Saturday, March 1, 2008

Ridin' that train. . .right to "employment services."

Wau. This really sucks. I mean really. Sucks. Associates are dropping like flies. It's offal. I mean, awful. Okay, it's both. Your correspondent is worried. Not for moi-self, oh my no. Sadly, for the wicked, there is ALWAYS a promise of full employment. Really.

But for the "find 'em, bind 'em, grind 'em. . . .next!" style of BigLaw BigLaw (none of which we personally know here at MMLR, the second happiest place on earth. . .), this little spot on the silver will go basically unnoticed until they realise there isn't any more fodder for the cannon.

Some have said this is beginning to happen already, but your correspondent begs to differ. Yes, your correspondent begs in many different contexts and many different ways, as we know, but in this here particular case, your correspondent begs to differ.

First of all, I don't think the majority of law firms are as dumb as the majority of economists and doom and gloom naysayers. There's always a first quarter shakeout; every single year. There was one last year, and the year before, and the year before. Yeah this one's bigger, but so what?

Associates are crankier this year, some firms overhired, and the dreams of riches exceeding even Croesus' DID get a little carried away, even for joy-happy law firms and their unusually chirpy joy-happy fun-guy (or gal) financial analysts. It is also true that the "sub" got torpedoed, as well it should have, and some companies are gonna take a hit.

But on the other hand, finally, law firms are starting to toughen up again, which is good. Instituting rules. Cutting the chaff. Making tough decisions, and cutting extra fat, something that all of us, including your correspondent, would do well to emulate. I can't speak for you, but I could easily afford to lose a few percentage points of "excess capacity" around MY middle, if you take my meaning.

Of course, it's making news because it's Associates whining about job loss. And possibly lower bonuses. And only making more in a month, most of them, than their parents did in a year, loan servicing or not. Sucks to be an associate.

I actually had an Associate tell me that it wasn't fair that the partner for whom s/he worked made "five or six times what I make. . .it isn't right." This was a fourth-year associate. The partner, aside from being a 20-plus year A-rated lawyer, is considered one of the best in the country in their particular field. And s/he has a huge book of very well-pleased clients. The associate in question hasn't brought a single client to the firm, but gets a raise every year, doesn't risk a PENNY of their own money to do it, and hasn't invested in the firm's future, either. Risking no personal capital, having brought nothing to the party, and still having a berth without any fears about losing either salary or bonus in this coming year seems like a pretty fair deal to me. Meanwhile, the partner is never really sure if their money is THEIR money, since it's always a risk. . .every single day.

I'm not trying to bang on Associates. . .not TOO viciously. But I will say this. . .there IS a reason that Law Firms, and, frankly, the best, most successful recruiters (which I would some day like to be), prefer Partners for their lateral recruiting efforts.

When you're part of a group that, statistically, shows they have all the staying power of a post-perm shampoo (see "Legally Blonde" for background), that they're only in it (apparently) for the money, and that, outside of training, perks, and, possibly, name-dropping prestige, they really don't care for you all that much, you're prolly gonna be flinchy too. And when it's between you and them, your ego goes where all egoes go. . .if it's between thee and me, it's thee.

Associates have created themselves a bit of a grindhouse. But you know what they say. . .GIGO.

We're here for YOU. . . .really.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Doc Review, Market Research, Boo-lee-neesh-lish-poly-tesh-ni-koom

You probably only really get the joke if you were a huge fan of M*A*S*H, and you remember Tuttle. It's too long a story to get into, except to say that Hawkeye, and, to be fair, Trapper, decided that "Doctor" Captain Tuttle had gone to school at BerlinischischPolytechnicum. I don't how to spell it. But I decided to spell it phonetically up there, for you. Because I'm a giver. I give.

Please greet our new friend. He is called Hans. Not his real name. He knows ASL. And SEE. And I asked him to drop by the blog. And now he knows I'm talking to him. And, he probably gets the reference, because of how we talk to one another sometimes. Hi, Hans.

So, I suppose you read this thing and that about the big hoo-hah about all the offshoring of legal work. I KNOW! What? Legal work? Outsourcing? OFFSHORING? Going somewheres else? First, it was call centers, and now this. Are you flippin' kiddin' me? Are ya frikkin' kiddin'? You must be fuh-REAK-in' kiddin' me! Ah, Oh, hEy-eLL No!

My friend, Miz LaVotra, can get 11 syllables out of "Oh, Hell No!"; I think she has the six-direction respositionable head, and everything. And don't get Miz Girl angry. . .I don't know what she says, because I'm not from Nicaragua, but I DO know that one time I said the WRONG thing on the way back to the car from lunch, and I had to get my car repainted, it blistered so
badly, that much I DO know.

Anyway, they're offshoring legal work, and, of course, some people are comPLETEly down with it. Like our dear friend Scott Rickman, associate GC at Del Monte, who's all over the idea of using, umm, I'm not sure exactly what. I'll explain what I mean in a minute. See, I sort of think it's the offshore doc review. But in the article I read on, Zusha Elinson wrote:

"For Scott Rickman, the question is: Why pay big-firm associates $200 an hour to do document review when you can ship it out to India for $25 an hour? High rates and the increasing bulk of e-discovery have pushed the associate general counsel at San Francisco-based Del Monte Foods to seriously consider using sources outside his outside law firm for the grunt work of litigation."

However, this was the quote Elinson attributed to Rickman, as printed in the article:
"What caused me to start to look into this issue was just the tremendous cost involved in discovery," said Rickman. "It doesn't make sense to pay 150 or 250 dollars an hour at some of the larger firms to do the document review -- it just seems like overkill."

You decide. Which question is it. Is it the question of associates doing doc review at a buck-fiddy plus versus $25 and hour in India? Or is it the issue of e-discovery which may or may not be, but almost always is NOT strictly doc review (in fact, any kind of discovery). Now, I get that there's a crossover issue here, but I'm trying to be a purist for a reason. Beyond that issue, however, there's an even greater issue. . .doc review versus "e"-discovery, and then ANY of these issues inside the umbrella expression "the grunt work of litigation."

Don't even get me started on Rickman's sentence construction. . .or the impossibility of a recursive reflexive subjunctive deponent non-dependent. . .(I've said too much). . . like "overkill" in that particular expression. No, let's not even TALK about that. Makes my fur itch.

What bothers ME about this whole thing is that that's EXACTLY what's been going on here, PARTICULARLY by GCs, which is SO teh suxx, because THEY, of all people, should have the chichibobos NOT to Daemonize external counsel, particularly with respect to important litigation, IP, or other potentially "bet the company" legal issues.

The reason we are inveighing on this is because this is what we do. We find us some lawyers for some law firms. We don't so much do in-house. Not that we don't love them. Ma, we love 'em awful. Didja get the inveighing joke? That's why I love you guysngalz. You are so suh-MART!

