Introducing BlawgWorld 2007: get your free copy today!

I am excited to join the fanfare introducing BlawgWorld 2007.  (Download your free copy by clicking the image above or this link.)  This nifty eBook includes posts selected from 77 of the “most influential” legal blogs, addressing practice management issues, substantive issues, technology issues, and more.  I am honored that Life at the Bar is included.

If you need to know more before downloading your copy (and note, you’re not required to provide any information in exchange for downloading your copy), read the press release here.  This guide will introduce some new blogs for your perusal and give you a post that will help you decide whether to explore further.

In addition to the list of blawgs, the eBook includes a list of problems that law firms often face, which is further subdivided into specific FAQ-style questions.  These questions link to substantive presentations by advertisers, which give good information about their products or services without hyping them.  For instance, “Where Can I Find a Certified Trainer for Web-Based “Hands On” Software Training Specifically Designed for Law Firm Personnel?” leads to a infomercial (emphasis on the info) about a training company that provides training via the web.  It’s a nice way to get an introduction to solutions without having to face a sales representative until you’re ready to learn more.

BlawgWorld 2006 was downloaded over 45,000 times.  The 2007 edition will surely beat that.  Get yours today!

Wednesday Grab Bag

Another pointer to some interesting goings-on…

1.  The 800-CEO-READ Blog has an interesting post about the necessity of praising twentysomething workers for absolutely everything, because parents, teachers, and so on have rewarded this generation with everything from verbal reminders to winner’s ribbons and gold stars, following on a similar (but unlinked) WSJ article published last weekend.  The post (and presumably the article) even quotes Bob Nelson, a “thank you consultant.”  (I’ll be filing that under jobs I never knew existed.)  The post (authored by a self-identified member of the praise generation) ends by requesting more than kudos:

So yes, we were raised on praise. Most of us benefited with self-esteem. That self-esteem gave us a backbone. That backbone helps us stand up for our ethics (which after such scandals as Enron and Worldcom, can’t be bad), question company policies and processes in a productive way, and use disappointments to better ourselves rather than take it personally.

We’re not asking for kudos and presents for every small success. Challenge us and congratulate us when we go above and beyond. As a fellow member from my generation and co-worker chimed in, “Take us seriously.” If we’re not doing well, tell us. Don’t hold us to anything less.

2.  Wondering how big firms retreat?  I thought the retreats I’d attended and heard about were rather plush, but I am agog at the description posted by Nancy on the But Slenderly… blog.  (I’ve been following her blog — she writes like a dream and has some great insights!)  Anyway, the description includes not just the standard drinking stories (which vary from firm retreat to firm retreat primarily only in details) but also this:

 In the past two days, I heard speeches by Lance Armstrong (inspiring and uh, kind of sexy); Bob Woodworth (fascinating, though a little smug); Cherie Booth Blair (as in Tony); Francis Fukuyama (who knew game theory was so interesting?); Terry McAuliff (Dems 2008, whoo!).  Stephen Colbert (via video) and JHud performed at night – girl has some pipes, holy moses.  There was one horrifying moment though when she walked out into the crowd with her mike in hand to find “back up singers” and as she stood next to my table, towering in high black stilettos and this sparkly sheen of fame, her eyes met mine and I thought I was going to have to make my way under the table to avoid the entire firm hearing my frog croak.  Luckily, my frantic head-shaking and horrified expression convinced her I was not her gal and she plucked another unsuspecting victim further down the table.  Bullet.  Dodged.

Ok, color me impressed.

3.  And finally, Bob Sutton reports that a New York lawyer has been disbarred “for being an asshole,” as detailed in the Village Voice.  The official reason for the disbarment is “obstructive and offensive behavior which did not involve fraud or deception.”  It’s staggering, and more than a little sad to me, that any lawyer would think the behavior that the Village Voice describes would be even colorably acceptable.

And a brief report on my Colorado adventure… Colorado had a winter storm today.  I’d planned to drive from Cheyenne (where I spent a couple of days) to Keystone, where the NALP meeting is being held.  But after I checked the weather and road conditions, I decided to drive to the Denver airport and take a shuttle over.  Good decision on my part!  The drive from the airport to Keystone should take about 90 minutes.  I know this not only from the shuttle schedule but also because I drove it on Sunday.  Today’s drive took 4 and a half hours.  The road was slushy and icy, the snow was blowing sideways with huge flakes, and 6 tractor trailers jack-knifed just before the Eisenhower Tunnel.  I met some nice people on the ride over (fortunate, since 10 of us were crammed into a van) and was enormously relieved when I arrived, safe and sound, at the resort.  If my crummy little disposable camera works, I’ll post pictures next week.  On the plus side, everything here looks like a winter fairyland!

WSJ Blog takes on work/life balance; will salary bump stem associate attrition?

In early December, the Wall Street Journal started a new blog, The Juggle, dedicated to work/life balance issues.  The tag line limits the discussion to “choices and tradeoffs people make as they juggle work and family,” and I’ll be curious to see whether the posts will continue on that line or whether they’ll broaden out to entertain other reasons for a juggling act.

