Sunday, September 9, 2007


I see that I've not blogged since March. Part of that must be the summer but part of it must be the fact that I'm busy at work which is nice. Much better than wondering if work will ever arrive. The sporadic nature of this blog reflects in part the sporadic nature of law practice. Cases ebb and flow, and occasionally one's caseload all is quiet at once, much like the western front. There are always calendar dates, however, looming on the horizon.

I'm still early enough in my practice to wonder if I'm in the right place, doing the right kind of work, and all the rest although I also know that with a ticket, I can pull up stakes and reinvent my practice at any time as long as I have the resources and the chutzpah to do it. And right now I don't but maybe as the years roll on into my fourth, fifth, and sixth years of practice I'll feel a yearn to do something that now seems unattainable.

My judge had his tenth anniversary recently on the federal bench and there was a lovely party put together for him by chambers staff and that included all the former students and lawyers who passed through chambers and whose lives were affected, goals changed and ideals re-ignited by their time with the judge. It was nice to see everyone again and reminded me of a simpler time when there was a middle class. When people didn't have to work two jobs just to have a family and afford a mortgage.

And I'm not talking about minimum wage or 15 dollar an hour type jobs. I'm talking about two mid-thirties, urban professionals who have to live in a neighborhood where they hear gunshots and domestic violence (of course maybe that's all neighborhoods these days) and who make well over 150K per year between the two of them. Even with that profile, I don't feel that we qualify as "middle class" because we live paycheck to paycheck, we have minimal savings, we can't afford to contribute to a 401K except for the very minimal matching funds amount, less than 1/15 of the maximum contribution. What happens to all of us like this and especially what happens to those below us on the socio-economic scale?

Politicians talk about class very rarely but as some people say, the fact that social classes exist, doesn't make the person who points that out a marxist. The disparity in wealth between the super-rich and the rest of us is staggering, and I wonder how families whose father works two jobs at $10 and hour and their mother works one manage to stay alive, even in what are called "inexpensive" places to live like the central valley. Families are figuratively drowning from the economic Katrina of the past eight years and I'm not sure there's an end in sight given the money in politics, the economics of the post-modern era, and all the rest. It's enought to give an attorney a headache. And with that, this post on the sporadic nature of modern life will end.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I'm not so sure it is a conflict as it is a missed communication. The only places where "firm first" is still prevalent among the younger generation are the big cities, NYC, SF, Chicago, LA, etc. Everywhere else firms are having to deal with the revelation that no matter how much they push salaries and billables, there is a different ethos among the younger generation. I'm in between the generations but I've suggested things like giving billable hour credit for continuing legal education because it ultimately provides value to the firm, giving billable credit for attorneys who take vacation, perhaps at a half rate. Otherwise you can take all the vacation you want but still have to meet the monstrous mountain of billables. We'll see how it shakes out - one of two ways, either firms will inculcate their values (bill, bill, bill, and family be damned) into the next generation as I suspect has happened as firms replicate themselves OR young associates will defect in massive numbers and start firms that aren't predicated on a 24/7 commitment to legal practice and place emphasis on family values and actual pro bono work. One paradox is that the bigger the firm, the better their pro bono program is and the more it actually takes on high profile cases where you feel like you are making a difference. Mid-size firms on the other hand are struggling with the concept of pro bono even though their partners are well compensated (sure, not in comparison to NYC and the million dollar babies but certainly in comparison to the rest of the population [doctors excepted]). As I've said before, if you can't get by on $200,000 per year then your value system is likely out of whack. I see both sides since I am in between generations but something has to give. Partners need to be willing to take home a little less money and give their associates a little more time with their families. Without that flexibility, the wholesale defections to government work and in-house counsel will be continue and firms will be caught in a continuous training cycle. Firms need to give some serious thought to law as big business rather than honorable profession - the change may destroy what is good and honorable about practice!

