Letter from London

Letter from London: Skadden Takes Sidebar to London

Letter from London Queen.JPGEd. note: The legal world is much bigger than New York, or Washington, or even the United States. Welcome to Letter from London, a weekly dispatch from the other side of the pond. Our U.K. correspondent, Isaac Smith, will expose ATL readers to the latest goings-on in the London legal world. You can reach Isaac by email, at isaacsmithlondon@googlemail.com.

Hey, we love the Skadden “Sidebar” programme – which, like a year-old Hollywood movie, washed up belatedly on these shores last week. A third of your massive salary to do whatever you want, no strings attached – plus you’re exempt from any redundancy rounds while you’re away! And the reassuringly accomplished Sidebar branding means you really believe them when they say that.

The bitter irony is, of course, that this thing is being wasted on lawyers. “So what would you do if you had a whole year to do anything you fancied and still get paid?” I asked a group of London Big Law associate friends over some drinks in the pub last week.

“I’m fascinated by different cultures, so I’d go skiing,” said one.

“I’d have my bathroom refitted – you get a much higher standard of finish when you’re there to monitor the work yourself,” contributed another.

“A combination of the two would afford a sensible balance,” added a third.

After the jump, is expansion the answer?

In other news

White & Case has cut 400 jobs worldwide and is now sending several of its under-worked London-based lawyers to its Johannesburg office – but don’t worry, writes The Lawyer excitedly, everything is going to be okay because this “canny African move could prove a catalyst”. For what exactly? The collapse of the marriages of the redeployed lawyers whose partners decide to stay in London?

While we’re on the subject of long distance relationships, it was with some distress that Britain received the news that DLA Piper, that strange union of US and UK Big Law, is offering its deferred American recruits $5,000 a month to do pro bono work. That’s pretty similar to the £5,000 ($7,390) per year it’s paying British deferred recruits.

Not that it really matters, though. Most British lawyers do, after all, have vast sums of family wealth to fall back on. We’re not the best on social mobility here, you see, and the situation is especially bad in law – with a government report published last week revealing that law is one of the least accessible professions for those who haven’t been privately educated.

A couple more things

I always thought that Big Law clients were well-resourced, respectable organisations – the very opposite, in fact, of the hobo-like individual who arrives at the supermarket checkout, realises they don’t have enough money to complete their intended transaction, then flees with security guards in pursuit. But it turns out that during a recession things aren’t always so black and white. Recently it emerged that DLA Piper’s Dubai office has been having serious payment issues with one of its major local clients, while last week it was reported that between September 2008 and February 2009 15 writs had been issued by the top 50 UK firms to recover unpaid fees.

Thankfully, there is always bankruptcy work to keep lawyers going during these straightened times – with firms on both sides of the Atlantic making lots of money out of Lehman in particular. Weil, Gotshal & Manges’ made so much ($55 million) that its bill included $287,000 for photocopying, $200,000 for business meals and $115,000 in local transport costs.

What have we learned?

Slick-sounding programmes that get lawyers out of the office, but safeguard their jobs, could be the win-win answer to Big Law staffing issues. Or maybe not (see below).

Quote of the week

playftseforme on the Skadden Sidebar, posted on Legalweek.com: “Beware the unwritten rule that flaking off for a year then coming back to bore everyone with your stories of Oz beaches and Thai drama won’t help your place in the pecking order. If anything, this is an invitation to the journeymen staff to consolidate their chances of never making partner, but giving the firm first dibs on them when increased resource is once again required.”

Earlier: Prior installments of Letter from London (scroll down)


Isaac Smith is ATL’s London columnist. You can reach him by email at isaacsmithlondon@googlemail.com.

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