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Crystal Ball, Oh, Crystal Ball: Predictions for 2020

Vivia Chen

January 2, 2020


Once again, I’m dusting off my crystal ball to make predictions for the new year. Oh, how I wish I could report goodness, light and joy for 2020! Alas, Dear Reader, I cannot lie. So here it goes:

Women will be marching to leadership camps. They will devote weekends, evenings and precious working hours to attending seminars, conferences and therapy sessions on how to act, sound and look like a leader. Women will be versed on all aspects of leadership. Except they will not be given leadership roles.

Men will be playing golf and drinking G&Ts. While the womenfolk are diligently absorbing lessons on empowerment and working extra hours to catch up on their work, men will slide out of the office by early afternoon for rounds of golf and a nice steam at the club with their buddies. And guess who’s developing business?

Mike Pence will be anointed the patron saint of white men in power. The #MeToo backlash will spread, and more men will express fear that they could end up being falsely labeled the Matt Lauer of Big Law. So why risk working closely with women when it’s so much safer and less troublesome to follow the Pence Rule (Thou shall not be alone with a woman or go to events with alcohol unless accompanied by “Mother”)? Not only will the Pence Rule prevail, but some firms will make it official policy.

Rainmakers and management members will expect public adulation by underlings. Associates, contract partners and other dispensables will no longer be allowed to sit quietly during weekly department meetings. Everyone at the conference table will be expected to pay heartfelt thanks to those in power. (Suggested tribute: “Most of us are unequipped to handle your genius.”)

Lies and exaggerations on resumes will become rampant. Why not just claim you’re at the top of your law school class? And why not throw in a Phi Beta Kappa key while you’re at it? And, yeah, you wrote (or hired someone to write) the most brilliant, beautiful law journal article. Ever. In the history of law journals.

The meritocracy will be declared officially dead. Now that it’s out that you can buy your way into a competitive college (Varsity Blues, forever!) and parlay government service for personal gain (paging Elaine Chao, Wilbur Ross, the Trumps and countless others), can we finally dispense with the idea of the level playing field? That’s so early 2016.

Big Law will make more black partners—sort of. After the public shaming that some firms got for the paucity of black lawyers in their new partnership classes, firms will wise up to the bad optics. This won’t result in a power shift, however. Firms will elevate more blacks to partner—all nonequity, just as they’ve always done, except now in bigger numbers. Bingo: Diversity credit without sharing the pie.

Lawyers will be as greedy as hedge-funders. Sure, the profits per partner at some Am Law 100 firms have soared to obscenely high levels (20 firms reported PEP of more than $3 million in 2018), but why stop there? Expect more partner departures from nice, old-fashioned lockstep firms, like Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton. Just because you once claimed your real dream is to be a public interest lawyer doesn’t mean you have to be a Big Law pauper.

The Hunger Games will be the model for advancement in Big Law. We already know that attaining equity partner status is Darwinian (remember Kirkland & Ellis made 141 partners this year, though only 20% or so will likely survive to the equity stage), so why not make it a real blood sport? Let the games begin!

Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com

Twitter @lawcareerist. 


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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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