“The 2008 Lawyer, Client, Recruiter, and Everybody Else Wish List.”
James E. Mason
Mason|McRight Legal Recruiting
I love the holidays. I do. Always have. Around this time of year, members of my family ask friends and acquaintances about their “wish lists” and incorporate those details into their various family letters. Extended work kept me fiddling around here and there for longer than anticipated this holiday season, so I spent longer than I planned away from the old casa before I was able to prepare. As I started to wrap up, it occurred to me that the idea of a “wish list” was a perfect way to start the year.
Herein, based on conversations with Lawyers, Clients, Recruiters, Office Staff, Non-Lawyer Professional Staff, and others too numerous to mention, is the Wish List for 2008 (and probably beyond). In no specific order. It goes without saying, but lawyers being lawyers, and legal types being legal types, let’s say it anyway: None of this is legal advice. It doesn’t pretend to be legal advice. It doesn’t even wanna be legal advice when it grows up. This here is just “what would you say to these various and sundry folks if you could, knowing that they weren’t gonna bust you for it?” And here we are:
I. What Lawyers Need to Know:
a. Fierce! Grrrrrrr! Oh, PuhLeez! Look, killer, good for you, and good for your reputation, but whenever I need a laugh, I call my good friend, Diva Sheeva and say “Be Fierce!” and she says “Grrrrrrr!” He’s a SCREAM! Law Firms are looking for GOOD lawyers, not mean lawyers. Besides, all you gotta do to make a bully cry is stand up to him. Everyone knows that.
b. Think “Eagles!”: There was this song, and in this song was a line. And the line went “In a New York Minute (woo-woo), everything can change.” And the recruiter saw that it was true. And he learneth his lesson. Too bad the lawyer he was calling about a great opportunity DITn’t. I’m just saying. One day, you’re practicing like a Big Dog. The very next day it’s like: “Uhhh, how YOU doin’?!” And the recruiter is all like: “Excuse ME, do ah know Yew?” And BigDog is all like: “RuhRoh Raggy!” Life is like that. Really and for true. Just remember, sometimes, the recruiter are our friend. (Zoinks!)
c. Just because Associates take the beatings doesn’t mean they like them. Oh sure, some do, but they’re kind of rare, and besides, you’ll NEVER be hot enough for the ones who do anyway, so just keep your mind on your work, there, Spanky. The truth is, this whole “trial by fire, we had to do it when I was an Associate, hazing is good, and by the way, when I was a young lawyer, buh buh buh. . . .” riff is getting old, and, from one recruiter to the World O’ Law Firms, it’s starting to affect your play. When a top law firm goes from “Dude, BigLaw is Bomb” to “Dude, BigLaw is TEH Suxx!!” in less than a season, there’s Trouble in Paradise (and if you don’t know what I just said, now you know why I’m teh PWNZ!). We’ll be addressing this below.
II. What Clients Need to Know: Oh, many, many things. One in particular sticks out. Like this here:
a. Stop whining. Just stop it. Really. Rates go up. They do. Besides, you’re partially to blame for this problem. You brought this issue on yourselves, back then, years ago, when you forced the law firms to adopt MUCH more rigid billing systems, and you forced them to account for every penny of expense, and develop ways of tracking costs and profits, and this thing and that thing and the other thing, until, now, they don’t even know which way is up. A law firm is NOT an automobile manufacturer (Really, Becky?!). Good lawyering has never depended on the number of paper clips used by the firm, although good lawyering can be destroyed if the firm can’t afford to BUY paper clips. Try this fun game: Count up the number of times a really good legal team has been your ground cover during a total bet the company/bet your ass move, then calculate the value of that legal team versus the value of the number of times you’ve pissed them off by counting beans in the corner like a sugared-up six-year old. Uh huh. Now apologise.
b. And, for the MP who asked, yes, there is ONE thing I am afraid of; I am afraid of cowardice. Which is why I wrote the above. You’re welcome.
