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by Vault Law Editors | April 01, 2009

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Hello from Washington, D.C., where the license plates make legal arguments (“Taxation Without Representation.”)

 

I’m with the Vault contingent at the annual NALP conference—essentially a convention of law firm recruiters, law school career services people and legal headhunters, as well as the sundry folks who want to sell things to them.

 

NALP’s opening plenary session, a panel discussion entitled “Don’t Fight the Web: Surviving and Thriving in a 2.0 World,” was a standing-room-only event. The answer to the question on everyone’s mind—“Will someone throw a rotten tomato at David Lat?”—was no.* Every time a pointed question came his way, Lat managed to defuse the tension through self-deprecating humor and by speaking really, really fast.

 

Besides Lat, the panel comprised Vault’s own Samer Hamadeh, Lateral Link’s Michael Allen and Harvard Law School’s assistant dean of career services, Mark Weber. Each of the panelist is, in the words of moderator Jenner partner Charlotte Wager, “experienced in the legal employment revolution.”

 

Some highlights:

 

Every memo is a press release

 

Mark Weber, in his opening remarks, bemoaned the “clutter, gossip and frenetic pace” of the information marketplace. Weber also seemed to deride ATL’s focus on trivia: “Who knew that Skadden serves lemonade when it is over 84 degrees out?” He also recounted his befuddlement when the reservation of Sidley’s conference rooms was a subject of speculation. “Well, you know how that story ended,” interjected Lat.

 

Weber noted that one ironic consequence of the information “revolution” was that it has a limiting effect on dialogue. Firms and schools are forced to be less candid and more impersonal in their communications. These days, every “internal” memo must be treated like a press release. Weber urged students not to forget that “picking up the phone and talking to people who are living and breathing” is actually still a pretty good way to get information.

 

The other panelists were less troubled by the now-routine leaking of top-down communications. Allen contended there’s simply been a ”paradigm shift” in what is considered newsworthy or publishable. And Lat noted there are now “clusters at the extremes,” because the fact that mass memos are highly impersonal actually serves to increase the number of personal, individualized communications. Or at least it should. In any event, Skadden—and probably many firms—now solicits associate feedback on mass memos before they are published.

 

The Charney story won’t die

 

Without anyone saying the words “Sullivan & Cromwell” or “Aaron Charney,” Weber offered the Charney suit as an example of “salaciousness” without a purpose or redeeming point. This argument received a smattering of applause, presumably from BigLaw PR people in attendance. Weber seemed to go too far, however, in suggesting that, since the charges in Charney’s complaint were never proven in court, the story should not have received so much attention. Lat asserted that, salacious or not, these episodes are a window into firm culture. (Nobody addressed the proposed, unattainable standard of only reporting adjudicated “facts.”)

 

On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog

 

Q: What about the fact that you impersonated a woman as “Article III Groupie”? What about your nasty anonymous comments sections? What about the all lies and fakery on the internet? Isn’t it all so horrible and scary?

 

A: Not really. Caveat lector. Kids these days, they have a different sensibility regarding identity and anonymity on the Web. Also: everyone needs thicker skin.

 

The influence of anxiety

 

Some law school career center people object to blogs on the grounds that they heighten student anxiety. That concern is misplaced because there is a lot of cause to be anxious. The relentless, daily doses of bad news actually reflect the fact that there is a lot of bad news. Every day.

 

Also, in the event of societal collapse, Lat has a one-way ticket to the Philippines, where he will live in his uncle’s basement.

 

- posted by brian

 

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