Category: Law Practice


The Career Consequences of a Notorious Reputation

The Wall Street Journal today had an article about the now famous email exchange I blogged about a few days ago where Dianna Abdala, a recent law school graduate turned down a job offer from an attorney, William Korman. The article discusses the fact that in some circumstances, people who are getting notorious reputations for being particularly rude or inappropriate aren’t suffering any career damage:

We all know what happens when someone commits a particularly embarrassing gaffe in a private email conversation: The message gets forwarded, with each recipient instructing the next to “read from the bottom up.” Indeed, this testy exchange skipped off servers as far away as China with a subject line attesting to its journey: “Subject: Fwd: FW: FW: Lawyers Behaving Badly.” People also added comments, such as “Great lesson here… on email and how to ruin your career.”

But not so fast. Certainly one could turn this into cautionary tale No. 1,346 about what not to commit to private email. But if you haven’t learned that lesson yet, you haven’t been paying attention — or, more likely, you don’t care that much. “I’m more worried about whether I’ve left my hair iron on than this little email exchange,” [the law school graduate] told me over the phone.

These days, résumé building can be less about preserving a reputation than about acquiring one in the first place. Just ask Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth, the “Apprentice” contestant who famously said, “I’m going to crush my competition, and I’m going to enjoy doing it.” She has parlayed her backstabbing into a television career and speaking engagements. “Who knew that being soo bad could be soo good$$!!,” the show’s Web site quotes her as saying.

“I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that this kind of behavior is naturally rewarded,” cautions Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communication at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. “But it does lead to success in some realms.” And those realms can include the legal profession, sales teams, trading floors, entrepreneurial endeavors — in other words, the corners of the business world where unmitigated gall can be more marketable than galling. “This could be great for [her] career if you think about it,” he says.

Is having one’s “unmitigated gall” displayed for the world to see a good thing? I sure hope not. While I certainly don’t like to see people live life with a scarlet letter, I don’t think they ought to be rewarded for being rude.

Of course, not all notorious reputations should be viewed as problematic. In my blog post, I mentioned perhaps the most famous email from the legal world to circulate throughout cyberspace — that of the Skadden Arps summer associate. He wrote:

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How Not to Turn Down a Law Job Offer

social-networks1.gifDianna Abdala, a young law school graduate, was about to start working for William Korman, a criminal defense attorney. Shortly before she was to start, Korman told Abdala that he had also decided to hire another attorney, and as a result, had to adjust her salary lower. She sent him the following email:

At this time, I am writing to inform you that I will not be accepting your offer. After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that the pay you are offering would neither fulfill me nor support the lifestyle I am living in light of the work I would be doing for you. I have decided instead to work for myself, and reap 100% of the benefits that I sew [sic]. Thank you for the interviews.

Korman called and left a message to Abdala to discuss, but Abdala left a voicemail turning down the offer again. Korman wrote to Abdala:

Given that you had two interviews, were offered and accepted the job (indeed, you had a definite start date), I am surprised that you chose an e-mail and a 9:30 p.m. voicemail message to convey this

information to me. It smacks of immaturity and is quite unprofessional. Indeed, I did rely upon your acceptance by ordering stationary and business cards with your name, reformatting a computer and setting up both internal and external e-mails for you here at the office. While I do not quarrel with your reasoning, I am extremely disappointed in the way this played out. I sincerely wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

Abdala responded with this email:

A real lawyer would have put the contract into writing and not exercised any such reliance

until he did so. Again, thank you.

Korman responded:

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The Portrait of the Lawyer as a Young Man


Last week, the WSJ Law Blog had a quick write-up on Douglas Litowitz’s recent book The Destruction of Young Lawyers, which seems to be a fabulously original stream of assertions to the effect that there are a lot of unhappy junior associates in big law firms. Shocking! Just shocking!

Now I should point out that I am a young associate at a big law firm, and I admit that I am from time to time quite miserable. It is a high-pressure job. The hours are long, and frequently your days consist of high-stakes boredom, which combines stress and monotony in a rather toxic cocktail. Some of this is structural. Big-time litigation is not possible without massive priv reviews. The billable hour creates a really cruddy set of incentives for young attorneys from a life-style point of view. However, I think that these structural defects in the legal market — especially at “elite” firms on Wall Street or K Street — have less to do with the spiritual misery of young lawyers than two other factors: lack of interest in the law and the mismatch between the dominant myths about the legal profession current in law schools and the reality of the legal profession in practice.

