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Post-Thanksgiving Indigestion?

(Image via Getty)

Given the ginormous expansion and size of Biglaw firms: is it possible that they have gotten too big? I ask because several ginormous (albeit nonlawyer) companies are slimming down post-COVID. Whatever weight was gained in the pre-COVID years is now seen as a liability, rather than an asset.

So, GE is separating into three units (Jack Welch must be turning over in his grave): health care, energy, and aviation. Johnson Johnson is dividing itself in half, separating the consumer products unit from the pharmaceutical and medical device unit. And not to be left behind, Toshiba has announced plans to divide itself into thirds: energy and infrastructure in one, hard disk drives and power semiconductor business in another, and flash chip and other assets in a third.

So, can Biglaw sustain its bigness? Should it? Associates who fill the coffers with the billable hours are not so sure that that’s where they want to be and how they want to spend their working lives. Reasonable considerations given the demands. Does Biglaw continue to grow, or will it think to rethink its bigness? Some mid-size firms are considering mergers due to succession challenges. The need for viable succession planning is not new.

As we slog toward the end of a tough year, many peeps are asking questions about not only what job they might want to have but how they might want to have it. In the office? Remote? A hybrid of the two? What about legal work energizes you and what sucks? I am not the first to tell you that every single lawyer job sucks in some respects, and if you think it doesn’t, then let’s talk further. Drudgery, to a greater or lesser extent, is part of every lawyer’s work. Discovery work was always what I hated the most. The endless responding to what seemed to be endless requests for documents, admissions, answers. Not just boring, but mind-numbing. Not quite like what you imagined the practice would be. Right? And did any professor tell you that in law school? (Rhetorical question.) The only ones who came even close to telling you anything about the real world of lawyering were the adjuncts, those in-the-trenches lawyers who told you the truth about practice.

Here in California, I, along with many other lawyers, would like nothing more than to drive a stake through the heart of the current discovery statutes for good and find a better way to litigate and resolve cases rather than endless motion practice. Lawyers prosper on the theory of leaving no stone unturned, while clients rail against the expense.

Further news on the state bar/Tom Girardi front. The state bar will consider revisions to how lawyers manage their trust accounts or mismanage them, as the case has been with Girardi and others over time. The proposed changes would require, among other things, compliance certification of the trust accounts by CPAs. The board will consider rule changes after the first of the year and the proposed changes will be open for public comment until midyear.

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And the December issue of our monthly glossy magazine, not surprisingly, titled Los Angeles, has on its cover Mr. and Mrs. Tom Girardi. The cover banner reads: “Barely Legal, Crooked Investigators, Swindled Orphans, A Fortune Squandered on Bling, Inside the Surreal Scandal That Toppled L.A.’s Top Lawyer and His Ambitious Reality-TV-Star Wife.”  (Emphasis on the cover.) “Barely Legal.” Really?

Jordan Rothman was spot on in his recent post about micromanaging.

Micromanaging is always a curse and never a blessing. I was GC of a nonprofit many years ago and the CEO’s micromanaging drove me out and into my own firm. Every single decision had to be made by him so all the competent people around him were merely fact gatherers and order takers. Not one single decision could be made by those on his team. Mentoring is good; micromanaging is bad. How are peeps supposed to learn if they are not allowed to make mistakes? Why hire anyone? Just do it all yourself.

Micromanaging is borne out of fear, of insecurity, of not trusting the judgments of your staff and so, to CYA, the manager, the boss, whoever is micromanaging does so out of a lack of trust. There’s nothing worse than not being able to do the job you were hired to do, to not be able to use your judgment to make decisions, but it is your job to keep the boss informed and to escalate issues as needed. No one likes surprises. If a boss is insecure and a micromanager, then look out. That boss may well be driving the bus that you find yourself under. I have the tire tracks to prove it.

Having graduated from a nonranked law school that is now gone, I think the recent kerfuffle at Yale Law School requires a matrix to figure out who’s who and why anyone should care. Joe Patrice opines that the school is a microcosm of a failing democracy. Read Timothy Snyder’s book, “On Tyranny, Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century,” in which he lays out 20 signs of a country headed in the wrong direction. (There’s also a graphic book version.)

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Among those signs is the failure to remember our professional ethics. If we  “confuse our specific ethics with the emotions of the moment,” then we can find ourselves “saying and doing things that we previously would have thought unimaginable.” Lawyers in Hitler’s inner circle thought that the law was there to serve his aims. We all know how that turned out.


Jill Switzer has been an active member of the State Bar of California for over 40 years. She remembers practicing law in a kinder, gentler time. She’s had a diverse legal career, including stints as a deputy district attorney, a solo practice, and several senior in-house gigs. She now mediates full-time, which gives her the opportunity to see dinosaurs, millennials, and those in-between interact — it’s not always civil. You can reach her by email at oldladylawyer@gmail.com.