Archive for the ‘Life at Law Firms’ Category
The question that I get the most often from readers of Chillin’Competition relates to how I manage to reconcile an already quite time consuming job –and a few adjacent academic and business activities – with blog writing
(other typical questions being: why don’t you change your pic on the blog? why don’t you use a fake pic of a better looking dude? do you really not make any money out of the blog? (that has a follow up: are you dumb?); why are you not at a fancy firm with a sequence of anglo-saxon names? how does your firm let you write a blog? are you and Nico lovers, friends, do you hate each other?; are you two the same person?)
I generally have a decently good -if long- response to that, and the fact is that I’ve -generally- managed to find the time to juggle everything.
However, I recently
whined justified myself wrote about not being able to find the time needed to write something worth your reading time, and commited to make a greater effort. However, in spite of my good intentions, I will not be able to honor my commitment (including the one about writing down my detailed views on Google’s commitments).
I will be taking a short leave of absence away from blogging until 30 May. In a way it’s a pity, because there’s most interesting stuff going on on which to comment, but work these days is as interesting and fun -really- as it is absorbing. As it is becoming customary, Pablo Ibáñez (LSE) will be covering my absence.
P.S. On Google’s proposed commitments, and in a nutshell, I would argue that the Commission’s strong hand play has yielded very good results for the Institution. Whereas I retain my doubts about the underlying
and arguably unknown theories of harm, it’s hard to deny that the Commission has managed to extract very significant concessions from Google that should make its competitors’ lives easier.
You already know this trick: busy days=
attempts at light funny or stupid posts. Today’s post isn’t particularly funny, but it sure is particularly stupid. Even though it’s not prima facie related to competition law, I’m sure that you’ll be able to find it of practical application to your law firm, competition authority, university or psychiatric institution (to name only the four organizations from which we get more readers):
A couple of Swedish professors (M. Alvesson and A. Spicer) have recently published an article titled A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organisations in which they develop the concept of “functional stupidity” and conclude that organizations with too many smart individuals risk being disfunctional. Their article has been discussed in other places like Fortune or New Scientist, where it was originally published.
The authors posit that stupidity boosts productivity, streamlines things in an effective manner, facilitates consensus, conveys respect for hierarchy, fosters a culture of commitment and effort, and that it can even help you (no offence; I didn’t mean you, I meant the stupid at issue..) get a promotion faster (the argument supporter the latter being that bosses would not promote their most useful assistants because they couldn’t do without them).
The theory also goes that people who try to make sure that everyone notices how smart they are are likely to do worse than those who hide their intelligence (a troubling thought for many of us show-off lawyers). Likewise, places where people tend to be
lieve they are clever are, according to this theory, quite inefficient (I wonder whether profit per partner ratios confirm this intuition)
Interestingly, the Fortune piece discussing this article and the benefits of stupidity concludes with a reference to Google’s simple and functional user interface (as already anticipated a few times, whether Google’s UI will be smartened up or made more complex thanks to DG Comp will be discussed in our upcoming comments on Google’s commitments; but don’t take my word for it, a couple of years ago we also committed to hold a Chillin’Competition conference and, well…).
For more on stupidity, check out Cipolla’s masterpice on The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity.
P.S. If you ask me, whereas there may be some logical basis and abundant practical evidence for some of this “functional stupitidy” theory, holding it as true would be a bit stupid, and, as most things stupid, quite dangerous.
Being a competition lawyer one cannot help but to be interested in the competitive dynamics of the very market in which we operate.
There are a few odd things to it, but I usually -although not on this blog- refer to one particular market failure in the market for EU competition law legal services: its lack of transparency (not price wise, but rather quality wise). My take on this (developed below) is that making certain legal submissions public would contribute to addressing this market failure. The report on accesibility of Court documents just issued by the European Parliament has given me
an excuse not to comment on the Google commitments that I’ve been unable to read in full the push I needed to write about it.
It’s funny to observe that the cult of personality/firms prevalent in the EU competition world is, to a great extent, grounded on practically no available information. Firms and individuals are revered and ranked in various ways and tiers; they (we) are reviewed, reveive prices, etc, but, if you stop for a sec to think about it: how do you know that any of them/us is any good?
