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5 posts from January 2018

January 16, 2018

My Funniest, Saddest and Most Loathed Careerists Posts for 2017

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Another year down the toilet. That's how I look at the start of a new year. 

So before all my hard work for 2017 is consigned to oblivion, I present to you some of my most memorable and outrageous Careerist posts for the past year:

My most ridiculously popular post: How to Deal with Assholes. I don't think this was a particularly penetrating look at the issue but, somehow, the topic is forever young to those who work in law firms. My interview with Stanford University's management professor Robert Sutton, the leading academic on assholes in the workplace (I'm serious).

Runner-up: Death to Performance Reviews (Well, One Can Hope). What would you rather do for 30 minutes: Get reviewed by your manager or be knocked out for a colonoscopy? Can you guess which one I pick?

My most contrarian post: Kellyanne: Victim of Sexism. Yes, that Kellyanne. And yes, I think she got slapped around and dumped on in a sexist fashion. I don't mind trashing her, but I do believe in doing so in a fair way.

The post women loved: Take Your Pick: 1) Ditzy Broad or 2) Angry Bitch. Because we all know there is no middle course.

The post (some) women hated: Hello Pink Ghetto. I called the practices where women tend to be well-represented (e.g., immigration, labor/employment and family law) "respectable" but "pedestrian"—and some thought those sounded like sexists judgments. Oh well.

My most personal post: The Ordeals of a Trump Supporter. I've been told many times to "go back to where you came from"—and I just had to write about it when a white woman said she endured the same line as a Trump supporter in Washington, D.C.

My dirtiest post: Mike Pence, Lust and Big Law. Isn't there's something creepy and inherently dirty about a man in a position of respect who has to impose all sorts of rules on himself in order to avoid the temptation of the flesh? 

My most depressing post: Let's Talk about Kozinski's Victim: Heidi Bond. A look at a career that might have been.

Runner-up: David Boies's Mea Culpa Doesn't Cut It. A look at a legendary career marred.

Runner-up: Love, Lost and What She Wore. My interview with Karen Dunn, the woman who would have been White House Counsel, if Hillary had won.

What you shouldn't miss: My four part series on blacks in the profession. When Big Law Elects a Black Leader; Black Harvard Law Grads Are Doing Fine (Mostly); It's Lonely at the Top; and Black Female Lawyers. Believe it or not, I'm not always fun and jolly. Sometimes, I do tackle serious topics, and, to me, the plight of black lawyers is one that deserves more coverage.

Happy (or should I say Happier) Chinese New Year!

 

 

 

 

January 12, 2018

Trumpers' Go-To Guy and the Truth About Roy Moore's "Jewish" Lawyer

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I just got back from Mexico, so my knives might not be as sharp as usual. (Yes, I had many Margaritas on the beach.) But no worries: After being back in gloomy New York for less than 24 hours, that vacation feeling is quickly fading.

I am back in the saddle with my weekly picks of what I find piquant in the news:

Why do Trumpsters flock to the same lawyer? With all the hot-shot lawyers in Washington, D.C. and New York, why are three key players in Trump's orbit picking the same lawyer?

The Daily Beast reports that Quinn Emanuel partner Bill Burck is advising Stephen Bannon on his upcoming interview with the House intelligence committee. In case you forgot, Burck (center) also represents White House counsel Don McGahn (right) and former chief of staff Reince Priebus in the Russian investigation.

I don't know if each of these guys just happen to pick Burck as the One or if McGahn referred Burck to Bannon. (I assume Priebus didn't make the referral, since he and Bannon don't seem to like each other.)

Though this seems like a situation rife with potential conflicts, I assume they all gave Burck the green light. And maybe there's a grander scheme. The Raw Story reports that "Bannon could be an incredibly valuable witness for the special counsel, especially if his testimony matches up with McGahn and Priebus—who took the highly unusual step of keeping contemporaneous notes throughout his six months as chief of staff."

Will Bannon, McGahn and Priebus all stick with the same story? If so, how long? Curiouser and curiouser.

