Young Lawyers: Ask for What You Want!

Asking for what you want?  Ah.  It is much harder than it sounds.  But, you must master the fine art of identifying what you want and asking for it.  Especially at work where every opportunity lost can negatively affect your career path.

My friend Anne Loehr just posted an article about this, and I thank her for that.  As a leadership consultant to companies and firms, she has done a lot of thinking about this.  She isn’t always writing for lawyers, but the same rules apply throughout the working world.

Anne rightfully points out that the response “I don’t care” is not acceptable.  You have to care.  That is what advocating for yourself is all about.  You cannot rely on others to know what is best for you.

In explaining this in her post, Anne enlisted the help of one of my favorite professional consultants, Jezra Kaye, who specializes in improving public speaking skills.  Her website Speak Up for Success is a gem.  Jezra hones it to a five-step exercise:

  • Know Your Value;
  • Do Your Research;
  • Develop Your Strategy;
  • Plan Your Speech; and
  • Practice, Practice, PRACTICE.

This is all very familiar to me.  Jezra and I have spent hours and hours over coffee, lunch and dinner tossing these concepts around.  She is a pro.  Consult her website, listen to her podcasts, and do what she says.

We all know that self advocating and being direct can be uncomfortable.  But, what’s the choice?  Letting your career proceed in the wrong direction to save yourself a little unrest?

Don’t expect anyone else to be looking out for you — it doesn’t work that way.  YOU have to develop the sales pitch that tells them what YOU want, why YOU want it, and why they should give it to YOU.

You also have to know why things matter to you.  Be prepared for the push back, and have responses ready.  Be confident in your delivery, and be persistent.  If your request is not granted, try again.  Ask good questions to get information to improve your delivery and turn things in your favor the next time.

And, news flash.  In the legal profession, you are EXPECTED to ask.  You are EXPECTED to be a self advocate.  You are EXPECTED to overcome your anxieties.  How can your managers trust you to advocate for clients if you cannot advocate for yourself?

It is the nature of the beast. Learn to deal.

 

 

 

 

 

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Thought For The Week: What’s good for women is good for the world. Riane Eisler, Social Scientist, Lawyer, and Author

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What All Lawyers Need to Know about Origination Credit

If you are a lawyer just beginning your career, you probably don’t spend a lot of time worrying about origination credit.  In fact, maybe you never heard of the concept.  That makes sense.  You have a lot of other things to worry about that affect you on a daily basis in pursuit of improving your skills and becoming the best lawyer you can be.

But there is a difference between “worrying about” and “being informed about.”  As far as I am concerned, every private practice lawyer, regardless of experience, needs to at least be familiar with the concept of origination credits.  To be uninformed about them is to be unfamiliar with one of the things rocking the legal world at this point in time.

Origination credit is a lot what it sounds like.  For past generations, the lawyer, who brings the client to the firm, gets some credit for future work done for the client even if he or she never spends another hour toiling away on work for that client.

So, a lawyer can “originate” the client but never work on the client’s matters again and still lay claim to a part of the proceeds generated by the client work.  And on a permanent basis.

The result is that the lawyers currently working on a client matter are not getting credit for all of the time billed because the originating lawyer, who is not working on the matter at all, is skimming off the top based on the origination event and may even be receiving the bulk of the compensation.

If that sounds unfair to you, you are in the company of many others who believe this is an antiquated concept and needs revisiting.  In fact, this alleged unfairness is at the heart of some of the very visible gender and diversity discrimination law suits pending against Big Law today.

To learn more about this concept and from the perspective of an in-house lawyer, see https://www.law.com/corpcounsel/2019/09/02/change-at-the-start/.

In that article, you will read about efforts by in-house lawyers to assure that the relationship partners, who actually work on their matters, receive the compensation credit they deserve.  You will read about the frustration of in-house lawyers, who discover that lawyers they never have met or dealt with, are receiving part of the fees paid — fees that otherwise would go to the relationship partners that these in-house lawyers deal with on a daily basis.

You will also read comments from seasoned partners, who have benefited from origination credits throughout their careers but who also see the unfairness of the system.  Like this comment from Patricia Gillette, who I know and admire:

“[The system of origination credits} ensconces lawyers in a position and rewards them over and over again, and it creates silos rather than teams.  You can get credit for the rest of your life; it doesn’t give room for others.”

This is not to say that origination credit is not important or that the concept should be thrown out as with the proverbial baby with the bath water.  But a compromise where the relationship partner shares in some of the origination credit may be in order.  That would seem fair.

And fundamental fairness should underlie everything we do in the law.  Former Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter said it best so many years ago, and I agree!