The maximum information that one can get about the quality of a firm’s or lawyer’s work merely relates to the cases in which a given firm/lawyers has worked. Interestingly, the outcome of those cases tends to matter little; what appears to matter is to have been involved in them. Many lawyers advertise the fact that they have acted on particular cases regardless of the result, and there’s no way of knowing whether they did excellent, good enough or poorly (at the extreme, I know a few cases of lawyers who show off for having represented clients in proceedings initiated as a result of poor legal advice in the first place). To be sure, although outcomes are, at times, a very good proxy, they are not a definitive criterion, for we often know little about the objectives pursued, about the details of a case, or about its a priori odds. Actually, telling whether an outcome is positive or not, as well as determining what a lawyer’s/economists’ contribution to this result was, is almost always unfeasible.
I’d argue that the only ones who can really have an informed idea about how good a firm or a lawyer is are the people working at the Commission and at the Courts who have shared cases with them/us; they are the sole ones who are able to measure their/our work against the background of all factors in play (when it comes to pleading, the Mlex guys who listen in at the hearings could have something to say too; I’ve said before that Lewis Crofts could make some extra money by publishing a litigators’ ranking..) but no one asks them (and even if they were asked, it’s arguable whether they should disclose favoritism in this regard either).
You could argue that in-house lawyers can be good comparative judges as well, but this is not always the case: in-house lawyers are often exposed to a very reduced subset of lawyers (sometimes retained due to political reasons outside their control). Moreover, many in-house lawyers may not be experts in the area for which they hire external lawyers (this is frequent in the competition world except when you deal with particularly large firms with specialized competition counsel), and very often the less risky thing to do is to pick people who others perceive as triple A, even if the reasons justifying the perception are
ranking based unknown (the force of inertia and virtuous/vicious circles do the rest).
I’ve worked in various cases where I’ve seen well-known lawyers and firms produce documents that were not…worthy. I’ve also seen well regarded firms (sometimes even the sames as in my previous example) produce excellent work. And I’ve also seen work by less-known firms that was pretty good. The interesting thing is that in these cases the quality of the work tends to impact the result ot the case, but not the firm’s/lawyer’s reputation, for good or for bad, because no one can see and assess what was done.
In sum, to a great extent, law firms and economic consultancies are credence goods.
If you ask me, the only way to get rid of many of the absurdities derived from this market failure, and to improve the quality of legal services at the same time, would be to increase the transparency of legal submisions. It has happened all too often that I read something (a document, a plea or an argument) and wonder whether it would have been
billed for written had its authors known that it would be publicly available.
Nico and Miguel Rato wrote a few years ago about sunshine regulation; I would argue that sunshine lawyering would also be a good thing; why not follow the example of the U.S., where Court filings are considered to be public records? There are very good reasons why this should not be the case in administrative proceedings, but I see no impediment in the case of Court proceedings, and nor does the European Parliament’s report recommending that changes be adopted in order to facilitate access to Court files at the EU level.
I landed in Brussels this morning at 7 am after an intense week of
cocktails antitrust events at the ABA’s antitrust spring meeting in DC. I’m knackered (I also have to recover from the sight of 2,700 antitrust lawyers under the same roof) and have lots of catching up to do, so let’s keep it simple today:
Nicolas’ Friday post criticized several pricing practices in the conference market, namely excessive pricing and lack of pricing discrimination in favor of academics and students.
This is not a new topic; some of you might remember that many posts ago I proposed an algorithm for competition conferences, positing that “the likelihood of getting to listen to new and interesting stuff is inversely proportional to the combination of three cumulative variables: the price of the event, the number of attendees, and the number and lenght of slide decks. It’s generally not a good sign if an event is pricy and crowded. The ones with a greater chance of not being interesting at all are those for which you have to pay in order to be a sp
ayeaker (yes, there are plenty of those!)”.
I discussed Nico’s post with a few sensible people over the w-e, and the discussion quickly came down to one sole issue: the ‘funny’ (not as in haha, but as in questionable) but prevalent practice of paying for speaking slots, which I had only touched upon in passing in my previous post.
I would argue that paying to speak is essentially a marketing trick based on misleading the audience. Let me prove my point: how many spaykers do you think would want to appear at a conference if the audience had transparent information about who’s paying for the slot and who’s not?
If you’ve something interesting to say, you should get paid for it (not so difficult, even Sarah Palin gets paid to speak) or at least be invited to speak for free. Note also that people who pay to speak would not normally (there are of course exceptions) give objective overviews of the topic at issue; their presentation would tend to be a more or less obvious sales pitch. I’ve nothing against lawyers advertising themselves, but, as in other contexts (some might think of search engines), it’s generally good to be able to tell what’s advertising and what’s not.
The most obvious way to address this “market failure” and push for a merit-based allocation of speaking slots would be to have lawyers stop paying (smart, uh?), but since self-regulation is unlikely to work, I would suggest, for a start, that public officials refuse to appear in conferences where people pay just to sit with them.
