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17 posts from May 2012

May 31, 2012

Fit to Be Tied

© Alex Gumerov- iStockphotoMaybe I should stop reading those studies about women's progress in the workplace. Because every time I do, I feel we should just hang it up and take up knitting or butter churning. It seems that women's stagnation is a universal problem.

Here's the latest: McKinsey & Company just looked at the gender diversity programs at 235 European companies. It finds that despite the prevalence of these programs ("63 percent of companies have at least 20 different initiatives in place"), there has been paltry progress:

Many companies still express their frustration at the absence of more concrete results. Indeed, in only 8 percent of the biggest companies in the survey did women account for more than a quarter of the top jobs.

McKinsey finds that one big problem is that companies aren't really that supportive of those initiatives, even though they pour money into them.

While 69 percent of companies said they had mentoring programs in place for women, only 16 percent said they were well implemented, citing, for example, fast-waning enthusiasm from mentors and mentees alike. Some interviewees also suggested women feared association with what some regard as positive-discrimination measures that undermine meritocracy.

Sound familiar? As I recently reported, some folks are getting tired of those gender diversity initiatives, questioning whether they are time-suckers or irrelevant.

This report echoes another McKinsey report ("Unlocking the Full Potential of Women at Work") that focused on women in the United States. In that report, which examined 60 Fortune 500 or similar-sized companies, the authors tried to put a positive spin on women's progress, though I didn't see much to cheer about.

Besides finding that women are pretty much stuck in middle management, the report says that many women aren't aiming for the top at all: "Despite investment, women opted for staff roles, quit, retired, or even settled in." Moreover, the report finds that "two-thirds of women on Fortune 200 executive committees were in staff roles, and they have far lower odds of advancing to CEO than those in line roles."

So why aren't women gunning for the jobs that would propel them to the top? Here's where the report on American women gets really depressing:

1. CEOs aren't really into it. "Although CEOs made gender diversity a priority in more than 80 percent of our 60 participating companies, only about half of employees from those companies agreed that the CEO is committed to the issue."

2. Women carry the weight at home even when they are the breadwinner. "About half the women we surveyed said that they are both primary breadwinners and primary caregivers. Most of the men who are primary breadwinners are not primary caregivers."

3. Male bosses don't really get women. One CEO tells McKinsey: "Women don’t knock on my door the way men do or ask for advice. I wish they were more proactive." Another boss says: "For one opening, we had an employee who was highly qualified—she was running operations in Asia. However, we didn’t ask her if she would be interested in the position, since she was pregnant and we assumed that she wouldn’t want to move."

4. Women lack confidence. "Even among the successful women we interviewed, more than half felt they held themselves back from accelerated growth. . . . They did not raise their hands or even consider stretch roles. And when surveyed, more women than men reported that they would likely move next into support roles."

Both reports focus on women in the business sector, but I'm sure you see parallels to the legal world. Indeed, women are stuck in the middle everywhere you look. It's no secret that few women in law are equity partners, and even fewer hold positions on executive or compensation committees. And like their business counterparts, "pink ghetto" jobs like staff lawyer and part-time positions tend to be filled mostly with women.

So how do we break this sorry cycle and break free? Stay tuned—I'll try to find a silver lining somewhere.

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.


May 30, 2012

Why Is Hastings Law School Rushing to Cut Enrollment?

Hastings_Law_School_© D.C.Atty-Flickr.comYou can't call Frank Wu, the dean of The University of California Hastings College of the Law, a wimp. While other law deans talk and talk about the crisis in legal education, Wu is doing something radical about it: He's reducing enrollment at Hastings by 20 percent—a whopping 240 students over the next three years!

Why is Wu taking such drastic action? And how did he manage to do so without an uprising?

I posed those questions to Wu recently when he visited New York. Over drinks at the very crowded bar at The Modern restaurant of The Museum of Modern Art, Wu chatted about the changes at Hastings—and a  host of other random topics. Following is Wu's views on legal education. (In a future post, I'll probe his views about being an iconoclastic Asian American leader.)

