2008 Year in Review

ATL 2008 in review.jpgBiglaw hasn’t exactly experienced Conquest, War, and Famine. But Bonus Reductions, Salary Freezes, and Dissolutions sure make one feel like a seal of whup-ass has been opened up on the legal community.

But the number one business story affecting the legal community in 2008 was the rash of Biglaw layoffs. Layoffs were the Shock and Awe campaign of Biglaw’s 2008.

The first shot across the bow was provided by Cadwalader. Way back on January 10th, 2008, we reported:

Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft has confirmed to us that it will be laying off 35 attorneys. Please see the statement below, which we just received from Hill & Knowlton, the powerhouse public relations firm. When a law firm hires an outside PR / crisis management shop, you know they have something big on their hands.

Of course, that was just the start of CWT’s 2008 layoff party. By the end of July, Cadwalader was at it again:

Earlier this morning, we once again posed the question: “Is today Layoff Day at Cadwalader?” And once again, the firm has confirmed — this time to the WSJ Law Blog — that it will be laying off 96 lawyers, from counsel on down to first-year associates. The intelligence in our post from earlier this morning, which estimated the carnage at “as many as 100 attorneys, ranging from special counsel down to the current first-year associate class,” was essentially correct.

In July the economy looked bad. But few knew that it was actually heading off of a cliff. It turns out that Cadwalader was just the tip of a huge iceberg.

Biglaw lowers the boom on more attorneys after the jump.

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ATL 2008 in review.jpgThis is the last in our series of Top Law School Stories of 2008. We gave you law students of the year, the most important law school trends, and best law school listservs of 2008. To round out the series, we’re declaring three schools our Law Schools of the Year.

This is not a U.S. News and World Report ranking. We chose these three schools based on their conduct as institutions in 2008 and the actions taken by their administrators. One school is down South, another is in the windy midwest, and the last is in New England. Check them out, after the jump.

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ATL 2008 in review.jpgFinally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: time to announce Above the Law’s top two stories for 2008, on the gossip front. We’ve also been recapping the top stories on the business side of the fence, but stories about the business of law are available from many other outlets. Juicy law firm gossip is harder to come by.

Our two leading gossip stories were broken here at ATL. They were subsequently picked up by mainstream media outlets, but we covered them first.

Read about the two stories, after the jump.

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ATL 2008 in review.jpgBad things happened in the business of Biglaw in 2008. Some people are still so scarred by the experience that they’d just as soon pretend last year never happened.

But the events that transpired in 2008 could have ramifications for the legal industry for a long time.

Our third-place story is the Biglaw salary freeze. It could be the “Shock Doctrine” of the market meltdown. Slashing bonuses during a down year is one thing, but freezing pay (or cutting pay depending on your perspective) is downright deflationary.

We’ve given a lot of “credit” to Latham & Watkins for being the most prestigious firm (according to Vault) to freeze salaries, but as commenters have pointed out, Latham wasn’t the first.

That distinction goes to Squire Sanders. When they froze salaries back on December 15th, the news was so shocking people didn’t know what to make of it. Back then, we said:

The memo below was sent to us by a tipster, with this prefatory comment: “No one really knows what the f*** the second half of the first sentence of the memo means.”

Since then, the following firms have instituted some form of a salary freeze: Orrick, Dorsey & Whitney, Reed Smith, Venable, Sidley, DLA Piper, Arnold & Porter, Sheppard Mullin, and Sonnenschein.

And those are just the ones we know about.

But it’s also important to remember which firms are not on that list. Skadden and Cravath and countless others are going ahead with the expected pay raises for rising classes. Neither Squire Sanders nor Latham set the market for associate pay. They just gave firms another option in dealing with the financial crisis.

Firms need options because you don’t want to work for a firm that is part of our number two story of the year.

Second place melts away, after the jump.

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Firms that Froze & Firms that Melted”

ATL 2008 in review.jpgIn our first two installments of 2008 law school stories, we looked back at our favorite law school students of the year and important trends. For our third post in the series of four, we’re indulging in one of our favorite topics: law school listservs.

When tightly-wound law students use the e-mail list as their forum for airing grievances, the back-and-forth can get rather catty. A mixture of Type A personalities, the desire to procrastinate, and extreme law school stress has resulted in some explosive exchanges in 2008.

Whether you call them list servs, list serves, listservs, listserves, list-servs, or list-serves, we call them extremely amusing. Find out which three law schools made the “Best of” listserv list, after the jump.

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ATL 2008 in review.jpgNow that we’re a few days into 2009, we’re going to pick up the pace in our 2008 round-up posts. Some of you are getting impatient. Complained a commenter: “At this rate, we’re going to get to #1s sometime in June.”

So, onward. We previously wrote about the #5 gossip story in Biglaw. Today we’re going to hit two birds with one stone, announcing the #4 and #3 stories in law firm land (on the gossipy side; the hard news / business stories are on a separate list).

Although they’re not in the top two, these tales were in some respects the most fun for us to cover. Take a trip down memory lane, after the jump.

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ATL 2008 in review.jpgIn an ATL / Lateral Link survey posted on New Year’s Eve, we announced your nominees for the 2008 ATL Commenter of the Year.

Almost 1,800 of you have voted since, and several of the nominees posted their thoughts in comments to the survey post.

