Finally, Milbank’s Foul Ball is Called

Salary increases for associates are a competitive sport.  One top law firm moves, and others follow.  Just like lemmings to the sea.

Finally, the foul ball is called, but anonymously.  Nobody wants to own it.  But, at least it is out there, and attention should be paid.  Salary increases have repercussions, and associate lawyers in BigLaw do not need more  pressure on them just to satisfy egos that feast on being the biggest and the best.

Here is the comment, as reported by Above the Law recently.

 All we’re doing is continuing to put targets on these kids’ backs. Increasing salaries…causes them to increase salaries up the chain [and] increase billable hours for them. I just think they’re taking this pound of flesh out of them.”

Yes, top management needs to pay attention to what they are doing and how their actions impact the most vulnerable.



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Calling All Senior Associates!

In a surprising development in law firm world, senior associates are suddenly in high demand — a real change from even a year ago.  We all recognize that associates become more valuable as they gain experience and climb law firm ladders, but this is something different.  Now senior associates are especially sought after outside their firms as laterals, according to an article in the American Lawyer earlier this week.

Being the subject of lateral hiring changes the game for associates.  It puts experienced associates at the heart of the bargaining process like never before.  An associate recruiter at Major, Lindsey & Africa, as quoted in the American Lawyer and reported by Above the Law, attributes this market shift to the the lack of training for associates during the pandemic, which has created a need at firms for associates with transferable skills.  Firms are desperate for senior associates who can run a deal or a case without much supervision.  And it seems that associates with 6 years or more experience are taking advantage of that opportunity.

Here’s the Above the Law article.  Check it out and share with your friends.  Some of you may want to dust off your resumes and test the lateral market.

It is so nice to be wanted!

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BigLaw Needs to Ante Up

I am sure that I join most of you — all of you, I hope — in the pain and distress I feel about the Israeli-Hammas Conflict.  Too many innocent people are being killed, maimed and left homeless on both sides, resulting in a shared responsibility that is fueling continued conflict.  And the reactions in our country, where people are taking sides in the most heinous ways, makes me sad and yearning for the democracy I once knew when people acted responsibly and demonstrated true moral commitments and compasses.

Some of this heinous behavior has been initiated on law school campuses and is growing day by day.  There should be no place on the grounds of institutions of higher learning, especially those teaching the rule of law, for this irresponsible behavior underscored by hatred, and the situation cries out for leaders to step forward to combat it.

According to this article, BigLaw seems to think that responsibility lies with the administrations of law schools, specifically law school deans.  See the article for a description of the letter, including excerpts, signed by 24 major law firms.

Although I understand that law schools, specifically those called out in the suggested response by law school deans, have not handled issues of antisemitic behaviors and other hate-related incidents well in the past, the suggestion that it is law school deans who must take the lion’s share of the responsibility to curb the current despicable behavior, makes me cringe.

I barely remember ever meeting my law school dean when I was in law school.  Surely, I never had a really meaningful conversation with him.  And I expect that is true of many law students today.  Once an applicant is accepted into law school, what the administration thinks is not terribly impactful or persuasive to them any more.  It does not hold sway with students —– certainly not the way that future employers hold sway with them.  And that is precisely why the “pass the buck” attitude by the signatories to this letter is so absurd.

Law firms hold the sway.  They control access to the future that so many of the graduates of elite law schools want, and they could make the same kinds of powerful statements of intention that Winston and Davis Polk did when it rescinded an offer to a law student who had participated in the kind of hate speech being demonstrated at campuses today.

I am not naive.  The example of Winston and Davis Polk, discussed in the article, caused the kind of push back in the world of large law firms that gives managing partners and management committee members heartburn as they consider the possible negative impact on clients and profits.  Profits over responsible and moral behavior — that about says it all.  And the same kind of “group think” is also possible when it comes to losing out on the talent ostensibly represented by the “best” recruits from elite law schools.  Again, it is all related to profits and greed.

So, I say again, as I have so many times in my books and articles and as a part of the nearly 100 presentations I have made at law schools, law firms and law organizations throughout the country to date: BigLaw needs to choose responsibility over greed.

Simply put: BigLaw needs to ante up!  And now is the time.