Cutting 20 percent of the entering class is not a small snip. The vast majority of schools that have announced cuts are taking a much more gradual approach—like 10 students a year. But you're eliminating a whole section. Why major surgery instead of a little nip and tuck?
You have to reduce by a whole section or there's no real benefit. My view is that there's a profound structural change in the legal market, but law schools are still producing students like it's the same old market. Applications are down by 30 percent nationwide. We'll see a 40 to 50 percent drop in applicants in the coming years. . . . Even in boom times, elite firms only hired from a small number of law schools. We should have downsized 25 years ago.

I'm sure you can find people to fill those slots—Hastings is a top 50 law school in a dream city [San Francisco]. If bottom-ranking law schools in the middle of nowhere have no problems filling their classes, why should you worry?
Hastings gets 5,000 applications a year, and we admit a quarter of them. It's not a question of whether we could fill the class. It's that society and students would be angry with me if we did. We can fill the class, but it would be irresponsible. It's like the housing market: People shouldn't take a subprime debt on a house just because it's available. Nor should people buy into an education that's too big and expensive for them.

I guess you don't have warm feelings about all those new law schools popping up.
Law schools have grown by one school a year. This is not good for society. Someone should put a stop to it. Every college looks around and says, "there's not a law school within 250 miles from here, and we need one."

Those new schools must envy Hastings's position; they probably think you are crazy. You have to be losing a ton of money with this proposition.
It's not easy. No CEO reduces revenue by $9 million a year. Do the math: 240 students times $46,500 in tuition. Now subtract out financial aid and multiply three-quarters of the [total] tuition by 240, and you get a big, big number.

How can you afford to do this? Are you cutting down on teachers?
No, the faculty is not touched. I reorganized the staff. I had a payroll of 275 people, and 75 were faculty. Seven people took separation agreements; 10 were laid off [because] their jobs were eliminated; 10 people were reduced to part-time; and four-and-a-half open positions were closed.

That sounds messy. How did you manage to push this through without people storming the Bastille?
I got the board and the faculty to support me. This is the most collegial faculty in the world. . . . We are structurally unique. We are part of the [University of California] system, but we're independently governed. I don't report to the regent. I'm the chancellor, the boss. I run the whole campus. We have total autonomy, which is why we're able to do this. . . . In most law schools, deans are middle management [to the university].

Left to their own devices, do you think most law school deans would like to do what you've done?
I have been contacted by dozens of other law schools that have expressed curiosity and interest. I'm very lucky, because 90 percent of law schools are part of a large institution where the financial arrangements make it almost impossible to make cuts. Most law schools are profit centers for the university.

Hastings has gotten a lot of positive attention for cutting its class. Isn't the irony that your applications might rise as a result?
Yeah, yeah. The publicity has been unbelievable. But what the press missed out on is that this is not a reaction to the bad job market. It is forward-looking. We spent a year studying this. I've been at this since it started. It's part of a larger effort to reboot legal education. My view is that the marketplace is rapidly changing, and that pedagogy is going online and taking an interdisciplinary approach. I'm betting my career on this.

May 29, 2012

Tips for Summer Associates on Getting an Offer

List©Yuri Arcurs.Fotolia.comThe weather is hot, and Memorial Day is over. And that means the summer associates are on deck! Here is the first of our posts to help summers make it through their Big Law audition.

Today, guest blogger and former lawyer Grover Cleveland, author of Swimming Lessons for Baby Sharks: The Essential Guide to Thriving as a New Lawyer (West 2010), offers advice to anxious summer associates about snagging that offer.

How to Turn Your Summer Position Into a Full-Time Offer

By Grover E. Cleveland

As you start your stint as a summer associate, focus first on what will happen at the end of the summer. That’s when the members of the hiring committee will reflect on your time at the firm. While your photo is displayed on a screen, the lawyers are likely to discuss: whether any senior attorneys said you screwed up their projects, whether you were personable and got along with other lawyers and staff, whether you displayed any poor judgment, whether you worked hard and seemed enthusiastic, and whether you showed initiative and added value. If you keep these factors in mind throughout the summer, you will be a step ahead.

Now, let's get specific about what you should and should not do:

1. Always find out at least these five things about a new project:

    •    The client and billing number  
    •    The exact problem that you are being asked to solve
    •    About how much time the attorney thinks you should spend on the project
    •    How the attorney wants you to provide the information, and
    •    The deadline 

2. Have the right attitude: Take the job seriously and work hard. Despite the perks, your summer position is not summer camp. Firms want to know that you are enthusiastic about your work and that you work hard.