III. What Law Firms, and MPs, and like that there, Need to Know:
a. “I don’t see no velvet rope!”: Translation: Lawyer to Law Firm: “Hire me, or don’t, but don’t make me wait.” Nobody likes to be made to wait. Even if you’re THE thing. Sometimes, you guys are fickle, fickle, fickle. Fickle. You engage us to find Hottie McHot Hott, Attorney at Law, and we do. We make him or her LOVE US! Make them LOVE YOU. Lots of love, baby. Love all over the place. Hot love. Juicy love. Dirty love. Really and for ta-Rue, LOVE! I’m talking pwnd! And then? You tell us: “Oh, my no. I’m jest too bizzy. . .bizzy, bizzy, bizzy. . .no, I couldn’t possibly. . .we have this retreat, and that meeting, and this hootenanny, and that farkelnootin, and then my gadget needs a waxin’ . . .” and the next thing you know, the LUV candidate is calling ME saying “Ah, ex-Cah-YUSE me, Mister Man, but my teeth are getting loose in mah head, and I’m about to retire. . .have you heard ANYTHING yet, not to complain, but, really. . . .” And, of course, in the meantime, the candidate is saying, to him/herself, and EVERY OTHER LAWYER IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE, “Why, this is ridiculous! That stupid recruiter is the worstest ratfinkiest recruiter ever Ever EVER! Nine months? Are you de-sane? Are you teh crazy? I must smak that recruiter right in his reputation, that is what I must do. Hello, Central? Get me Character Besmirchment on the line, per favore!” Now, granted, this is a very slightly exaggerated example of what happens in every case. Probably only nine out of ten candidates ever go that far. But the truth is, the hiring process almost always takes longer than it needs to. If you need us to hire special dogs to sniff the candidates, let us know, we’ll hire them. If you need US to sniff the candidates ourselves, and you’ll promise to represent us after we do so, FINE, we’ll do that too. But you’ve GOT to find some way to speed up the process, because the candidates are OVER it (in fact, in certain parts of LA, they’re OVAH it, that’s how over it they are). They’ll only wait so long, and then they’ll find someone else to love them. And good love always finds a ready buyer, baby.
b. You Will Screw Up. Yup I said it. That felt so good, lemme say it again: You WILL screw up! That one even tasted good. At some point, you will screw up. So will I. So will everybody else (except my sainted mother, [insert here] bless her!) Deal With It. And have a sense of humor. We won’t mention any names, but SOME people just can’t take a joke. Even when they are the joke. One law firm, who shall forever remain nameless, handled this issue badly. It hurt their reputation among lawyers, law schools, and students, and left a bad taste in the mouth of a lot of other people (peh, peh, peh). If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can? I know. . .all of the rest of us. See us? Here we are. . .laughing at YOU. Behind your back. Professional Recruiter advice: Learn to take a joke, and don’t act like you’re all butt hurt, dude! Seriously!
c. “In Your Race For Power and Glory You Forgot One Small Detail; You Forgot To Hook Up The Doll.” Oingo Boingo makes me remember strange, but great, movie lines. The point is, and I know I’m not alone here, a LOT of recruiters find really, truly amazing lawyers, and you guys WASTE them, (and our time, and by extension, yours), either by having dumb internal rules, or dumb policies that cost you fantastic lawyers. Who CARES if a lawyer is in the office 25 hours a week, or 60 or 80, or whatever? Who cares if s/he’s full-time, or part-time, or 1/3-time, or whatever.
At some point, you HAVE to realize that good lawyering has almost nothing to do with facetime, and everything to do with raw, unadulterated talent, and brains. Maybe you guys really don’t get it. And maybe it’s because you don’t talk to hundreds of lawyers a week, but WE do. They’re out there, the really, truly amazing attorneys. The knock your socks off, so smart it’s scary, funny, brilliant, wise, breathtakingly sharp, “man, I’m gonna hire you myself, just so no one else can get you, are you actually even real?” attorneys. They’re out there. . .in droves. I talk to them all the time. And I am not alone. All of us in this business run across them. And sometimes (a lot of the time), they call us back.
