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

As was vividly demonstrated by our recent infographic, Biglaw’s summer associate classes have undergone a major and seemingly permanent contraction. For the most part, large — arguably bloated — summer associate classes are a thing of the past. Among the Am Law 50, only eight firms are bucking this downward trend, with actual increases in the size of their summer classes since 2007. These firms are a collection of Wall Street’s oldest and most elite white shoe mainstays: Sullivan & Cromwell, Cravath, Davis Polk, and their ilk. On average, these firms were founded 112 years ago (i.e., during the McKinley Administration). The outlier here is the relative upstart litigation powerhouse Quinn Emanuel, founded only back in 1987.

Besides the durability and strength that comes with such a refined pedigree, what other trends are apparent in this great downsizing of Biglaw’s summer associate classes?

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Washington, D.C. has the most densely concentrated population of lawyers in the nation. The capital has an astounding 1,356 percent more lawyers per capita than New York. One in 12 District residents is an attorney. The nation’s capital is home to just one-fifth of one percent of the national population but accounts for one in every 25 of its lawyers. Could there be some correlation between this total saturation of D.C. with J.D.s and the seeming contempt that the rest of the country holds for the place? Washington’s negative perception problem is such that Slate’s political gabfest felt compelled to devote this week’s podcast to explore the proposition “Washington Is Really Not That Bad.” Examples of this not-badness included the fact that people don’t have to bribe officials to get their social security benefits. So it was kind of a low bar.

In any event, D.C.’s lawyers work in myriad capacities in Congress, government regulatory agencies, non-profits, and lobbying firms. But obviously Washington is very much a Biglaw town as well. The frustration and malaise brought on by the sequester and partisan gridlock seem to be affecting the business of Biglaw. As Lat noted yesterday, large firms there are struggling: revenue, demand and productivity are all lagging at D.C.-based law firms when compared to firms nationwide. So this might not be the ideal time to check in on how lawyers at large D.C.-based firms perceive their professional experiences. But we’ll do it anyway.

Our ATL Insider Survey (13,500+ responses and counting) asks attorneys at firms to evaluate their employers in terms of compensation, hours, training, morale, and culture. After the jump, we’ll look at how firms in Washington stack up in these categories — and how they compare to the national averages…

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For a couple months now, we’ve run an occasional series, drawing on the ATL Insider Survey, comparing firms and law schools in various geographic locales. Thus far, we looked at Boston, Chicago, New York, and “the South.”

Today, we turn toward Texas. Texas is beloved here at ATL as an apparently bottomless source of colorful legal news. The state is a frequent battleground for high profile constitutional fights while also generating a steady stream of tabloid fodder, from “judges behaving badly” to “tragic homicidal mayhem.” (Of course, there’s also the running joke among the ATL commentariat that, for what a New York Biglaw associate pays for his cramped studio apartment, one can buy a 3,500-square-foot wife house in Texas.)

But of course this is a limited, distorted view of the legal industry in Texas. Texas is a huge, diverse state with a relatively strong economy and a unique legal culture. Biglaw firms thrive in all three major cities, both local outposts of national firms, or more significantly, Texas-bred firms such as Baker Botts and Vinson & Elkins. Our ATL Insider Survey (13,000+ responses and going strong, thanks), asks attorneys at firms to evaluate their employers in terms of compensation, hours, training, morale, and culture. After the jump, we’ll look at how firms in Texas stack up in these categories — and how they compare to the national averages…

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This was the Twitter of Olden Times.

Seeing as law firms are among Earth’s last enthusiasts of Lotus Notes and fax machines, they can hardly be expected to be on the cutting edge of evolving social media technologies. As social media platforms and blogs were exploding over the last decade, most law firms did not engage. Firms continued to churn out the unread white papers and ignorable client alerts as part of their traditional marketing efforts.

This reluctance or skepticism has waned some in the last couple of years and given way to a wary appreciation of the positive role that LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs, and similar sites can play in marketing, recruiting, client support and internal collaboration. A 2012 survey of lawyers and legal marketers by ALM Legal Intelligence attests to this shifting attitude. The survey had some striking findings. Among them:

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For many law schools, the bidding process for the upcoming on-campus interview season closed yesterday. In bidding, schools quite reasonably advise students to select potential employers that align with their aspirations and geographic preferences. For example, the section of the Duke Law web site devoted to OCI admonishes students to “thoroughly research” potential employers and to “focus only on employers in whom you are genuinely interested and that match your career goals.” Presumably, one career goal shared by all law school graduates is to eventually be free of debt. As previously and repeatedly noted, for most, a Biglaw associate position is the only employment outcome which gives the graduate a plausible prospect of paying off his student loans.

So what shapes student perception of large law firms and drives the decision of the law student in prioritizing their OCI bids? No doubt there are unique versions of received wisdom that get passed from generation to generation of students at every school. And of course there are plenty of media entities measuring firms against one another: revenues (AmLaw), “prestige” (Vault), practice area prowess (Chambers) and so on. This being the time of year where Biglaw careers are just starting to be built, we thought it would be interesting to look at how students themselves rate law firms. Which firms are the law student favorites?

