Glenn Manishin, partner at Duane Morris, tech law guru, and all-around super knowledgeable guy, recently sat down to speak with Legal Geekery about the current state of the legal market. Mr. Manishin provides insights into biglaw, some interview tips, and explains why this economy may not be the end of the world for law students who are dead set on spending 14 hour days doing document review.
For those of you who don’t have time to listen to our podcast, we’ve decided to transcribe a large portion of the interview with Mr. Manishin below. Hopefully you find it as interesting as we do.
Legal Geekery: 2009: Bad job market, or worst job market?
Glenn Manishin: It’s a bad job market. It is the worst one that I’ve seen in my career (and I graduated law school in 1981 when Cravath shocked the world by raising first year associate salaries to an ungodly $30,000 per year). It is difficult for me to decipher whether the problem is confined to biglaw (meaning the Am Law 100 firms), that I believe have a cost structure that may not be conducive to the corporate client, or is a large reflection on the value and demand for legal services in the US. I think it’s probably the former, meaning it’s probably more limited to large law firms.
But it is certainly unsettling for law students to think about the fact that it’s going to be extremely difficult to get jobs after second year and the ability to fly around the country and get offers from a number of firms in different cities, and take your pick from among pretty cushy jobs — for a couple years — I think is a thing of the past for now, which is unfortunate.
LG: Traditionally, people say that if you don’t get a cushy biglaw job your 2L summer, you’ll never get a biglaw job. If you work in public interest your 2L summer, you’re going to work in public interest. Do you think that’s a rule that will change?
GM: I’m not sure that I ever agreed with that truism. The easiest path — the most direct path — to getting a job at a large law firm was obviously to be a summer associate. But it was always possible, and it remained possible throughout the 80’s, for people to come in who had not been summer associates. And I think in the 90’s and in this decade, there’s been an extraordinary increase in the amount of lateral associate movement in years 2-5. And that’s not unusual, but I think it reflects the fact that the idea of a lawyer joining a firm, becoming a partner, and staying there until he or she retires is definitely a model that’s dead in the legal field these days.
LG: It still feels like a fiction that we have to put forth as law students — convincing firms that we want to be there forever.
GM: You know, I never expect that when I interview law students. And if someone said that to me, frankly, I’d think they were putting me on. If you look at my record, I’ve done rather well as a lawyer, and the most time I spent at any law firm was seven years.
I guess the point is mobility in the law as a business has increased dramatically over time. I was sort of at the vanguard of that because I left my first law firm in 1989 after going through the associate ranks and becoming a partner, and then I took 10 years off and worked at a boutique that I formed, and now I’ve been at 3-4 of them — because of conflicts and economic opportunities and things like that.
The relationship between lawyer and client is one that is far more person than in other fields, and not really institutional. But it’s not a requirement anymore to be successful that you hook your wagon to one star.
LG: What did you do to keep yourself attractive to biglaw while you were lateraling back and forth?
GM: When I left a partnership with Jenner & Block in 1989, I had just turned 34 and gotten married, and was probably going to have a baby very soon, and I didn’t want to be a position where I would spend those 14 hours a day and I would never get home at night to see my kid. My objective wasn’t to make myself attractive to big firms at the end of the road. Or even ever to leave the boutique. My objective was something a partner at a large law firm had told me when I was a summer associate, which is “take the job that excites you and inspires you to go to work. And do not worry about the long run, because if you do what you like, the rest will come naturally.” I didn’t believe him at the time, but it turns out to be true for me: because I was doing what I liked at my boutique, I ended up becoming involved in the law of the internet by representing Netscape in 1995 and I represent a whole bunch of internet companies as a result, and that’s what I like to do.
LG: What is the most consistent mistake made by student interviewees?
GM: Trying to identify a field of concentration before they’ve actually experienced law in the real world. The difference between legal studies and the kind of activities that go on in law school and the kind of activities that lawyers do on a daily basis is huge. In order to understand the difference between corporate transactional law, family law, litigation, personal injury, etc., you really have to do it. So the most you can answer as a law student is that you think you might like something because of your background — either your socioeconomic background, your emotional background, or what you majored in in college, but it’s difficult to believe when someone walks in as a second-year law student saying, “I want to be a big firm antitrust lawyer” or “I want to be a litigator as opposed to an antitrust lawyer.”
LG: So what’s the right approach for a law student to take?
GM: I think it would be better to say: “I believe I would be interested in <this subject> because of <this aspect of my past>, and I think I have the aptitude for it because I’ve shown <A, B, and C>, but I understand that you learn more by doing than reading, so I’m looking forward to learning about it, and hopefully I’ll find a niche here where I’m valuable to you.
LG: Do you think that advice would be different to 3Ls looking for a full-time position? Should they have a better idea of what they’re looking for?
GM: I don’t think so at all. There is, particularly in biglaw — Am Law 100 / Am Law 250 — the idea that first-year associates can be productive, billable members of the organization, has diminished a lot in recent years. Meaning that there’s far more pressure on law firms either not to assign first-year associates to projects because clients don’t want to pay for their learning experience, or to write-off their time. So first and even sometimes second-year associates, in terms of what they bill-out, are frequently losers for law firms because of the need to write-off their time to meet client demands.
So if you think that in order to make yourself attractive to a biglaw firm, you need to fit into a specialty where they need bodies — I don’t even think they believe that they can effectively identify the better first year law students who have a sufficient delta of knowledge to make a financial difference in terms of their relationship with their clients.
LG: Some people say that once you get a callback interview, the interviewers are mostly interested in finding out if they’d like to have a beer with you. Do you think that’s true?
GM: I think the answer is yes, but it depends upon the nature of the callback. If what you’re saying is they meet you at OCI and then call you back to the firm, then the answer is “no.” They need to know a bit more about you. Because particularly right now where incoming class-size has shrunk, the first interview is really just finding out whether you have horns on your head or whether there’s something about you that’s disqualifying despite your paper record. And the second purpose is to try to get to know you a little more because they actually do want to make some cuts as to who may fit in with the firm culture and who may not.
So if you’re talking about the callback from OCI, probably no. After that, probably yes — what they’re looking for is whether you’re good enough to get along.
LG: Cold-sending resumes. Are they a waste of time or just a huge long shot?
GM: They’re a huge long shot — they’re never a complete waste of time.
LG: Is there anything a law student can do to improve their chances of getting an interview with firms that don’t interview at their OCI?
GM: The best way to make your application visible is to first do some homework and find the person responsible for hiring. The second part would be, if you have the resources, get your butt to that city and call up and say, “Hey, I’m going to be there on X date, does Y want me to come in and talk with him?” It’s significantly easier to accept an interview when the person is already there, particularly since law firms typically have to bare the cost of flying the applicant out.