Nominee Jack Bauer wrote in:

It’s good to know that I still have some friends. My track record with friends isn’t exactly stellar, seeing how I shot Curtis in the throat and I’m pretty sure Tony has become a terrorist. For those of you who had to work over Christmas, don’t feel too bad, I got a weekend assignment dealing with breach of contract in the Middle East.

funny-pictures-cat-eats-baseball-players.jpgUnfortunately, the terrorists appear to have taken out Jack’s friends’ communication network. Only 81 of them were able to vote for him.

Hang in there, Jack. You may not have made it to Day 2 in our poll, but we’re still looking forward to a strong season from you in 2009.

Read on after the jump to see more of our nominees’ comments and learn the results.

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ATL 2008 in review.jpgThis year, we launched a new feature on ATL: the Caption Contest. We gave you legally-themed photos and asked you to submit potential captions. We thought it was a great idea — let the readers do our work for us!

The contests proved to be widely popular. Wading through hundreds of caption submissions to bring you a top ten list was actually quite time-consuming, but not a terrible chore — lawyers and lawyers-to-be came up with some hilarious material.

Once we narrowed the lists to the top ten finalists, we let ATL readers choose the winners by voting. “Guest” may not win ATL Commenter of the Year, but certainly did come out on top in captioning. Take our most recent contest, Babies in the Corner. Out of 3030 votes, this caption won by a nose (0.8 percent):

Caption Contest 111808.JPG

Don’t move! They can’t lay us off if they don’t see us.

A look back at our three favorite caption contests, after the jump.

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ATL 2008 in review.jpgContinuing with our rundown of the top ten Biglaw stories of 2008, we reach our fourth place story on the business end of things: the dramatic reduction of associate bonuses.

Bonus news is always a big deal around these parts, and based on the way that the 2008 bonus season started, it looked like there might be a fight for control of the New York market. Skadden led off with bonuses that matched 2006 levels (or 2007 levels, minus the “special bonus” portion). At the time, Skadden wasn’t sure they’d be at the top of the market. Skadden’s bonus memo included the following language:

The Firm has historically paid its associates at the “top of the market” in their respective local markets. While we do not know what other firms will do this year with regard to paying a supplemental bonus, we believe that our bonuses this year should be limited to the year-end discretionary bonus. What we will do in the future years, will, of course, depend on business conditions at the time and competitive compensation.

There were more than a few people who thought other firms might come in above Skadden. That didn’t happen. Instead, Cravath happened.

Half-Skadden sets the market, after the jump.

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ATL 2008 in review.jpgAs we savor the final hours of 2008, it’s time to look back at some of our favorite people this year: the commenters.

In today’s ATL / Lateral Link survey, it’s time for you to pick the 2008 ATL Commenter of the Year.

Your nominees for Commenter of the Year, and select comments explaining why, are as follows:

nomnomnomno128391045611718750.jpg1. Count Layoffula

One! One Reason!


six. six times he has made me laugh aloud


Turns the frightening inevitability of layoffs into a moment for comedy; not easy to do. Very clever idea, keeps character, funny as hell. Wildly popular on this board. Hands down the Commenter of the Year.

2. Douche Patrol

He’s the only commenter that gives a sense of order to the otherwise chaotic commentary. His commentary is also always dead-on.


Because guys in my high school used to vote for FRAT STUD all the time. It was no big deal.

4. Fraternity Lothario

Hilarious, dry, terrific writer. Captures both the essence of ridiculous, in-joke ATL commenting while bringing genuine criticism to the issue of every post. As long as you give the award to the guy who burned up the comments all spring, then left (on a sailing trip? to become a pirate?) this summer with a formal farewell, you would be giving the award to a commenter whose work is Oscar-worthy.


Although his posts have been less frequent, no one is more eloquent (e.g. ATL EIC) while comically germane.

5. Glass Cock

avatar is amusing, and attitude rocks

6. Guest

The most insightful and informed comments are consistently made by Guest. Everything else is trash.


Most comments, most firsts, most everything. Guest rocks.

7. Jack Bauer

He’s funny without being offensive or annoying. In the words of the ATL editor “consistently brilliant.” Finally, do you think that it’s a coincidence that when the legal industry is facing it’s darkest hour, Jack is back?


I don’t know any other person who would take the LSATs, apply and go to law school, purely to infiltrate BIGLAW to get information leading to the takedown of a suspected traitor to this nation.

8. Nervous T-10 1L

Personifies the economic doom and fear among law students. Also kinda funny.


he’s the post-modern Loyola 2L of the apocolypse

9. Commenter 83 in the interview horror stories thread.

“Where I remain to this day.” Priceless!

Technically, commenter 83 was actually “Guest,” but it wouldn’t be an official ATL reader poll if we didn’t give Guest an opportunity to comment about the unfairness of the poll. Also, that comment really was . . . something.

Having a hard time deciding? It’s no big deal. We’ve selected some of the choicer comments from our candidates to help you decide.

Unfortunately, we really couldn’t put some of them above the fold. Some are pretty crude, and Glass Cock’s is far too long. [Ed Note: That's what she said.]

So, keep reading after the jump to see some of the nominees’ exemplary comments, and then cast your vote.

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