Who's really a Jewish lawyer? Remember how Roy Moore's wife Kayla tried to prove that she and her husband weren't anti-Semitic by saying at a campaign rally: "Fake news will tell you that we don’t care for Jews. . . I just want to set the record straight. One of our attorneys is a Jew!"

The Washington Examiner identified the "Jewish" lawyer-friend as Richard Jaffe, an Alabama defense lawyer hired by the Moores in 2016 to defend their son, Caleb, against drug charges. (Whoa, the Moore's son faced drug charges?!?)

But here's the news bulletin: Jaffe told Washington Examiner that he was a "passionate supporter" of Moore's opponent Doug Jones. 

Embarrassing, right? Stay with me.

It gets more complicated. After that story came out, Kayla Moore told the Examiner that it had made a mistake. She said the "Jewish" lawyer she was referring to is Martin Wishnatsky, not Jaffe.

Wishnatsky is a die-hard Moore supporter. But the sticky part is that he's long renounced his Jewish faith. Though born Jewish, Wishnatsky became an evangelical Protestant Christian (and before that, a Mormon). He's now a staff lawyer with the Foundation for Moral Law, which is run by the Moores.

So here's my query: Can the Moore rightly make the claim that they have a "Jewish" lawyer?  I don't mean for this to be a theological/legal discussion, but I am intrigued.

 
Bad-Date-Ruined-Art-Article-201801102004Only in Texas can this land you in prison for life. I'm sorry to pick on my home state, but Texas always stands out in strange ways. A few weeks ago, Lindy Lou Layman (by the way, love the alliteration!) was arrested after she allegedly destroyed $300,000 worth of art at Houston plaintiffs lawyer Tony Buzbee’s home in River Oaks (that's the super fancy part of town, if you didn't know). 

Texas Lawyer now reports that Layman (left) could get a life sentence, if convicted: "According to the Texas Penal Code, punishment in criminal mischief cases are determined by how expensive the property a person destroys." If the property is worth less than $100,000, it's only a misdemeanor; but if the property is over $300,00, it's a first-degree felony, which could mean the slammer for life.

"Basically it’s a rich people statute to make it worse if rich people get stolen from or if their property gets damaged," Chris Mulder, a Dallas criminal defense attorney, told Texas Lawyer. "I guess it discourages from stealing from the wealthy instead of stealing in general."

Of course, the rich deserves extra protection! Think of all they do for the rest of society! And that's why we've revised the tax code!

Anyhoo, don't worry about Lindy Lou. According to Mulder, it's not a law that's really enforced to the letter. 

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Don't mess with Chinese moms.
 As every good Chinese child knows, you are suppose to care for your parents in their old age. So what happens if the child reneges? Sue!

That's what one mom did, and she just won her case before the Taiwan's Supreme Court, which ordered her son, a dentist, to pay up big time.

Reports the New York Times: "The case attracted considerable attention because the mother and son had put down in a written contract — signed when he was 20 — what is often left unsaid, particularly in a heavily Confucian-influenced society that emphasizes filial piety. The principle is backed up by law in Taiwan, where adults are legally prohibited from abandoning their parents."

The upshot is that the son must now fork over almost $1 million to mom ($754,000, plus interest, "bringing the total award for his mother to more than $967,000") for an "upbringing fee."

Hey, it all sounds reasonable to me. Are you listening, my darlings?

vchen@alm.com

January 9, 2018

Crystal Ball, Oh, Crystal Ball

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It's that time of the year again—when I peer into my crystal ball to see what's in store for the legal profession in the new year. Here are my predictions:

Big little lies will become part of the legal culture. The legal profession will be more tolerant/understanding/forgiving of omissions, misstatements and flat-out lies on resumes, documents, disclosure forms, whatever. It will be no big deal to inflate GPAs or I.Q. scores on C.V.s, omit a felony conviction on a questionnaire or exaggerate the size of the audience at your moot court competition. 

Hey, if folks in high public office (e.g., Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner and the POTUS himself) or candidates for the federal bench (e.g., Brett Talley) can forget or distort the facts, why not the rest us? 

