Ed. note: Law Shucks focuses on life in, and after, Biglaw, including by tracking layoffs, bonuses, and laterals. Above the Law is pleased to bring you this weekly column, which analyzes news at the world’s top law firms.
The road to BigLaw has always been difficult, whether you’re an undergrad posing for Playboy who ends up in the middle of a scandal 30 years later, or someone on the more traditional path, we’re coming out of one of the worst runs in the industry’s history. The side effects of some of the measures taken by firms to stop the bleeding are still being felt.
One of the stopgap measures adopted by firms was deferring associates. Most of the deferred will end up at their firms, albeit more than a year after their expected start dates. Some have lingered on, with perpetual deferrals and no updates on start dates. And some have had their offers rescinded.
That stringing-along was too much for one California woman, so she sued Howard Rice after it deferred her then rescinded her offer. Usually it’s the firms deciding who doesn’t come back, but sometimes it’s the would-be associates who change their minds. The New York Times and ABA Journal wonder whether deferred associates who don’t return to their firms will have to repay their stipends.
We called BS on that back in February. We can’t imagine any firm is going to be so penny-wise pound-foolish as to go after a lawyer they don’t have to hire (cheap severance!) and who found her calling in public service (good PR!).
After the jump, we catch up on the latest activity in BigLaw — including another week with layoff news — and try to sort through the mixed signals.
Recovery news in the legal sector is all over the map. See if you can guess the pattern. Last year was easy. It was a disaster – summer programs were cut to the bone, and OCI was non-existent. This year, it’s all over the place.
Offer rates are back at 100% at some firms, and next year’s programs will be making up some of the cuts imposed on this year’s. Even there, though, tread lightly. As The Careerist notes, many of the firms that are expanding their summer programs for next year are the same that laid off scores of junior lawyers last year.
The risk of being sued isn’t stopping firms from deferring, either. DLA Piper has done the inevitable and deferred its incoming associates from the law school Class of 2010. Work may be picking up, but there still isn’t enough to keep busy two full-size starting classes.
Some Haynes and Boone offices are canceling programs after bidding but before offers.
And, of course, laid-off lawyers need not apply even for their own jobs.
Still, there are a couple of bright spots on the jobs front. Fall recruiting in California is picking up, as firms reinstate or start programs at offices that hadn’t previously hosted summers (including Howard Rice, which is being sued for rescinding an offer as described above). Same goes for Texas, where at least four of the state’s largest firms say they will have larger classes.
All of the new regulation, especially Dodd-Frank, is likely to create work. The SEC is looking to hire almost 400 people in the near future. Government work has always been a back door to BigLaw – spend a few years in a plum public-service assignment, and BigLaw comes-a-knockin’. Lately, it’s been the former US Attorneys who are landing BigLaw gigs, as white-collar work becomes an increasingly critical part of a full-service firm.
Lawyers love rankings. It’s a very passive-aggressive way to be competitive. We love ranking undergraduate schools, law schools, and firms. We even love ranking lawyers within firms, and ranking firms by practice areas.
The Vault rankings have provided plenty of fodder. There’s the overall prestige rankings (Congratulations, Wachtell – even though we think you’re overrated in a bunch of practice areas), scads of practice-specific rankings (Weil wins bankruptcy in a landslide, etc), and now the "Lifestyle" ranking.
Lifestyle isn’t exactly something most people have historically prioritized in BigLaw; it’s something that tends to get crammed in around the edges. That’s why it was so interesting that Top 10 best firms to work for, led by Ropes & Gray, includes a wide variety of BigLaw. From the Boston Brahmins who founded Ropes to the IP wonks of Fitzpatrick Cella to the aggressive New Yorkers from Skadden, firms of all types found a way to provide decent working conditions.
The most-exciting rankings this week are Corporate Counsel’s "Who Represents America’s Biggest Companies 2010."
BigLaw dominates the lists, not surprisingly, but there is a notable rise in the number of boutiques that are landing headline work – part of the reason for the trend noted above.