Monday, March 5, 2007

Writing to Fulfill a Goal

I'm sure many blawggers start the way I do, seeing if they enjoy non-legal writing enough to become the next Scott Turow or Greg Iles (if you haven't read him, you don't know what you are missing!). I'm new enough not to have developed any specialties apart from "general litigation" the death knell of any attorney looking to change firms. I know that skills at this level are largely transferable and I'm learning at a highly regarded firm so taking next steps in my legal career, whether within the firm or with another firm or governmental agency should be fairly easy, what with the constant headhunter calls etc. I'm just not sure about practicing law with people who, when they make mistakes, use that as an excuse to monopolize other attorney's time trying to fix those mistakes. And unfortunately, when the laws change (which is often) unless one is keeping current, those mistakes are bound to happen. The hope of course is that they are minor and don't hurt our clients - it's our job, after all, to provide the best service we can to those clients. Resting on one's laurels, as some senior attorneys seem to do, just isn't good enough.

I would encourage attorneys, now that they are out of law school or "Training for Hierarchy" to really consider what they want out of their career. If you aren't doing something that you love (and no junior associates really are) then it's time to reassess and see what you can do with your degree that dovetails with something you love. I'm just not sure how the law dovetails with that, for me, right now, although in time perhaps something will be revealed. The city's legal community is small but growing and the half-ass measures of the past just aren't cutting it these days now that the "big boys" have shown up in town to try and do business. If I were a business, apart from lower rates, why wouldn't I want a firm with the power and expertise of 1,000+ lawyers behind me? The flipside of course is that a local firm is likely to know more about local economic conditions, power players, and which levers to push. And of course, more likely to return your calls, charge you less money, and actually have your best interests in mind...

I'm still in that early 3 year or so stage where life consists of a lot of legal research and writing coupled with the occasional hand-off from a partner that leaves you scratching your head and thinking, I'm qualified to do this? I don't know.

Then there is the whole balance issue - technology can be a friend or foe depending on whether you control it or it controls you. I vote (and practice) the former. There is no reason (unless I'm expecting a client call) to have my pda on during the weekend or after 7 pm at night. That's why phones have answering machines as part of the package!

All right, enough of the rant for a Sunday. I'll just keep doing the best I can for my clients and doing the best I can to hold off the senior attorney who made a mistake and whose work thus seems like an emergency to her but really isn't and get to the other projects with actual deadlines. It's all about balance. But, how does an attorney really maintain such a thing? Is there a way to obtain such a thing? I don't know. Family and health comes first. Then clients. Then firm politics.

The "old guard" doesn't get that. For them it was "Firm first," with everything else a distant second. They may say otherwise but their behavior doesn't point to that dynamic. They are just going to have to figure out how to deal with Gen X'ers and Gen Y'ers and those generations realization that they don't want to repeat the mistakes of the past and sacrifice family for a career. They realize that they can have their cake and eat it too.

What that means is that law firms will have to sacrifice some of the "profits per partner" but I'm sorry, if you can't live on an income of 200K+ per year then somewhere, somehow your values are out of whack - sorry boomers. But it's true. A reasonable salary for an attorney is $150K, that should really be sufficient (unless you live in LA, SF, or NYC) to pay the bills, take vacations, save for retirement, and put the kids through college while living in a nice house. I think that's where the gap lies - the younger generation doesn't care about "making partner" or making "a lot of money." They are interested in mental well-being and in being there for their loved ones.

Some good starts would be actually giving attorneys vacations - i.e. say that you have to bill 50 hours a week to make your minimum but take a week of vacation. A real vacation would mean that you get 50 hours of billable credit for that week. In reality, no law firm would buy that (currently anyway) but perhaps a credit of 25 hours for each vacation week would be a reasonable substitute and reduce the anxiety about taking vacations, medical leaves, and other time off for family or personal reasons. It isn't really a vacation if you have to make the time up later!

A wide ranging bit of topics in there - we'll see if anything strikes a nerve, among either the young or old!