By the way, read this, 'nthen come back:

No, I don't do that "I met a girl named JUDY (with the embedded weblink), and SUZY (with the embedded reference). I don't have time for that crap, and I want to know what I'm getting myself into. I don't think it makes for easier reading either, nor does that, "there's more on this topic here" noise. Bloggers fall in love with technology and tricks and forget to communicate. . .forget HOW to communicate.

Let me give you an example. An old boss of mine once took me to task on a memo. Really ripped me. And I pointed out that he was just being, frankly, unfair to use that example. Look, you talk to me three time, you know me. Read three of my letters, you know me. . .I'm sarcastic. I'm ALWAYS sarcastic. If I were throwing myself on the mercy of the court, I'd do a Bugs Bunny routine. . .that's me. Anyway, Boss Man said "well, that's why I use (get this!) emoticons. Perhaps you need to start using them so people are more clear on where you're coming from."

I said "you know, you're probably right. But I'm willing to bet that nobody, nobody, NOBODY has suggested, even today, that we relabel the writing of Twain, or Shakespeare, or even, God help us, P.J. O'Rourke, with emoticons to let you know where any of THEM are coming from. You misunderstood because you CHOSE to misunderstand, and there's no emoticon for that."

Clearly, I'm no kind of writer, so, NO, I wasn't trying to make a comparison of myself to any of the people mentioned above, but I think the point is valid, if squirrely. . .for, frankly, THOUSANDS of years, in fact, until just the past few, people have, for the most part, usually been able to make themselves understood, in written form, without the use of emoticons, or, you know, "just kidding!" (even though I know I do it. . .too much. But it seems I find I have to), and all those little exception management issues.

Lately, however, we seem to be able to derive less meaning from written language, and we seem to need more help divining the intentions behind words. . .and sometimes the lack of intention behind words. The actual term we use in the "fancy communication geek" world is "intentionality." Whether and IF there IS intention behind words, either spoken or written, and how those things are signalled. You know, how people say "Well, that's what I said, but not what I meant. . ." Intentionality is the signals (poker players call them "tells") that PROVE what you meant. Okay, I'm off this.

Before I drove off the road of relevance, what I was trying to get to: We've overclevered ourselves, which is fractionating us, splitting our attention, and making us get trapped in layers of windows of information. While it's diverting, on one level, it can also pull us off track. Like this here. Pulled right off track. It's just too damn easy, idn't it? I KNOW!

I am NOT on Rickman's side. Sorry. Even if I'm willing to forgive the overkill thing, which I'm not (whuh? No, really. . .what? As in, WHAT?!?), I don't think he's quite down on how to parse his legal work, and, beyond all that, there's the overriding issue, which is this: I recruit Lawyers. That's what I do. . .in the words of Dolly Parton: "Ain't that whut they pay yew for?" Yup. That's what they pay me for. I recruit lawyers. Not from Mumbai. Or Bangalore. Or even Ashok Nagar or Jaipur, although all are lovely, each in its own way. I recruit Lawyers in America for American Law firms with offices primarily in the United States, and usually the C48. . .that's me; domestic boy.

I got no problem if you're an offshore company, and there are many of my clients that have operations all over the globe, and that's great too. But I recruit locally, for local offices, because that's what I do. And while I would never fault anybody for hiring someone to do doc review at $25 an hour, because I have bills to pay too, I wonder how you can think it doesn't affect ME when I go to the store and have a choice to make between brands of clearly luscious canned vegetables, and know that MY job is to find the very BEST attorneys I can for what I think are the best law firms in the world (yeah, I get it, I'm a US-o-phile snob. Sue me.).

But, in the end, I'm always looking for my own Tuttle. As are we all. Even Scott Rickman, I'll bet.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Ting tang Walla walla Bing bang (with apologies)

Don't blame me. Blame GrannyMama. GrannyMama, for those of you not in the loop is the Grandmother of my BFF, Lito. Of course, to GrannyMama, Lito's name is Li'l Bubba. I know, don't ask me. Anyway, in order to be Lito's BFF, you have to pass muster with GrannyMama.

As you would expect, GrannyMama is well-schooled in the Dark and Mysterious Arts, including, (wait for it. . .), VooDoo. Well, not really. More like the countrified, citified, Southern-Fried VERSION of All-American Voodoo. Hoodoo. That you do so well. Which brings us to our topic. For those of you back on page two, we're talking about the worriers, those puppies with an old shoe, growling and snorting and snarling. And that's just the analysts.

Between us chickens, I'm a little disappointed in all the prognosticators. What a dismal bunch they are. Doom and gloom and despair. For a minute, I thought I was reading a script from any week of Hee-Haw (a childhood favourite, by the way, so watch your mouth). There was this bit, every week, and the words were "Gloom, despair, and agony on me. Deep dark depression, excessive misery." And so on. You get the picture.

My own dear sweet granny used to call us "gloomy guffs." As in "Come on, don't be such Gloomy Guffs!" I was probably in college before I heard someone say "Gloomy Gus." I like my Grandma's version better.

We know what you're thinking. You're thinking "MMLR, thou fountain of wiseness and wisdomfulness, speak thou. Please, in the words of Barbara Eden, in that Hawribble Movie of the Week, 'release me from my torment!' " For you, anything.

We agree with the Grass is Almost Always Greener folk. The market will increase. The pie, she will grow. Mergers will not stop, they's a comin', still. Yes, you have to choose, and choose wisely, but you've known that since the Last Crusade. We also agree that firms will start to think more carefully about which alliances they choose to pursue. Both Hildebrandt International, and even some major law firms understand that logical alliances which advance firm interests should always be pursued, at least to their logical conclusion(s).

So, what is a frisky, exciting, forward-thinking, wild-n-crazy, cool and happenin' law firm O' the future to do (some of you should sit down and fan yourselves for a minute)? Keep doin' what you're doin'. Find the bestest lawyers EVER! Look for opportunities to expand your horizons. Fly! Be free! Write those checks. Pay them Partners. Promote those Associates. Call us; we'll do virtual lunch.

And GrannyMama? Oh, don't worry about her. . .I told her Bubba got hisself hooked with a bad seed. . .she won't be back for weeks. Teach him to stick me with the Lunch check.

Y'all come back now, y'hear?!

James E. Mason
Managing Partner
Mason|McRight Legal Recruiting


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Checking In

I cannot imagine what you were thinking. This is a logrolling blog. Actually it's not. It's a test. For a few seconds of your incredibly valuable time, this space is conducting a test. Turn your head and cough. Well done.

Carry on.

Y'all come back now, y'hear?!

Warmest of the warms,

James E. Mason
Managing Partner
Mason|McRight Legal Recruiting

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Guru Speaketh

I'll bet you were just asking yourself "Self, when is this bozo gonna give me some Gurulicious-like advice for my bad self." I was wondering the same thing, my own bad self.

And then, just as we were about to throw in the proverbial neckbones and bayleaf, NO, I mean towel, I ended up getting a phone call from my own Favourite favourite Guru of all Gurus, Oh Wah Tagoo Guru. Yes. From Siam. How DID you know that?