3. Don't forget you are part of a business. As a participant in a business enterprise, your work for a client has to be useful, look professional, be completed within a reasonable amount of time, and cost an amount that the client is willing to pay. Keep all of this in mind as you complete your projects.

4. Prepare your documents as if they are final drafts. Senior lawyers will check your work, but they don’t want to fix your work unless they have to. They will also expect that they are getting your best work. Make your documents as polished as you can before turning them in. Lawyers will assume that over time you will become more efficient. They are not likely to assume that you will become more careful or more diligent.

5. Work to be efficient. Plan your project before you dive in. Ask about resources that could be useful, including samples of similar assignments. Keep track of your research so that you don’t till the same ground again and again, and try to come up with a working hypothesis early in the process. If it appears that you may significantly exceed the amount of time the senior lawyer estimated for the project, check in well before that happens.

6. Never, ever, ever cut your own time. In a misguided attempt to seem efficient, some summer associates fail to record all of the time they spend on projects. Don’t do that. Ever.

7. Be sociable. When the “end of summer” discussion takes place, the more people who can say they had a positive interaction with you, the better. Make an effort to introduce yourself to other lawyers both at social events and during the workday. You’ll get bonus points if you show that you learned something about the lawyer’s practice before saying, “hello.”

8. Think first. Judgment errors trip up some summer associates every year. Although career-limiting moves come in countless varieties, thinking before you act will keep most of them at bay. For example, at firm social events, go easy on the sauce. My book recounts the story of one summer associate who, caught up in the euphoria of free booze, offered massages to partners at a firm retreat. The offers were not well received.

9. Be on time; be respectful. Irksome behavior is the first cousin of poor judgment. As Paul Hastings partner Leigh Ryan, the firm’s global chair of attorney recruiting, told The Careerist, goofs like showing up late for meetings or using your mobile device during meetings (or chewing gum) will not endear you to senior lawyers.

10. Show initiative and add value. Firms want lawyers to be self-starters. Try to anticipate senior lawyer needs and focus on ways you can be more helpful. If you have an idea that could be particularly useful, raise it with the senior lawyer.

Good luck!

You can reach Grover Cleveland at www.swimminglessonsforbabysharks.com or on Twitter @babysharklaw.

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

May 24, 2012

Your School Debt is Forever; Indiana Gets Cash Cow; Cleveland-Marshall Cuts Class by 30 Percent

Here's the latest roundup of law school news:

©olly-Fotolia.com1. Another reason to drop law school as a career option. If you can't find a decent-paying job and you're shouldering a burdensome debt from law school, filing bankruptcy wouldn't help either. That's because student debt must be repaid under federal bankruptcy law, unlike credit card debt and other loans, reports The National Law Journal's Leigh Jones.

The only way bankruptcy court will discharge your school debt is if your circumstances pass the tough "undue burden" standard, such as having a severe disability like Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism.

The NLJ reports that Carol Todd, a former student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, was released from her $340,000 in education debt "because her diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome rendered her unable to repay the loans."

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Gordon noted in his opinion that Todd "folded into a fearful shell" during her testimony.  "[T]o expect Ms. Todd to ever break the grip of autism and meaningfully channel her energies toward tasks that are not in some way either dictated, or circumscribed, by the demands of her disorder would be to dream the impossible dream," he wrote.

Todd's case illustrates just how hard it is to get out of paying student loans. Todd's lawyer Frank Turney told the NLJ: "You hardly find a student loan debt case where the debts are discharged. This situation had a client who had some serious disabilities."

Cow©Dudarev_Mikhail-Fotolia.com2. Indiana gets a new cash cow. Yes, we know the legal market is shrinking, and law grads are now begging for jobs—but, hey, are those reasons to stop opening new law schools? Apparently not, judging by all the new schools popping up across the land.

And now there's one opening in the Heartland: Indiana Tech just broke ground on its new law school. The National Law Journal reports that it "will be the fifth law school in the state and the seventh within a three-hour drive of Fort Wayne." According to the school's feasibility study, Indiana could use more lawyers.

Now I get it: There should be a law school within a three-hour drive of any metropolis comparable to Fort Wayne! I mean, what else would folks do with themselves?

