Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Something New I Learned Today: Business Plans

Something new I learned today from my friend Joel: if you are going to make (law) partner, or even senior associate, and certainly if you are going to lateral into a new firm you have to come armed with a business plan: how will you leverage your assets, burnish your brand blah blah for the greater good of the hiring entity? One reason he knows (he says) is that people are offering courses on how to develop the business plan (that you will inevitably be required to furnish).

I didn't know it, but boy I believe it. And in a way, it's just a return to the old days. Our friend Pete used to tell us about how in his law school days (right after WWII) when you interviewed with a big firm--even the fanciest--they would ask you what sort of clients you could bring with you. One reason why the children of the wealthy and powerful always had a line in, even if they were dumb as a box of nails.

Hasn't been like that for a long time. Since about 1963--i.e., since the day when I started law school--we've been on the up cycle at the roller coaster: if you were a reasonably bright and reasonably personable college graduate with a reasonably good test score you could find a law school somewhere to take you in, and you would be pretty much guaranteed some kind of job security for life. Knack for, or even interest in, law was pretty much optional.l

I say "since about 1963." Of course all that came to a halt about 18 months ago. We're in a new world of scratch and claw and few of them--of us--know how to operate in it.

I'm talking about law schools. But I bet this attitude is metastasizing. I assume it is standard in say, banking or commerce. But beyond that, I don't suppose you can get a job as (say) principal of even a half-way decent private high school these days without a power point display of your cash flow projections. Or head of the math department: how many students can you bring us, how many donors, how much endowment? Churches? Well so many of them are really independent small businesses anyway (where "small" can encompass revenues of several million dollars). And any reader of J.F. Powers novels knows, in order to be a parish priest, you have to be what Tony Soprano calls "a good earner."

All I can say is that I'm glad I'm not in it: as long as I still have the police to collect my pension I can watch with a kind of horrific detachment. For the rest, maybe the best advice is to read Balzac or Stendahl. Yes, that would be the ticket: learn about the generation who came after the revolution, the one who had seen the velvet cord pulled up in front of them, who find themselves on the outside looking. We (by which I mean "they") are going to have to learn to do something we haven't had to do for a long time--i.e., "live by our wits." What a frightening prospect that is.

I can't imagine any reason at all why

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