And, you may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong? And you may tell yourself, My God, what have I done? Maybe not. But, apparently, the Marketing Gurus NEVER ask themselves these questions. Maybe they spend too much time with Gabriel Byrne. But what they DON'T do is give you anything new, exciting, or clever. You guys aren't hiring these goofballs are you?

Obviously, we here at Mason|McRight Legal Recruiting are TOTAL PROFESSIONALS and would never badmouth someone by name. Oh, HELL no! We're gonna be all sneaky about it, and do it all second-hand, with a lot of clever misdirection and verbal tricks. Because they might know as many beagles as we do (although, they don't luv you like we do. . .pant, pant, pant. . . ). And they're prolly nicer to you too. We leave you weak and begging for more.

It's not really our fault. . .we were mostly raised by sixteen-year-old babysitters. I don't believe I need to say anything else; that pretty much explains it all.

Anyway, Mahketing Experts. They're all over the place. Thick as fleas. And TWICE as helpful. Let's do a colonoscopy on some of the brilliant Law Firm Marketing ideas that 're being flung around this year. And remember, you DIDN'T hear it here first. . .but, on las otras hand, you didn't hear it from those marketing geschmurtzers either.

You prolly heard from your mama, or in any good class on etiquette and manners. Or, in your undergraduate "bidness success" class. Or in Lawyering II-The Wrath of BigLaw. . .oops, I mean, Professional Lawyering. Dang! I gotta remember, INSIDE VOICE! (Oh, come on, that was HELLA funny!). You just need to ask yourself one question: "Am I actually writing checks to these people?" I can't bear to look. Let's just say that we'll all have to bear our own private shame our own special way, and move on.

Here we go. Most of the most common advice I read, all over the web, on "paid" sites, and free ones, was "make a plan, make a budget, and then, implement your plan." I was, needless to say, knocked over like a Drunken Duck (which is what I'm planning to order for dinner. . .I've been craving it for WEEKS. . .I love me some duck).

You're KIDDING! Make a plan? Get a Budget? Implement the Plan. Oh, STOP! The sizzling genius is about to overload my limited intellectual capacity. Yours too, I reckon. Oh, and get this. Don't procrastinate. Do it right now. Don't dilly-dally, especially you, over there in the corner, looking at the Bagels. . .we're especially talking to YOU. Get to movin', there, you. I especially like the one who said, essentially, "If you find something that works, NEVER TELL ANYONE WHAT IT WAS/IS. . .something." I stopped listening after a while. Did this person, who, theoretically, gets paid for giving advice, just tell EVERYBODY that if s/he finds something that actually, really works well, that s/he is gonna keep it to him/herself? I thought so too.

Some of the advice was obvious, we thought, but, as I was preparing this little missive, one of OUR in-house Marketing people said "Whoa, there Scooter. Hold la phone, Mister Boy, and don't be makin' no assumptions 'bout no Marketing, unless you know the facts."

The point is, what is obvious to the Goose may not be obvious to the Gander. And if you don't know that you should be planning your marketing efforts, and visiting clients, and returning phone calls, and doing things to make yourself Top Of Mind, and making sure you don't leave money on the table, and other stuff like that there, then maybe you do need to hire an external marketing consultant to babysit you through the rough patches. And maybe you do need a Personal Coach, or an Executive Coach, or, heck, maybe both, to help you remember to dot your "i"s and cross your "t"s.

One thing I DID notice whilst I was perusing is that some of the Law Firms just don't get it. Some Law firms have the right idea, and they're paying an appropriate salary for true expertise. But, just for giggles, I checked out some of the salaries listed, and I was, frankly, appalled. Especially when I saw what the firms wanted in terms of experience.

No foolin', I saw a well-respected law firm, who we know is not struggling financially, that wanted a Marketing Director/Chief/Something with about a decade of experience, IN LAW FIRMS, for less than 50K. Are you kidding? Just in terms of the Basic Salary Formula, which doesn't even catch up with people, you guys are TOTALLY under market.

For those of you who MISSED that day in Job Analysis and Compensation Class, you COULD take the person's age as a baseline, add up their education, experience, and other factors, and come up with a figure, but I wouldn't, for the obvious Legal Reasons. But, even if the person is, say, 32 (just out of college, then directly into Marketing), the around 50K figure is JUST TOO LOW.

At a minimum, this job values out to something like a high five figures to mid low sixes job, when you take into account experience, background, responsibilities, and so on, based on what most Law Firms are looking for. I saw jobs for Marketing Directors at Law Firms in LA for, like 75-80K. You MUST be high. Good luck with that.

See, part of the problem is that law firms don't really GET marketing. Well, Law Firms do. Lawyers don't. Most of them. And it's okay. Unless you don't really have a background in Marketing. Because there actually IS something to it. . .you need to know what you're doing. You wouldn't let a Marketer try a case (even if it were legal. . .work with me here). Why would you assume that just a law degree would prepare you for marketing? Here's the bad news. . .it doesn't.

Yeah, I KNOW that a whole class of Former Lawyers are now Law Firm Marketing experts. I'm sure their letters of recommendation are impressive. They probably sound good on stage. So, ask them some questions. Ask them about the Principles of Marketing. Ask them what an Integrated Marketing Plan IS. Ask them how Marketing differs from Sales, or if it does. Then ask them why they left Lawyering for Marketing. We believe there are a lot of smart people doing all kinds of things. But we also think that every firm is different. Unique. Special. Make sure that YOUR Marketing Consultant is thinking about YOUR firm, not just THEIR particular program.

The truly awful BAD news is that you wouldn't really need much of a marketing effort if you'd just do a better job of lawyering for your clients that you do have. Call 'em. Talk to them. Return their calls. Staff well and wisely. Hire good, smart, communication-wise lawyers (they're out there), who, if they aren't good with people, and many of the best lawyers are NOT, are smart enough to have someone on their team who IS, and who can do that icky communicating. If they don't have someone, GET someone for them.

Let me give you an example. I know a lawyer who is in charge of the Legal work for a major MAJOR company. Loves the client. Loves the Law Firm. Has no interest in leaving. But we talk, a lot. Because he's funny. And whip smart. And, someday, I'll get him. Maybe. But, in the meantime, we talk. His client LOVES him. His team LOVES him. The Firm LOVES him. Why? Because, he's smart, and funny, and easy to talk to, and he returns calls, and emails, and so on. Maybe not immediately. But as soon as he can. And he apologises for the delay. And he's a big dang deal hifalutin' fancy pants attorney, making millions, and lawyering up a storm.

What's the lesson: If you learn to do the SOFT SIDE of Lawyering, you should. Most lawyers are far better at it than they think; they just don't like it, or they're not comfortable with it. Not a good enough reason not to do it. If you can't do it, find someone who CAN do it for you. Because, if you do it, and do it well, your clients, and your other contacts, will do half of YOUR work to build your practice and make more money for you. The End.

One Final Topic: Hot Areas, Cold Areas. . .is this, or is this not, my area?

I only have one thing to say about this. Ignore everybody who tells you to reassess because of what's going on in the legal arena right now. Yeah, some people got burned. What? People who took on clients with a substantial stake in the sub-prime mortgage market got burned? You're kidding, right? Oh, STOP!