But if you’re Studdly McSuperstar, Attorney at Law, and you’re ALREADY a partner at BigLaw, LLC, who needs the Agita of moving firms, especially when you realise that mommy-tracking could KILL your career. Man, does THAT suck. So, now I have to choose. . .I can create a life, or give mine up. . .can I have a few minutes to decide, please? And you wonder why people leave the profession? Let’s see: “Come and join the profession of law, where we eat our own young, and make you choose between personal fulfillment and professional success!” Jeez, who wouldn’t want to be part of that happy band? Obviously, I’m being extreme to make a point. But the truth is that sometimes, it can seem like that to various lawyers, and they’re not ALWAYS wrong. So, if I were allowed to make a recommendation or two, I might suggest a little flexibility. And when you’re looking for a competitive advantage, try to be nice. It helps.
Example: SuperLaw, needed to staff up a new office. Actually three. We find a BUNCH of great lawyers, but each has an issue. For one lawyer, commute is too long. For another, wants to work half-time for the first year. Another, wants to telecommute part time, and office three days. The firm was no, No, and Oh, NO NO NO! BTW, we found, like NINE great lawyers, they passed on six of them, and three stayed or went solo. The firm is STILL looking for great lawyers, by the way, but no one wants to work for them because they now have a reputation of inflexibility. And it isn’t recruiters who talk about this stuff. . .it’s lawyers.
My point is this, and this is personal, just me, James, talking. I love lawyers. I love what they do, and I love why they do it. I owe my life to a lawyer, and that’s part of it, of course, but it’s always been much more than just that. I see most everything from the perspective of a lawyer, not a law firm. But recruiters work for Law Firms, so we try to help law firms find the best lawyers they can, as does every other recruiter out there.
The world is changing, and so is the world of lawyering, and, like it or not, the way in which lawyers relate to law firms is changing too. You may very well be a two-hundred ninety-seven year-old firm, whose first lawyer practiced in the ancient, sacred halls of Jersey, back in the Olde Countrye or some such, but, at the end of the day, you’re pickin’ from the same pool of attorneys as DigitaLawDotCom, The Celebrated Automated Law Firm of The Future, Click Here.
Here’s the best advice I can give law firm leaders, and it’s absolutely true: You will never win the game by cranking down on lawyers. Ever. So Lighten up. Loosen up. All the tracking, all the monitoring, all the facetime, all the “desktime,” all the clocktime. . .it may MAKE you feel like you have control, but you don’t. You never have, and you never will. When they wanna go, they’ll go. When they wanna cheat, they’ll cheat. When they wanna find another berth, another berth, they’ll find. The best thing you can do is make your place a place where lawyers WANT to practice. Be nice to them. Treat them like adults. Give them ownership. Give them respect. Stop treating them like chattel. Stop treating them like cattle. Don’t De-equitize them (that was. . .well, better decisions HAVE been made . . . good for recruiters, though! And your competition.). Of course, most of you won’t listen to me. Which is fine with me. . .job security, baby.
d. Bad Behaviour hurts law firms three ways: It hurts retention. It hurts your reputation in the community (among your colleagues, with other law firms, etc., and so on; whether they tell you or not; believe me, it does). And, it hurts your ability to recruit the top lawyers. Maybe not with New Grads, but, really, who cares? That’s low hanging fruit. They’re ALL desperate to get a job. . .who isn’t when you’re a new grad (ahh, memories). And I don’t mean that in a bad way. . . we were all new grads at some point. And, fine, it’s worth it to you to spin them out in a few years, as you know you will. That’s a good investment, anyway, and, okay, you’ll account for that too. But, at some point, a really good law firm wants really good lawyers, and most (almost all) really good lawyers are really good people. You know, after a while, you start to get a sense for who a particular lawyer is in a community, and also what a particular law firm stands for too. I’m just saying, don’t think that either one exists in a vacuum.
