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January 31, 2006

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Mike

I rarely blamed the partners for the way they acted; it was part of the culture, and I bought into it every two weeks when I cashed my giant paycheck.

Thank you for saying this. Sometimes I wonder if Ms. Elefant knows of a secret BigLaw firm that has associates chained to desks, where they are denied food and water. Starting salaries at many of the firms Ms. Elefant criticizes are 125,000 - 135,000. If you're such an egomanic that you must have your name attached to some article, then you have bigger problems -- go work on the egomania.

I do think it's wrong, though, that they did not give you credit for the hours spent on the article. That cuts into your billable hour quotient, which cuts into your bonus. If they want you to ghost write an article, fine. But once they start reaching into your pocket, there's problems.

(And by the way, I've ghost written many articles for people. I'd much rather have a nice check with my name on it than some article with my name on it.)

Ted

Is there a big law firm where associates aren't ghost-writing articles, speeches, and briefs for partners? Heck, I spent a good chunk of my career ghost-writing briefs for other law firms, and I've almost certainly seen expert reports that were probably ghost-written by attorneys, judging by the answers that the expert gave in the deposition. (Others have hinted at the latter practice.)

mythago

I'd much rather have a nice check with my name on it than some article with my name on it

Except that a good article with your name on it is a way to the even nicer check--and your work is being used by the partner to justify his check. They're already reaching into your pocket.

David Giacalone

There are all kinds of trade-offs in every kind of job in the legal profession. Name-recognition is not very important for some; big bucks are not that important to others. I do think that major writing projects should count toward "billables" quotas.

Since we all know the ghost-writing is going on, I don't think the lack of attribution is such a big problem. I've certainly let people know that I was the main drafter of certain speeches, briefs, etc., from my FTC days. No one thought I was lying, and my ex-bosses never denied it, if asked as references.

Where I live, it's only the solos and tiny firm guys with their pictures on the back of buses. I was never so mortified as when a court clerk mistook me for a lawyer whose face was all around town on buses and billboards. No thanks.

Pity the poor factory workers who never get their names on their workproduct. On the other hand, how silly are all those credits that roll at the end of movies? Got a grip?

Carolyn Elefant

All I meant by the comment is that associates are losing value when they don't have proof that they're blogging. If they could put their names down, they could use the blog as a marketing tool. Plus, let's face it, there aren't enough partner positions at large firms. Many associates do have to move along to other jobs. They are losing a credential when they can't show that they've worked on the blog.

I realize that briefs, memos, etc...are often ghost written. But traditionally, it's been articles or bar newsletters where associates had a chance to gain name recognition. Blogs could do that as well - but firms aren't giving associates a chance to do that.

Evan

Carolyn: I agree that there is a distinction to be made between articles, bar newsletters, and weblogs on the one hand, and briefs and memos on the other. While it's always been the case that associates write briefs and memos for partners, sometimes not getting any credit by virtue of not having their names in the signature block, the tradition has always been to disclose the role of associates in writing articles for partners, often with a byline credit. That should be the case with weblogs too.

On the other hand, as I implied in the post, I also understand that what "should" happen at the big firms often doesn't, and that at some point the associates themselves share the blame for that by buying into the system. If they don't want to put up with it, they can leave. I think this additional point goes beyond the scope of what you wrote in the post I quoted.

Jeff

You could always sue. Or is professional courtesy getting in the way?

George Lenard

The problem that Carolyn quite properly points out is that at some point in their careers, most BigLaw associates (except the "lucky" few who make partner) wake up and realize that their skill, talent, brilliance, law school achievements, and hard work at BigLaw are all worth much less without name recognition, a broad network, and personal clientele.

The "solos and tiny firm guys [and gals] with their pictures on the back of buses" would not be spending substantial sums on such advertising if it didn't work -- and if they didn't need it. BigLaw associate beware: that bus ad could be a necessity for you to feed your family two years hence!

I would advise any new BigLaw associate to assume that in a few years they will need to be in a position to go solo or "tiny firm," which means they will have to seize every opportunity to build name recognition and pursue client contact. Go to the firm with the idea to start a blog, don't wait for them to come to you. Go to a partner with an idea for an article you would like to co-author, don't wait for them to come to you.

And by all means, insist on attribution for all your work, including on the signature line of briefs. Years ago, I had a key role in briefing a federal court of appeals case that has been cited over 70 times. Unfortunately, my name does not appear in the reported decision because I was not proactive on name recognition. If a request for attribution is turned down, you just learned something important about the people paying your paycheck-- something that tells you you need to work even harder on name recognition, client development, and networking before you need it -- which you probably will.

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