Lemme see if I understand this. Your client takes on a whole bunch of debt from people who can't qualify for a regular mortgage, because they don't have good enough credit. But, because the client saw that a bunch of people made a bunch of money in that market, that was enough for them, despite the predatory lending practices, the enormous default rate, and the absolutely horrible reputation in the "NOT" subprime market of some of the operators, obviously not the clients that were represented by the vast majority of BigLaw firms, but still, enough of them so that one would have thought that the "good guys" would have off-loaded their portfolios a long time ago.

Of course, BigLaw being BigLaw, highly respected firms can't very well tell their equally highly respected clients to take back their Subprime Mortgage Finance-Related business, "but we want to keep everything else, if it's just the same to you."

And nobody, nobody, nobody, saw the handwriting on the wall, despite the fact that, for at least the past couple of months, even over the past year, even Hollywood has been writing scripts implicating sub-prime lenders in all kinds of viciousness, and suggesting, not to put too fine a point on it, that "they'll get theirs" (keeping in mind that the writer's strike means that these scripts were hanging around for a while too, by the way).

So, now you're watching your friends get pounded in the, well, the popo, and you're nervosa, and you're saying to yourself "Self, wtf, shall I "change my way of living, and if that ain't enough. . ." oh, shall I "change the way I strut my stuff?" (Love that song, by the way).

The WeeJames Board (like a Ouija [tm alert!] Board, but FAR more fun, and WAY more accurate, I think), says "Oh, Hell No!" Unless, you know, you're in with the subprime boys and girls, in which case run for the hills, or call your Friendly Legal Recruiter (BING!).

Outside of that, stay who you are. You know your area. Maybe John Travolta didn't like to do anything that wasn't in his "area." Maybe you haven't been to all the other areas to check them out. After all, Miranda HAD "been to the area." But you might not have. Nevertheless, you have a certain expertise. Focus on that. You are the expert. In your little corner of the Law, you are the king. Say it with me, won't you? Just like Jeremy Irons: "I. Am. The King!" But don't go throwing anyone off no cliffs, if you please. Just sayin'.

"Yes, Sire, you are the king." How kewl are you? Nobody knows ADA Compliance like you! You are the Master of Litigation. You, on the other hand, know SEC Regulation like nobody's business.

In other words, stay the course. If your firm is acting skitchy, talk to someone. If things are just jumpity because everyone is jumpity, then live with the fact that everyone is jumpity.

Things will settle out. But your expertise is what people are looking to hire. If you're in the wrong area because you got stuck there, and you hate it, then yeah, change immediately, before you get destroyed, but NEVER change areas because of a slight downturn. That would be the worst idea ever.

And, no, we do NOT think the economy is going to hell, and we don't think this is going to be a bad year for law firms. We feel good about it. We think you have to be smarter than last year. Pick wisely. Spend wisely. But we still think it's going to be a Very Good Year.

If only we could control the Marketing people. . .we're starting to wonder if they've been breeding. Until we know for sure, spray. Be conservative, but spray. That's the best advice we can give you. Oh, and take a client to lunch (we were just kidding about spraying).

James E. Mason
Managing Partner (Marketing Experiment gone wrong. . .see what happens?!)
Mason|McRight Legal Recruiting

P.S. Escabeche or Carpaccio?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cross-Pond Commentary

Are you still sitting on the floor? Me too. I fell off my chair, and haven't been able to pick my big but amazingly cute butt up off the floor since I landed there. No, I know YOU don't care to know anything about my butt. But, I'm still single, and, well, you never know, do ya? And I wasn't talking to you, anyway. . .I was talking to . . . uh . . . you. How YOU doin'? Where was I?

Oh yeah. Falling off the chair. I know! Me too. The same article. Oh, wait. I gotta tell you another story, so I can use this expression.

Years ago, I used to work with this guy named Vinny. Swear to, whatever, he spelled it Vinny. No, not V-i-n-n-i-e, Vinny. Not the story. No, the story is that Vinny'd always make comparisons, every time he told you, well, anything. And he'd always use the same expression: "Same thing, Man, same E-ZACK thing!" Made us HOWL! We'd make him tell the same story again and again, just to hear him say "Same thing, Man, same EZACK thing!"

The funny thing is, I know for SURE that I'd heard Vinny say "Exactly" before. As a one word response. I'd said something, and Vinny said, "Exactly!" But, no matter what, get him going and, before long, here came Vinny and "Same thing, Man, same EZACK thing!"

So, the article. I really don't know where to start. And I gotta be, uh, "carefy." I know the writer did his best not to sound as phumphery as he came across. But, honestly, you're going to use as your example of excellence Marks and Spencer who came to our very own shores not too very long ago and managed their own concept right into the ground? Lost money from the get, alienated even other retailers, and made their very own customers hate them? This is who you'd advise American Law Firms to emulate?

I know I'm not too bright, but even I know retail history well enough to know THOSE lessons. I won't even bring up the painful mid-to-late-80s memories of the vaunted David Jones, late of Australia, empire and their foray into Southern California, but I was there, and I lived it.

While we're at it, it's not so much that I disagree with everything that's been said. I agree, most law firms do an awful job of keeping their non-lawyer professionals, and the half-life of a non-lawyer in most of these jobs is ridiculously short. . .to an outsider, it seems like professional suicide to take one of these jobs in a law firm; I wouldn't do it on a bet, certainly not for what these people are getting paid. Nevertheless, the idea that mere cosmetic or linguistical changes, like Allen & Overy calling a non-lawyer an "Other Professional" makes any difference in the hearts and minds of lawyers is laughable, and ridiculous on its face.

I don't care if you call me a non-lawyer, an "Other Professional" or "Ticky-Boo"; it don't make no never mind to me. . .I'm STILL not in the club, and you know it, and I know it, and you know that I know that you know it, and that's all there is to say about it.

Fortunately, lawyers don't much care about ME. . .my job doesn't require it, and I've been around lawyers my whole life, so I think like you do; it's like being raised by wolves, except not as civilised. I'd be lying, though, if I said the sniffing one another part wasn't a hoot and a holler, but perhaps I've already said too much.

Let's get back to the "future of law firms" issue for just a minute. I think the idea of "branding" law firms is ridiculous on its face. Let's go back to Marketing 101 for jist a minute, m'kay? Aside from all the other things branding is, one of the things that branding for SURE is, is a way to hang a "HOOK" in your brain for future reference, to "tag" something, and to create a sort of utilitarian interface with something that, presumably you'll have a need/desire/want/urge/etc. for in the future (i.e. Coffee, Tissues, Headache Remedies, Tequila, whatever). That's what brands are for. Mrs. Olsen, the referent. Folger's, the Brand. Juan Valdez, the referent. Uh, oh. . .No Brand! See how that there works right there? Colombian Coffee may indeed be the richest in the world, but it's NOT a brand, it's a typology. (I'm talking Principles of Marketing, here, not Brain Real Estate, IP beagles, so calm down, and stop pointing at the R in a circle; I got you).