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Unless you’ve made some deliberate, heroic effort to not know, you are aware that the most feverishly anticipated baby since 0 A.D. is now finally among us. This is a huge deal. People love babies. People love princesses and what not. So: huge deal. Thus, as we await the naming of the boy Windsor and as a flimsy topical pretext, let’s have a look at how the Magic Circle, the UK’s legal royalty, rate in the ATL Insider Survey.

The Magic Circle comprises five venerable London firms: Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Linklaters, and the terrifyingly-yet-diffidently named Slaughter and May. Powerhouse “Slaughters” is the only one of this prestigious group lacking a New York office. The other four are among the most truly global firms and are among the top ten firms in the world measured by revenue. S&M is also the only one of the group for which we lack sufficient survey responses to generate ratings based on the ATL Insider Survey. After the jump, see how the others’ New York offices stack up in terms of Compensation, Hours, Training, Firm Morale, and Culture.

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It’s either this sad box or the poor ‘Layoff Lady.’

Are the Weil Gotshal layoffs a harbinger of a rough second-half of the year for Biglaw? Early signs are not encouraging. Since last week we’ve seen office closings, secretary firings, and the amibiguous WilmerHale goings-on. There is a palpable tension in the wake of the Weil cuts. Where do we go from here? What, if any, will be the follow-on effect of Weil’s move?

In the wake of the Weil cuts, our friend Bruce MacEwen gave an interesting interview to Bloomberg Law’s Lee Pacchia. Bruce speculated that there is possibility of up to 10% overcapacity in Biglaw, and the supply and demand curves for legal talent have permanently shifted. In Bruce’s view, Weil is “very much ahead of the curve.” Ominous tidings for associates everywhere. There’s an interesting point in the interview where Pacchia wonders whether the legal profession will ever return to a “halcyon era” where law firm partners’ immediate self-interest is minimized in favor of long-term stewardship. Bruce, channeling Clubber Lang, responds that the only thing that will return us to that golden era, if it ever existed, is more pain.

Last week we conducted a research poll asking for your take on whether the Weil layoffs signal an oncoming reprise of the Biglaw bloodbath of 2008-09 or a singular phenomenon. Let’s look at the results of our poll and some choice highlights from your responses….

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This year has seen a grim procession of law firm layoff news, which seemed to pick up momentum just yesterday with the Weil Gotshal lawyer layoffs and the Jones Day staff cuts. Are we looking at a 2008 redux, or is this just a bump in the road as the economy makes its slow recovery?

The Weil news was particularly stunning. If any firm seemed poised to thrive in the post-recession “new normal,” it was Weil, with its diversified practices and hegemonic restructuring group. Alas, with yesterday’s news of Weil’s decision to cut 7% of its associates and slash annual compensation for 10% of its partners by hundreds of thousands of dollars, it is clear that Biglaw job security is a thing of the past.

Let’s explore the reasons behind law firm layoffs, review a chronology of recent reductions, and obtain your views through a reader survey….

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Yesterday, some summer associates watched kitten videos on YouTube.

It’s the middle of June, the sun is shining, and Biglaw summer associate programs are in full swing. An old joke: Satan offers incredible wealth to a man in exchange for his soul. The man replies, “B-b-b-but, won’t I have to go to Hell?” Satan says, “Oh, don’t believe what you’ve heard, Hell isn’t that bad. Here, take a look.” And it’s all cocktail receptions and long lazy lunches at fancy restaurants. So he sells his soul. Later, when he dies, he goes to Hell, and sure enough, it’s all flames, pitchforks and eternal agony. The man protests to Satan, who replies – “Oh, that was our summer program.”

The joke smells a bit like 2006 or so, when Biglaw summer programs were at their largest and most extravagant, and most firms barely pretended any substantive work was part of the equation. Yet even though summer associate classes have been significantly downsized post-recession and the perks aren’t as lavish, the summer associate experience certainly retains much of that Bizarro world detachment from the actual realities of practice.

Summer programs have traditionally served as bait-and-switch recruitment tools used to woo rising 3Ls with wine tastings, sporting events, theater outings and boat rides. Since the recession, many firms have begun to emphasize “real work” as central to their summer associate programs (e.g., here and here). But these claims need to be taken with an ocean of salt. As the Dothraki say, “it is known” that newbie lawyers just aren’t ready to do any real work.

In any event, let’s take a look at the top-rated Biglaw summer associate programs, according to the ATL Insider Survey.

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Just yesterday, the latest batch of starry-eyed dreamers sat for the LSAT (although the number of these hopeful 0Ls seems to be in freefall). As they wait for the scores to come in, these aspiring JDs will no doubt be doing their research and narrowing down where to apply. Law school applicants have no shortage of resources at their disposal to help them in making their decisions and navigating the process: from U.S. News to Princeton Review, from Anna Ivey to Top Law Schools. But we all know that there is no decision-making tool as beloved as a ranked list. People love rankings — such time and energy savers! We suspect more application and matriculation decisions are made by perusing rankings than will ever be admitted to.

Regular readers of this site might recall that a little while back we published our inaugural ATL Top 50 Law Schools ranking. We are proud that we, rather than burying our methodology in the footnotes or an obscure appendix, prefaced our rankings release with a detailed discussion about the choices we made in devising our methodology.

Whatever the subject matter, anyone looking to rate or rank anything has to make some choices between three basic methodological approaches:

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