“They’re not lying.”
That was my first thought when I read the now infamous Paul Hastings PowerPoint slide entitled “Non-Negotiable Expectations.”
And my second thought?
“I wish someone gave me this real talk in one session instead of me having to figure it all out on my own.”
There, I said it.
And as unpopular as this post (and my opinion) is going to be, I just had to write it — despite seeing most of my in-house brethren light up LinkedIn in incredulousness and (dare I describe it as) outrage, some calling for a boycott of the firm.
Before you crucify me on social media as also part of the problem with law firm culture, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying I unequivocally agree with everything the slide purportedly conveyed. But honestly, part of why I was a “go-to” associate when I was in private practice was because I followed most of the proffered tips — only I had to learn them the hard way.
Admittedly, the tone (as best as I could infer — because let’s face it — it’s all just text, and we would have to project our own lived experiences to infer the tone and create the context) was cheekier than I could personally get away with. All of it needed explanation, but that’s why it’s a PowerPoint deck. And because it’s aligned with my personal style, I imagine that hyperbole was intentionally used to make a point with the audience. Again, all of this is conjecture on my part.
By the way, if you have been living under a rock, or rather, have more important things to do than follow controversies on LinkedIn, the backstory is that some senior associate created the slide to train new associates.
Here it is in case you missed it:
So in no particular order, to the extent, you are curious, here are a few of my thoughts in response to the slide.
- “You’re in the big leagues, which is a privilege, act like it.”
I did not do well enough in law school to ever share the same air as any law school contemporaries to work at any AmLaw 20 law firm. But as a first-gen college student and law student and someone who has cleaned a public bathroom a few times in her life as a part of her job — I read the line as a tongue-in-cheek reminder to be grateful and to not feel, or importantly, act entitled. Know that hard work is imminent, and much will be expected of you because of where you work.
Now that isn’t to say that having gratitude means that a person has to ingratiate themselves to any abuse or bullying or work to the detriment of their health. By the way, that first sentence of this paragraph is an example of hyperbole — not me actually believing any person is better than another just because they work at an AmLaw 20 law firm.
The call to avoid acting entitled is also echoed in No. 7 on the slide with “WFH is a luxury.” The author was trying to channel “with great power comes great responsibility” but was less inspirational and a bit snarkier in the delivery.
- “You are the concierge at the Four Seasons, a waiter at Alinea. The client always comes first and is always right. If a client wants a mountain moved, we move it. No questions.”
I actually love the concierge and waiter analogies and the nod to fancy brands. You DO want your brand to be highly regarded and sought. After all, clients or customers have many choices when it comes to hotel accommodations, restaurants, and lawyers, and you want them to keep coming to you — for the bespoke, frictionless experience you can offer them, which may include making them feel like they always come first.
At the same time, note my use of the word “feel.” This can be accomplished by being responsive, by underpromising and overdelivering on expectations and how you communicate. You don’t actually have to put clients first to the detriment of your own well-being. Practically speaking, how do I actually know if I come first or not? The answer is I don’t.
The actual part that I take umbrage with is the “client is always right” and “no questions” part. If I call outside counsel, it is because I want their advice and counsel, to leverage their expertise and experience. I don’t want a hired gun or potted plant. Please don’t just follow me off a cliff in loyalty and move the mountain if it’s a terrible idea. I actually want someone who will ask me all the questions I have not yet thought of.
- “You are online 24/7. No exceptions. No excuses.”
This one is a hard no for me. As your client, I do NOT expect you to be online 24/7. And I hope I have conveyed reasonable deadlines and that I care for your well-being.
But I also can’t ignore the reality that if you don’t respond and I need something urgently, I may call someone else. It’s not personal; I’m not upset. I’ll call you again, but right now, my internal business client needs a response so I’m calling everyone on my list until I can find some help.
Therefore, the reality of this competitive market may incentivize outside counsel to be online 24/7 because you don’t want to miss that call — but if you are an exceptional lawyer, whose brand is like the concierge at the Four Seasons or a waiter at Alinea, then you will get more calls.
Part Two next week!
Meyling “Mey” Ly Ortiz is in-house at Toyota Motor North America. Her passions include mentoring, championing belonging, and a personal blog: TheMeybe.com. At home, you can find her doing her best to be a “fun” mom to a toddler and preschooler and chasing her best self on her Peloton. You can follow her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/meybe/). And you knew this was coming: her opinions are hers alone.
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