A Legal Tabloid - News, Insights, and Colorful Commentary on Law Firms and the Legal Profession
Managing Editor: David Lat
Editor: Elie Mystal
Assistant Editor: Staci Zaretsky
Contributors: Kashmir Hill, Marin, Mark Herrmann, Jay Shepherd
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.
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?
This coming Friday, it is the inalienable right of all Americans to sleep off their hangovers, or riot at Walmart, or do anything at all rather than work for The Man. But Biglaw is a different country. As illustrated by Elie’s decision matrix, the “choice” of whether to work on this sacred day is, for the denizens of the law firm world, fraught with other pressures and expectations. We all know that Biglaw careers demand a Faustian bargain: in return for their fat paychecks (and bonuses?), lawyers are expected to work grueling, unpredictable hours. This time of year, that reality is brought into sharp relief: the “holiday season,” with those “family obligations” and so forth, is something that occurs elsewhere.
But law firm billable expectations are not homogeneous. There are significant differences across practice areas, seniority levels, and, of course, individual firms. So how do the various practices, employment statuses, and firms stack up?
It’s nearly that time of year, when all the grueling hours that Biglaw associates have put in will pay off in the form of fat bonuses. Or don’t pay off, with miserly bonuses, or nothing at all. Or something in between? Point being, we have no idea how the 2013 bonus season will play out. Presumably, the answer is buried somewhere deep in Allen Parker’s unknowable heart.
The signs thus far are not especially encouraging, at least for those with a vested interest. (Admittedly, for most, this is all much ado about white-shoe people problems.)
Yes, Cravath might be doing well, at least if its large partner class is any indication. But on the subject of law firm 2013 profits in general, the Citi Bank Private Law Firm Group’s report on the first half of the year concluded:
We here at ATL want to know what world’s largest legal audience — ours, of course — thinks. Hence, we ask our audience a lot of questions. Our Insider Survey, which is soon coming up on its 15,000th respondent, provided the raw materials for the creation of our Law Firm and Law School Directories, as well as features on various specific organizations, locations, and practice areas. To supplement our Insider Survey data, we also take a closer look at specific aspects of institutions, such as compensation and social media policies. Additionally, we check in with our readers for their take on topical events, including presidential politics and Obamacare. Today, we have a look at a handful of our ongoing survey projects: Social Media, Stipend/Advance, and Health Insurance. But first, we are looking for help with a new research initiative.
There is probably no other industry as obsessed with the concept of “culture” as the legal profession, particularly in the world of law firms. Many firms view their culture as a key element of their distinct place in the competitive marketplace. But what does that even mean? Is there consensus on what constitutes culture? Do clients notice or care? We would like to dig deeper into these questions. As a first step in this project, we are looking for a small group of currently practicing law firm attorneys who are willing — in complete confidence — to give us about twenty minutes of their time to answer some of our questions concerning the realities of what defines firm culture. Preference will be given to attorneys who have lateraled between firms. We will be conducting this project in partnership with our friends at Adam Smith Esq. and JD Match. If interested, please email us here.
Apart from the never-ending Insider Survey, ATL has three ongoing surveys which we hope will bring greater transparency to subjects of interest to our readers. Here’s a quick glimpse at where they stand today…
Today, we turn toward the other major category of Biglaw practitioners: corporate/transactional attorneys. Unlike litigators, about whom the public at least has some notion, however distorted, of what they do, most people have no clue what corporate lawyers are up to. No young person daydreams about “facilitating a business transaction,” while there are some who aspire to argue in a courtroom. As noted last week, this litigation/corporate information imbalance is reinforced by the law school curriculum, which remains largely beholden to the case method of instruction.
When comparing the experiences of corporate lawyers versus litigators, there is a familiar litany of pro and cons:
The popular conception of “lawyer” — as seen on television and in the movies — is that of a litigator. Understandably, law students are also susceptible to this view and will be so as long as the case method remains the pedagogy of choice in law school. Cases, by definition, are always about litigation. Both popular culture and the law school curriculum show lawyers most often in court or, at least, investigating the facts of the case. However, the truth of litigation practice is very different: the overwhelming majority of litigators’ work takes place outside the courtroom. Never mind that upwards of 90 percent of all lawsuits settle before trial or that most litigators’ spend their actual in-court time arguing procedural motions rather than the substance of the dispute. Oh, and there’s also doc review.
Anyway, most new associates and law students who aspire to Biglaw are going to be confronted with a question. To grossly generalize and simplify: am I a litigator or a transactional attorney? Many would say that there are distinct personality types best suited for each. Are you a win-lose kind of person or a win-win kind of person? Do you enjoy confrontation? Do you care if you ever see the inside of a courtroom? How important is the predictability of your schedule? And so on. (Of course we must acknowledge that wrestling over such questions is the classic “luxury problem.” For the majority of law students, what follows is, at most, of voyeuristic interest.)
