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10 posts from May 2010

May 27, 2010

White & Case Churns Out More Partners; Summer Associate Scene in Texas is Subdued; Students Flock to U Mass Law School

Memorial Day weekend is upon us. Many already are heading out of town, others of you might be resigned to spending the weekend with that antitrust memo your assigning partner is waiting for.

One thing's for sure--no one is in the mood for a long rant about the legal profession. So today I'm passing on a few bits I've culled from around the Web and my e-mail inbox. 

White & Case Anoints More New Partners

White & Case announced six more partner promotions this week, with lawyers in Abu Dhabi, London, Moscow, Prague, and New York getting bumped up (the lawyer in New York will be relocating to China). I found it interesting that lots of the action seems to be happening internationally--what does that say about where the business, and the priorities, are? Aside from this, naming new partners is fairly routine stuff, except that White & Case has been churning them out recently at a pace we can hardly keep up with--the firm promoted 33 associates just this past January. I reached out to the firm to ask if naming partners midyear is unusual for White & Case, and if more announcements will come in 2010. Firm spokesman Nick Clarke, in an e-mail response, says the firm "expect[s] to add more in the weeks and months ahead" (either through promotions or lateral hires). "We base our partner promotions and lateral hiring primarily on the needs of our clients and our business, and we typically announce our partner promotions at the end of each year," he writes. We'll be interested to see what the tally will be at year end.

Fewer Summer Associates--Even In Texas

Energy work is hot, hot, hot, and big Texas firms--along with others who've moved into the Houston market this past year--are dominating in this area. Still, those firms remain cautions about hiring, reports Texas Lawyer, a sibling publication. Baker Botts has hired 51 summer associates in all of its Texas offices, a drop of 37.8 percent from the number of summers hired last year (82), Texas Lawyer says. Another biggie, Vinson & Elkins, will bring on 82 summer associates this year, down from 120 in 2009.

"We're definitely wanting to make sure we stay aligned with our needs," Vinson & Elkins hiring partner Cristina Rodriguez says. The paper notes that most of the state's largest firms are staying aligned with their business needs by bringing in fewer summer associates for 2010.

Read Texas Lawyer's full report here.

UMass Law School Swamped With Applicants

The rumors that law is no longer a top career choice are exaggerated, if law school enrollment is any indication. According to a report in the Boston Herald, The University of Massachusetts School of Law says it received over 400 applicants for its inaugural class this coming September; 127 have enrolled. And all indications are that those numbers will only increase going forward--according to the Herald, the school says it has received more than 1,000 inquires from prospective students interested in enrolling in September 2011. That's pretty good for a law school that doesn't even figure in the national rankings.

May 26, 2010

Culture Shock for Deferred Associates?

Farming out deferred associates to work in public interest organizations during the economic downturn was a smashing success--at least that's my take after reading the Pro Bono Institute's just released report on the subject. (Here's the report summary.)

Esther Lardent, PBI's president, says, "The result was overwhelmingly positive," for the firms and nonprofits. Before the program got under way, "there was a huge concern whether this would work," she says. One worry was whether associates might fit into the nonprofit culture and have difficulties "adjusting to nonposh offices." Another concern, she adds, was whether the presence of big-firm associates at the nonprofits "would create issues with long-term staff and [indigent] clients."

As the report finds, those weren't issues. In fact, over 97 percent of the public interest organizations said they would gladly roll out the welcome mat for associates again.

It strikes me as a no-brainer that this program would be a success. The indigent benefited, as did understaffed public interest organizations--not to mention the firms that got some respite from having to pay full salaries to a bunch of thumb-Tweeting, Facebooking associates during the slow economy. 

Isla_del_Coco-chatham_beach And, of course, the deferred associates loved the experience. Who wouldn't? They got to work for the greater good while taking home a tidy stipend (which the report says ranged from $5,000 a month to $75,000 a year) from the law firm. It's like being sent away to do community service in Costa Rica, with your parents footing the airfare and food. You might not be staying at The Four Seasons, but the beaches are sure nice.   

Moreover, the associates got juicier, more meaningful work than they would have gotten as a junior cog at a big firm. "They've developed confidence and skills that they could never have gotten at a firm; they know how to handle a difficult client, do discovery, and argue a motion," says Lardent. "They're not fifth-chairing a litigation."

One public organization in the report says that it received "overwhelmingly positive feedback" from its  associate-participants, adding "some don't want to return to their firms."