 

 

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Thought For The Week: It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop. Confucius

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The Future of Billable Hours — What All Young Lawyers Love to Hate

Billable hours.  Ugh.  The end all and be all in most law firms today.  Together with client origination, billable hours have been the measure of success for law professionals for generations.

2200 annually.  2000.  1950.  It really doesn’t matter.  The ounce of flesh that is exacted to reach those numbers is considerable and should be of primary concern. Wellness of professionals, wholesome law firm values, training young lawyers to become law firm leaders, and client service should matter most — not billable hours.

Despite these countervailing considerations, we keep concentrating on leveraging and law firm profits, all of which derive directly from billable hours.  Although there have been many commenters over recent years exposing the weaknesses of such a high concentration on billable hours, the profession has not seen a major move in another direction.

But recently, a top UK law firm represents that new direction.  Clifford Chance announced an innovative pilot program in May 2019, which delves into the merits of a concentration on billable hours as a measure of success.  Here is how a law firm executive describes the need for the study and how it will work:

While utilization is widely used as a core metric across the industry, it has a number of broadly acknowledged limitations, most notably that it does not directly incentivize efficiency or contributions to non-billable work that may be invaluable to the firm’s overall strategy and to the continued development of exceptional client service.

By running a pilot on this scale, with a large number of data points, associate input and partner and management feedback, we expect to be in a position to draw informed conclusions on the way ahead for the firm.

The year-long pilot program will consider lawyer performance based on other factors, including demonstration of knowledge, thought leadership, innovation, pro bono work, and business development.  Although lawyers will continue to record billable hours during the pilot, those numbers will be used to compare results at the end of the program and to maintain client records.

Read more here about the Clifford Chance program.  This kind of initiative is long overdue, and many of us, who care about the future of law practice and development of young lawyers into future leaders, will be very interested in the study results.

Stay tuned because you can be sure I will report them.

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Thought For The Week: Do one thing every day that scares you. Eleanor Roosevelt

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Law Firms Should Follow Corporations in Looking Beyond Self-Interest

Law firm greed. 

I have been writing about the negative impact of greed in the law profession since 2016.  It was then that I first discussed how the greed manifested by large law firms is undercutting the professionalism of the business of law.  Those comments appeared in an article I penned for Corporate Counsel in its September issue that year, and I have discussed the concepts many times since in articles and remarks to legal audiences.

In essence, I argue that it was the greed of Wall Street that brought our economy to its knees in 2008, and it will be the greed of the law profession that will bring the business of law to its knees all too soon if we do not reverse course.  Reversing course will require a renewed dedication to the values of our workforce and the wellness of our law professionals, thoughtful consideration and action on specific issues of telecommuting and work-life balance, examination of the role of billable hours in determining competence and value, and use of our resources and talents to serve communities and society.

Most recently, I discussed these concepts at a law firm partnership retreat within the larger context of a discussion about what millennial lawyers want.  By building on the reality that millennial lawyers will be 75% of legal professionals by 2030 and the research that millennial lawyers desire less greed and more caring, I found my audience to be much more attentive than some audiences of the past.  Law firm managers now recognize that the future of their firms and robust succession plans lie with millennial lawyers and their millennial clients.  Numbers do not lie.

So, I was cautiously encouraged.  And then I was even more encouraged to see a reverse course from the Business Roundtable last week.  As reported in a Wall Street Journal article, leaders of some of America’s largest companies are rethinking the notion that corporate decisions should rightfully revolve around the needs and desires of shareholders.  Meaning profit to the exclusion of everything else.  Meaning greed.

So, business leaders extraordinaire, including the likes of Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase and Jeffrey Bezos of Amazon and scores of their corporate colleagues, have decided that corporate leaders should take into account all stakeholders — to include employees, customers and society at large — when making decisions about corporate direction.

The newly-formulated “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” begins with this sentence:

Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity.

The new statement goes on to identify multiple obligations to support this goal, in the following order of importance:

  • Delivering value to customers.
  • Investing in employees.
  • Dealing fairly and ethically with suppliers.
  • Supporting the communities in which they work.
  • Generating long-term value for shareholders.

Some of these directives are mirror images of the arguments leveled against greed in the legal profession.  This is not surprising because law is a business, and, like other businesses, it must survive in a changing world.  Rules that worked yesterday may not work today.

Hopefully, this new view of corporate responsibility will rub off on law firm leaders who know that the clock is ticking and that the law firm leaders of tomorrow have different values and different world views.  And that those different values and world views need to be taken seriously and respected.

So much at stake.  So many watching.

 

 

 

 

 
 
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Thought For The Week: You can tell them that I will be back doing push-ups next week. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, after surgery in December 2014

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