September 2009

Back to our series of open threads covering small (or smaller) law firms, focused on different practice areas. We’ve already written about small law firms in general, insurance law, personal injury law, trusts and estates, immigration, and real estate. Some of those discussions are still active, so feel free to look back at them.

Today we turn our attention to what’s widely viewed as a hot field: INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. The reader who requested IP law as a subject offered an overview of the field:

IP is a very variable, different, and often forgotten practice of law that is mostly inhabited by engineers and science geeks who have no problems wearing Cosby sweaters and bad shoes around their workplaces.

More serious reflections, plus some questions, after the jump.

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Barack Obama Senator Barack Hussein Obama Above the Law blog.jpg* Doo-doo diligence? Proskauer Rose and Holland & Knight have both been hit with legal malpractice suits. [Miami Herald via ABA Journal]
* Sometimes ignoring something does make it better. [Ars Technica]
* From the inane adventures in social networking file: Poll on whether Obama should be killed leads to Facebook suspension and Secret Service investigation. [CNN]
* No one wants to prosecute this torture porn case. [Politico]
* The SCOTUS justices will be gazing out toward the Mojave desert this week. [Washington Post]
* An argument for reading the comments section at Above The Law. Cox Smith attorneys are three times as fun as Ballard Spahr’s. [Above The Law comments]

Ballard Spahr.jpgBallard Spahr has revamped its website. It’s clean, it’s fresh, and it has lots of stock photos and little comment pop-ups. One ATL reader urged us to take a closer look:

You guys have to check out the new Ballard Spahr website, it is hysterical. Click on any attorney, there are two pictures, face and body. It looks like a model portfolio or comp card for actors.

We did some clicking in Ballard Spahr’s “People” section, and we can confirm there’s some amusement value to the head shots paired with full body shots.

While we perused, we wondered whether it’s reasonable to ask associates, special counsel, and partners to go beyond the head shot. Some looked happier about it than others. Check out some of our favorite Ballard body shots and take our poll, after the jump.

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Las Vegas Blawg Review.jpg* Glen Beck’s World Intellectual Property Organization complaint. [The Legal Satyricon]
* Can businesses refuse to accept cold, hard, germ infested cash? [Legal Lad]
* Jurors can’t look up facts about the parties involved in a case by using Google. At what point will we just need an entirely new set of juror rules to deal with the information age? [Legal Blog Watch]
* Houston police are shooting more people. [Grits for Breakfast]
* Contract attorneys continue to get totally screwed as Biglaw refugees flood the market. [Temporary Attorney]
* What happens in Vegas … makes for a great Blawg Review.
[Legally Unbound via Blawg Review]

Bingham logo.jpgAre billing disputes between law firms and their clients on the rise in the recession? We feel like we’ve seen a lot of them lately.
The most recent disagreement involves Bingham McCutchen. A Boston-area investment company, Tuckerbrook Alternative Investments, has sued Bingham, claiming it was overcharged for legal services provided in connection with preparing an SEC registration statement.
The case isn’t that exciting — it seems like a garden-variety fee dispute — but this aspect struck us as interesting. From Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly (subscription):

The Sept. 16 complaint accuses Bingham of stacking the case with young associates who had “inadequate” experience. “The billing statements reflect that these junior lawyers in essence were enjoying the benefits of on-the-job-training at Tuckerbrook’s expense,” the complaint states.

So the allegation is that young lawyers were being trained on the client’s dime. But is that an indictment of Bingham McCutchen, or of the billable hour?
Grumpy in-house lawyers regularly complain about paying for the training of Biglaw’s junior associates. This is why some corporate counsel explicitly refuse to pay for first- and second-year associates (and provide for that in their retainer agreements; presumably Tuckerbrook could have done that here).
More news about Bingham, including its summer associate offer rate and its real estate needs in New York, after the jump.

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(Plus offer rate and real estate news.)”

champagne glasses small.jpg
We suppose it’s fitting that on Yom Kippur, when our Jewish friends are fasting at home, today’s Legal Eagle Wedding Watch is a total WASP-fest. (Last weekend was Rosh Hashanah, which explains the unusual dearth of Jewish nuptials in the NYT announcements.) We look forward to receiving plenty of tasteful feedback about how there are “too many gentiles” this week.
Here are your six finalists — all Biglaw associates, as it happens:

1. Elisabeth Madden and Wesley Mullen
2. Ann Parker and Robert McKeehan
3. Emily Harris and Matthew Mauney

Read all about these couples and evaluate their credentials, after the jump.

