The Common Scold

The Common Scold is named after a cause of action that originated in Pilgrim days, when meddlesome, argumentative, opinionated women who displeased the Puritan elders were punished by a brisk dunk in the local pond. Believe it or not, the tort lasted until 1972, when State v. Palendrano, 120 N.J. Super. 336, 293 A.2d 747 (N.J.Super.L., Jul 13, 1972) pretty much put it to rest. But the thought of those feisty women, not afraid of a little cold water, has always cheered me up and inspired me. I first used the moniker as the name of my humor column at the University of San Francisco School of Law many moons ago, and revive it now for this blawg!



Reportcard2_2 Hot off the press.... From the May/June issue of Law Firm Inc., here's my latest Dirty Little Secrets column, "(Poached Egg) on Your Face?" where I grade the AmLaw top 10 firms on whether or not they try to hide their associates ....

The National Law Journal recently reported a disturbing trend: many law firms are "cloaking" associates, placing only cursory contact and biography data on Web sites. The purported motive: to prevent headhunters from stealing talent.

Said Richard Raysman of Brown Raysman Millstein Felder & Steiner: "We’re really not anxious for people to start poaching our associates. We don’t want to facilitate that."

Reed Smith counsel Denise Howell, who writes Bag and Baggage, was one of many bloggers who skewered the new practice, suggesting that firms should worry more about creating a "great place to work" than fret over whether associates can be reached without going through a receptionist.

On The Common Scold, I addressed a different nuance: how treating associates like second-class citizens perpetuates the law firm caste system, and ultimately undermines client service. So we decided to review the Web sites of the top 10 Am Law 100 firms — to see if a client could find direct e-mail addresses and phone numbers, a full biography, a picture and an educational summary for associates. The results were encouraging: six of 10 earned a B or higher grade, and many firms that scored poorly are already reconsidering their policies.

Lfiblog  Here’s our report card: (All firms were invited to comment.)

1. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Grade: D

Lists areas of practice and education, and office contact info, but no direct e-mail or phone data.

2. Baker & McKenzie. Grade: C

Lists direct e-mail, and practice area, but no bios. Pamela Ulijasz, deputy global press officer, says only partners get bios, because they are the correct people to assist clients, media, etc. Plus, "the logistics of keeping 2,000 [associate] CVs up-to-date would be an enormous task," she says.

3. Jones Day. Grade: A

Full bios, a photo, direct e-mail and phone contacts. Cherie Olland, global director of business development and communications says: "There has always been a general recognition that associates have colleagues, clients and clients of the future who may want to contact them."

4. Latham &Watkins. Grade: D

Lists education, but no practice areas or other bio data. No direct lines or e-mail — to protect lawyers’ privacy and keep listings consistent across offices, explains Despina Kartson, chief marketing officer. But Latham will review Web site data presentation, within the context of data protection and data privacy protocols, to be sure the site remains "an effective and powerful marketing channel."

5. Sidley Austin Brown & Wood. Grade: A 

Full bio, direct phone and e-mail links and office contact data.

6. Mayer Brown Rowe & Maw. Grade: B

Direct e-mail and phone, very truncated bios, some photos. Says James Tancula, partner and co-chair of the associates committee: "We feel the best way to retain and attract good people is not to hide them, but show them off."

7. White & Case. Grade: A 

An excellent template includes photo, full bio, practice area, office contact information, direct e-mail and phone, languages spoken. Contact data can be downloaded. Associates and partners are treated equally, and a direct phone line is listed unless the lawyer requests that the general number be provided. "It’s most important ... that our clients can access our lawyers whenever they want, regardless of where those lawyers are in their career," says David Koschik, executive partner of the New York City office.

8. Weil Gotschal & Manges. Grade: B

Photo, direct phone and e-mail, and education data. Some associates have bios. Offers a "quoting article" link and "printable version" option. Executive director Robert Singer says Weil plans to add practice areas, and may soon post bios for all associates.

9. Shearman & Sterling. Grade: C+

Lists practice group, office, education, direct e-mail and phone. Very minimal. "We are in the process of a complete revamp of our external site," reports Jolene Overbeck, chief marketing officer. "It will be very different, very soon."

10. Kirkland & Ellis. Grade: A

Photo, direct e-mail and phone, full, printable bio including court admissions and bar memberships.


Update: See Denise Howell's fascinating idea here

May 31, 2005 | Permalink


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Law firms that treat staff /associates as second class citizens simply make it more likley that these workers will eventually leave. These associates were hired because they were considered smart, right? Why do law firms treat them like they are dumb?

Posted by: Traverse Legal | Jun 16, 2005 9:31:48 AM

One of the best things about the internet and blogs in particular is the ability to post information about what firms and lawyers are in fact, doing. The world has come to a point where it is no longer easy to simply hid business practices. While many people take issue with exposing firms, lawyers or business in general in the open world of the internet, it sure beats the alternative. Would we really want to live in a world where everyone simply is allowed to pretend? Do we want to live in a world where change never comes because the truth is buried behind the curtain?

Posted by: Traverse Legal | Jun 16, 2005 9:36:53 AM

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