But camp doesn't last forever, and most will likely return to the corporate grind.

My bet is that the return to reality could be tough. "Having client contact and seeing the impact of your work more directly might lead some to decide that big-firm practice is not for them," says Lardent. "But if the firms are smart and structure things right, they won't assume that these people have to start from ground zero."

So, dear deferred associates, are your firms putting your talents to good use? Or are you stuck doing due diligence and document markups? Feeling existential yet?

If you have topics you'd like to discuss, or information to share for The Careerist, e-mail chief blogger Vivia Chen at VChen@alm.com.

Photo by  Jon Rawlinson, Wikipedia.

May 25, 2010

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

Note:   Updated to reflect comment by Flex-Time Lawyers.

This week, Slate nailed an issue that's piqued my curiosity: How did a company like Novartis, which was just slapped with one of the biggest punitive damages awards for sex discrimination ($250 million), make Working Mother's coveted list of the top 100 companies for women? Despite systemic gender discrimination, writes blogger Sharon Lerner, Novartis has been on that list for over ten years.

Fotolia_18882486 Our guard went up because Working Mother, in collaboration with Flex-Time Lawyers, also publishes the top 50 law firms for women. That list has become a bit of a holy grail for job seekers seeking family-friendly environments. Among other considerations, Working Mother gives points to firms and companies that offer flexible schedules, telecommuting work options, and emergency child care. The winning law firms, the magazine's Web site says, also have "more lawyers working reduced hours (8 percent versus 5 percent nationwide)" and more female equity partners (20 percent versus 16 percent nationwide). 

But Is there a Novartis lurking in the law firm list? Hope not, though it's interesting that one of the listed firms, Fried Frank, is facing a handful of discrimination suits, including one by a gay lawyer who claims she experienced sexual harassment. (The firm denies the allegation.)

Maybe I'm giving the lawyers too much credit, but I'm betting that even the most sexist big-firm lawyer is smart enough not to pull the kind of stunts that the neanderthals at Novartis did:

The trial told a story that could have been written 40 years ago, about 12 female employees up against a hostile old boys' club. Their male supervisors went to great lengths to keep them out of management positions, lying about the dates of trainings, promoting less-qualified men over them, and then taking these guys and their male clients out to strip clubs to conduct business. Meanwhile, the women were subjected to the silent treatment, the worst assignments, and the offer of a seat in a boss's lap.

Another male Novartis employee came up with this little ditty: "First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes flex-time and a baby carriage."

Slate suggests that we--women--have become overly infatuated with so-called family-friendly measures. "Does the lawsuit say something about how these lists get put together? And more importantly, does it imply that the growing fad of 'flex-time' policies at American companies is just a PR maneuver that does little to relieve the burdens on working mothers?"  

The problem, says Slate, starts with the fact that companies "are chosen according to employers' self-reports, which leaves little recourse for exploring the potential gaps between stated policies and reality."

And what does Working Mother and Flex-Time have to say about all this? Deborah Epstein Henry, Flex-Time's founder, says she stands by their list: "It's a self-selected pool, but it's not a self-selected winner list." (Carol Evan, president of Working Mother Media, has yet to return my e-mail.)

In the meantime, are those family-friendly policies working at your shop?   

If you have topics you'd like to discuss, or information to share for The Careerist, e-mail chief blogger Vivia Chen at VChen@alm.com.

Photo by Sean Prior/Fotolia.com

May 24, 2010

Is Kagan Being Attacked by the Work/Life Balancers?

I've resisted throwing in my two cents about Elena Kagan's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, because who hasn't? So much chatter about the "real Elena" that you'd think we're talking about Lady Gaga's love life. Is she liberal or conservative? Or an amoral careerist? Is she gay--and, if so, why doesn't she come out? What does she really eat for breakfast? 

But among women lawyers the buzz is about her unmarried and childless state, and what that says about the high price women pay for success in our society. To some, it sends the wrong message to put another high-achieving woman whose career is her life on the high court. (Sonia Sotomayor, the most recent Supreme Court justice, is also single and childless.) Peter Beinart argues in The Daily Beast that what's really needed is a mama-candidate who can show the world that it's possible to juggle a high-flying career and change the diapers.