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Abolish the Bar Exam

barexam3a.jpgThe recent story in the WSJ that Kathleen Sullivan (law, Stanford) failed the Bar Exam raises anew whether the exam ought to be abolished. Before discussing this issue, I must note that I found the story to be a bit sensationalistic for the WSJ, as its main purpose seemed to be to mock Kathleen Sullivan. I was interviewed by the reporter of the story a few days ago because of my blog posts earlier this year (here, here, and here) arguing that Bar Exam should be abolished.

The reporter emailed me and wrote: “I’m a reporter with the Wall Street Journal. I’m researching arguments in favor and against the abolition of bar exams, and wondered if you might have time to share your thoughts on this matter with me today.” I spoke to him about my arguments, but he asked a few times if I could name any prominent professors or lawyers who failed. I told him I didn’t know of any and that even if I did, I would consider revealing this fact to be a bit tawdry, as failing the Bar Exam is considered an embarrassing fact. I didn’t see why it would be necessary to bring embarrassment upon a person for a story about the abolition of the Bar Exam.

I was quite surprised when I read the story, a bit peeved at not being quoted, and somewhat annoyed that the story seemed to be primarily cast as a way to showcase Sullivan’s failure rather than address the problems of the Bar Exam. The reporter did not mention Sullivan at all in my interview.

So since they didn’t make it into the story, I want to reprise my arguments against the Bar Exam. As I wrote in a post called “Bar None”:

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Old Courthouse Architecture

The other day, I blogged about new courthouse architecture. A few of the commentators said they had a soft spot for older courthouse architecture, which I share. Therefore, I thought I’d surf the web for some examples of older courthouses. I love architecture, and I found many an interesting picture to share with you. Here is what I found, with the year each was constructed:


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New Courthouse Architecture

They’re being built at a staggering rate. New ones are rapidly replacing old ones. Top architects are being called in to design them. . . .

No, I’m not talking about stadiums. I’m talking about courthouses. A recent Legal Affairs article chronicles a dramatic transformation in courthouse architecture and describes the building boom in new courthouses. Courthouses used to be built as “solemn, neo-Classical style structures,” but recently things have changed. Today, top architects bid on the construction of courthouses:

The new architect selection standards coincide with the largest federal courthouse building initiative in the nation’s history, a program necessitated by the rise in the number of federal cases—up some 20 percent in the last decade—and a shift in caseloads from the Rust Belt to the Sun Belt. As droves of people continue to move from Buffalo to Houston or from St. Louis to Phoenix, caseloads are moving with them. In all, nearly 200 courthouses will be built or renovated over the next 25 years, at a cost in the tens of billions of dollars.

If you’re interested in the history of courthouse architecture, the article is well worth checking out. One of the courthouses discussed in the article is the stunning new federal courthouse in Boston, pictured below:


For all the law architecture nerds out there, I did a little web surfing and found some pictures of new or planned courthouses. Beginning with state courthouses, here are ones from Lexington, SC, Lexington, KY, and Syracuse, NY:


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How to Develop a Supreme Court Practice

supremecourt10a.bmpHow does a law firm develop a Supreme Court appellate law practice? Hang out a shingle? Well, yes, if you’ve got Seth Waxman. This interesting article explains how law firms build a Supreme Court practice. The article contrasts the firm of Wilmer Culter, where Waxman argued all five of its Supreme Court cases last term, with the firm of Jones Day, which had five different attorneys argue its six Supreme Court cases.


The Music of the Law

Unlike my co-bloggers, I practice law for a living. Like most would-be lawyers my view of practice was powerfully shaped by Law & Order episodes. I do mainly civil and appellate litigation, so my practice contains few trips to Attica, but I did envision the practice of law as being a much more social endeavor. At the very least, I expected there to be some noise. My law firm, however, tends to be a very quiet place. People work in their offices, and if they talk they do so in conference rooms. There is none of the noisy bustle of the Law & Order DA’s office. As it happens, I don’t think well in silence. I find it distracting and unnerving. Even in college, for example, I found it impossible to study economics in the library. The quiet destroyed my concentration, so I always did econ work in the student union cafeteria. At work, I escape the silence by closing my door and playing music, which leads to the important question of which music goes with which tasks.

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