The Geek In Review – Episode 18 is ready just in time for your Thanksgiving travel enjoyment. Don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes or Google (or where ever you listen to your podcasts) so that you automatically get the latest episodes. Comments can be sent to @glambert or @gebauerm. Also, if you like our new theme music, check out Jerry David DeCicca’s new album on Spotify, or iTunes,

Nicholas Alexiou, Director of LL.M and Alumni Advising at Vanderbilt University Law School joins us for an in-depth discussion of what law schools are teaching students in the three years they have them. In an environment where students only care about things which are on the final, or on the bar exam, should professional development programs be required or affect GPA’s? While 1Ls and 2Ls get lots of attention from the professional development course, 3Ls are left to their own devices. Greg thinks there is room for improvement with 3Ls professional development from the law schools, law firms, and vendors.

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Marlene points out an MIT answer to “What is AI?” Sometimes a complicated concept can be explained on a napkin with a flowchart. This explanation is so simple, even Marlene’s Mom can understand it. Now, if MIT would come up with a flowchart to explain to Greg’s Mom what it is he actually does with a law degree and a masters degree in Library Science.  Continue Reading E18 – Nicholas Alexiou – Professional Development Needs for Law Students

After seeing a recent seminar on legal industry stats, one stat jumped out at me. The stat was interesting not because it was new, but instead since it just keeps slowly trending in the same direction … down. The Stat: Productivity.

Productivity is essentially the number of hours billed per day per attorney. The ‘per day’ approach is used to filter out months with more days and months with more holidays. The number is telling of how busy lawyers are, where busy means billing time to clients. On one level you might say – so what? Everyone knows the market is not doing well.

Well … in the same presentation it was noted that the market for legal services is flat or slightly up. Which is another way of saying it is not going down.

Q: So if there is the same amount of work out there, why is productivity going down?
A: Firms have too many lawyers.
Q: And why do firms have too many lawyers?
A: They keep hiring more of them. Q: And why do firms keep doing this?
A: Because that’s the way they’ve always done it.

Recruiting has always been highly focused on keeping the talent pipeline full. The basic idea is that partners don’t leap fully formed into the world. Instead they arrive as associates who are stuffed in to the bottom of the talent pipe. Ten years later they emerge from the top of the pipe as partners. Only not all of them survived the entire length of the pipe. Consider the pipe more like a French drain pipe with openings here and there. Some, well actually a majority, of those that go in to the pipe are pushed out through these openings.

Which ones get pushed out? There is a very simple metric for selecting those that “fall” out. It’s called the 1900 Rule. When your hours drop below 1900, you start to feel a push towards they edge of the pipe. Too many years under 1900 and you find yourself outside the pipe. The only real potential for the system failing is a lack of associates going in to the pipe. The system is truly elegant in its simplicity.

But the system was built during a different time when talent was scare and hours were plentiful.

So why are so many firms still approaching recruiting this way when those two factors are now completely the opposite? With talent plentiful and hours scare you would think recruiting practices would have changed substantially? You would until you considered that partners are partners having survived the 1900 Pipe. So for them – this system obviously works perfectly.

It may be time to call a plumber.

Yesterday, I was skimming through my RSS reader and came across the post from Thomson Reuters’ Legal Current blog entitled “The Game” stuns attendees at legal marketing awards program. The more I read and watched, the more my mind was blown. The folks at Legal Current do a great job of describing, in detail, what the Dutch Law Firm of Houthoff Buruma, along with Ranj Serious Games, are doing in “The Game”, but basically, it is a way to test the mental agility of the players when confronted with a complex international legal issue. Houthoff Buruma even brings in some of its client’s in-house counsel to compete against its associates in a friendly battle of wits.

“The Game” was awarded the Excellence in Legal Marketing Award by Thomson-Reuters and Hubbard One in co-operation with the Hildebrand Institute, but is seen as recruiting and training tool as much as it is seen as a marketing tool. Gretchen De Sutter, at Legal Current, gives some pretty high praise to Houthoff Buruma when she says, “Firms in the US are in general ahead of European law firms when it comes to marketing approach. It’s nice to hear the enthusiastic jury report of how they visualize that “The Game” should even be applied to Law Schools.”

Here’s the video that describes “The Game,” it is well worth a watch to see how the concept of interactive training can enhance the ability to train and test attorneys (although you don’t have to be an attorney to play it), and the possibilities that are out there to test potential recruits on how quickly they can think on their feet.

According to the New York Times, Loyola Law School in Los Angeles is “tacking on 0.333 to every grade recorded in the last few years” with the goal of making “its students look more attractive in a competitive job market.” Apparently, the new grade inflation for law students is becoming all the rage across the country, and if your school isn’t doing it, the students get upset. I’ve seen a number of tweets and blog posts talking about this “phenomenon” over the past few days, and every time I see one flash by, my only thoughts are “Big-Whoopty-Freakin’-Deal!!” Last time I checked, if you raise everyone’s grades, everyone’s class ranking stays the same.