3. Meanwhile, there's hope in Cleveland. We don't want to end this post on a negative note, so here's the good news: Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall College of Law is joining the list of "rational" law schools that are cutting enrollment. The school's dean, Craig Boise, just announced that the school is cutting its incoming class by an impressive 30 percent! That's even more than UC-Hasting Law School, which recently announced a 20 percent reduction in its incoming class.

So let the contest begin! Let's see which other law schools will join this illustrious list of class-size reducers. Remember, the school that makes the deepest cut in enrollment wins.

May 23, 2012

Really, You Don't Want to Stay Home

Time_Magazine_Cover_BreastfeedingLet me give you two reasons why women should stay in the workforce when they have kids: First, you won't be tempted to morph into one of those scary "attachment" moms who breastfeed their children until they're walking, talking little critters. (Yes, I'm talking about that Time magazine cover, at right.) Second, having a job will keep you off the streets and make you happier (or not so depressed).

That first point is a personal bias based on aesthetic considerations, among others. The second one, though, is supported by findings of a recent Gallup poll, based on interviews with more than 60,000 women across the United States, ages 18 to 64. Here's what Gallup finds:

Nonemployed women with young children at home are more likely than women with young children at home who are employed for pay to report experiencing sadness and anger a lot of the day "yesterday." Stay-at-home moms are also much more likely to report having ever been diagnosed with depression than employed moms. Employed moms are about as emotionally well-off as working women who do not have children at home.

In almost every measure—anger, sadness, depression, worry—stay-at-home moms reported higher rates; the exception was stress, which working moms felt more acutely. Nonworking moms also experienced fewer positive emotions on a daily basis:

They are less likely to say they smiled or laughed a lot, learned something interesting, and experienced enjoyment and happiness "yesterday." Additionally, they are less likely than employed moms to rate their lives highly enough to be considered "thriving."

Gallup stresses that "even when controlling for age, stay-at-home moms are emotionally worse off than employed moms." But what mattered was economics—moms whose household incomes were below $36,000 were particularly bleak. Gallup says they feel a double pressure—from both "tight finances and the demands of motherhood."

So what does this mean to you—members of the professional class? Well, I guess opting out of a demanding profession like law for full-time motherhood—especially if you're married to Mr. Money Bags—is likely to be a much more pleasant experience than that of your lower-income sisters. I can certainly understand the desire to escape the law, if you have other things going on your life.

But I also believe that this issue transcends mere economic differences. From what I've seen, women—really, all people—have better self-esteem, better long-term options, if they maintain an outside identity (yes, I mean, a paying job), even if it means juggling the demands of work and family. Frankly, I've seen one too many women who quit their careers to stay home, only to find themselves in the job market years later, after a divorce or some other sudden shift in their lives. If that seems unromantic, I'm sorry.

Obviously, if you are miserable with what you're doing, you don't have to do it forever. I'd find an alternative. But quit totally to run the school auction? Not a smart idea.

 Related post: "I Am Not Ann Romney".

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

May 21, 2012

Your Boss's Wife Might Be the Problem

2Women© Steve Debenport - istockphotoMaybe we should stop denying it: Women can really sabotage other women's careers. And I'm not even talking about women who compete against each other at work. No, I'm talking about the hidden power behind the throne: the boss's wife.

According to a new study about the attitudes of married men in the workforce, the marriage structure of men can influence women's advancement at the office. It also offers an explanation as to why women seem stuck in the middle ranks.

According to joint research by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Harvard University, New York University, and the University of Utah, married men with stay-at-home wives or wives who work part-time tend to have more negative attitudes about working women. Lauren Stiller Rikleen, an expert on women in the legal profession, summarizes the findings in the Harvard Business Review blog.  She writes that men with traditional marriages tend to

(1) have an unfavorable view about women in the workplace;

(2) think workplaces run less smoothly with more women;

(3) view workplaces with female leaders as less desirable; and

(4) consider female candidates for promotion to be less qualified than comparable male colleagues.

In a way, it's an extension of the mommy wars—except that this one is channeled through the male boss.

"These biases are understandable," writes Rikleen. "It's natural to seek validation for the choices, and particularly the sacrifices, you have made." In other words, the traditionalists feel their values—namely, the primacy they place on having a mother who stays home—are undermined when women (especially if they also have children) are trying to climb the corporate ladder.