But here's the thing, like it or don't. . .NOBODY wants to have a Law Firm Brand hanging off a hook in their brain, not even me. And I LOVE law firms Because I'm freakin' weird, but, yeah, I do. But I don't want to have to say "Well, Millicent, MY legal work is always handled by Snooty Puss Brand Lawyers, 'cuz they're just the cuddliest attorneys ever!" Of course, my own very mother would kill me with her bare hands if I ever talked like that, but you get my point, right?

Can you imagine. . .DLA Piper Brand Attorneys at Law? "Oh, I used to work for Cadwalader Brand, but then I came over to Skadden Brand." Because you know they'd MAKE us say "brand." Every time I think of it, I remember Old Dr. Welby, pitching "Sanka Brand Decaffeinated Coffee." I was, like, three seconds old, but I remember that my old Grandpappy used to drink "Sanka." But what ever could "Sanka Brand" be? Even Grandpa didn't know.

One of my friends is a bigtime hifalutin' IP lawyer now, and I told him that story, you know, "When lawyers try not to get 'Aspirin-ed', the search for Brand Identity." I just made that up. Pretty clever, huh? Anyway, he was totally clue free. On the other hand, he's like fourteen years old. . .missed the ads completely, and will never know the joys of seeing Consuelo and Dr. Kiley on the little blue screen. Oh, Consuelo. . .I had such a thing for Consuelo.

My Auntie Regina (no, you have to say it Ruh-jy-nuh. . .I know. . .I still have to suppress a giggle; me a grown-up man), says there's no possible way I can remember Doctor Welby, that I was too young. . .maybe, maybe not. . .but I sure do remember me some Consuelo. Ay, Mami!

Where was I before I drifted off there. . .? Ah, yes! Branding Law Firms Sucks! But wait, sports fans, there's more. There's gonna be a brand valuation round up, a pricing blow-up, and a marketing mix-up. Or something.

Me, I dunno. I'm not sure I'm prepared to take advice from across the pond, no matter whose mouth it falls from, although I DO like the way our cousins sound when they talk. I'm gonna have to think about this a little more. In the meantime, I think I'll have me some Noname Brand Frozen Pizza, chug down a few Store Brand Cervezas, and follow it all up with a nice cup of Colombian Coffee (there, IP beagles. . .I did that for YOU!). Juan Valdez, I LOVE you, Man!

But not as much as my sweet Consuelo.

Remember, YOU are the Otter of your own fat, and that all real products referenced herein are the Intellectual Property of their respective owners. Not me.

James E. Mason
Managing Partner
Mason|McRight Legal Recruiting

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Wiggity-wiggity-wiggity Wack!

So much to say. So many people to say it about. So much foo to flung, as it were. I say "as it were" a lot. But not for serious. Just, you know, like a joke. . .(wait for it!). . .as it were. Not my friend Joebo. He's all up on the lingeaux (that's lingo, gettin' jiggy wit itself). Me, I'm of simpler stock.

But not our friends up in the Strato-fied air of the BigLaw BigLaws (aka BL-squares). And I meant to say "strato" as in "stratospheric heights", and not just stratified, meaning, sort of, layered (geddit, strata? How kewl is English?!). But that too. We have SO many things to talk about. . . how ever will we get it all done? As it turns out, I have the answer. First of all, put your phone on "make busy." If, like me, you don't actually know HOW to do this, ask your assistant to do it for you.

Between us, the only reason I know about "make busy" is because once, at band camp, no, once, I said "Hey, is there a way I can make this phone not ring, because if it rings one more time, I might have to kill someone!", you know, the way ya do, and Miss MaryMay Vajayjay, Assistant to, um, someone not me, let's say, yelled at me "Why don'tcha put it on make busy, Wonder Puppy?", and I said "Ruh? Rut's Rake Rizzy?", and now you know about it too. And between us, again, how many of the Senior Partners do you think just got the, uh, "Roobee Roo!" joke? I mean, before I just gave them the punchline this second?

Yeah, that's what I thought. I do that a lot. They're like little Pop Culture tests, mini exams for your soul. I'm not accusing you of having a soul, don't get all bunched up there, or anything. I'm just saying, you can test yourself. You know, like a voluntary breathalyzer in your car, sort of, but less obvious (and probably less useful).

Which brings us to our next topic, which is 'pacifically for our Fray-enz in Californy (say it like an ol' time preacher or politician: "Mah Fray-enz! . . . ."). It would appear that the seemingly successful Diversion Program for Wayward Lawyers, which The State Of California amusingly calls the Alternative Discipline Program, doesn't do NEARLY enough to shame, and embarrass, your fellow members of the bar to satisfy prosecutors. Oh, Nay! No, these feckless thugs think the program is too easy, takes too long, and allows attorneys enrolled to, get this, KEEP THEIR LICENSES! O, the Horrah!

But the thing that really seems to rub the noble, and certainly NOT feckless, (CERTAINLY not!) Scott Drexel, the wrong way, is that, and I quote: "27 other jurisdictions have diversion programs for attorneys but none allows participation by lawyers who engage in acts of moral turpitude." (Let's be clear. . .I'm quoting the article, not His Counselness.) Now, I'm pretty sure I don't know what a moral turpitude is. I doubt I could pick one out on say "The Price is Right" or nothin' like that. I don't even know what one tastes like, although I doubt it tastes like Chicken. But really, this is California. California.

The Diversion program, despite its flaws, is said by many to have been instrumental in helping a significant number of Attorneys get their acts together, and get flying in a line with the rest of the geese. It has saved careers, and probably lives. And it has saved attorneys, which, as my mama used to say, "that ain't no punk!" [Don't tell her I told you that.] By which I mean, persons with licenses to engage in the practice of law (and, for the first time ever, NO "practice of law" joke. The crowd goes wild!).

But, really, Becky, Moral Turpitude? That's what has you so cranky? My seventh grade edition of the "Not Ready For A Real School" Dictionary defines Moral Turpitude as: "the gross disregarding of moral standards expected of a human being while doing some activity or crime. Eg. Raping in front of the parents." Well!

However, my Hello Kitty dictionary defines it as "n. gross violation of standards of moral conduct,vileness, such that an act involving moral turpitude was intentionally evil, making the act a crime. The existence of moral turpitude can bring a more severe criminal charge or penalty for a criminal defendant." And you can't get more definitive than Hello Kitty, I don't think. Well, there you have it. I was wrong. Moral turpitude, on top of everything else, just makes a bad thing, more, just, far more worser. And bad. And stuff. Gosharootie.

To be fair, Mr. Drexel is cranky about a lot of details about the ADP program. I suspect that, in time to come, we'll find out that SOMEONE in his family works for a Payroll Processing Company, and then we'll really be in for it. I had to.