Hint to law students… if you have a B+ average and you’re in the bottom 1/3rd of your class ranking… employers know there is grade inflation. All that grade inflation doesn’t really help you, or make you look that impressive to potential employers. Everyone knows it is going on, that’s why we look at class rankings and the reputation of the school your attending. So, complain to the Dean of your school all you want to raise everyones grades from a B- to a B or a C+ to a B-, it won’t help.

Now instead of faking your way from a B+ to an A-… be proud of your grades. We here at 3 Geeks think that recruiters should hire the “C” students. Like Toby said back in February:

Harry S. Truman said “The ‘C’ students run the world.” The gist of that statement in our context is that C students are the ones with the relationship skills. For them school wasn’t about getting the best grade. Beyond learning, it was about enjoying the people you met. These C students are the ones that make business happen It’s their relationship skills that get and keep clients and make the business a success.

So quit focusing on the red herring of inflating your grades and start working on improving your overall class ranking. If you can’t improve that, then work on those skills and relationships that will make you better prepared for the transition from the academic world into the real world of the business of being a lawyer.

I ran across a great article this morning which stresses how “Emotional intelligence is the new benchmark to a successful legal career.”  Alison Bernard and Niki Kopsidas of Fried Frank collaborated on the article “How High Is Your ‘EI’?” in the New York Law Journal’s “Special Report: Law Schools“. Bernard and Kopsidas lay out a path for law students to follow to help them traverse the additional elements that law firms are now looking for in their incoming associates. Firms are starting to look beyond a high class ranking at an Ivy League law school when looking at candidates.

To be a successful attorney in this economy, it is imperative to not only be an expert in a legal field, but to also offer superlative client service and maintain client relationships.

The article goes on to discuss what law firm recruiters need to start focusing on when interviewing candidates.  Grades and pedigree are starters, but other factors such as “social and emotional competencies… being flexible, adaptable, creative, empathetic, self-aware, optimistic, confident and self-motivated, and the ability to persevere, exert self-control, display good judgment, influence and get along with others” are critical to seeing the candidate’s potential.

Skipping over the what do to during interviews and while in law school sections, I liked how the article finished on what associates need to focus on when they actually start working. There are a number of opportunities for new lawyers to work on their ‘hard skills’ through the firm’s professional development training in order to learn the “practicing law” part of the job (although as we mentioned this week, sometimes a little ‘retraining’ needs to take place). Bernard and Kopsidas stress that new associates should also work to develop those “soft skills” that “cover how to be a professional at a client service organization.”

I’d argue that many firms don’t stress “hard” or “soft” skills enough. Many times it seems that the process of training is to push associates into the deep end of the pool and expect them to start swimming. Other professional services, such as the big four accountant firms, have training that goes on for weeks before they allow their new employees to start working on their clients’ matters. Perhaps this model should start working its way over from the BigFour to BigLaw.

Even though this article was written from the perspective of a law firm Director of Attorney Development and a Director of Legal Recruitment, you could apply most of the ideas across almost any industry that provides a service to its customer.

Sticking to our recruiting theme for this week, I thought I’d address the issue of recruiting lateral partners.  According to Vivia Chen at The American Lawyer, during the first twelve months of the Great Recession there was a movement of “2,775 partners [who]  left or joined the biggest firms in the country.”  That’s a 10.7% increase from the previous twelve months, and a trend that many in the industry think will not slow down for some time to come.  Gone are the days where a firm brings in a first-year associate and grooms them to become a partner at the firm.  To borrow a baseball analogy, it seems that firms are bringing on partners through free-agency rather than through the farm system.  Sometimes that works out great, but many times the firms discover that this lateral partner looked a lot better on paper than he or she did in action.

I’ve been discussing this with a number of people lately and one of them said that in a market that is built upon recruiting talent from other firms, you have to be careful not to recruit the “third-stringers”.  By that, they mean that there are a number of lateral partners that are riding the coattails of others in their firm, getting their names on important matters, or assigned to important clients, but haven’t really done anything great on an individual basis.  This sort of thing happens in almost all industries.  Where you bring someone in during an interview, they look and sound great, have an impressive resume, tell you all of the people they’ve worked with and all the deals they’ve worked out, only to bring them on board and discover that they don’t quite live up to your expectations.  These third-stringers hint that they will have a number of people that will follow them to your firm and that the clients will jump ship from the previous firm and rush to bring all their legal business to your firm.  Six months after the lateral joins the firm, you look around and the only person that followed them was a secretary (whom you didn’t really need.)

So how do you avoid these third-stringers?  One answer I got said that you could cut through the smoke by asking just a few questions and watch how the potential lateral partner answers those questions.  When a potential lateral starts mentioning all the General Counsels (GC) they’ve worked with, ask this simple question – “Have you ever had [name of GC] over to your house for dinner?”  Watch to see the expression on their face.  If they answer ‘yes’, then see if they begin telling you about the experience, why they had dinner, and what their current relationship status is.  If they fumble around on this question, then perhaps their relationship isn’t as close as they are saying.

