled lower ambitions if they thought their responses would be shown to male students: They lowered their compensation expectation ($131,000 to $113,000), indicated less willingness to travel or work longer hours and reported "significantly lower levels" of ambition and leadership. However, "women who weren’t single did not change their answers when they expected classmates to observe their choices, and neither did men, regardless of their relationship status."

Single women showed more ambition in all female groups: Sixty eight percent of single women reported wanting a job with a higher pay that required 55–60 hours of work per week to one with a lower salary and less hours. "But when placed with male peers, only 42% of single women did so. Similarly, in all-female groups, 79% of single women reported preferring a job with quicker promotion to partner but substantial travel." However, in groups with male peers, "only 37% of single women chose that option." And get this: "Single women were less likely to choose the career-focused option when there were more single men in the group."

Single women worried about appearing "too ambitious, assertive, or pushy. "Sixty-four percent of single females said they had avoided asking for a raise or a promotion for that reason, compared with 39% of women who were married or in a serious relationship and 27% of men. Over half of single women reported avoiding speaking up in meetings, compared with approximately 30% of women who weren’t single women and men."

The bottom line, say the authors, is that "single women avoid actions that would help their careers because of marriage considerations, and that marriage considerations may be an additional explanation for gender differences in the labor market." In other words, women's priority on snagging a husband is a major career drag—one that continues the gender gap in pay and professional standing.

Is this where we are after 50 years of women's liberation: Back to 1958, when being a smart girl meant playing dumb, and the ultimate prize is the MRS? Are women so needy of the trappings of marriage, and men that insecure, that we have to play these games to get along?

Well, sort of.

Though the handful of women lawyers I consulted about this topic expressed disbelief that women would downplay their abilities, some admit finding a mate is a big goal. And that means, consciously or not, that the sexes continue these gender games.

"Women don't marginalize themselves to appear more 'marriageable' in general, but they may do so to appear more attractive to a specific male," observes a Big Law associate who says she's seen instances where women willingly played second fiddle to a male colleague. "Female associates don't want to be number one on a case if that means beating their male associate crush or paramour." The male ego is "fragile," she adds, and "smart women recognize their chances with a man are lessened if their own success comes directly at his expense."

Good grief.


Photo: Beyonce singing Single Ladies (Wikipedia).

May 12, 2017

Big Firm Dumps Annual Reviews, and Associates Cheer (Especially Women)

10263126595_d42f3688e3_bAnyone who says that performance reviews are useful is full of it. Really, who comes out of a review feeling the least bit enlightened or empowered? Certainly not the employee.

"My view and experience is that they are worthless up until they're not," says a senior associate at a big firm. Most reviews are anodyne, she adds, particularly for junior and mid-level associates, "unless you're getting fired."

To me, the performance review is nothing but a management tool to justify paying crummy raises or firing an employee—whatever the need might be. That's why perfect scores on reviews are virtually nonexistent, and there are always areas for employee "improvement" on evaluation forms. It's also why some companies grade employees on a curve. That way, the standards are vague, and no employee should feel in the least special. Talk about boosting morale!

We all know reviews are empty annual rites, but who would have the balls to get rid of them?

Brace yourself. It's Allen & Overy, that Magic Circle firm.

Legal Business reports that the firm dropped its annual appraisals over six months ago.

Instead of the formal annual review, there's now a "consistent feedback and dialogue," says Elizabeth Mercer, A&O's corporate public relations manager. She tells me it is a "pilot scheme" started last October, involving "500 fee-earners and business staff across several practice groups and support functions in London, Singapore and the Middle East."

And how are tradition-bound lawyers reacting to this decimation of their routine? They love it.

"The feedback on this has been positive," Mercer says, "particularly in engaging with female associates on their career development. We didn't do it originally to retain female talent but the positive feedback has been noticeable." Dropping the annual evaluation has been so well received that many more offices and practice groups world wide will do the same by year end, says Mercer.

So here's the newsflash: Everyone hates performance reviews—but women really loathe them.

Surprised? Well, you shouldn't be.