So, down with Moral Turpitude. It's bad. And stuff. Oh, except this. Mr. Drexel's big BIG problem is that some of the tactics engaged in by accused persons (or are they presumptively guilty, or are they, in fact, guilty scalawags, cutting deals? I'm not clear on THAT either), are "unfair to prosecutors." Oh, and costly. But mostly, I suspect, unfair to prosecutors.

You know what, I just stepped away to learn how to make my phone busy, again, and I had an epiphany. It wasn't very big, hardly worth mentioning. But I had one. I decided that Scott Drexel is right, and I am wrong, and always have been. Burn the lawyers, I say, whenever you can. Why try to save them? There's just too damn many of you anyway. If you get trapped by Drugs and/or Alcohol, too bad. You're just weak. Your turpitude don't have any moral in it. Or you got too much, whatever. I'm still not clear on this. Anyway, down with ADP. Down with ADP. Down with ADP. Boom. Boom. Boom Boom Boom! (Cymbals!). End.

So, anyway, back to BigLaw BigLaw. Apparently, the folks in charge of the Brain Trusts at some of the biggest and brightest of the biggyest and brightyest of them all have decided that they can stanch the flow of talent outward, and retain all those smarts they want to retain (always a tricky juggling match, even in the best of circumstances), by reclassifying you all as "Talent," or "People," or "Knowledge Workers,"or, heck, I dunno "Special Ops" ('kay, I made that up), and then hiring a lot of special people to, I guess, feed you and bathe you, and give you special food, and, perhaps, give you special beer, and massage you every two hours. No, wait, that's Kobe Beef, right? Could be you too, I don't know yet. This is all new to me.

So let me ask you. Does the hiring of a Chief Talent Officer, or a Director of Knowledge, or Finder of Truth, or Seeker of Wisdom, or whatever, make you somehow more inclined to look favourably upon the Firm, or do you think, as I do, that this is just another Guru Goof-up? Don't get me wrong, I LOVE me some guru. I even like to be thought of as a guru.

But we've talked about this (okay, not you and me, you know, privately), and it's important, and sometimes it gets missed, and unfortunately, Consultants, Gurus, and Vendors, as important as THEY are (hey, we do consulting too, after all), sometimes become enmired in our own goopy language. Language should CLARIFY not OBFUSCATE. Language should crystallize and focus thinking, not muddy and scatter it. Even when it comes to labels and titles.

The worst thing about it is that the firms already KNOW what they need to do, and they already have the resources available if they DON'T know. I'll tell you the secret in just a moment, but, in order to build up the drama a little bit, lemme tell you a story. Of course, I have to share with you that since we saw the movie "Happy Feet," all of my friends and myself have to say "Layt me tell sahmthing to Ju!" I know! And, no matter what, when someone says that they don't want something, or they hate something, are tired of something, or just don't want to do it anymore, we say "No, ju like eet!" Yeah, easily entertained.

So, the story is this. When I used to do my little Management Seminars, I always did this riff about how I really appreciated everybody coming, but that they already had all the knowledge they needed to have in order to accomplish their objectives as managers, and it had always been waiting for them back at their office, plant, firm, whatever. Yeah, that made a lot of friends. But it's true. And here's the punchline: All a law firm has to do if it really wants to reduce turnover, increase retention, increase profitability, motivate its people, whatever whatever, is to simply ASK. Just ASK them. Sincerely. And mean it. And listen, really listen. Oh, yeah. . . And do what they say. And there's the rub, as they say.

Each law firm is different, (duh, thanks for the update, Dr. Obvious), we all know that. And one of the major differences is that the people who make UP the law firm see themselves, and the firm as being special in a way that no other firm is. This is particularly true with law firms, much more so than with any other organisational type. The problem is that most of the people who work IN law firms, who consult FOR law firms, and who STUDY law firms, don't have backgrounds in Organisational Culture, let alone organisational development, management, or theory.

I see a lot of people who talk about culture as if they think they know what it is, but I've never seen any of those people at any of the meetings specifically devoted to it. They don't talk about culture from any theoretical basis I understand. They talk about it as if it can be driven from the front. And none of these things are true.

Now, granted, I flatter myself that I know these things because I did ALL of my Graduate work in Organisational Culture. In fact, I wrote my Thesis on Teaching Organisational Culture, and the vast majority of my experience prior to working in the field of Legal Recruiting centered on culture. So, naturally, I have a bit of a bias. But I have come to believe a couple of things, which I hope I've learned to see through my bias regarding.

I believe that the people who are in the best position to tell you how to manage them are the people you manage. I believe that people will TELL you what motivates them if you ask. I do NOT believe YOU can motivate anybody else, which is to say, I believe all motivation is internal. All you can do is provide those things that function as motivators for others (i.e. Motivation-Hygiene theory). I do not believe FEAR is a motivator, but I do believe it is a powerful De-Motivator, and I believe that anxiety is even more destructive than fear.

I believe high-function, high-activity, high-intensity types, like lawyers, do best in an atmosphere and environment of what I call Negative Certainty rather than Positive Uncertainty, by which I mean, I think a lawyer would rather know, up front that s/he is NOT on the Partnership track, and never will be, but that the firm really REALLY likes him or her, for real, than be kept in the dark.

I have also come to believe that those same lawyers would totally appreciate the offer of help finding a great opportunity elsewhere if offered sincerely, and I know this because it's what I've been told. I believe the foregoing is true for Salary increases, Bonuses, and almost everything else to do with compensation and benefits.

Lawyers actively solicit the opinions of their colleagues in the local marketplace for information about firms and place much more stock in those opinions than in anything the firm does, even when it comes to Summer Associates, although Summer Associates have also told us that they tell the firms that the activities, mentoring, and assignments during Summer are the usual determining factors.

The most important factor for determining whether or not a lawyer is interested in making a lateral move is rarely a compensation factor. Most of the time, it's an issue of platform, personal and professional support (I'll break this down for you), the belief that the firm is actually "interested" in the success of the attorney's practice, and their "fit." Let me see if I can make sense of this for you.

This is the overarching principle, expressed as a statement: "I need to believe that my firm, Super Law, LLC, sees me as an important part of the "team," even if I don't think of myself as Little Tommy (or Tammy) Teammate, or express it that way. And I want them to relate to me the way I like to be related to, even if I'm a bit of a Diva, because that's who I am. You guys need to LISTEN to me. If I hate my Assistant, get me another Assistant. If my Practice Group Leader is a jerk, then help me find a way to solve that problem. And when I come to you and ask you if you think we should be looking at ways to expand my platform, that is a SERIOUS warning sign. Bells should be going off in your head. I haven't had a meeting yet, but it means absolutely that I feel like I need to expand my platform, and all of a sudden it's important to me, and if I've had to come to YOU, it's already almost too late. And finally, I don't know if anybody told you this, but I'm a grownup. At least I'm doing grownup work. If you don't think I'm an adult, you shouldn't have hired me. Or you should fire me. But stop looking over my shoulder. If you can't, won't, or don't trust me, I shouldn't be working for you. There's more, and if you want to know what it is, just ask."