IV. What Recruiters Wish They Could Say: This is my favourite section. Tasty. Nutritious. Full of vitamins, plenty of fiber, and with a zingy, spicy, yet somehow delicate bouquet that lingers but never overpowers. Oh, please, who are we kidding? We TOTALLY overpower, but that just makes you want us more. . .we’re like the Banana-Habañero Sauce of New Year’s Articles. Strap in. Remember, this is for your own good. And don’t blame us, we only came up with a few of these on our own. The rest of them, your OTHER recruiting firms, the ones who didn’t have the guts to say it to your faces, put on OUR list.
a. Truth to Power: There’s a political expression, “truth to power.” Actually the phrase is “speaking truth to power.” The best description I’ve ever heard is that it’s what that little boy did when he said “Hey, look, the Emperor is butt nekkid, y’all!” The point is, it’s SUPPOSED to be your recruiter’s job to tell you the truth, even though we know you don’t want to hear it. Like when your granny shoved that Castor Oil down your throat. . .that was LOVE, baby! So, if your recruiting firm is doing its job, you probably won’t like them every minute. In fact, if your recruiting firm is really and for true doing its job, you probably won’t like us all that much, and not very often to boot. But when we find you a darn tootin’ attorney or practice group, or homminah, homminah law firm to hook up with, then hot zing baby, that’s some serious love right there (go ahead, we won’t look).
b. Recruiting is a Top Down Job: We (recruiters in general) do our best work if we can talk to JUST ONE PERSON who has the authority, ability, and knowledge of everything that IS going on and NEEDS to go on, in order to say “aye” or “nay” when we say “So, about this Lawyer, Stevie Rucksack?” or whatever. Not ten people. Not twenty-leven meetings. Not fifteen weeks. One person. A couple weeks. Max. Okay, maybe more, maybe less. But not weeks an’ months an’ months an’ months an’ months. An’ months. And, one thing more. Either hiring is important, or it’s not. If it is, dedicate the resources. If it’s not, then don’t. And we’ll leave you alone, and find a firm to whom it is. All of us will. Well, I will, anyway. I don’t waste my time on the unobtainable. Not since I got my American Express card, I mean.
c. Focus on Skills and Talent, not book size: When will you guys learn? Book size is more or less irrelevant for an attorney coming into a law firm. I don’t mean from a historical perspective. But I DO mean, when you ask “How big is the Lawyer’s book today ?” it tells me you don’t know very much about, well, much of anything. . .certainly not much about a lawyer’s potential value to a law firm. First of all, there are no guarantees. Second, there are no guarantees. And third, to quote Yoda, “Guarantees, none there are.” Get it? You’re still gonna have to trot out a dog, a few ponies, some clowns, maybe a juggler, who knows what else? Oh, that guy who takes a cannonball right to the gut, is he available? Let’s bring him too! The point is, when you hire a new attorney, you’re hiring INTO their book. . .it’s like getting married, only without the honeymoon benefits. . .you have to earn the love of their clients, and they have to sell you (and, contrary to popular belief, you’re not all as cute as you think you are, regardless of what my mom told you).
d. D is for D-versity. Elvis was right: “A little less conversation, a little more action, please; All this aggravation ain't satisfactionin' me. A little more bite and a little less bark, A little less fight and a little more spark; Close your mouth and open up your heart and baby satisfy me.” (Disclaimer: Intellectual Property that don’t belong to me, don’t belong to me, but it do belong to someone not me, so please recognize, got it?). Ya know, that guy, he just. . .he just had a way with words, didn’t he? We do a lot with Diversity, and always have; it’s part of our firm DNA, whatever that means. But for a lot of the firms out there in the meta-mega-google-
hyper-supa-dupa-plex, it’s a whole new thing, like some Gigundo toy they’re all excited about, and beginning to want to play with, but they can’t find the “on” button. An’ ‘den? “I know! Let’s put on a PROGRAM!” someone shrieks, in a voice that sounds suspiciously like Mickey Rooney’s.