Studies have shown that performance reviews are riddled with gender bias, and that women are often judged much more harshly than men. For instance, one study finds that men outscored women in numerical ratings, though women often got glowing comments on the narrative portion of the reviews. (The study analyzed the performance reviews of 234 associates at a Wall Street law firm.)

"The ABA Commission on Women in the Profession recognized the problem of implicit biases in evaluations many years ago," says Roberta Liebenberg, the commission's former chair. "Double standards are often applied." Men get praised for aggressive behavior, she says, "while the same behavior by female associates is criticized." Moreover, she adds, "mistakes by male associates are more readily forgiven than those made by their female counterparts; and male associates are judged more often on potential, while women associates are judged based solely on their performance."

In light of these studies and the positive reaction A&O has gotten by dropping its evaluations, doesn't it make sense that other firms and companies drop this annual ritual of meaninglessness?

Of course. But what are the chances that will happen?

"I think this is a very surprising and welcome development, but am somewhat skeptical that other firms will follow their lead," says Liebenberg.

Let me be even more blunt: Allen & Overy is an outlier. But in my book, that's a compliment.



May 10, 2017

We Are the Ladies Who Lunch. Got a Problem with That?


The ladies at my table were uppity this year. Sipping an endless flow of rosé, we made a pact under the flower-bedecked tent: We will no longer be shamed.

It was the annual Central Park Women's Committee hat luncheon—that society event where ladies of means don elaborate, sometimes outrageous, hats to raise money for the park's conservancy. Though women with serious careers have infiltrated the luncheon for years, it's still regarded as a frivolous, girly event—which is why some have felt a bit sheepish about attending (and enjoying) it.

"Women are conscious of perceptions," says former lawyer Valerie Bruce, who's now a senior vice president BCC International. "Attending a non-work related luncheon conjures feelings of guilt—even if for a good cause."

Alas, women are getting rid of the guilt. The women at my table (lawyers and business executives) want you to know that they too are ladies who lunch—and deserve respect. IMG_0459

"Men have their golf outings, we have this," says Linda Filardi (at right with Mike Bloomberg), a former Big Law associate (Debevoise and Skadden Arps), who was most recently a senior lawyer at G.E. "We can choose to take the day off just like the men do all freakin' summer long. We were networking—just like Donald Trump does on the golf course."

Adds Brande Stellings, vice president of Catalyst and a former Cravath, Swaine & Moore litigator: "Men would never apologize about leaving the office to go play golf and don't feel uncomfortable blurring lines between pleasure and business."

So there you have it: No more guilt about guilty pleasures.

Careerist-Women-Lunch-Feat-201705080857   Careerist-Women-Lunch-Feat-201705080900

Careerist-Women-Lunch-Feat-201705080932 X0W0KdHC__9tazO67SiJeciHL2lY_1nYoGi4TEUdAdA pstih9OhZYr8kZeqg8K4HHuNKq9ckrQxSQJmvSO4GJc 5uuoGnjd5HRWHNhI9aCTYXH7psbOF5cZOAIypSql30g

May 8, 2017

Sorry, Rainmakers Don't Sit at Home in PJs

87-1243112379AbeTCan we get real?

I'm talking about the fantasy that lawyers can drop out of the rat race, run off with the firms' clients and make buckets of money. All from their cozy apartment, beach house or suburban manse.

The latest group to feed this fantasy are "virtual" law firms—institutions that offer little more than an internet shingle (no office, no computers, no marketing). One such firm is Culhane Meadows, which Am Law Daily reports ("Stay-at-Home-Rainmakers: A Growing Threat to Big Law" ) is attracting "a horde of Big Law refugees" by promising them flexibility and big returns (80 percent of their billings).

No doubt, virtual firms are growing and big firm alums are joining the flock. But are they "increasingly competing with Big Law for both rainmakers and work from Fortune 100 clients"?

Not to be a killjoy, but the idea of a big rainmaker in the clouds giving Big Law a run for its money sounds like, well, pie-in-sky. Not to mention, a tad fluffy.