Recently, Lisa Belkin, the New York Times's resident work/life guru, weighed in on the issue. Her article, "Judging Women," was insightful and reasoned--and depressingly regressive. Belkin[4]

At first, Belkin (pictured right) makes an interesting observation: The first two female Supreme Court justices (Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg) managed to be mothers and wives, though they graduated from law school in the 1950s when women lawyers stood out as odd ducks. She attributes their ability to have both career and family to a "paradoxical freedom" that came with low expectations of women: "Because no top-tier law firm would hire O'Connor, she took a series of slower-track jobs, then spent five years as a stay-at-home mom."

Kagan, 50, and Sotomayor, 55, came of age in a wholly different era, writes Belkin, when "a teenage Kagan could pose in judicial robes in her high school yearbook, because such a dream was possible." 

But there's a price for the raised expectation, warns Belkin:

Pursue the career and sacrifice the family. Have the family and ratchet back the career...There would be no taking five years off to stay home with your children if you hoped for a seat on the Supreme Court.

To buttress her argument that women face stark choices, Belkin cites author Sylvia Ann Hewlett. As you might recall, Hewlett caused a baby panic among professional women several years ago when she urged women to give more priority to having kids before it was too late. In her book Creating a Life, Hewlett found that a third to one-half of career-focused women at age 40 were childless, though they desperately longed for kids. 

Belkin probably doesn't mean to send women into a panic the way Hewlett did. But what's disturbing is Belkin's underlying assumption that career women are leading incomplete lives unless there's a fire burning at home. She tries to be encouraging when she cites women who've managed to have it all: "Think Nancy Pelosi, Sarah Palin, Meg Whitman, and Hillary Clinton." At the same time, though, Belkin sounds an alarm:

For men, having a family is an asset while pursuing a demanding career. For women, it is still a complication. So maybe the Kagan nomination sends the 'wrong' message, but at the moment it is also a realistic--and cautionary--one.

"Cautionary?" Are we back there again--warning girls of the perils of being too career-minded? Is Belkin recasting Kagan's life into a parable about the inevitable loneliness that befalls super-achieving women? Aside from reinforcing stereotypes, Belkin and others in the work/life balance trenches seem obsessed with imposing their own traditional priorities onto Kagan.

Maybe Kagan is married to her job. And maybe it's a deliriously happy marriage. Anything wrong with that?

If you have topics you'd like to discuss, or information to share for The Careerist, e-mail chief blogger Vivia Chen at VChen@alm.com.

Photo of Elena Kagan courtesy of The White House

Photo of Belkin courtesy of The New York Times

May 21, 2010

First Gay and Female on Marquee--Trend Starter or Non-Starter?

Gays and women made history in the clubby world of Am Law 100 firms this spring when Kathleen Sullivan became a name partner at what is now Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.

Sullivan, the former dean of Stanford Law School who has been mentioned as a contender for a U.S. Supreme Court appointment, is a double whammy in the big firm world: She's the first female and first openly gay lawyer to have her name featured on the marquee of an Am Law 100 firm.  

Justine00176_BW_SML[1]When the news first broke, I expected women and gays to be dancing in the streets. But so far, the reaction has been surprisingly subdued. The first female stuff got some play (Alison Frankel wrote about it in The Am Law Litigation Daily), though the gay angle got somewhat pushed aside in the shuffle (Above the Law did mention it in passing).

"Maybe we've become blasé about firsts for women," says Cynthia Calvert, a co-founder of the Project for Attorney Retention at UC Hastings (the group focuses on work/life balance issues). Calvert admits that the news about Sullivan's elevation escaped her attention.

Could this blasé reaction be a sign of progress? Maybe it signals that the doors to the clubhouse have been open, and, as such, diversity is easy to find among the legal muckety-mucks.  

If only things were that far along. The more realistic--and depressing--explanation is that Sullivan's elevation doesn't make a damn bit of difference in the larger scheme of things. "Anytime we see women reach milestone positions, it's something to be happy about," says Lauren Rikleen, who runs the Bowditch Institute for Women’s Success. "But when you have less than ten percent of women who are managing partners, that's more the story than one about a particular success."

Also, what does it mean that it takes a superstar like Sullivan to break into the name-partner ranks? "You shouldn't have to be a Supreme Court contender to run a law firm or be name partner," Rikleen says. "Most men [leaders] aren't on the short list for the Supreme Court. We set the bar higher for women."

Even Sullivan is reluctant to say that she's starting a trend. "Name changes are rare things," she says. "The major issue is whether women are at a place where they have a chance to succeed and shine."