All law schools will accept GREs—and SATs, PSATs, etc. Once Harvard Law School announced that it will take GREs, you knew that the LSAT as the gold standard for law school admission was finito. But law schools won't stop with the GREs. Spooked by that big dip in law school applications following the recession, law school officials will cast a wide net.

So expect law schools to accept SATs, PSATs, ACTs for future admissions. And it won't be long when they'll also take the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam)—you know, that silly test your kid takes to get into a posh private school. 

More hype about how millennials will change the evil ways of Big Law. Women, people of color and the otherwise disfranchised will insist that millennials will transform law firms into more egalitarian, open and humane work environments.

Don't worry, law firm managers: Millennials are needy and want approval. Just give them constant feedback, tell them their opinions are important and keep doing what you've always done. They'll fall into line—like you did. Hey, weren't Baby Boomers suppose to bring on the revolution too?

More hype that clients will insist that law firms diversity. The same group above (women, minorities, etc.) will pin their hopes on clients to make law firms more inclusive. The hope goes like this: Clients really, really care about diversity and are telling firms that they better get on the diversity train or lose business.

Again, no worries: Clients will scold you but they won't do anything drastic, like firing your firm. You white, middle-aged boys have been doing a dandy job, so why rock the boat?

Women will spend more time analyzing why they lag so far behind men. Firms will gladly send their female lawyers to all-day, all-week or all-season seminars, conferences, workshops and therapy sessions on why women aren't succeeding.

This will get the women out of the office so that men can do client development in peace.

Every firm will have a chief sex czar. Though the #MeToo moment hasn't really hit Big Law, firms are scared that there might be sleeper-Harveys in the ranks. To save their business, the latest must-have will be the resident sex czar. Move over marketing mavens and diversity directors!

Besides forcing everyone to undergo hours of tedious sexual harassment training, the sex czar will track the sex lives or potential sex lives of all lawyers. It will mean the end of office romance as we know it—a sad state of affairs for busy lawyers who have little chance of hanky-panky outside of the office. Alas, people will have to lust only in their hearts.

Law firm events will get (even more) unbearable. Because of the fear that alcohol will lead to indiscretions and lawsuits (see point above), all law firm events will be dry. That means no-booze at firm outings, holiday parties and dinners.

Yes, you will really have to sit stone sober next to that drooling 90-year old retired partner and feign amazement as he tells you (again) about how Cravath, Swaine & Moore unleashed a Pandora's box by upping the starting associate salary to $35,000 during the Stone Age.

The Trump administration will legalize sexual harassment. While law firms and the rest of corporate America scramble to grapple with sexism in their workplace, President Trump will change the rules of the game. He will nominate judges to the federal bench who believe that sexual harassment is a form of free speech that deserves First Amendment protection.

Yo, don't Neanderthals deserve be a protected class?

vchen@alm.com

 

January 5, 2018

News & Gossip: Associates' Outrage, Royal Finances and Cooley's Coolness

Unnamed-22Bonuses Are Tied to Hours: The Outrage! I don't know whether Big Law associates really feel this way or if the media is egging them on to act like entitled children, but I find some of the coverage about associate bonuses to be ridiculous.

I'm talking about the whipped-up indignation that year-end bonuses are tied to billable hours.

For instance, the headline at Above the Law reads: "This Firm Won't Give You Anywhere Near A Full Bonus If You Don't Meet Your Hours Requirement."  The firm is Norton Rose & Fulbright where  associates have to bill 2300 hours to get the market bonus. As ATL points outs, "anything less than that—specifically, 2000-2299 hours—will earn them just 50 percent of market." And since the year is drawing to a close, associates have little time to make up the difference. Boo hoo.

That sense of bait-and-switch was echoed in New York Law Journal's post, "Bonuses Come with Billable Hours Catch at Some Firms." The "catch" was again Norton Rose's billable requirement, though NYLJ offered the cheery news that "associates at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft who have recorded at least 2,200 billable hours can earn even more than the scale set by Cravath." Whoopee!

Not to be a party pooper, but a "bonus" by definition is an extra treat, a gratuity; it's not an automatic entitlement nor an indispensable component of the compensation package (unlike what I-bankers get). 