Yet, Kevin Broyles, the co-founder of virtual firm FisherBroyles, is telling Big Law to watch out. He told Am Law Daily that a partner with a $20 million book of business is considering joining his firm. "It’s going to explode," he gushes. "And people will say, wow, if a guy who has $20 or $25 million can make that move, then someone who has $10 million or $15 million can make that move. It’s coming."

A firm without so much as an office in a strip mall reeling in a $20 million rainmaker? Sounds mighty Trumpian to me.

Wouldn't someone with that scale of business need some conventional support—like associates, paralegal and secretaries? And why would a lawyer with that huge book (or even one with a mere million) need to go to FisherBroyles? Is it the Cravath, Swaine & Moore of the clouds?

The Big Law alums going to virtual firms tend to be more modest, say industry experts.

"They are probably income partners or someone who's been de-equitized," says law firm consultant Peter Zeughauser. And if they have business, it's likely that the amount is well under $1 million, he explains, adding, "their work usually doesn't support the rates of big firms."

Says a senior recruiter in Washington: "Most people who've gone this route are people who've been asked to leave their firm. I'm highly skeptical that any top-flight rainmaker are leaving their firms to join these place."

Indeed, it's hard to believe that anyone with a modicum of knowledge about law firms is buying the virtual firm hype.

But hey, I can understand its allure. It feeds into the myth that there's this thing call work/life balance out there. And it feeds into lawyers' need to find a less painless way to make money and have some control over their lives.

Besides, who wouldn't want a big, beautiful, lucrative career while lounging around in silk pajamas?



May 5, 2017

The Young and the Restless


They're either delusional or lying through their teeth. Or just a bundle of contradictions.

According to a new survey of more than 1,200 lawyers (over 90 percent of the respondents were associates), young lawyers at big firms aren't quite as jaded as we thought. The difference is that they want more control over their lives. What's unclear, though, is how much they truly want to change the profession.

Here are some highlights from the Major Lindsey & Africa survey:

 - Firm culture ranks as the number one factor in millennials' calculation about job offers.

-  Work/life balance is the second most important factor.

-  Only 50 percent ranked compensation as a key factor.

-  The least important considerations are the firm's prestige and training.

If your firm has been spending big bucks on branding, paying fat bonuses or packing associates off for courses at Harvard Business School, too bad, so sad. You've just wasted your partners' hard earned money.

Rather than those high-price items, young lawyers care much more about squishier things like firm culture and work/life balance. So does that mean that they want to revolutionize Big Law or eventually drop out entirely?

No. Despite reports that millennials are disillusioned with the game, an astonishing 44 percent predict that they will be law firm partners (34 percent expect to do so at their current firm). What's more, 66 percent say they are "confident" or "very confident" that they will achieve their career goals.

What's with the high self-regard? Unlike many of their predecessors, this group truly wants to be lawyers, says MLA partner Michelle Fivel, one of the study's authors. "They chose to go to law school during or after the recession. They went in with their eyes wide open."

Another surprise: This generation is more smitten with making partner than going in-house. "There's been a shift, and they understand there's more stability with firms," says Ru Bhatt, an MLA managing director who co-authored the report. "They feel better informed about firms," adds Bhatt, noting that law firm compensation has been steadily rising.

If so many are gunning for partnership, are they truly serious about making work/life balance a priority? "They feel they should have it all," says Fiovel. But that doesn't necessarily mean they'll work less hard; they just don't want to do it at the office. "They've used technology their whole lives, and they feel they can be accessible without being tied to desk."

And what's all this stuff about millennials not caring about the brand name? All things being equal, does anyone seriously believe that someone would forsake Cravath to go to a no-name firm in Burlington, Vermont just because the latter gives off better vibes?

"Well, I think they're still thinking about the Am Law 200 firms," says Fivel. "I don't think they're planning on going so far down the chain."