And what does she say about being the first openly gay name partner in the Am Law 100? "I don't know if any of the name partners at Cravath were gay," she says coyly (Sullivan actually started her legal career at Cravath, Swaine & Moore). "At Quinn Emanuel, we're not trying to make a social statement."

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

If you have topics you'd like to discuss, or information to share for The Careerist, e-mail chief blogger Vivia Chen at VChen@alm.com.

Photo by Steven Laxton, courtesy of Quinn Emanuel

Jones Day Hiring Partner Tells All (About Getting An Offer)

ShumakerWeb Here in Lower Manhattan, grayness is giving way to sunlight, bars and restaurants are flinging open their doors, and Wall Street is turning into one giant outdoor cafe--all signs that the summer associates are coming.

Law students blessed with big-firm summer jobs still are worried about the effects of the unstable economy on their long-term career prospects. Foremost on their minds: How to secure a full-time job offer from the summer gig?

We decided we'd check in with some hiring partners for their lists of summer associate do's and don'ts (we asked about their hiring plans, too). First up: Jones Day hiring partner Gregory Shumaker, who heads up law school and lateral recruiting for the firm globally. 

Is the economy affecting your hiring plans for the summer and fall?
The economy has affected hiring for every firm. We have 125 summer associates coming; last year it was 200. This fall, there will be 126 incoming lawyers; last year it was 144. But we had no deferrals and no associate layoffs.

 Jones Day has 32 offices worldwide. What's the one thing you look for from all candidates?
We have an integrated partnership around the world, and we're teamwork oriented. We want someone who has a broader sense of community.

 Teamwork and community are buzzwords mentioned by every firm. What do they means at Jones Day? 
Our compensation system is totally confidential; partners don't know what other partners make. We do that so that there's no fighting over clients and origination credits. We have healthy egos, but if people are more focused on what they bring in, this might not be the firm for them.

 How do you determine which law students will fit in with your culture when they probably don't know what they want?
I'll ask them if they feel it's important to know their classmates' grades. If they're too focused on who got a B+ or B-, they might not be comfortable with our system.

 Which firms do you typically compete against for candidates?
Latham, Sidley, Kirkland & Ellis, Skadden, and Gibson Dunn. They are all global like we are.

 What turns you off about a candidate during an interview?
If I sense entitlement; if they think they're better than their colleagues or if they are too focused on themselves.

 What's the profile of a summer associate who doesn't get an offer?
Someone who doesn't get along with others.

Any memorable moments in which a candidate sabotaged their chance at an offer?
Once we had a summer associate who split the summer between us and the government. Afterward, we asked her if she missed us, and she said, "Well, I miss the paycheck."

Not too tactful. What if you're nice but mess up an assignment?
Some people are not as strong in writing, but you can usually work with them. You have to fail on several levels [not to get an offer]. We take a holistic view.

That's rather charitable. Any golden rules for summer associates?
Indiscretion happens with alcohol, but people understand that. You usually have to knock a partner out cold for it to be a career-ending event.

If you have topics you'd like to discuss, or information to share for The Careerist, e-mail chief blogger Vivia Chen at VChen@alm.com.

Photo by Diego Radzinschi; courtesy of Jones Day

Dewey LeBoeuf's Chickens (Associates) Coming Home to Roost

The quiet corridors of Dewey & LeBoeuf are about to get noisier. Coinciding with the arrival of summer associates will be the return of the firm's deferred associates.

Euphemistically called DL Pursuits (doesn't that sound like some kind of New Age yoga program?), Dewey's deferral program is coming to an official end in June, reports Above the Law. ATL reminds us of the terms:

Remember, Dewey’s deferral program wasn’t open just to last year’s incoming associates. People already at the firm had the opportunity to take a year’s sabbatical. But many who took the offer did so with the understanding that Dewey would still have jobs for them when they came back.

And so will they have jobs? Well--kinda. The firm states that it isn't "revoking any offers," reports Above the Law, though it also admitted "that some practice groups are slower than others and not everybody has a job waiting for them at this time."

More ambiguous is this statement by the firm to ATL:

Some of the attorneys currently on the program will be returning to the firm at the beginning of next month, as scheduled, while others have already chosen to change their career path entirely and will not be returning to the firm. Based on individual circumstances, some lawyers have chosen to extend their participation in the DL Pursuits program, or are in discussion with the firm about other options.

