By Seth E. Darmstadter
Meckler Bulger Tilson Marick & Pearson
The summer is in full swing, Our Cubbies may not play a meaningful game the entire season, I still cannot break 90 on the golf course and law firms once again are looking to hire lateral associates and partners. All is right with the world.
This publication's "Firm Life" section solidifies my observation — lawyers are on the move. Many of the law firms that managed to weather the economic uncertainty of the past several years once again are thriving, hiring and projecting growth. My colleagues and I are busier than ever. Having emerged strengthened from the downturn, we find ourselves leaner and more efficient than before; uniquely equipped to service our clients' ever-changing needs. And we have been hiring.
Wow, a column about jobs and the economy with a positive spin! This is something we could not even have fathomed just 24 months ago, yet here it is, in print and ripe for your consumption. I am sitting here at my desk with a to-do list beside me; deadlines are looming. As a community, the forecast continues to improve, but to be clear, it is not all fairies and unicorns as the introduction might suggest — the practice of law is serious and stressful business — and that is where these tips come in:
Tip No. 1 — Keep it professional with opposing counsel, for your own sake. People like me have written ad nauseamabout the importance of treating opposing attorneys with respect and professionalism. Most of such articles have been about respecting the profession, doing things the "right" way and not embarrassing oneself in front of judges who detest bickering attorneys. Well, if those were not reasons enough to act like a civil human being, how about this: It could make your life better. I have seen two instances in the past three months where one co-defense lawyer in a complex commercial case has hired the associate attorney representing another co-defendant in the same matter. In both of those scenarios, the change was not lateral, but a significant increase in pay and prestige for the lawyer making the move. Also, in both instances, the offer was extended as a result of good and professional lawyering by the associate attorney, witnessed firsthand by the hiring attorney.
The next time you are in court, pay attention to the cases ahead of yours on the call. There are plenty of people who have mastered the art of treating their opposition with respect while also advocating effectively for their client. Refusing requests for professional courtesies, cutting people off, arguing and treating others with disrespect are not the qualities that pave anybody's road to success.
Tip No. 2 — Keep it professional in-house, for your own sake. Just as I have preached civility among peers, I also have written once or twice about the appropriate way to act within your own law firm. I have advised associates to treat support staff with respect, to refrain from participating in office gossip and to always look busy. I have trumpeted the value of firm citizenship, setting a good example, training and assisting younger attorneys, publishing, speaking and volunteering.
During the horrible economic times that have preceded this column, my tips were for self-preservation. Today, I reiterate these tips, but for a far more selfish reason. You see, if firms are hiring externally, then chances are, they are going to begin promoting internally as well. News flash … unless you have a seven-figure book (in which case you do not need my advice), nobody wants to introduce you at a cocktail party as "My partner, Debbie — she makes her associates cry."
Seriously, I do not mean to make light of this because it really is important. Our profession is evolving and bad attitudes toward co-workers and subordinates simply are not being tolerated. Do not create your own ceiling because you could not take the time to treat someone within your own office with common decency. This is not a hard tip to master — it just takes some self-realization and a basic awareness of those around you.
Tip No. 3 — Quality trumps quantity (but a healthy combination of both is best). When things suddenly become super busy, as they have for me, the immediate instinct is get involved with every new matter that comes in the door to make up for down periods. Beware of taking on more than you can handle at the expense of quality work. Just today, I received similar sage advice. As I grow and my responsibilities are broadened and my tasks become more fundamental to the overall strategy of our major cases, any mistakes I may make also will become magnified and more difficult to correct. I know that universally, in terms of importance for partnership consideration, quality is paramount. The expectation is perfection and nothing less will be accepted. This does not mean we should disregard billing goals, but instead that balance is key.
Look, we all have billable-hour goals, but pounding out 2,400-plus hours at the expense of quality control is a recipe for failure. Find a balance that is palatable for you, discuss it with your employer and, together, set and attain realistic goals. It is all about communication — both internally within your firm and externally with clients.
And let's face it, as stressful as it may be at times, it is refreshing to see so many open items on that to-do list.