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

There is not nor probably will there ever be a definitive novel or film depicting the law firm experience. Law firm lawyers viewing The Firm or Michael Clayton or Ally McBeal are not going to identify with what they see on the screen. Novels like The Partner Track by Helen Wan or Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman might be the closest thing (affiliate links).

A truly realistic portrayal of that particular white-collar salt mine would surely be too boring for the public. On the other hand, the comments from the ATL Insider Survey (14,000 responses and counting; thanks everyone) constitute a sort of undistilled document of the Biglaw hive mind. So what do we hear from this depressing, inspiring, contradictory chorus of lawyerly voices?

The ATL Insider Survey asks practicing lawyers to evaluate their employer in terms of compensation, training, culture and colleagues, firm morale, and hours. The survey also asks, “What would be useful or interesting for a law student or potential lateral to know about your firm?”

Reading through all the responses to this question, a handful of recurrent themes emerge….

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Public opinion is polarized regarding the mega-leakers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. One common view holds them to be heroic patriots. To others, they’re simply traitors. Prominent whistleblower attorney John Howley asks us to consider the possibility that they can be both at once.

Last week, ATL—along with our friends at Lawline—hosted a fascinating (seriously) and timely CLE course, Whistleblowers, Traitors and the Rule of Law. Howley walked the attendees through the various laws governing whistleblowers, treason, and espionage. He also gave an overview of the most important whistleblower and treason cases, as well as explored the thorny legal and ethical implications for lawyers involved in such cases.

The course was as much a history lesson as a legal one. The role of whistleblower plays an integral part of our national history. In fact, the first American whistleblower law predates the country’s founding. In 1777, sailors accused the commander of the Continental Navy, Commodore Esek Hopkins, of torturing captured British sailors, and petitioned the Continental Congress to remove him. Hopkins sued for criminal libel, and Congress — by unanimous vote — agreed to defend the sailors in the suit. Congress also passed a law requiring all military members to inform Congress of “misconduct, frauds or misdemeanors committed by any officers in the service of these states.”

Many of the most important heroes in American history were, technically, traitors, including the Founding Fathers. And knowingly so. As Benjamin Franklin quipped, “We must hang together or we will hang separately.”

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The idea of “happiness” is the basis of an ever-growing body of research. In fact, while economists traditionally measure a nation’s prosperity by looking at GDP, there is a growing movement for them to consider a different measure, something akin to “Gross National Happiness.” One of the best-known efforts to move away from a reliance on GDP as a measure of national welfare is the UN’s Human Development Index, which amalgamates three metrics: lifespan, educational attainment, and adjusted real income. Then there are dozens of much more subjective surveys of national happiness, many of which find Costa Rica to be the happiest country in the world. Others say it’s Norway. (Then there is this preposterous “Happy Planet Index,” which ranks the U.S. at number 113, between Madagascar and Nigeria.)

Of course happiness research is performed in more narrowly targeted ways, such as examining specific professions. Earlier this year, Forbes reported on a “Career Bliss” survey of 65,000 employees that ranked “law firm associate” as the unhappiest job in America. (See Joe’s take on that survey here.)

This week, over at In the Belly of the Beast, Steven Harper is asking “Are Lawyers Becoming Happier?” Harper takes a look at two recent studies that suggest the answer is “yes.”

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The law firm on-campus interview process is a peculiar institution. No other industry entrusts its entire entry-level hiring process to a series of superficial 20-minute “cattle call” interviews two years ahead of when the candidate will actually become a full-time employee. There is something contrived about the whole thing. (This old-ish video clip gives a good sense of the inherent absurdity.)

OCI is still underway at law schools across the country. Firms are currently hustling to interview students nationwide, make callbacks, and extend offers within an arbitrary 28-day window (per the NALP guidelines).

As we recently noted, opportunities to participate in OCI — which continues to be the primary entry point for law students into the largest and best-paying firms — are increasingly harder to come by in the current job market. The reality is, most students are on the outside looking in. Most will never be afforded the opportunity to land one of the few gigs that will actually give them a plausible chance of being able to pay off their student loans.

If you are one of the fortunate ones who just went through or is continuing to take part in OCI, we want to hear about your experiences….

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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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