What’s your take?
In our last post we stated that one of our goals for the future is to contribute to increasing the visibility of young lawyers. Here’s a way to start:
We would like to draw your attention to the Seventh Junior Competition Conference. The editors of the Competition Law Journal have informed us that the Conference will take place on Friday 25 January 2013 and will be dedicated to reform of the system of private enforcement in the UK; for further details please click here.
If you would like to speak at the conference, please contact Vian Quitaz – email@example.com – with an expression of interest and a short outline of your proposed topic.
A separate announcement will be made in due course for those interested in attending the Conference.
The editors of the Journal look forward to hearing from you!
And speaking of younger generations, we recommend you take a look at this: Tournament of Jokes: Generational Tension in Large Law Firms
Freshly graduated students often come with queries about life in law firms.
Many questions are related to wages and working hours.
But the key question is always about how cool (or stressful) it is to work for this or that law firm.
Here are a few cardinal principles to keep in mind:
- Wanna keep a social life? => Avoid merger factories;
- Life at European law firms is not necessarily better than in anglo-saxon law firms. This is because there is often a stronger pyramidal hierarchy in traditional (especially south european) law firms. In turn, junior associates are typically less involved in high level issues (meetings with clients, etc.) and must show a lot of deference to senior colleagues. In US law firms, partners – but this is again a generality – would tend to be more approachable;
- US firms pay better than UK firms, which pay better than continental firms. The same equation however applies to billable hours;
- What law firms seek to purchase with a strong paycheck is full availability, including at very short notice. Upon client/partner call, young associates must be ready to sacrifice family, holiday, wedding plans…;
- Minimum entry wage for a 1y associate in a Brussels competition pratice : 50K€/year;
- Like team work? Go for big law. Hate ghost writing? Go for academia;
- The above is of course contingent on the people. Several well-known merger factories are really cool places to work for, simply because the partners there are great professionals and very pleasant persons;
A few weeks ago we posted a story about the “competition pills” that the Spanish Competition Authority (CNC) is distributing (see here). We remarked the “originality” of this promotional campaign. Yesterday, one of our readers (thanks, Luca!) posted a comment in which he questions such originality; the comment reads as follows:
“This is scandalous!! Plagiarism!!
They’ve copied the idea, the packaging, the leaflet, the design – literally, everything except the color, red instead of deep blue – from a record by Spiritualized of 1997 – “Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re floating in space”.
Am I the only one old enough to remember this masterpiece?
Still I’d be curious to know who’s the psychedelic case handler at the CNC who came up with the idea”.
Since our readers’ wishes are our commands, we are launching a quest to find the musically literate CNC official/s who came up with this idea, and we want to interview her/him/them here (about music
, copyright and the promotion of competition).
The customary beer tasting reward applies to whoever gives us any information that may help us in our quest.
Last Friday the European Commission confirmed that it has addressed a Statement of Objections to four traders of North Sea Shrimp over a suspected cartel. We learnt the news through one of the sites that we check several times a day: www.seafoodsource.com; see here).
Some of you have conveyed to us the suspicion that, in reality, DG Comp has sent this SOs in an attempt to force us to write about it. According to this theory, the guys at
Bubba Comp, DG Gump. DG Comp were worried about our silent week and decided to resort to the big guns: a food case. Judging by precedents (notably our well known endive saga), they knew that we wouldn’t let it pass by without a comment.
As credible as this theory may sound…. the sending of these SOs at this time of the year is in reality a classic piece of July desk clearing on the part of the Commission. Getting one of these right before the holidays is one of the occupational hazards of being a competition lawyer in private practice in Brussels (the other one coming the run up Christmas).
In any event, we should not be making jokes about this. It is a serious matter. Nicolas – a renowned shrimp consumer may moreover be a victim of this alleged shrimp conspiracy- One nonetheless wonders: have they caught the big fish? It certainly isn’t small fry!
PS. A Chillin’Leak: We have been told by very reliable sources that the Commission found the evidence for this case during a “fishing expedition”.
Our most recent posts speak for themselves: both Nico and myself are currently quite absorbed by work and have struggled to find the time to write some sensible and substantive stuff here (we’ll be back to substance next week) nor to attend the various social competition law events taking place these days. [Query: if everyone is partying or writing blogs, who works here??!] . However, the “hecticness” of these past few days has spurred some random thoughts with regard to life at law firms (the fact that for the first time ever I have to alter my summer holiday plans because of work has also contributed to some intense reflection). Here they are, in the hope that they give rise to some debate: Read the rest of this entry »