I know, I know, some firms don't have explicit billable hour requirements for bonuses, so it seems unfair that some firms impose the burden. But does anyone seriously believe that associates at Cravath, Swaine & Moore or Wachtell Lipton aren't working their rear-ends off just because there's no stated billable minimum?

Frankly, I think it's much more honest and fair to say that those who bill more will take home more moolah. Firms might  be reluctant to use phrases like "eat what you kill" in front of their young, but that's the brutal truth. 

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A royal pain
. Here's a brainteaser for you royal-obsessed enthusiasts: Guess what's potentially the biggest upset about the upcoming nuptials between Britain's Prince Harry and actress Meghan Markle?

No, silly, it has nothing to do with Markle's African American heritage, her status as a divorcee or the fact that she's three years older than his royal highness. 

What's shaking things up is that the Internal Revenue Service could be an unwelcome intruder in the royal marriage. Reports The Washington Post (Hat tip: Taxlawprof):

For Harry, the issue isn't that he will suddenly end up paying U.S. income tax, but rather that Markle's American citizenship could open up the secretive finances of the royal family to outside scrutiny. If she remains a U.S. citizen, Markle will have to file her taxes to the IRS every year. And if she has more than $150,000 in assets at any point during the tax year—a likely scenario given her successful acting career and the family wealth of her husband—she will be expected to annually file a document called Form 8938 that will reveal the detail of these assets, which could include foreign trusts.

Don't worry you royalist loyalists. If Markle renounces her American citizenship, all this would be moot. But if Markle goes for dual citizenship, we'll get a peak at the royal coffers. (Word to the wise: I'd keep my U.S. citizen status if I were her, since royal marriages don't last like they use to.)

Imagine, the Queen might reveal her finances before we ever see a page of our own president's tax returns.

Cooley4_caphoto23856Is this the coolest, most family-friendly Big Law firm? Fortune came out with its best 50 workplaces for parents list and two major law firms were on the list. And get this, one firm even made it to the top 10!

Yes, it's Cooley, which came in #7 on the Fortune's list. (The other firm on the list is Orrick, #27.)

For whatever reason, Cooley seems to be the "It" firm these days. (Crains, Working Mother and who-knows-what-else have bestowed their stamped of approval on Cooley.) 

As you know, I tend to be highly skeptical of these lists, and I still am. That said, this comment from one of Cooley's lawyers in the Fortune article popped out at me: "I have been with Cooley for 17 incredible years. I am a parent to six kids and never once have I felt like I’ve had to make a choice between being a great parent and a great lawyer." The same lawyer goes on to say that s/he is able to "fully meet my parental responsibilities to all my kids and still also fully meet my responsibilities to clients and colleagues."

Let's just take a breather and take this in: This lawyer has six kids. I don't know if this person has a stay-at-home spouse or an army of nannies, but balancing six critters and practice without being institutionalized is an achievement under any circumstances. Hey, I'm impressed. 

 

 

 

 
Contact me: vchen@alm.com 

January 2, 2018

What! You Didn't Make the Latest Best Lawyer List!?!

Margaret_Gorman_4Oh, joy! Another "best" women lawyer list! Look who else is crowding into the female lawyer franchise? Crain's just launched its inaugural list of 100 "Leading Women Lawyers in New York City" and 60 "Leading Women Lawyers in Chicago." Quick! Check out who's on it (or not). If your lawyer made the list, she must be awesome! If not, ask for a discount!

Folks, how can anyone take this stuff seriously? 

Let's start with the obvious: These "best," "leading" or "top" women's list strike me as sexist. Can you imagine publishing a list of the 100 "Leading Men Lawyers in New York"?  People would think it's a parody.

Second, I have no faith in how Crain's or anyone else makes these selections. (We know firms submit their own candidates.) While there are lots of well-known women on the lists, there are also plenty of omissions. (Don't get me started.)

