Brian Dalton

Brian is a graduate of Middlebury College and Fordham Law. He joined Breaking Media in October 2011 after spending seven years at Vault.com, most recently as Director of Research and Consulting. Before that, he was, among other things, an associate at a Manhattan law firm, a French teacher in Brooklyn, a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali, and a security guard at a waterslide park in Albuquerque, NM.

Posts by Brian Dalton

Non-lawyers are often surprised to learn of the lockstep salary schemes of large law firms and the near-perfect information we have about them. (Recall Kevin Drum’s befuddlement at the bi-modal distribution of law graduate salaries and the “weird cultural collusion” it suggested.) Even annual bonuses are frequently spelled out in what amounts to public memoranda and are typically some variation of the “market” dictated by our Cravath overlords. Of course, there are some “black box” firms and a few gilded outliers such as Wachtell Lipton or Boies Schiller, but generally speaking, the world of large firms practices a degree of relative transparency around compensation that is unsurpassed outside the public sector.

In order to distinguish among firms, we have to look to the margins. For example, law firms vary quite a bit when it comes to paying for the bar and living expenses of incoming associates. Some firms may reimburse for covered expenses after the fact; others may pay some expenses directly to the provider. Some may give a stipend to cover living expenses, whereas others may offer the ability to take out an advance on salary.

Greater transparency (or, at least, aggregated information) on these questions might make one firm’s offer more attractive than another’s, or perhaps even give an offeree some basis for negotiating a package upgrade (but of course tread very lightly there)….

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As you’ve likely heard, last Friday ATL hosted its inaugural Attorney@Blog conference at the Yale Club in New York. The conference comprised a series of lively, informative, and occasionally profane panel discussions on topics near to our heart: free speech, hate speech, the state of legal journalism, and technical trends. By all accounts, a good time was had by both the panelists and attendees, and we can’t wait to do it all over again next year.

As befitting a social media-themed conference, the day was heavily tweeted, with our hashtag (#AttyAtBlog) managing to trend for hours. Read on for a round-up of the day’s top tweets.

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“The future is already here — it is just not evenly distributed.” If this William Gibson aphorism is true, then there was an extra heavy concentration of the future of the legal profession in Tribeca last Wednesday at the inaugural meeting of a new organization, the Forum on Legal Evolution. (The Forum is spearheaded by some names familiar to ATL readers, Bill Henderson (Indiana-Maurer/Lawyer Metrics), Bruce MacEwen (Adam Smith Esq/JDMatch), and Dan Katz (Michigan State Law/ReInvent Law).

While the rest of the business world has embraced off-shoring, Six Sigma, right-sizing, and what-have-you in pursuit of efficiencies and greater productivity, we are still waiting for the long-promised technology-driven transformation of the legal profession. When compared to other industries, actual changes thus far amount to so much fiddling around the margins. The Forum is premised on the idea that a way must be found to propel earlier and wider adoption of innovations.

The invitation-only Forum is intended as both a high-level networking community and as a resource for briefings on new technologies and trends. Think TED talks, but for senior in-house lawyers, law firm leaders, tech entrepreneurs, and academics. In other words, the entire legal supply chain. Without identifying them, we can confirm the room was sprinkled with the legal world’s equivalent of bold-faced names, including current and former Biglaw managing partners and Fortune 100 corporate counsel.

For such a forward-looking gathering, it was a little surprising then that it began by harkening back to Iowa cornfields during the Great Depression…

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There is a popular conception, within and without the legal industry, of lawyers as Luddites. If this is true, there is a massive disconnect between the burgeoning legal technology industry — on abundant display at the recent LegalTech New York Conference — and its would-be clientele, lawyers themselves. Can it be that while legal tech entrepreneurs and innovators are racing to create a more efficient and productive future, there is widespread indifference on the part of the attorneys toward these emerging technologies? Considering that these technologies are promising (threatening?) to transform the profession and practice of law, this would be a curious attitude.

On attending this year’s LegalTech panel on the findings of the ILTA Tech Survey, Joe Patrice could not help but conclude that there is a “profound lack of technological savvy among law firms.” To cite but a few examples: 80% of lawyers do not record time on a mobile device. Nearly 90% of firms do not maximize their cybersecurity capabilities. Nearly one-third of firms are using a version of Word that’s seven or more years old. And so on. The survey’s findings do little to contradict the idea that “technology leaps, the law creeps.”

Further reinforcing this “Luddite” notion is the Flaherty/Suffolk University Law School tech audit. This tool tests a range of fundamental technical competencies of law firm associates and the results can be construed as evidence of a lack thereof common to law firms. According to Casey Flaherty, an in-house counsel at Kia Motors and the creator of the audit, the failure rate of associates attempting the test is, thus far, one hundred percent.

A couple weeks back, we conducted a little survey of the ATL audience concerning your familiarity with some legal tech concepts. These ranged from the most “basic” (from the perspective of the tech world) to the somewhat more obscure (e.g., “dark data”). Besides your familiarity (or not) with these concepts, how relevant are they to your current or future practice? How successfully is your employer addressing these issues?

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Ascension to Biglaw partnership demands, obviously and above all, an enormous amount of first-rate legal work, in addition to political savvy, endurance, timing, and luck. A would-be partner’s chosen practice area also undoubtedly plays no small role. If firm leadership believes that there will be a spate of major Chapter 11 filings or trademark litigations on the horizon, obviously that will redound to the benefit of the potential bankruptcy or IP partners (although, as recent news reflects, partnership isn’t necessarily the lucrative, secure lifetime position it once was).