But here’s the thing: A program does not a commitment to diversity make, and the lawyers are beginning to get a little suspicious. One candidate we know, who shall remain nameless, but whose initials are J.D. (we kid), is also a hifalutin’ big deal in diversity in the western part of the pacific northwestern portion of the eastern half of the southern part of the U.S. (please, like I’m gonna tell). This candidate expresses it best: “Programs? I don’t need no stinkin’ programs! Just hire candidates. Don’t tell me about it, don’t talk to me about what you’re going to do, and for Pete’s sake, don’t send me literature, or run ads, or develop materials, or hire a diversity coordinator, or do any of that other stupid [Dude!] stuff. Either commit to diversity or don’t. Hire, or don’t. But stop talking about it, and either DO it, or don’t.” (And props on the Sierra Madre reference, right?!)
Wau! Talk about harshing your gig, right? But he has a point, even if he makes it a bit too delicately. Allow me to rephrase, ever so slightly. What I think some of the affected persons are saying, in essence, is that while they appreciate the efforts so far, sometimes it seems as if the efforts have mostly been directed toward developing programmatic and mechanistic approaches that haven’t, as yet, made systematic changes. Put another way, stop measuring, and CUT. The Diverses don’t object to having people drive the programs, but, as we say around our shop, it’s time to either fish or cut bait. Note: I call my diversity advisers Diverses, much to their annoyance, which I find completely hilarious. I am precluded from telling you what they call me.
e. “Size Matters” is true, but context dependent: The context on which it does not depend is book size, as noted above. The rest is up to your current love interest’s sense of humour and fair play. Good luck with that.
f. Never Fire Angry: One from the vaults. This has happened twice in our lives. Just. Don ‘t. Do. It. Both times, it was a bad call, on all our parts. If you ARE going to part company with someone, regardless of the reason, be ABSOLUTELY sure that the decision is completely dispassionate, even if it means you have to wait until it’s a less ideal time, or you’ll be making a bad decision. The only exception is a frank violation of law, ethics, or a policy violation so egregious it warrants immediate termination, but you already knew that, being a lawyer and all.
g. Just stand there and be wrong in your wrongness: This is just darn good advice, painfully learned. One time one of us (which one, they wondered?) was having a HUGE fight with one of our best friends about something stupid, but ENORMOUSLY IMPORTANT, you know, the way you do. Long story short, she was right, and I was wrong. Oh, so wrong. Stupidly, I said “Okay, I was wrong. So, what am I supposed to do?”(<<<<<
h. We will if you will: This is from EVERY OTHER RECRUITING FIRM BUT US. Only because, well, can we just say, “asked and answered.” ? So, from everybody else but us, cuz we already brought this up. . . why do legal recruiting firms have to guarantee the performance of lawyers they find for law firms, when Law Firms don’t have guarantee their OWN performance? We’re just asking. (Hey, don’t shoot us, we’re just the messengers).
i. Recruiting Posters, and Websites, and MarCom, and so on, and so forth: Mostly a waste of money. And, SO not funny. No. Really and truly, no. Look, lawyers just aren’t funny for the most part. Okay, there are, like, three funny lawyers. Maybe four. And not ONE of them is involved in recruiting. We don’t think. Recruiters ABSOLUTELY are not funny, and this article is definitive proof of that. Just. Not. Funny. At all. But I already knew that, and I don’t even try any more. When even your dog looks up at you with a look that says “Dude, you know I love you, but, really, you’re JUST. NOT. FUNNY. I’m BEGGING you. . .for all of us. . . .” you know you’re not funny. We’re just saying, [me, most of the rest of the recruiters in the known universe, virtually every lawyer ever born, most of the dogs, a significant proportion of the cats, and a large delegation of the pigeons from the five boroughs], we’re saying, um, “Please, no more with the not funny. Law Firms and humour are like sixteen-year-old boys with beer, cars, and girls; no good can ever become of it!” This is our plea! Thank you.