So what's the criteria for this honor? I'd describe it as "fuzzy." For its New York list, Crain's calls its picks "trailblazers" who "juggle both distinguished careers and exceptional civic and philanthropic activities." For its Chicago list, Crain's says the winners made "a point to mentor other women lawyers and to give back to their community in myriad ways."

I don't know how Crain's measured "distinguished careers" or "exceptional civic and philanthropic activities" or giving back "in myriad ways," except that it all sounds like something cooked up by some marketing maven to stage an overpriced, dreadfully dull awards gala to which colleagues and family will feel obligated to attend.

Look on the bright side: It gives everyone an excuse to buy another swanky evening dress or tuxedo.

Kudos to Jenner & Block. I must be getting soft. For the second week in a row, I have something nice to say about a firm. (Last week it was DLA Piper's Toronto office.) This time, it's Jenner & Block, which just announced 13 new partners, and the class consists of eight women and five men. That's an impressive margin of ladies!

Here are new partners:

Clifford Berlow

Christine Bowman

Jason Bradford

Penelope Campbell

Jeremy Casper

Brienne Letourneau

Jennifer Senior

Sarah Weiss

James Woolrich

David Lachman

Laura MacDonald

Emily Loeb

Devi Rao

Even more impressive: This is not the first time that women have outnumbered men in partner promotions at the firm. In 2015, Jenner also promoted eight women and five men. (Last year, it slipped slightly, elevating eight women and 10 men.)

Hey, if a solid firm like Jenner & Block can produce these results, what's wrong with the rest of you? 

Jones Day's alum gets the boot. Sorry, folks, it's not Don McGahn, the erstwhile Jones Day partner who's now running the White House Counsel office and shaping the judiciary to his personal liking. (McGahn tried to fill two federal judgeships with his cronies—Brett Talley and Matthew Petersen—but both withdrew because they were too blatantly incompetent. Don't worry, McGahn's got a lot more buddies in pipeline.)

The Jones Day alum who's in trouble is Chaka Patterson who left the firm with fanfare to be Cook County's assistant state attorney and chief of the Civil Actions Bureau in Illinois. For a while it was a great ride for Jones Day, because Patterson fed his former firm lots of business from Cook County. 

Maybe too much business. 

Patterson recently resigned from his post after an internal inquiry found that he was perhaps too generous to his former firms. Meaghan Tribe in The American Lawyer reports that "Patterson reportedly referred two cases—a federal job discrimination suit and a federal wrongful conviction matter—to Jones Day at a rate of up to $500 per hour."

Getting billed for $500 an hour might seem like small change for a Fortune 500 company, but this is Cook County, which is already under financial pressure. Plus, "the firm has already billed for more than $464,000." (It should be noted that there was no finding of wrong doing on the part of Jones Day.)

I don't know if Patterson will get his job back at Jones Day, because the firm isn't talking. Though he left his government job under a cloud, it seems Jones Day owes it to him to take him back. I mean, he did get in trouble because he was (too) nice to his old firm.

Hey, I'd like to see his tax returns. He didn't go to fancy law school (ever heard of St. Mary's Law School?) nor has he ever worked in fancy law firm, but boy is he rolling in dough.

How much dough? Try this: Texas personal injury lawyer Thomas Henry reportedly just spent $4 million on his son's 18th birthday party. And there's more: His son also got a "blue Ferrari, an IWC Portugieser Tourbillion watch and a custom-made painting from Alec Monopoly," reports Corpus Christi's Caller Times.

My first reaction? That's insane and obscene. My second reaction: Wow, PI lawyer must make an unfathomable amount of money. And again, the adjectives "insane" and "obscene" pop into mind.

I never thought I'd feel sorry for all you Big Law partners, but I do. Some of you are slaving away and taking home a mere $1 million or s0–and you consider that respectable. If you're bagging over $3 million, you probably feel super special, like the elite of the elites. And if you're making $5 million or more, you think you're a lotto winner.

But this guy in Texas blasts everyone out of the water. He blows $4 million on a party for a teenager—and this is hardly his only extravagance (he reportedly spent $6 million for his daughter's party). You can bill until your blue in the face, and you will never, ever get close to that level.

Hat tip: Above the Law

 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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