An Anonymous Attorney

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Woefully Remiss

I have to apologize to myself and to whatever readers I may or may not have (I think this if pretty much for me at this point) but I've been remiss in at least logging onto my blawg and posting something. I'm sure much of that has to do with being a young lawyer, learning basic skills in the "residency" portion of my legal career. Learning the law is much like medical school but insteand of an official residence period with ongoing teaching etc., legal education relies on more senior lawyers to provide mentoring and teaching to younger associates. Unfortunately, those lawyers who are supposed to oversee this de facto residency period are often so busy that they don't have time to do a good job.

I've been filled with entrepreneurial thoughts about the potential for technology and the practice of law lately. It seems like only the smallest dent has been made in bringing the potential of technology to the practice of law. Certainly legal research is more convenient, firms have programs that track hours, bill clients, etc. but there isn't enough cross-platform integration and the barest beginning has been made bringing that potential to clients and to the courts. Part of it is generational and part of it has to do with the old guard's reluctance to take some measured risks in what could be an extensive reward.

And don't get me started on the potential for e-discovery.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Dreary Sundays

An attorney's day off. And the weather is dreary but the fire is warm so I'm off to snuggle with my wife in front of a movie. Enjoy your Sundays as well. It really is a day without expectations....

Friday, February 23, 2007

Blog Buzz

I suppose when I have something to say perhaps some people might actually read my blog and respond into the stratosphere. I'm hesitant to reveal my identity for a number of reasons, prominent among them the fact that I'm a lawyer who also happens to be happily sober for a number of years. I loved the fact that I got to go through most of university and all of law school with a clear mind and without falling into the traps that beset the unwary law student. The law school I attended, like most law schools, centered its social events around drinking. What a surprise! I was shocked to find out the practice continues once one begins practicing - lawyers love to drink. I knew that from the get go and I've seen the studies that correlate the high stress of the profession with a greater tendency to become alcoholic. Certainly I know a number of "hard drinkers" in my profession, some of whom may be alcoholics but can't imagine the possibility because they picture a skid row bum or other stereotypical alcoholic. They wonder how they can possibly be an alcoholic if they are managing to hold down a job at a major law firm, support a family, etc. Work Hard, Play Harder is the motto but if those lawyers gave some thought to the amount of time they spend at the bar or drinking they might realize how many truly productive hours (not billable hours!) are lost in their days.

Certainly I understand that alcohol is the great social lubricant but I've also seen it lead to the great social downfall because the hard drinker turned alcoholic is always the last one to admit they have a problem. I've been pondering ways to be of service to those hard drinkers I know without actually disclosing that I'm sober. There isn't really a solution to that, they'll notice I'm not drinking and ask why. I know that I had an innate distrust for non-drinkers when I was partying every night. Unfortunately I thought the party was ongoing when in reality it had ended a long time ago. Peeing into beer bottles, being afraid to leave one's bedroom, going to the bar to hook up with the snow man after every fiber of your being screamed all day long "I'm not going to do it tonight." Suddenly the sun would be coming up and the birds would start singing and normal people would start going about their day. Meanwhile I was upset because the liquor store owner didn't show up at 6 a.m. but was always, always, late. Didn't he realize I needed that bottle to go to sleep because I had to work in 4 hours? Sounds like great fun doesn't it?

I think in many respects litigation today is much like the previous story. Attorneys get off on the drama of it all (hyperreality as Baudrillard would note) because that's what they saw on TV, in mock trial competitions etc. The reality of course is much more mundane, 99.5% of cases are settled with a computer, words, and printer paper (and a good legal assistant). The other .5% actually go to trial but if you've ever sat through a real trial you'll understand why the judge looks bored out of his gourd. One prominent jurist here in town loves instant messaging while on the bench, thank the lord they gave judges computers to keep them busy! In all seriousness though, most judges I know are truly motivated by the spirit of public service and not the prospect of the black robe and attendant power to force legal titans to bow to their will. They are good people trying, just like the ethical lawyers out there, to do the right thing and to be sure that justice, in a legal forum is dispensed as best it can be. Certainly no system is perfect but I'd much rather go to court than face a mob bent on execution - swift, sure, inflexible justice.