Whew, that was a LOT to cover, wasn't it? It sure was, and it isn't over yet. Certain issues are individual, like whether or not a particular lawyer wants to make partner in five years versus twelve, whether she likes to train, how he feels about managing, things like that. And what lawyers want is for you to accommodate them with respect to these issues. The (I hate this word, but there's just no way around it) nexus is this: Lawyers want law firms to trust them to drive, and law firms don't want to give up the illusion that they have some kind of power that they just don't have. How do we know you don't have the power? Ummm, look around. Are you, or are you not, losing lawyers left and right, paying more each year, watching internal satisfaction scores plummet, and so on, and so on? You tell me, who's really in charge here? Right, law firms, of course. But you don't need to rub it in. Give in on the little stuff and the big stuff takes care of itself. We'll talk about this more below.

The most important thing is this, and there's no way around it. Lawyers love law firms. They really and truly do. Even lawyers who want to go in-house don't really WANT to go in-house for the most part. They just want less insanity in their lives, and believe that, if they want to continue to practice law, it's either in-house or nothing. But really, who doesn't love law firms? The marble, the dark woods, the thick carpeting, the quiet easy hush, and the history just oozing from every nook and cranny? Even in Brand Stinkin' New offices, and Super High Techy Tech offices, there's just something about Law Firms. I love 'em, too.

But the practice of Law Firm Management, occasionally, is a little, um, "hidebound." It's crazy really. Lawyers, and Law Firms, are SO out in front in so many ways. You adopt the latest technologies. You're caught up on the latest information about everything. In fact, Lawyers, and Law Firms, and their activities, in many ways, DRIVE many of the innovations, advances, changes, not just in American society, but, in some cases, on a Global scale.

And then we look at the management practices, and it's like "What? Time Tunnel? Are ya sure?" It's wacky, too. Because, sometimes, we ARE asked. It goes like this. A client-elect (that's where I elect for them to be a client, they're not so sure yet; aka Almost Every Law Firm In The World, B'Cept A Few Really Smart Ones) will say, "You know, we don't really have anything against recruiting firms, but sometimes it seems like all we do is look for attorneys. And yet, our [fill in here] research shows [factoid here]. We'd sure like to get to the bottom of this (hint, hint)." Yeah, me too. No, seriously, I would.

Sometimes, way too often, we have discussions with either a firm, or a lawyer, where the discussion starts off with "Well, the last guy (company, consultant, recruiter, head poobah, whatever) done us wrong. You need to do better." No problem. What exactly did THEY do wrong? Oh, gotcha. Everything. Well, that explains it. No wonder.

Sure, I can do that. Let's start now. You wanna keep lawyers, all kinds and flavours, for longer? Wanna drop turnover instantly? Wanna recruit more women, minorities, diversity candidates, and keep actual talent, and slow the spin on the exit door, starting tomorrow? No problem. This is what you do. You do these few things, and you'll drop turnover, increase profits, increase minority, female, and diversity recruitment and retention, and make clients happier, because your lawyers will be happier. I guarantee it. Here we go:

1. Drop minimum in-office requirements. In fact, drop ALL office-specific requirements. To the extent that there's no legal impediment, allow lawyers to work wherever, whenever they want, insofar as it doesn't impact on Client Service. Make the issue of Client Service the ONLY criterion, and, instead of making assumptions, let the Client be the judge. Allow for telecommuting, job-sharing, home-officing, and so on. Let lawyers work in whatever way makes them the most comfortable, as long as they get their work done. Feel free to raise the bar on performance, but lose the facetime requirements.

2. Create an instrument to poll lawyers about their opinions on firm policies, procedures, operations, and so on. Have it tabulated, analysed, reviewed, and reported on by an uninterested third party, and presented to the Management Committee, as well as the entire firm. Commit to making any and all changes that don't hurt the firm's profits, LEGAL standing (i.e. don't do anything illegal), and client base. Make it a rule that, even if something seems uncomfortable, or downright crazy, it's still up for consideration. Report the results to the entire firm.

3. Ask yourself just one question (I know. . .and I hate myself for saying it too), what do you believe? Seriously. We don't do mission, vision, and all that stuff, as a general rule. But there are all kinds of lawyers, for all kinds of law firms. If you're a law firm that just wants billing machines, I can tell you for a fact, I know those lawyers exist out there. . .I know some, personally. They love it. There are also lawyers who believe in pretty lih-tel flowers and trees, and Bambi and his woodland friends, and delicate Rainbows. Awwww. I think mountain, I think 4x4, but that's just me. My point is, not everyone is Green, even now, so, if YOU aren't Green, don't say that you are. Or, maybe you're like us. . .we're not Green up in here, we're just cheap, and we don't like to waste, because we have better uses for the money. Be who you are. Even if you have ten thousand lawyers all over the world, and there's no area of law you don't cover, you still have a take. Trust me on this. You want people to stay with you for more than a minute, find people who are like you.

4. Open up the books. Really. All of them. Tell everybody how much money it takes to run a firm. It's expensive. Show them why you keep reserves back. Show newby Associates why they need to bill out 2100 hours to pay their keep, because you have to pay for support staff, and leases, and the pens that they take home, and the staplers that they steal and give to their friends, and the legal pads that they take home and forget, and the cases of sticky pads, and so on and so on. Show them why ten fewer hours billed per Associates means 15% lower profits this next year, and how much the firm spends for coffee each year, and how much a parking pass actually costs.

Most attorneys, especially Associates, have no idea how much it actually costs to run a law firm, especially a big one. Sadly, most law firm leaders are too afraid to show anybody how much money they make to clear things up. Guess what, fellas and ladies? Everybody already knows how much you make. Within a couple of thousand dollars, anyway. With a surprisingly HIGH degree of accuracy. I know you don't think so. ALL recruiters know you don't think so, and we play along with you, because it seems to be important to you that you think you have some kind of control over this information, but, trust me, EVERYBODY knows your business.

I know this law firm, who blah blah blah, you know the drill. Anyway, once they told me, and some other recruiters, that absolutely, under NO circumstances whatsoever, were we to share any information about the firm with potential candidates. Nothing. No income information. No comp information. No partner information. No info about equity positions. Nothing. So, okay, we didn't. Didn't matter. Every lawyer I ever talked to already knew. They said so. And they were astonishingly accurate. Within a few hundred dollars in some cases.

Yeah, sometimes, an individual attorney won't know how much the Chairman or MP of MegaFrisky BigLaw will make for Fiscal Whenever because of their bonus structure, but, again, it's a matter of degree only.

My point is, just open up the books, share information, and you'll find that people will start to get on board with you, as long as you're fair about compensation, bonuses, and other firm policies, which leads us to. . .

5. Learn to be fair. You don't have to be EVEN. I don't believe in Egalitarianism, and I never have. Never will. I believe that s/he who works the hardest, or the smartest, or contributes the most, ought to get the biggest reward. But I DO believe in fairness. Basic fairness. I don't believe you should reward cheaters, and I don't believe you should tolerate bad behavior. Which brings us to the next topic. . . .