I also saw a series of questions posted on the Lateral Attorney Report back in November 2009. These are much more straight-to-the-point questions to back up the statements that the potential lateral partner has made.  Dan Binstock uses the phrase “narrow-pause” to define that period of time when the potential lateral is trying to conjure up an answer for which they were not prepared.  Questions like “How were your reviews?” or “Were you asked to leave your current firm?” and how they react to those questions can let you know if this is a quality lateral, or a third-stringer.

One thing you should probably keep in mind during this era of ‘free-agency recruiting’ is that all of those partners that you’ve managed to push out of your firm because they either didn’t fit the personality of the firm or didn’t create the book of business that he or she should have given their position, they usually wind up somewhere.  So, for all the times you thought “thank goodness we off loaded that partner”, or chuckled when you read on that a peer firm “raided” one of your third-string partners, someone else might be chuckling and saying the same thing about that third-string partner you just brought in to your firm.

A chance conversation with my AFA counter-part lead to a dialogue on the suitability of lawyer personalities to a successful law practice. In part, this was out an outcome of Lisa’s post on the sales skills of lawyers. In our conversation, we decided that to be truly successful these days a lawyer needs 1) Technical skills, 2) Leadership/Business skills and 3) Relationship (a.k.a. sales) skills. Without too much thinking, it’s obvious these are typically three distinct and mutually exclusive skill-sets. Finding a lawyer who has all three of these is rare at best (think Lisa’s super-model). Then our conversation turned to law schools and the types of personalities and skills they are designed to attract and build. One of my favorite quotes on this subject is from a law school dean, “We are academic institutions, not vocational schools.” Which is to say, law schools focus exclusively on technical skills. And even then, it’s more on the academic side of technical skills – and not much of hands-on, practical skills. And what’s worse, when law firms recruit from law schools, they want only the best … technicians. As we talked through this subject it became apparent this is yet another aspect of the profession that needs to change. In the past, legal technical skills were all that was needed to succeed. But now in the days of price competition and utilizing what everyone else calls a “business model,” firms need broader skill-sets from their partners. Harry S. Truman said “The ‘C’ students run the world.” The gist of that statement in our context is that C students are the ones with the relationship skills. For them school wasn’t about getting the best grade. Beyond learning, it was about enjoying the people you met. These C students are the ones that make business happen It’s their relationship skills that get and keep clients and make the business a success. Firms recruiting at law schools might want to keep this concept in mind. The Law Review students may make the best technical lawyers, but they likely won’t be the ones that will drive the success of your firm. Perhaps George W. Bush said it best. “To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you, too, can be president of the United States.”

I’ve been wondering how law firm summer recruiting programs are faring this year.

I wonder how closely partners are scrutinizing this year’s crop of summer clerks for their ability to generate revenue rather than fighting other firms for over what was once perceived as a limited pool of talent.

I suspect that prior years’ rush-type recruiting seasons are gone for ever more and that this year’s young legal eaglets are competing with one another for diminishing spots.

Just a few years ago, many of us stood back in disbelief as we watched new lawyer salaries peak at $160K a year. I, for one, was horrified because I remember how wet behind the ears I was the first day I stood before a judge in a court room full of onlookers. I just wanted to fall into a hole. Forget getting paid. I simply just wanted to disappear.

I tell ya, kids today . . . I had to walk through ten miles of mud up hill–oh, wait, that’s another story. Sorry, got side-tracked.

What I am trying to say is that sometimes the ones left behind are just as hungry and just desperate enough to risk it all.

Because I am convinced that people that do well in law school are good at being in school; they have always done well in school and love being in school. We all know those kids and how they do in real life. Yeah, they may be the next brilliant geek that will brew up a million dollars in his or her garage. But the rest of us lawyers had our first real taste of losing our wits.

And from that experience, the rest of the class learned to cope with fighting and losing over and over again. Because, as any good wrestler knows, as long as you are still standing you cannot be beat.

So invoke my principle when reviewing resumes. Check that they are graduates of an accredited law school. Set aside any resume that indicates a steady work history and solid scholastic achievement. It is a given that my “interview” pile indicates the characteristics of a lawyer: positions of leadership, civic pride and community activities. It is assumed that all of these kids are bright–they have all passed the LSAT and were all admitted into law school.

So when I interview, I interview for character. I seek to find the character of a man or a woman that makes a great lawyer: an innate drive to fight for justice, a need to to help others and the ability to lead a battle. These types of individuals are the sorts that we need now: men and women of character.

So don’t be so quick to judge a feisty kid from a lesser known school and so-so grades–they just might have the drive and the ambition to be everything you wished you could be. Let them in and show them around. You just may be introducing one of the next greatest lawyer of our times.