Late last year, ATL took a close look at the newly minted partner classes for the Vault 10 firms. Despite the great profitability and prestige of this select group, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the general direction of the legal market from the composition of these partnership classes. First of all, this is a small sample size. Second, we are witnessing an important shift in the allocation of the business within the market. A recent AdvanceLaw survey of general counsel at major global corporations found that three-quarters of general counsel were inclined to engage “less-pedigreed” firms (e.g., outside the Vault 10 or Magic Circle) for “high stakes” legal work. This survey of GCs (including those from Google, Nike, 3M, Unilever and Deutsche Bank) indicated their willingness to engage firms lower down the Biglaw totem pole.

Because of the apparent diminishment of the brand value of the most historically prestigious firms, as well as the broader trends toward disaggregation and unbundling of legal services, one must account for a larger set of law firms in order to see the fullest picture of the market for high-end legal services. With that in mind, today we look at the practice areas of the entire Biglaw partnership class of 2013….

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Throughout 2013, along with our friends at Good2BSocial, ATL researched the social media practices of law firms. The research had three components: (1) a review of the websites and social media profiles of the Am Law 50 across all public platforms, including an assessment of each firm’s publicly available content as well as social reach and engagement (number of followers, comments, etc.); (2) a survey of the firms themselves regarding the extent to which they are currently using social technologies and practices internally; and (3) a survey of the ATL readership to glean the perspective of practicing attorneys and other legal professionals.

We are publishing the results of this research in two stages. Back in December, we published a white paper summarizing our findings and analysis. (Sign up here to receive a free download of the paper.) Our findings show that, while the majority of the Am Law 50 are established on the major public social media platforms, their presence often exhibits only a token effort. Generally speaking, there is little evidence that Biglaw is addressing the social media landscape strategically rather than using it as just another marketing channel for firm news and press releases. That said, some Biglaw firms are distinguishing themselves with the reach, engagement, and creativity of their social media efforts.

Today we publish the second component of our findings: our inaugural Social Law Firm Index, where we identify which specific firms are making the most effective use of social media…

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Last week, we looked at which Biglaw firms were the highest rated in 2013 by their own lawyers, according to the ATL Insider Survey. As we noted, we’ve amassed in excess of 15,500 responses to our survey from practicing lawyers and law students. The information from our survey provides our readers with a deep resource for comparing and evaluating schools and firms, particularly in the form of our Law Firm and Law School Directories.

Today, we continue to milk the “it’s a New Year/here’s a list” format and present 2013’s highest-rated law schools. Please note this is not to be confused with the ATL Law School Rankings, which assess schools based on a range of employment outcomes (and which are coming out later this year). These ratings are a pure function of how schools were rated by current students in the areas of academics, financial aid advising, career services, practical/clinical training, and social life.

More clues that these are not the ATL Law School Rankings: Northeastern beats Northwestern, while Yale and Harvard do not even make the cut…

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In the two years that we’ve been conducting our ATL Insider Survey, we’ve amassed in excess of 15,500 responses from practicing lawyers and law students. These results have provided us with unique insights into what people really think about their employers and schools. We believe our survey information furnishes our readers with a deep resource for comparing and evaluating these organizations, whether in the form of our Law Firm and Law School Directories, or in posts that take a deeper look at such factors as practice area, compensation, or geographic location. Many thanks to those thousands of readers who have shared their experiences.

Obviously, one subject that the ATL readership is passionate about is the world of Biglaw. Whether it’s to assess a potential employer, or to simply see how one’s firm compares to its peers, apparently there’s no end to the appetite for insider information. So as this year winds down, we’ll end on a happy note and have a look at which Biglaw firms are rated most highly by their own employees…

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Can Biglaw solve this puzzle?

Most every law firm — including 100 percent of the Am Law 50 — maintains a Linkedin company page. Or rather, “maintains” such a presence on that most buttoned-up of all the social media platforms. A quick look at the LinkedIn pages of the Vault top 10 shows that only two firms bothered to change their page’s default setting to display “Services” rather than the inapt “Products” tab on the navigation menu. (Kudos to Kirkland and Debevoise!) This might seem like the most trivial of nits to pick, but aren’t these firms defined by fanatical attention to detail? Yet this nonchalance is emblematic of Biglaw’s unsettled relationship with social media.

We can safely assume that Biglaw’s old guard just wants social media to get off its lawn already, but what data we have strongly suggests that, as organizations, firms believe — or act as if they believe — that engagement with social media is worth doing (pace Brian Tannenbaum). When we examine the particulars of how they are managing this engagement, firms should hope that there is truth to Chesterton’s dictum: “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly….”

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In an era when “disruption” is celebrated, the world of large law firms is one of the last redoubts of conventional wisdom. For a uniquely rule- and precedent-bound profession, this makes sense. Biglaw’s conventional wisdom has the added virtue of being reliable. For example, we can count on Cravath taking the lead — at least chronologically — on bonuses, and for DLA Piper to have the most random Third developing-world offices.

Another reflection of conventional wisdom is the way in which Biglaw lends itself to — and revels in — superlatives and rankings. There tends to be a generally acknowledged and perennially dominant player (or a few) in most practice areas: Wachtell Lipton for M&A, Weil Gotshal for Chapter 11 work, Patton Boggs for lobbying, and so forth. There’s no doubt that many worthy firms get overlooked.

Last year we took a look at which firms’ practice groups were considered “underrated” by peers in the field. Among the notable 2012 nominees: Cahill for corporate law, Arnold & Porter in litigation, and Proskauer for its bankruptcy and tax practices.

We wondered whether the same practice groups were still considered by practitioners to be unfairly underrated. Or are there other firms deserving more recognition?

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