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Dealing with the Guilt

I thought that lawyer/mothers today were over Mommy Guilt.  Nearly forty years ago, when I was in my first years as a practicing lawyer and simultaneously welcomed my first child to the world, I made a critical decision not to deal with the guilt that I knew could come my way.  I loved my work, and I also loved my husband, my child and the second child who followed two years later.  I may have been mad about some of the circumstances that required me to choose between office and home, but I did not feel guilty about having to choose.  I essentially had two jobs, and I was confident that I could do both.  When, at one point it became clear that billable hours and toddlers did not mix well, I did not experience guilt.  I left private practice and went into the public sector for a number of years.  And when it became doable again, I returned to private practice.  I had the power to work it out without giving in to guilt.

So when I read this article about the pressures on mommy/lawyers to feel guilty, it was disappointing. I thought we were over it.  Although I understand the feelings of the author and respect those feelings, I also see so much guilt on and between the lines of that article.  And that is exactly why I encourage you to read it.  You will identify with the conflicting emotions expressed there and you will understand how common those emotions are when you experience them.  But, hopefully, you also will see the danger of giving guilt the power that seems to be looming and ready to strike for this author.

Here is my message to you:  Guilt from your dual roles as lawyer and mother has no place in your life.  Anger, frustration, fatigue —- those things are to be expected when you are burning the candle at both ends and trying to be all things to all people.  All of those emotions are justified.  Who wants to miss her 6 year-old’s birthday party to be in the office doing trial prep with the team?  Certainly not me, but it happened.  Who wants to be in the hospital with a very sick toddler and taking calls from the office about getting bills out?  Most certainly not me.  But it happened.  And the list goes on.  Those same kinds of things will happen to you also even though workplaces today have progressed measurably in terms of humanity.  (Not to the point of perfection, but surely there has been measurable progress.)

So, expect conflicting emotions.  Just don’t feel guilty about them and don’t let others make you feel guilty.  I am grateful that neither of my children nor my husband ever tried to make me feel guilty about the missed opportunities.  But I also was very careful not to give them the power to make me feel guilty.  All they needed to know was that mommy had two jobs.  At the preschool, when my daughter was asked why her mommy was always “dressed up” when she collected the kids at the end of the day, my daughter’s response was that her mommy was a “worker person.”  She knew I was OK with it.  So she was OK with it.

Recently I had a discussion with one of my lawyer/mentees about her experiences as the mother of a pre-schooler.  In her situation, like mine as a working mother so many years ago, she is in the minority, and it can be challenging.  She cannot volunteer at the school to the same degree as other moms, and she is sure it is sometimes a topic of discussion.  But she deals with it well because she loves to work.  She loves her job, and she is clear that her two jobs define her in a way that gives her satisfaction and pride.  I felt her strength and knew that she was moving in the right direction.

As a lawyer/mother you deserve job satisfaction just as much as family satisfaction.  And you are capable of handling both —- without the guilt.





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More on A Possible BigLaw Associate Exodus

Last week I blogged on women in BigLaw and the option of in-house practice.  This week I am continuing on that theme.  My updated information, however, is not limited to women attorneys but also predicts an exodus of BigLaw associates within the next year.  This prediction, from the legal recruiter Major, Lindsey & Africa (MLA), as reported on Above The Law, is based on a survey of 300 BigLaw associates.  The results showed that 1 in 4 are planning to leave in that time frame and that 3 out of 5 are disappointed that that their firms aren’t working hard enough to retain them.  The explanation from MLA is as follows:

Firms have been, on a numerical basis, able to retain more associates than they bargained for because the market has been down.  But since [the second quarter of 2023], things have been better in the markets where [we] recruit.

This prediction is also based on information about practice areas that appear to be in revival mode.  According to MLA, examples are M&A, general corporate, litigation, white collar, and labor and employment.  In other words, major practices are doing very well, which is very good news, and it opens up opportunities for relocation.

So it appears that the ball is in the BigLaw management and leadership court.  It will take some TLC and effort to keep associates from bolting in mass in this reinvigorated market, but that should not be too difficult for top lawyers to figure out.  If they need any help in discovering what associate lawyers want, they always can read my books!

For more background, see this article from Above The Law.




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What Are Women Lawyers Thinking Today about Professional Opportunity?

There may be some good news for women lawyers.  According to a survey reported in a recent article on Above The Law, women general counsels are making an average of 8% more in salary than their male counterparts.  That is something significant for women lawyers to consider when contemplating employment options.  And, yes, this past summer has been referred to as the “Summer of Female Empowerment” at the box office with the likes of the Barbie movie meeting with more popularity and acceptance by female audiences than I ever would have predicted.