But another reason, which Rikleen doesn't go into, might be that the wives are also jealous of the women who work with their husbands. As I reported earlier this year, men are often uncomfortable about sharing a meal with a female colleague because of the sexual innuendo involved. And let's admit it: If you're the woman stirring the pots at the hearth, would you want some young female associate hanging around your hubby?

So what's the solution to this fine mess? Rikleen proposes that organizations need to be alerted about how this unconscious bias works:

We need better training so everyone understands how their own experiences might affect their perceptions about their colleagues'  fitness for leadership. Increased awareness is the first step on the path to change.

I'd like to believe that it's a matter of unconscious bias—but I'm not totally convinced. If the boss has a traditional marriage arrangement—and thinks that's the way it should be—is his mind really going to change? Personally, I think you need more than a consciousness-raising session.

Related post: "The Boss's Daughter".

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

May 17, 2012

GW and Hastings Cut Enrollment while Bottom-Ranked Cooley Adds Another Campus

© soleilc1 - Fotolia.comI wouldn't call it good news/bad news. It's more apt to describe it as "rational"/ totally "out-of-whack-with reality" developments. I'm talking about how some law schools are adjusting to the economic realities of the day.

First, the "rational" developments:  George Washington University Law School, which is ranked 20th in this year's U.S. News & World Report, is reducing its enrollment in response to the declining numbers of law school applications. GW's dean, Paul Schiff Berman, told The National Law Journal that that he "hopes to move enrollment below 450 and continue to reduce the number of new students in subsequent years. In fall 2011, the school enrolled 474 J.D. students."

GW's decision is noteworthy because it joins another top 50 law school—44th-ranked University of California Hastings College of the Law—in reducing enrollment. This spring, Hastings's dean, Frank Wu, announced plans to cut enrollment by a whopping 20 percent over three years. (The other law schools that have announced plans to cut incoming classes are Albany Law School, Creighton University School of Law, and Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center.)

If even top 50 law schools like GW and Hastings are decreasing their enrollment in response to the shrunken legal market, shouldn't lower-ranking schools at least consider doing the same thing? One would think so.

But here's the irrational, wacky news: Bottom-ranked, much-maligned Cooley Law School is doing the exact opposite. Instead of shrinking enrollment, it is opening another branch of its franchise in Tampa.

And it gets even crazier: Even though law school applications are generally declining, law students are knocking down Cooley's doors to get in. In fact, Cooley-Florida opened its door to 104 students—almost twice the number the school initially expected to enroll, reports the  NLJ.

"Cooley's Tampa Bay campus enrollment exceeded our expectations," associate dean Jeff Martlew told the NLJ.

But according to critics, Florida already has 11 ABA–accredited law schools that graduate more J.D.s than what the job market can handle. With almost 4,000 students spread throughout Michigan (in Lansing, Grand Rapids, Auburn Hills, Ann Arbor) and now in sunny Florida, "Cooley is easily the largest law school in the country."

Ironically, Cooley decided to open in Florida because the weak economy in Michigan was jeopardizing the school's enrollment numbers, reports NLJ.

So let me see if I got this straight: Because Cooley grads can't find jobs in Michigan, the law school is worried—not about what will happen to its grads—but about its revenue stream. So the solution is to go somewhere far for fresh victims.

Hey, you can't say Cooley doesn't have a business plan.

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May 16, 2012

Want to Work Remotely? No Prob. Want to Take Time Off? Good Luck.

© Taiga - Fotolia.comIn the battle for work/life balance, there is both progress and regression. According to a survey of over 1,000 employers by the Families and Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management, flexible working arrangements are now prevalent. You can work where you want and when you want—so long as you keep the work pumping. That's largely because technology has freed (or enslaved) us to do work almost anywhere.

And the bad news? You can work any way you want, but just don't think about going part-time or taking a leave. Because if you do, you might never get back in the game.

Comparing data from 2005 to 2012, here are some key points from the survey:

1. Flextime options jumped from 66 to 77 percent, while flex-place options jumped even more—from 34 to 63 percent.

2. Compared to 2005, fewer employers are giving employees the option to cut down their work load without penalty. "These include moving from part-time to full-time and back again (from 54 to 41 percent); and flex career options such as career breaks for personal or family responsibilities (from 73 to 52 percent). "

3. Organizations with less than 25 percent women "are more likely to have a low level of flexibility than organizations where women represent a larger share of the workforce."