j. I’m not saposta to tell you this, but. . . .: The reality is this. . .if you’re not BUYING me lunch, you ARE my lunch. I’m always going to be polite, and, like every other recruiter in the world, I will very politely ask if I can represent you a time or two every single year. We all do. But for every time a recruiter talks to the Powers That Be, we will have talked to the best lawyers in the country five or ten or thirty times. It’s what we do. And most of us know dozens and dozens of attorneys, many of whom refer attorneys to us, and we talk to them too. Think of it. . .dozens of recruiters. . .swarming all over your helpless little lawyers. . .UGH! How big do they make those bug baits, anyway?
V. And Finally:
a. About this alternative billing thang: “Do eet! Do eet nau!” We mean it. Hourly billing is teh suxx. Alternative billing is teh PWNZ! Think of it this way (by the way, shakas to our friend JoeR for this). If you were a Surgeon, you wouldn’t be reading this crap. . . I mean, uh, if you were a Surgeon, you wouldn’t be billing hourly. Your down the hall Partner Stewie would be all “So, Mickey Bob, how much to RotoMoto my painfully inflamed prostate gland?” And you’d be all “For you, StewMeat, 12 Large, a bargain!” And he’d be all “So, how long on the table?” And you’d be all “A couple hours, three, four, tops. . .why, you gotta date, heh, heh?” And he’d be all “No, just wondering what you’re making an hour, there, SportySpice!” (Totally missing the hilariously funny reference, by the way. Surgeons also are not very funny). And that’d be it.
And later, while he was phasing in and out of consciousness, but still aware enough to make himself a promise that he would never EVER, ummmm, “tinkle” again, he’d say “Eureka!” to no one in particular, scaring the hell out of the nurse, and then, he’d say to himself, “Self, I just got me a great ideer! NO MORE HOURLY RATES! This is GENIUS, is what this is! I’m going to call my Lawyer, right now, and tell him/her about this idea. I mean, what if Lawyers were to charge on the basis of what THEY can DO, rather than by the hour? What about that there then?” Ah hah! Wrinkled, furrowed brows. Intense concentration. Actual, factual thought. Stand back now. Lawyers thinking! Yup yup yup. Seriously. The way it works now, if you’re a genius lawyer, it’s like you get PUNISHED for being better, smarter, faster. Talk about TEH SUXX!! So, the advice from the gallery, worth almost half of what you paid for it (I’ll wait while you work that out. . . .), consider exploring alternative billing arrangements. Unplug yourself from the hourly billing grid. Learn to value yourself for what you can do, not just how much you can bill (between us chickens, we know someone, who shall remain nameless also, who doubled their income the minute they did this. . .and never lost a single client; just sayin’).
And no, we don’t think everybody can do this (not everybody is brave like you), but I’d be flat lying if I didn’t confess that I sort of harbor a secret fantasy about the Chairman of some White Shoe BigLaw getting all loved up at a hootie and then goin’ back to the office and sending out a memo to all the clients, you know: “After considerable research, we’ve determined that the Hourly Billing Model, which for so long drove our business, is Teh Suxx. Accordingly we will be adopting a new Value Billing Model, which we believe is not only Bomb, but also PWNZ. Shakaz, Yo!”
James Mason is the Managing Partner (talk about miscasting) of Mason|McRight Legal Recruiting (MasonMcRight, LLC), a smallish--but very fashion-forward--legal recruiting firm, which also provides additional value-added services to law firms, despite the fact that neither Mr. Mason, or his partners, are fans of the term “value-added.” Or “edgy.” Definitely not “edgy.” For sure.