Again, good night, and rather than good luck, good acts!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

It has been a long day but I'm trying to get in the habit of writing. I decided, given the daily drudgery of associate work that I would start doing some pro bono things that reminded me why I chose law as a profession. So, today I got two things accomplished in that direction - perhaps those will make me feel a little better about corporate law. We'll see. Right now I'm writing into a vacuum but I'm sure there are other young lawyers out there dissatisfied with the status quo, perhaps one day one of them will respond - it's like sending out a message in a bottle. Good night.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Civil Defense Thoughts

I'm not quite sure yet whether this is going to be a blawg or a blog. With the legal issues involved working for a giant law office it may turn into just a blog with the occasional war story from the trenches of civil defense lawyers. We'll see. It may also be an outlet for me to get my thoughts out on virtual paper.

The good news is that I work with wonderful people. The bad news is that I'm not sure I'm quite on the right side of most of the cases I work on and haven't been able to rationalize my way there as of yet - I know that everyone deserves representation and that good lawyers can advise their clients on how to comply with the law and be "good" corporations that treat their employees fairly etc. I'm just not sure how many clients actually listen to such advice - hence the need for litigation departments. That said, I love working with lawyers, with people who use logic and communication (ideally) to settle disputes rather than the alternatives. My heart just tends to lead me towards counseling individuals rather than helping capitalism in its merry march along towards betterment for all.

Another problem as a relatively new lawyer is coming to terms with the billable vs. non-billable systems of payment for service. I'm not sure contingency fees are the answer and I suspect that ultimately the billable hour, or in many cases the billable minute, is not a good solution for clients. The system doesn't reward efficiency unless the lawyers at the top of the hierarchy are sharp enough to see that efficiency and optimal work product are worth rewarding regardless of the number of hours billed. I like the idea from the not so recent past of "fees for services rendered" - most transactions or litigation can be broken down into rough estimates of what things might cost and a flexible contract could underscore that. Good firms or lawyers with a knack for business would do well under this system while those lawyers who consistently underestimate the time something takes might not do so well or indeed might fail completely - but that system seems more meritocratic than does the one that rewards late nights, weekends, burnout and diminishing returns at the clients' expense.

I'm not saying that all law firms do this and in fact the one I work for is quite conscientious about not overbilling and if anything underbills clients. They legal system as well as the feeder schools could really use some reformation to bring law back to what may turn out to be a halcyon myth of days gone by - the days when law was a helping profession rather than a straight business and where service and collegiality along with sharp legal analysis were valued currency.

I knew what I was getting into going to work for a big law firm after graduation but the student loan debts and the prestige factors all prevailed just as Duncan Kennedy's prescient "Law School as Training for Hierarchy" (Harvard L. Rev.) predicted that it would. The rich get richer in law school just as they do in the real world and ultimately those riches lead to what are considered the "plum" jobs although I look at my friends making a third as much as I do working for the PD or the DA and who are "gasp" having fun at work, and wonder who was the sucker really?

Enough on that for the day - a shining new week of corporate law practice beckons. What excitement does tomorrow hold? Document review? An exciting memorandum that won't be used? Letters to clients or courts that won't be sent? Only the partners know.....

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Test Blawg

This is my first blawg, just seeing if there are reasons creative, personal, and professional for adding daily notes about practice, life, and lessons learned. I've been reading quite a bit about blawgs, RSS feeds, and other ways to incorprorate internet technology into the practice of law and so, given all of that I thought I would try a blawg as another outlet for writing although god knows that briefs, motions, and points and authorities should be enough for any human litigator...

Query: Is there anyone in the Central Valley writing weblawgs already??