4. Organizations with fewer racial and ethnic minorities (0 to 50 percent) offer more flexibility than places where diverse employees make up more than 50 percent of workers. (To put it bluntly, companies with a largely "white" workforce offer more flexibility.)

5. Employers cite retention as the main reason they offer flexibility and leave. Recruiting and retention of women, however, barely registered a blip as a reason.

So what's the effect of this trend? While workplace flexibility benefits everyone, the drop in extended leave options will likely affect more women than men. Reports The Glass Hammer's Melissa Anderson:

Because women disproportionately take extended leaves of absence or shift between full- and part-time, this new data suggests that companies may face challenges keeping the pipeline of talented women flowing to the top.

Anderson adds that "research shows that when companies refuse to work with women based on their long-term flexibility needs, they leave the workforce altogether."

To me, one of the most fascinating parts of the report concerns culture, where the report focuses on "the supportiveness" of "workplace cultures." As the report's authors notes, "We know from studies we have conducted . . . that employer representatives have more positive impressions of their organizations’ cultures than employees do."

Though the vast majority of employers (69 percent) say that supervisors are "encouraged to assess employees’ performance by what they accomplish rather than 'face time,' " they also admitted that management doesn't really reward those "who support flexible work arrangements" or who made efforts "to inform employees of the availability of work/life assistance."

So for all the hype about work/life measures, management doesn't seem to have its heart into it. Which brings us back to the issue of culture. As I've said ad nauseam, it really doesn't matter what kind of flexibility policy you show on the books. What matters is the nebulous stuff—the attitude, the tone of the workplace. Any wonder then why we still can't get a handle on this work/life balance stuff?


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May 15, 2012

Ex-Wilmer Associate Pens Novel Packed with Intrigue and Fab Real Estate

Cristina_Alger_The_DarlingsI recently read The Darlings by Cristina Alger, a former associate at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, and I rather enjoyed it. It was a (mostly) guiltless read. Set in the immediate aftermath of a Madoff-like scandal, the novel spans five days in the lives of the fabulously rich and comely Darling family. It's a story about the disintegration of privilege (yes, there would be a role for Gwyneth Paltrow) and personal loyalties, where the drama unfolds in some of the most seductive real estate around New York—i.e., penthouse apartments on the Upper East Side and the Georgica Pond section of East Hampton.

Recently, I sat down with Alger at Pain Quotidien (on the Upper East Side, of course) to discuss her transition from bankruptcy lawyer to novelist.

I was reading the acknowledgments in your book—Joan Didion, Tom Wolfe, and a whole slew of people I don't know, but feel I should. That's not the crowd most lawyers travel in. How did you get such an impressive board of advisers?
Joan Didion was a neighbor [in my parents' apartment building]. My father gave her a story of mine when I was in eighth grade. It was so embarrassing. I went to school with Alexandra Wolfe; she's been a friend since childhood.

Those are nice literary connections. But you didn't pursue writing as your first career. You went the opposite route—two years as an analyst at Goldman Sachs after Harvard, then NYU Law, then Wilmer. Why such a circuitous route to what's obviously your first love?
After my dad passed away [Alger's father was David Alger, a prominent mutual fund manager, who died at the World Trade Center during 9/11], I took a sharp left turn [into finance]. My goal at the time was to go into my family's [mutual fund] business.

Why did you decide on law school after your Goldman stint? I'd think you'd opt for an MBA instead.
I thought of law school as a kind of liberal arts armor. I always thought law school was an option for me, which is what you think when you are an English major. I thought I would do fiction on the side.

And did you actually do that—write on the side?
Yes. I wrote for fun. I'd get up early and write before I went to work.

Whoa—you wrote for kicks while working full-time as a lawyer? How did this hobby become a published novel?
I didn't know I had a novel until I had written 150 pages . . . I showed it to two agents. [The first agent] was very encouraging and told me that I had to finish it. Then Lehman went into bankruptcy, and my workload went up dramatically, and I stopped working on it. Later, another friend arranged for me to meet with another agent. [The second agent] read it, and marked it up. I was really impressed by her dedication. I had not signed an agreement with her, and she was taking a risk on me.