For those in a position to choose, which Biglaw shop’s litigation departments offer the highest quality of life? We’ve dug into our survey data for answers…
A couple of weeks ago, as Obamacare was just stumbling out of the gate, we asked our readers to tell us about the state of their own health insurance plans through their firms. Since the Recession, we have heard anecdotal evidence that some firms have been using health care cost clawbacks as a stealth expense-cutting tactic and de facto pay cut. We wondered how widespread a phenomenon this practice had become. Well, perhaps that’s a bit disingenuous. We had a strong feeling that, in this time of layoffs and all the rest of the Biglaw belt-tightening measures, that no category of expenses would be immune. And our survey results resoundingly confirm those suspicions: 89% of you tell us that your health insurance premiums have gone up since you started work at your firm.
A relevant tip showed up in the ATL inbox this week. An attorney at a prominent (V25) law firm sent us a memo outlining new changes to the firm’s health plan. Here’s an excerpt: “The deductible for the CIGNA PPO plan will change from $250 single/$750 family to $500 single/$1,000 family. Also, the PPO prescription copays [will all increase]. These changes bring our PPO plan design in line with market
practice for large law firms (emphasis added)”…
The Biglaw on-campus recruiting season is a subject of decreasing relevance for most aspiring lawyers, as illustrated by this grim infographic. We are all familiar with the parade of horribles that is the law firm recruitment market, at least from the student point of view. Since the halcyon days of 2007, summer associate class sizes are down at the overwhelming majority of large law firms, often by fifty percent or more. And of course nobody is seriously arguing that class sizes will ever rebound to their pre-recession levels. But 50 percent is not 100 percent; there are still 2Ls who have just made their way through the OCI cattle call.
About a month back, we asked our readers to share their experiences of the OCI process. We wanted to learn where student priorities fall during this era of “New Normal.” For those of you fortunate enough to be in a position to choose among employers, what are the factors driving your decisions? What, if anything, is likely to make you reject an offer? And what, in this unbalanced buyers’ market for legal talent, is the actual interview experience like?
With the continuing partial government shutdown and the shaky rollout of Obamacare, the issue of health insurance has never been such a central and divisive topic in the national conversation. Surely there are thousands of unemployed or temping JDs who are entering the brave new world of insurance exchanges and its attendant “hiccups.” In a development that perhaps should alarm the lowest-paid support staffers at law firms, some corporations appear poised to drop “bare bones” health-care benefits altogether for low-wage employees in favor of directing such employees to the new state exchanges.
Of course, for the lawyers at firms, such developments concerning the exchanges are essentially an abstract issue. That is not to say that attorney benefits packages are not subject to “new normal” economic pressures, or that the ultimate effect of the Affordable Care Act on private health insurance packages is unknowable. As noted here way back in 2009, some firms have added health care cost clawbacks to their expense-cutting repertoire of layoffs and pay cuts. Many associates have found themselves, post-Recession, with higher premiums and deductibles and thus, a de facto salary cut. Comparing salaries and bonuses across law firms overlooks the element of health insurance costs, about which there is no equivalent transparency. Undoubtedly there are significant variations across firms in this area, and some firms that appear to pay “market” aren’t quite doing so in light of their requiring a larger fraction of health care premiums. These variations inevitably distort direct comparisons.
We’d like to bring some transparency to this topic — but we need your help….
In Washington, D.C., on October 17 at 6:30 p.m., please join us for the our next ATL event, a preview of the 2013-2014 U.S. Supreme Court Term.
On the SCOTUS docket for this Term are cases involving affirmative action, presidential recess-appointment powers, campaign finance regulations, and protesting near health care facilities that perform abortions.
Our special guest speaker will be preeminent Supreme Court advocate and analyst Tom Goldstein. Thanks to AccessData for sponsoring this free event. If you’d like to attend, please RSVP below:
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: [email protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months, and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.
The evolution of relationships between the genders continues. Currently, in law firms, there is an interesting conundrum; balancing the desire for a gender-blind workplace where “the best lawyer gets the work and advances” and the reality of navigating the complicated maze created by the fact that, in general, men and women do possess differences in their work styles. These variations impact who they work with, how they work, how they build professional connections and how organizations ultimately leverage, reward and recognize the talents of all.
Henry Ford sat on his workbench and sighed. A year earlier, he had personally built 13,000 Model Ts with his own hands. Fashioning lugnuts and tie rods by hand, Ford was loath to ask for help. Sure, there were things about the car that he didn’t quite understand. This explains the lack of reliable navigation systems in the Model T. But Ford persevered because he knew that unless he did everything, he could not reliably call these cars his own.
“Unless my own personal toil is responsible for it, it may as well be called a Hyundai,” Ford remarked at the time.
The preceding may sound unfamiliar because it is categorically untrue. And also monumentally stupid. Henry Ford didn’t build all those cars by hand. He had help and plenty of it. Almost exactly one hundred years ago, Henry Ford opened up the most technologically advanced assembly line the world had ever seen. Built on the premise that work can be chopped up into digestible pieces and completed by many men better than one, the line ushered in an age of unparalleled productivity.
Today, an attorney refers business because he can’t do everything the client asks of him.
There are three reasons why this is way dumber than a made-up Henry Ford story…