Indeed, there's little indication that millennials are more idealistic or principled. For all the talk about work/life balance, "commitment to progressive family-friendly policies" only garnered a 5.37 score out of 10 from respondents in terms of importance. That's also the same score for "commitment to corporate social responsibility." And when it comes to diversity, more partners (82.5 percent) than associates (72.08 percent) rated it as a high priority.

(Interesting side note: 60 percent of respondents in survey agree that "U.S. law firm culture is inherently sexist." Left unsaid: What will this group do once it is in power.)

As much as "culture" ranks high on associates' list of priorities, millennials care little whether their clients share their cultural outlook. (To all you firms representing Donald Trump or his family, no worries.) "You hear about how associates won't work for firms that represent Big Tobacco, but that's not what we saw," says Bhatt. "They don't expect clients to share their values."

In other words, Big Law shouldn't worry so much about pleasing millennials. They're not plotting any revolution. They're pragmatic and ambitious—a combination that should keep billables going up and up.

So here's the plan: Don't shell out big bucks for programs they don't care about. Just give them a semblance of autonomy (like letting them work where they want) and whisper the prospect of partnership in their ears. Chances are, they'll bust their buns. Just like they've always done.


May 1, 2017

Hello Pink Ghetto


I know some people cringe when I use the term "pink ghetto." I've been told it's degrading, misleading, misunderstood. Maybe it's not a politically sensitive term, but isn't that an apt description for low-prestige, low-paying practice areas where women lawyers.

In case you missed the bulletin, here are the practices where women are in ample supply, according to our friends at ALM Intellience:




Family law

Health care

All respectable practices, though a tad pedestrian. Actually, to be blunt, these are the backwaters—at least to members of the elite circles of the profession. But according to Law.com, women represent about 60 percent of immigration practices, 48 percent of family law practioners and 45 percent of health care groups in Big Law—assuming a major firm would even deign to house some of these departments.

In contrast, women are much more scarce in the more lucrative (and sexier) areas, such as banking, intellectual property and litigation. Women represent only 35 percent in litigation, 31 percent in banking and tax, 27 percent in IP and 23 percent in M&A departments.

So here's the question: Are women flocking to those low-rent areas out of choice or is there an invisible hand that steers them there?

The article suggests that women are making the choice. A partner at Seyfarth Shaw and a recruiter at Major, Lindsey & Africa are both quoted as saying that women want more control over their hours and that practices like litigation and M&A make that daunting.

It hard to argue that female lawyers are gagged and forced into less demanding career paths. Indeed, talk to most any lawyer, and virtually everyone will say that choice plays a big role in women's ambitions.

"Many women don't want the demands of a 24/7 practice where you have little control over your life," explains a female partner in a big firm. Given that "the odds of success [in Big Law], for both male and female, are low," women may regard a lower-key practice "as being a better route to success, or just may want a more manageable career," she adds.

Then, there are the tides to traditional gender roles. "To the extent you accept that woman are still more likely to be the primary care giver for the kids —admittedly this is debatable—then I think that self selection plays a key role in explaining this disparity," says a senior female associate with three kids.

Which lead to this sticky question: How much of this "choice" is truly choice?

We hate to say that highly-educated, independent women are pressured into certain roles, but the implication is there. For instance, though the aforementioned female partner says, "it's definitely self selection. I don't think it is actual sexism pushing them," she also adds: "I think certain women feel more comfortable in fields that are less male dominated because of the general fact that the business world is more male dominated."

A male partner at the same big firm wonders if women are put off by the testosterone-driven styles that dominate some practices. "Some of it may be that women are more traditionally the peace makers and burn the house down litigation is just not them."

It might be hard to pinpoint the exact reason why women go into certain practices, but gender discrimination, in all its subtle forms, is at the heart. "Certainly sexism," says the female associate with three kids. "I never underestimate the power of the old boys network." What's often require for success in high-power practices, she adds, is "a certain level of alpha male attitude still, unfortunately, and many women may not feel particularly motivated to deal with that."

Ah, that old alpha male je-ne-sais-quois. Until it's available to women in a bottle in a consumable form, can we say that there's actually a choice?


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

My Other Accounts

Google Plus
Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 03/2010