And how long did it take your agent to sell the novel?
We sold it in four days; I was expecting a longer time.

Wow. So you must have felt like you won the lotto. Did you quit right away?
[Once the book was sold,] I realized that the editing part would be intense and had to be a full-time job. At the same time I had family demands, and I wondered if I could continue with a job with little flexibility. It was a strange confluence of my personal life and my writing.

If you didn't sell the book, would you have stayed at Wilmer?
Yes. I'm very risk-averse by nature. I don't think I would have the confidence to walk out without a safety net. I would have stayed because writing is so unstable in terms of salary and health insurance.

You were at Wilmer barely three years. That's not a lot of time. Were you miserable as a lawyer?
I enjoyed the bankruptcy work. Corporate work can be tiring. But in bankruptcy, you can look at so many different aspects—transactions, tax. Wilmer was very generous with me and told me that I'd be welcome back. It's a wonderful firm. The people have an intellectual life outside of the firm.

I noticed that since the book came out, the press has focused on your personal background. Some have suggested that you were able to run off and write this book because of your wealth and social status. Does that bother you?
I wasn't prepared for it. I'm a private person by nature. Some people might think that my background gives me authenticity. The flip side is that [being privileged] is controversial.


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May 14, 2012

News Briefs—Iowa Has Lawyer Shortage; Retired Milbank Partner Takes on NYC Private School

Iowa_stamp_©tomograf_iStockphoto 1. Iowa is hot to trot. Want to get out of the big-city rat race? Or just need a job desperately? Well, Iowa might just be the place for you.

Small, rural towns in America have a lawyer shortage, reports The National Law Journal. The Iowa State Bar Association, for one, is looking for lawyers who want to settle down in small towns and be a legal generalist.

In fact, the Iowa bar has started a courtship program that matches students, mainly from law schools in the region, with solo practitioners in small Iowan firms for summer clerkships. "The hope is that those students will develop a taste for the work and either return after they graduate or set up their own small-town practices," said attorney Philip Garland, cochairman of the bar's rural practice committee.

So for those of you who complain about Big Law and sing the praises of country living, here's your chance.

2. Beleaguered private school parents should thank a retired Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCoy partner. As every New Yorker knows, Manhattan parents wouldn't think twice about burning their retirement fund to get their child into a good private school. But what you might not realize is that once you are in one of those precious schools (and your circumstances have changed), it's also very hard to get out of those schools without paying through the nose. (Keep in mind that tuition at some private schools in New York is now over $40,000. Warning: If you don't live in Manhattan, this story might not resonate.)

The New York Times reports that "since 2009, at least four private schools in New York City—Mandell, Friends Seminary, Claremont Prep (now Léman Manhattan Preparatory School), and the Little Red School House and [sister school] Elisabeth Irwin High School—have sued parents for tuition." The schools’ argument is that once parents sign a contract for the upcoming school  year, they have to pay—even if the family moves out of the city, and even if that spot is filled by another child.

What's more, the article says that schools are bullying parents to get the money: "Some parents have reported being threatened with debt collectors, leading many to cave and pay for an education their child will not receive. And defending a lawsuit is often not financially worthwhile, as the cost of a lawyer can approach the amount the school is demanding."

But alas for the schools, a retired Milbank  partner has come to the rescue. The case involved Sarah Brooks, the daughter of retired Milbank partner Russell Brooks. After she signed the contract and paid the deposit for her child to attend the Park West Montessori preschool in New York in 2007, Sarah Brooks got a teaching position at the University of Virginia. She notified the school about her move, and the school promptly demanded the rest of the tuition.

To make a long story short, Brooks won a ruling on behalf of his daughter that required the school to turn over evidence that it had suffered financial harm as a result of the withdrawal.

“They had no damages," Brooks told the NYT. "The entire contract amount—the deposit amount plus what they were seeking—would be a windfall to them, because they could fill up the spot in the class from the waiting list." (Brooks told the NYT that the school dropped its demand for the entire tuition amount.)

Who says that a retired lawyer can't make a difference in people's lives? Okay, this might not be as noble as representing the oppressed or the indigent, but in New York City, it's up there.



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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