Above the Law says the firm stresses that the “other options” do not include layoffs. (The firm confirmed that it made the statements to ATL.)

Still, we're curious about the reasons some lawyers are choosing to "change their career paths" at this point. Did these people make the choice not to return or were they given a little nudge? If you know, wouldn't you share?

If you have topics you'd like to discuss, or information to share for The Careerist, e-mail chief blogger Vivia Chen at VChen@alm.com.

May 20, 2010

Pretty Enough for This Job Market?

To the list of insecurities that already plague job applicants (not going to a first-tier law school, failure to make the Law Review, or the inability to get excited by golf), you can now add physical beauty--or the lack thereof. Contrary to what your mother might have told you, looks count.

Ally-McBeal-tv-11-1  In an editorial in The National Law Journal, Stanford Law School professor Deborah Rhode,  author of The Beauty Bias, makes the case that there's a prejudice against those not blessed with good looks, and that it is a form of discrimination as insidious as racism or sexism:

Attractiveness is a highly imperfect proxy for the qualities that make for effective lawyering. The difficulty is not so much the bump for the beautiful as the penalties for those who fail to measure up. Adverse treatment on the basis of physical characteristics reinforces invidious stereotypes and compromises merit principles.

And women, she says, pay a particularly heavy toll: "They spend vastly more time and money on appearance, partly because they are judged more harshly than men for overweight and age-related characteristics. Unlike their male colleagues, female professionals do not achieve gravitas with their wrinkles."

No question that women are more self-conscious about their looks, and beautiful people have an edge in life. In fact, one recent Cornell University study found that criminal defendants who look unappealing get harsher sentences.

But in the legal profession? Isn't this one of the rare fields where high grades (and the implicit ability to withstand grueling, tedious work) trump everything from bad acne and personality ticks to poor table manners? I know--and you know--scores of successful lawyers who are not exactly beauties. But their tenacity and smarts eventually land them on top of the heap. In a perverse way, law comes close to being a true meritocracy.

Is this tough legal market changing the rules? Can firms now demand top grades and top looks? Is the legal profession getting vain? Or didn't we notice it before?

If you have topics you'd like to discuss, or information to share for The Careerist, e-mail lead writer Vivia Chen at VChen@alm.com.

NALP's Report on Class of 2009: Not Too Cheery

Anyone looking for signs of a real recovery in the legal job market will find cold comfort in the latest findings by NALP. Based on a survey of 192 ABA-accredited law schools, the report tracks about 41,000 graduates (about 93 percent of all U.S. law graduates) from the class of 2009.

"The overall employment rate for those bushy-tailed '09 graduates was 88.3 percent as of mid-February, which is down from a 91.9 percent employment rate at the same stage after graduation for the class of 2007," reports The Am Law Daily about NALP's latest data. The Am Law Daily adds that the 88.3 percent figure was better than what many in the legal industry had expected, given the dire predictions about the economy.

So what's the bad news? Many of those jobs are actually temporary, according to NALP, including 41 percent of all public interest jobs. In fact, 25 percent of all jobs reported to NALP are temporary.

A quarter of the class of 2009 parked in temporary positions? That's sobering. The real test of the market, as The Am Law Daily correctly pointed out, will occur when those temporary jobs come to an end. It's hard to believe that the market can absorb those lawyers, plus the new crop that's graduating.

Are you or your classmates looking for permanent employment? How is it going?

If you have topics you'd like to discuss, or information to share for The Careerist, e-mail lead writer Vivia Chen at VChen@alm.com.

Welcome to The Careerist!

We started this blog with a simple premise: You might not be looking for a job, but you sure as hell need to be looking out for your career.

That’s more true today than ever. Even forgetting the rocky economy, the legal profession has been in flux--some might say in the throes of an identity crisis. Is it still a profession, or just a business out to make a buck?

It's both. But from our vantage point, the business side is making a big dent. The sacred cows of the traditional law firm model are endangered or dead: hourly billings, one-tier partnerships, and client fidelity.

But even hard-nosed law firms know that cracking the whip harder won't work, either. There’s a generational shift going on. Law firms are under pressure to humanize the profession. That pesky demand for more work/life balance is not going away. So far, though, that balance is elusive.

All of which means that the lawyer career path promises to be rocky and uncertain. Our goal is to point out some interesting signposts along the way, get the conversation going about the issues of the day, and help you carve your own path.

It's a rough terrain out there. Who doesn’t need a career sherpa these days?

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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