But, female empowerment in BigLaw is still moving at snail’s pace, and only 23 percent of equity partners in law firms today are women.  So, the comparison becomes 77 points for men at law firms versus 108 per cent for women in the offices of general counsel in the business world.  Or so it seems.  And that alone might make a woman lawyer look seriously at the options outside of law firms.

However, we all know that salary is not a stagnant number.  Once equity partnership is achieved in BigLaw, or even salary partnership for that matter, the roles are reversed and the general counsels become the proverbial salary snails.  However, the road to equity partnership can be a rocky one for women attorneys, and comparisons are hard to make.

Even today, women lawyers face persistent issues of inequity, discrimination and baby penalties that should have been eliminated years ago.  Experiences reported by recruiters in articles like this one  include the “old saws” like the indignities of assuming that women lawyers will take the meeting notes and get the coffee to treating the genders unequally and presuming that males are  more qualified to be relied upon as lawyers.  As if this is not enough to make the case for immediate reforms, those articles also include examples of harsh and derogatory language used about and to women lawyers after they announce that they are pregnant and when they come back to resume their schedules after maternity leave.  I started writing books and giving speeches to advocate for women lawyers in 2007, and I would not have predicted that this kind of behavior still would persist in 2023.

My hope is that leaders in law firms will wake up one of these days, give up this childish behavior, and start doing more of the right thing on behalf of women in the profession.  For their sake, I hope it happens before there is a mass exodus to general counsels offices where the money currently comes with the message that women lawyers are valued.

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How Will AI Affect Law Firms’ Reliance on the Billable Hour?


Artificial Intelligence (AI) is getting a lot of coverage these days in all businesses.  In all walks of life, really.  It seems to have the potential to change everything.  Machines taking the place of people.  What once was science fiction now seems very possible.

In the legal world, the changes are likely to be dramatic.  Already AI is being used to do legal research and write motions, briefs and discovery documents.  Where will it end? 

I have to admit that the thought of anything replacing the billable hour has rarely crossed my mind in the past.  Billable hours just seem so baked into law firm practice that the only time I give its demise any thought is when I ponder alternative methods of billing like contingent fees and blended rates.  The rest has seemed too unlikely and futuristic.

But this article, has planted the seed of possibility with me.  What if firms can bill out machines at a higher rate than lawyers?  That just might be the sayonara song. 

Take a look.  See what you think.  As you will see, in a recent LegalTech News survey at least three times as many respondents opined that generative AI would lessen reliance on the billable hour. And a leading legal consulting firm voice states, “In my mind, it’s not a question of whether generative AI will have an impact on law firm reliance on the billable hour, it’s a question of when and where.”

Lots to think about here.




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Are Recent Law School Grads More Content Than Ever in Their Jobs?

According to a National Association For Law Placement (NALP) and NALP Foundation joint study titled Law School Alumni Employment & Satisfaction, class of 2019 law school graduates actively seeking new jobs is at the historically low level of 13 per cent.  This, the tenth such report focusing on US law schools, is reported in this article and includes information about diverse and first-generation graduates and data related to student debt, mobility, and experiential factors.

I am very pleased to read about this apparent workplace satisfaction.  However, it occurs to me that there may be additional factors responsible for this unprecedented degree of content.  Is it because some law firm managers and other legal space employers have loosened workplace requirements and increased flexibility to make young lawyers feel more welcome and appreciated?  Is it because those changes in the workplace make it possible for young lawyers to navigate the responsibilities of both home and office more easily? Is it because the recent grads have become more realistic about what it means to be professionals after working from couches and coffee shops for so long during the pandemic?  Or is it due to the pride they take in their accomplishments and the recognition of how much they have sacrificed to get where they are?

As one who has counseled many young lawyers over the course of a career, I hope that some of these additional factors, although more personal, also are responsible for the results reported in the NALP study.  It is apparent to most observers that the profession of law is changing in many ways and at warp speed, and I am hopeful that many of those changes, as painful as they may seem at the time, will have lasting effects on job satisfaction.

When I chose the name “Best Friends at the Bar” for my project, that is what I had in mind.  Best colleagues and friends to act as mentors and support systems to create the kind of job satisfaction that raises all boats.  Maybe we are beginning to see the results of those efforts.




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