The Laid Off Diary: Dear Diary…this sucks.

Business Development
June 10, 2009, 4:41 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

extrovert v introvert

Dear Diary:

In response to a recent comment asking why/how I am having lunches/meetings with CEOs and managing directors and also in light of the many times I’ve tried to explain to non-lawyers (that includes you too, my little law students–you’re not lawyers yet!) that most lawyers that I know in BigLaw, including partners, were socially moronic when they were under the impression that lawyers needed to be (and were subsequently rewarded for being) social in BigLaw.

Well, here’s the deal. The best politician who is elected for office might not be the right person for the job. He might not have the brains or work ethic (or any ethic at all) to effectively carry out the positions of the office, but he was the most charismatic and social guy so he won the hearts of the voters. Well, BigLaw associates are the opposite.

We are recruited out of law school for getting good grades and to get good grades, you either needed to study really hard and not drink on Tuesdays, go to class, read all the cases, and be a good little student or you needed to have a really good outline and study for 200 hours straight the two weeks before the open book final. Even if you fell into the latter category, you still have to have the concentration and work ethic to “buckle down” before the final. In law school, we’re not taught to be good business people–we’re taught to be hard workers. We’re told that we should network, but nobody actually teaches us how and you know what, not alot of lawyers I know can network very smoothly (a post on this topic to come tomorrow).

Anyway, next, we are rewarded for, you guessed it, billing like crazy years 1-2. You aren’t really challenged intellectually and the nuances of your practice area still escape you, so does many of the other more obvious legal issues. So basically you are working and 60-70 hours a week doing work that bores you to tears and work that you don’t fully understand. Sure, you should show up to the firm parties and events and be “social”, but you treat those more like work hours rather than social hours. We show our faces for the requisite amount of time and then we split like a fat man’s pants.

Okey dokey. Now you’re a 3-5 year. What are you rewarded for? More responsibility, delegating to junior associates, but still billing billing billing…

Now, 6-8 years. What are you rewarded for? Ass kissing, billing billing billing, and some business development (you aren’t actually expected to have a huge book of business at this point).

The underlying point is that what gets you up for partner is the uncanny ability to do tearfully boring work and doing it 60-70 hours a week without complaining and without a social life. And once you’re up for partner, yes, you then need to have some social graces in order to stay partner and bring in business.

But, LaidOff, if most lawyers are socially confused, how do they get clients, you ask. Well, when all partners are working at a 60% capacity at what a normal socially adept person is at and all lawyers are pretty much at the same socially awkward level, you just need to be slightly less socially stupid than the partner you’re trying to compete with. Of course, you’d lose to the average frat boy or business guy on a social level, but you’re not competing with them.

And after talking to numerous business people–they all think lawyers are boring and socially inept–so even when you’re trying to woo business people, you’re still not rewarded for how social you are (or even how normal you are) on an absolute level, only on a relative level. You just can’t be as moronic as that other partner over there. And business people aren’t looking for social lawyers that they get along with–they’re looking for some boring ass work horse who can give them good work and good rates who isn’t offensively socially backwards.

Next, to address the first question last (because I do that to keep you on your toes), how am I getting all these CEOs and managing directors and founders to meet with me or invite me to lunch (and more than once) or coffee or to their offices or call me or give me a standing invite to lunch if I’m ever in their city?

I can’t teach you. Either you’re social or you’re not. Either your extroverted or you’re not. Either you can sell yourself as someone interesting enough that someone will want to talk to you or you can’t. Either you’re creative on how to reach out to these people and get in front of them or you’re not. But I can say that it gets easier as your Rolodex expands because then people start introducing you to their network.

But I have to say, unfortunately, having “lawyer” attached to me was a hurdle I had to overcome because the truth is, lawyers are seen as incredibly boring people to their business counterpart/clients. Sorry. I had some business people admit (after they meet me) that they were worried about meeting with me because most lawyers are socially awkward which is why they agreed to a coffee instead of a lunch. Who knew that all the years I’ve spent in school and trying to fit into BigLaw, that business people would compliment me by saying “you don’t seem like a lawyer!”.

But good thing for you, my dear colleagues. You don’t need all the social charm in the world. You just need to have a little bit more than that socially backwards partner you’re competing with. And being a BigLaw attorney locked away in an office as a workhorse is the perfect job for someone who doesn’t like to be social or who is an introvert. You’re getting paid six figures–don’t complain!

And I’m having these meetings because I’m through with the traditional practice of law. I’m going onto the entrepreneurial/creative side of things where you are rewarded for being social, extroverted, and charismatic because I’m not an introvert and couldn’t see myself in a BigLaw firm anymore.

Now, I’m also not saying being extroverted is better than being introverted. That’s not the point at all. It’s just that if you’re a BigLaw lawyer, or even midsize, when you don’t need to be a mover or a shaker as an associate but a billing machine, being an introvert isn’t that bad. And once you’re a partner at a big named law firm, you have a lot of street cred with clients you’re trying to woo even if you’re not the most socially graceful person out there. This kind of explains why lawyers can afford to be socially awkward and you guys are and take it to an art form. Admit it. Embrace it.


5 Comments so far
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Another thing we have in common! I’ve had so many business people tell me that I don’t “act like your typical lawyer.”

Comment by Beesh

[…] And after talking to numerous Business people%26ndash;they all think Lawyers are boring and socially inept%26ndash;so even when you’re trying to woo Business people, you’re still not rewarded for how social you are (or even how normal you are) on an … Business Development « The Laid Off Diary: Dear Diary%26hellip;this sucks. […]

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This is one of the best posts yet. I think this is really good insight to the typical lawyer character. Yes, some partners/lawyers have been able to manage their introverted nature and “get out there” but it’s still apparent and displays itself in an awkward manner.

Comment by guest

Other than getting (free?) lunch, has this approach netted you any remunerative rewards, or are you still in the gathering info phase?

Comment by Nasrin

Well, that’s a tough one because of the market. There are alot of PE firms, etc. looking at deals but not making any or alot of people putting together a business plan but not launching it yet (mainly because PE firms aren’t investing yet).

Until people actually start to act on their projects, I don’t think anyone will see any remunerative rewards.

I have confidence that if the market were like it was in 2007, I would have had a job by now (well, I also probably wouldn’t have been laid off) because back in April, through networking, I was actually given two job offers. One was abroad but it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for and didn’t want to be stuck on a path that led me where I didn’t want to go but I had received the offer through networking.

The other one was with a start-up on the west coast that showed promise, also through networking, but the numbers just weren’t there for me to relocate and hang my hat on their nail (they weren’t willing to give me enough equity in addition to the salary they were offering). It wasn’t a bad deal and they were able to secure someone on the west coast right after I turned it down, it just didn’t make sense for me to leave NYC, take another bar, and also not completely do what I want to do.

After BigLaw, I’m going to hold out a little longer to see if I can find something I really want to do rather than just take a job because it’s a pay check. Stay tuned for how long I can hold out!

But this brings me back to my previous post about laying seeds and also my theory that those who were laid off first will probably be absorbed first so it’s better to be laid off early rather than later because while the market isn’t really moving, there’s a lot brewing/brainstorming/strategizing by biz people and I’ve already thrown my hat into the ring.

Comment by laidoffdiary

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