One of the most interesting posts so far is More Money, Fewer Problems.  A first-year associate at a New York firm, who’s also the mother of a 16-month old child, apparently wrote the blog recently to share the effects of the recent bump in her salary to $160K: “That salary bump has significantly affected my thinking as to how long I will really stay at this job. It also, interestingly, for better or worse, made me feel better about getting home late last night. I felt that at least I was getting paid for it. And when I heard the news of the raise, my first thought was, OK — now preschool won’t be such a struggle to pay for.”  At the time of this writing, the post had generated 82 comments, many of which (not too surprisingly) criticize the “greedy associate” mentality.  Put on your seatbelt for this read.

The news about the salary escalation prompted me to wonder about its effect on associate retention.  No question that salary increases are necessary to keep large firms on a level playing field, and no question that associates benefit in some ways from those increases.  (I still remember my delight in making X in June 1999, X+11K in early January 2000, and X+11K+20K in mid-January!)  But I question whether money alone is sufficient to keep associates.

After all, if the pay is competitive among firms, wouldn’t an economically rational lawyer jump from one firm to another to retain the same pay (or to get the bump that often comes with a new position) and to search for a good fit?  (This assumes that the attrition stats, such as NALP’s report that 37% of BigLaw associates leave a firm by the end of the third year in practice, are valid and that the attrition isn’t driven solely by associates seeking more money.)  That leaves the associate in the same economic position (or, depending on perspective, with a new pair of golden handcuffs)  and the firms with significant attrition and the attendant costs.  I’ll be curious to see how this plays out, but I don’t think increasing salaries will promote retention, particularly given the increased expectations that firms will place on associates to fund the pay bump.

On this point, visit the Up to PAR blog for commentary about a recent ABA Journal article that reported “overwhelming” associate feedback that they’d take a pay cut to work fewer hours.  The post, titled Associates v. Partners v. Clients, effectively skewers those who argue that associates who bill fewer hours are less committed than those who work more.  (PAR’s rebuttal: “You have to be extremely committed to the law to try to be a lawyer while also meeting obligations outside the office.”)  Interesting ABA article, and PAR’s examination is even more interesting.

I have to note, though, that I don’t believe any one initiative will promote associate retention.  After all, not all lawyers do want to work fewer hours — and there’s certainly a tension even among those who’d prefer fewer hours when considering how much pay is necessary to maintain the desired standard of living.  So if the solution isn’t money or reduced hours, what is it?  Practicing law is unlikely to be a one-size-fits-all endeavor, and law firms may be hard-pressed to find ways to focus on client service and remain profitable while retaining associate “talent.”  Perhaps the future will allow firms and associates to cut individually-based deals that benefit both sides.  This is a trend that seems to be bubbling up now; if it’s successful, it could change the way firms operate.   More on this another day.

One final thought about The Juggle: I’m surprised that a couple of posts describing the experience of a professional caring for a parent (blog author Sara Schaefer Muñoz’s grandfather) attracted no comments.  I find it hard to believe that blog readers aren’t members of the sandwich generation, and I’m curious that this post, at least, didn’t stir up some reaction.

Public perception of lawyers

Someone recently found this blog with a search on “All Lawyers Are Assholes.”  Yes, complete with the initial caps.  After I quit laughing (and got over being briefly miffed that this search implies that I, too, am an asshole simply because I’m a lawyer), I started wondering whether the searcher was looking for confirmation of his/her assertion.  I’d love to know whether s/he found that confirmation.

Years ago, after I’d been in practice for a few years, I spent a weekend with a college roommate and met a bunch of her friends.  As I introduced myself and admitted that I’m a lawyer, people’s attitudes shifted subtly.  Sometimes, I’d get hit with a request for free legal advice: “Y’see, I have this problem with my [employer, service provider, spouse, whatever] and I’m wondering….”  Others, especially medical professionals who weren’t doctors, would almost shudder and back off.  (Seriously, I’m not making this up, and I’ve never even worked on a med mal case!)  And a few would ask about my practice, continue the conversation, and eventually circle back to law by saying, “You know, you just don’t seem like a lawyer.”  I never knew quite what to do with that, or even whether it was intended as a compliment or an insult.

It’s always seemed to me that it’s a privilege to be a lawyer.  We have the ability to effect change in society more directly than many other professionals, we have the skill and training to recognize when something just isn’t right and to work to make it right, and we have the opportunity to help people who need it.  Strangely, that isn’t how the public usually perceives lawyers, and sometimes I wonder whether it’s how the profession perceives itself.

Attorneys sometimes behave as if practice is a burden, a horrible way to make a living because of the competing demands of practice and life and satisfying clients.  And, no doubt, sometimes it is a burden, but it’s a voluntary burden and it’s important for us to recognize that if the burden is too heavy, if it outweighs the privilege, plenty of other jobs are available that would reap the benefits of a law degree without actually requiring practice.

Too often, we view our work as hours to be put in, a way to make more and more money.  Reaping financial reward isn’t wrong.  But I submit that something is off-kilter when a profession becomes all about money, and I’d argue that something has gone very wrong when the public perception is that a lawyer can be bought, that the outcome of a legal dispute depends most on which party has the higher-paid lawyer.  This is a bigger problem than I’m prepared to address today, not only because of the public perception but also because so many new lawyers face the squeeze of student debt and salary lower than they’d been led to expect.

Finally, there’s a huge negativity surrounding legal practice.  We lawyers both propogate and, in my view, suffer from this negativity.

What lawyers believe about practicing law has a huge impact on how we behave, and how we behave has significant influence on how we are perceived.  Are you contributing to a positive or negative public perception of lawyers?