6. Clean up the Kitchen: Yup. Have a "come back to the fold!" meeting. Put another way, declare a Moratorium on Jerks. Just like that. Decide, and declare, that Jerks, and jerk-y (Jerk-like?) behavior will no longer be tolerated. If you're reading this, and the problem is The Leader, then gang up on him or her, and do the same thing. Do whatever you have to. Vote them out, buy them out, arrange to have them pricked with a needle containing a powerful drug which renders them unconscious and sell them into indentured servitude, or just outright fire them.

In the direst and most extreme of cases, if you absolutely have to, I understand that you can hire someone to bury them up to their neck in the desert, cover their head with Peanut Butter, and sic a very enthusiastic Dachsund on them. His name is Clarence. I'm not saying anything, but I know a guy. . . .

Here's the logic. It has long been assumed that it's worth it to put up with these people because, very often, the Bad Actors are extremely profitable for a firm. They're often rainmakers, they usually have long-term client relationships, they usually have large practices, and they usually contribute significant profits to a firm, or, on the other side, they usually have significant ownership, so losing them could hurt a firm.

But there's new research that says that this might be a myth; that, over time, the costs associated with tolerating a jerk (bully, butthead, insert your favourite expression here), might actually wipe out the upside potential of keeping the bad news around. Not just in terms of increased turnover, although that is a major factor, but in terms of opportunity costs, tertiary costs of doing business and THOSE lost opportunities and profits, and additional costs related to those, not to mention the ACTUAL costs of goodwill in the larger business community. Pretty compelling stuff. And worth considering.

It makes sense. We all know the value of, well, "Reputational Capital." We consider it all the time. How many times have you had a recruiter call you up about an attorney, and NOT had it enter the picture?

Think about it: "Howdy, Mr. Wise Decision-Maker. I'm calling about Richard Snerdpoot, a Partner at Flotsam, Jetsam, and Bilge. He's been there for twenty years, but he wants to work for you now. As I'm sure you know, he's been in charge of their Skirt Wheedling Practice for the past decade or so." And what do you say?

You say "Ah, yes, of course, well, Skirt Wheedling is, naturally, a big interest of ours, and FJB certainly is a leader. As I recall, he built that practice from nothing. Let's take a look at his details, and we'll chat about how to proceed."

The point is, reputation is huge, whether it's about a particular practice, or a practice area, or a particularly jerkish boss. And, of course, alumni have opinions, too. But we'll leave the discussion of alumni for another day.

Fortunately, most lawyers refrain from uttering even the smallest criticism about anything, and, frankly, I think it's remarkable, how rarely I ever hear anybody in the profession criticize anybody or anything. You'd think a candidate would tell their recruiter everything, but, no, I've heard almost no negative comments about anything from lawyers I've talked to. It has led to some interesting problems.

Once, I found out, after the fact, that I'd set up a meeting between people from two firms that had definitively different points of view. The leader of, let's call it Firm A, never shared this with me, nor even any hint of an issue. I didn't find out about it until the leader of Firm B called to let me know that the meeting had gone, well, badly. I never did find out why Firm A consented to the meeting. And Firm B never talked to me again.

I'm NOT complaining. In comparison to other professions, I say give me lawyers any day, and twice on Sunday. I'm just saying that stuff happens, and I'm convinced to this day that Firm A believed it was not ethically appropriate to air their dirty laundry with me, and I'm not sure I disagree even a little bit. However, in future, it might be good to send a telegram, you know, like Bugs Bunny does.

So, put the jerks on notice.

7. Policy, Shmollisy: This is my favourite. It was the very most hardest thing for me to learn. For reals. I am a policy geek. Love 'em. Can't get enough of 'em. I love me some policy, and I most especially love me a good, thick, delicious policy manual. Or several. The expression "policy and procedure"? Nectar! Yeah. Lose it. Lose all of it. Okay, not really. But start to loosen things up. Open them up. Rethink. Try things a different way. Partnership? Hmmm. What does it mean to be a partner? What does it mean, in this firm, to be a Partner? What would a person need to bring to the table to BE a Partner? Fine. If Jane or Joe Blow BRINGS that stuff, however they bring it, as long as it was legal, then they should be able to be a partner, whether it's money, clients, negotiable bonds, or cherry trees, who cares? Look at decoupling time from being the main, and sometimes ONLY criterion for many policies, and maybe any policy.

Here's one of my favourite examples: Firm K had a personal time policy. 12 days a year. Use it or lose it, but use it any way you want, i.e. Personal Days, Sick Days, Vacation, who cares? However, some staffers wanted to be able to "buy" additional days, i.e. sick or personal days, in order to spare their Vacation days, because the policy was, no matter what, when you're gone, for any reason, you have to use your Personal Time, and you have to use four-hour increments. So, if you have a Dentist appointment, hey, no problem, just use a four-hour block, right? Are you crazy? Let me just come in a half-hour late and make up the time, said the staffers. Oh no, said HR. That's what the Personal Time is for. . .no coming in late and making up time. . .it's too hard to manage, and it's not fair, and it's too hard to track, and so on.

Well, you know what happened, right? A lot of people started to get sick around the same time, and the office was just WIPED OUT. For like two weeks. And then? People still got sick, and again, a few weeks later, the WHOLE OFFICE was sick, for like TWO DAYS, but nobody had any sick days left, so they all went in to HR, and they went to the boss, and they mumbled, and caroused, and grumbled, and so on, and "now what are we supposed to do? Someone comes around and makes everyone sick, but we used up all our sick days, and now we're getting punished for something not our faults, this is so ridiculous, blah blah blah!" Some quit. Just said "goodbye, I don't need this." A few good ones.

So, now, people can buy additional days, designate time, and take as little as an hour of personal time, and, of course, they can choose to make up time too. There are many other companies, with many other examples, but I know you can feel the words that are coming out of my brain.

LAW FIRM LEADERS, WE'RE LOOKING AT YOU! I'm telling you this to help you keep the lawyers you've got, if you want to. One of the biggest reasons you guys lose lawyers is this right here. . .stupid-ass policies that have nothing to do with a lawyer's competence, ability, or integrity, but instead only serve to remind him or her that you are in charge.

Guess what. . . they don't care, and they don't think so, either. And the funny thing is, the better the lawyer, the worse they hate it. Oh, they might HAVE to stay around for a while because of bonuses, or clients, or whatever, but I'm here to tell you that they always figure out a way to make that time work for them.

You want to keep the good lawyers, recruit even more, even better lawyers, and build a reputation as a leader with the diversity community? Change your policies to reflect the needs, and realities, of today's world, the new circumstances facing today's attorneys, and demonstrate that you get that it's a different world, and you'll become an employer of choice. You can't rely on your reputation to carry you through any longer. . .I think the past year or two has CLEARLY demonstrated those days are over.

And finally, talk to your recruiter. Hey, I had to slip in a commercial. SOMEONE has to pay for all this good advice.

Keep Lawyering,

James E. Mason
Managing Partner (and ChaCha Instructor!)
Mason|McRight Legal Recruiting