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schulte logo.JPGA tipster pointed us in the direction of Schulte Roth & Zabel’s Frequently Asked Questions page for its 2010 summer program. While other firms are canceling their 2010 summer programs entirely, Schulte seems quite optimistic about its summer program. Check out the firm’s answers to three key questions every 2L is wondering about:

Will you hire more summer associates than you expect to be able to make offers to?
We will hire the number of summer associates we want for our fall class starting in the fall of 2011.
What is your summer associate salary?
In 2009 summer our summer associates were paid a weekly salary of $3,077. The salary is based on the first-year associate annual salary of $160,000.
How many weeks will your 2010 Summer Program be?
Our 2010 summer program will be 11 weeks.

The 2009 summer program at Schulte was only eight weeks long. But the firm is already committing to an 11 week summer program for 2010. And at the firm is sticking to the $160K payscale, and it’s planning on making full offers.
Schulte Roth is ranked #77 on the most recent Vault list. Arent Fox — the firm that just revoked offers to a number of its incoming associates — is ranked #76.
People sitting on a summer offer from Schulte have to feel pretty good right now.
Earlier: Fall Recruiting Open Thread: Vault 71 – 80 (2010)

We’ve already mentioned the recent arrest of acclaimed film director Roman Polanski (pictured at right, with uber-hottie Adrien Brody). But it’s a slow news day controversial, so we’d like to give you a chance to discuss it in more depth.

Over at the WSJ Law Blog, Ashby Jones has a nice write-up. He explains the background:

The Oscar-winning film director was arrested on Sunday in Zurich on a 31-year-old warrant issued in the U.S. for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Polanski was arrested, at the request of the United States, as he jetted into Switzerland to collect an award for his life’s work.

Local police arrested Polanski at the airport upon his arrival in Zurich, where he was to receive a lifetime-achievement award at the Zurich Film Festival. Polanski was jailed pending a decision on whether to extradite him to the U.S., according to the Swiss Justice Ministry….

Polanski fled the U.S. in 1978 after he pleaded guilty to having had sexual intercourse with girl — the allegation was that he gave the girl alcohol and part of a quaalude before raping her. Since then, he has lived in France, where he was born. French authorities refused to extradite him to the U.S., claiming that his crime didn’t fall under those covered by treaties between the two countries.

According to ABC News, which obtained comment from Polanski’s French lawyer, the director plans to fight extradition.
Should the authorities keep pursuing Polanski? Some pros and cons, plus a reader poll, after the jump.

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Chadbourne solid logo.JPGThe closer we get to the time when incoming associates in the class of 2009 are supposed to start, the more deferral extensions we are likely to see. Over the weekend, news broke that Chadbourne & Parke had decided to push back half of its incoming class “indefinitely.”
We don’t have any information about whether the incoming associates on extended deferral will be offered any type of extended stipend.
Update: A spokesperson from Chadbourne responded to Above the Law’s inquires about the continuing stipend:

These deferred associates have already received $13,000 and will receive an additional $60,000 stipend beginning in February 2010.

The news shouldn’t be entirely surprising for incoming associates at Chadbourne. The firm laid people off in March, and cut salaries in April.
And remember, last October, Chadbourne instituted a hiring freeze. At the time, we had a few questions for Chadbourne:

In light of this hiring freeze, what does that mean for students who interviewed with Chadbourne? Are they de-facto canceling their 2009 summer program? If so, it seems like an awful waste of resources to send recruiters around the country for jobs that are no longer available….
And, of course, we have no idea how this will affect 2008 summers associates. We assume that any of them who received and accepted offers for full time employment next fall still have those offers.

Note to self: never assume.
There seem to be two options that firms are following. After the jump, let’s look at the options and take a reader poll.

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Angry clock.JPGDo you have any friends who used to work with you at your Biglaw firm before moving on to a sweet in-house position? Do you complain to them about the financial problems at your firm?
If so, you should probably stop — because your colleagues turned clients really do not care about your problems. Bisnow hosted a conference about the future of the billable hour (gavel bang: ABA Journal). Washingtonian reports:

Michael Helfer, general counsel of CitiGroup and a panelist at the Bisnow event, put it bluntly when he said CitiGroup’s inhouse legal department has been reduced during the past few years by nearly 300 employees, many of whom were laid off. The lawyers who are left have had their compensation slashed by as much as 60 percent. Helfer says he’s consequently lost his patience for paying his company’s outside lawyers premium fees. “The amount of sympathy I have for the argument that $1,000 an hour is a reasonable rate . . . is nil.”

This is why firms like O’Melveny are putting together five-year strategic plans that contemplate alternative billing structures. But will these new fee arrangements still lead to enormous profits? Some D.C. details, after the jump.

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