David Lat

David Lat is the founder and managing editor of Above the Law. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, New York magazine, Washingtonian magazine, and the New York Observer. Prior to ATL, he launched Underneath Their Robes, a blog about federal judges. Before entering the journalism world, he worked as a federal prosecutor in Newark, New Jersey; a litigation associate at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, in New York; and a law clerk to Judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. David graduated from Harvard College and Yale Law School, where he served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal. He has received several awards for his work on ATL, including recognition as one of the American Lawyer’s Top 50 Big Law Innovators of the Last 50 Years; one of the ABA Journal’s Legal Rebels, a group of pioneers within the legal profession; and one of the Fastcase 50, "the fifty most interesting, provocative, and courageous leaders in the world of law, scholarship, and legal technology." His first book, Supreme Ambitions: A Novel, will be published in 2015. You can connect with David on Twitter and Facebook.

Posts by David Lat

Joseph Collins Joseph P Collins Mayer Brown Rowe Maw Above the Law blog.jpgMany of our Lawyers of the Day tend to be solo or small-firm practitioners from non-major cities. Not so with today’s honoree, Joseph Collins. He’s a partner at Mayer Brown, one of the country’s biggest and most prestigious law firms, and he maintains offices in Chicago and New York.
From an article by Nathan Koppel in the Wall Street Journal (subscription; but also covered at the Law Blog):

In a rare case of a lawyer being charged in connection with the alleged wrongs of a client, Chicago lawyer Joseph Collins was indicted today on fraud and other charges in connection with the 2005 collapse of commodities and derivatives firm Refco Inc.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan on Tuesday announced 11 counts against Mr. Collins, of the law firm Mayer Brown LLP, in connection with legal work he did for Refco, including documenting a series of “round trip loans” between related entities and outside investors that Refco completed to shift bad debt off its books from the late 1990s to 2005. The discovery of the transactions led to one of the swiftest collapses in Wall Street history.

Phillip Bennett, the former chief executive of Refco, and others have been indicted in connection with the Refco collapse.

“Acting hand-in-hand with Bennett, Collins made affirmative misrepresentations, material omissions, and told deceptive half-truths, all to assist Bennett’s scheme to steal more than $2.4 billion from potential investors,” the indictment said.

Yikes. And the indictment is coming out of the S.D.N.Y. — those guys are badass.
Neither Mr. Collins nor the firm got back to the WSJ in time to comment. But we were able to get a statement from Mayer Brown. Check it out, after the jump.

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associate bonus watch 2007 law firm Above the Law blog.jpgWe’ve heard complaints from numerous associates claiming that their law firms are using vague bonus policies to lowball them on bonuses. While we understand why these associates are upset, we can’t say we’re surprised. The whole point of a bonus policy that contains an element of discretion is the ability to pay some associates less than others — for whatever reason, justified or not.
This is why we regard only a lockstep, non-hours-based match of the Cravath year-end and special bonuses as a “true match.” If a firm reserves the right to tailor associate bonuses — based on billable hours, quality of performance, or any other factor — expect the firm to exercise it.
So we don’t expect to write much about how firms are using slippery bonus memos to pay low bonuses (although we will bring you the results of yesterday’s bonus survey). The intricacies of an individual law firm’s bonus policy tend to be of interest only to people at that particular firm.
We are, however, interested in bright-line distinctions. For example, what firms have rejected special bonuses entirely? It turns out there are a few of them. Last week we received this info:

DLA Piper litigation associates in New York just left a “Coffee Meeting” with Joe Finnerty III, head of New York litigation. He “unofficially” announced that the bonus structure and amount will be exactly the same as last year and that there will be no market “special bonuses.”

Hmm. Did the firm not get paid enough for the Mitchell Report?
And today we received this info:

I’m an associate at McDermott, Will & Emery in the Boston office. We have all just heard through department heads that not only will the firm not issue special bonuses this year, but bonuses this year will be less than half of years past and well well below market.

For example, a 6th year associate (class of 2001) billing between 2000 and 2100 hours will get approximately $5,000. eedless to say, this is less than a first-year associate gets for simply showing up at any other firm. There is not a large or probably even a midsize firm in Boston whose bonuses are anywhere near this low.

We’re guessing that DLA Piper and McDermott, Will & Emery are not alone in nixing special bonuses. Many of the firms that have remained mum until now probably have no plans of paying special bonuses, a la Cravath.
And to be perfectly (and brutally) honest, does it make sense for firms with profits per partner that are a fraction of Cravath’s to pay bonuses at Cravath levels? Of course associates want bigger bonuses. But they also want jobs.
Nevertheless, we have no doubt that many of you are unhappy about your firm’s bonus policy. Feel free to engage in bonus bitchery in the comments. Thanks.

Ave Maria School of Law Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgWe thought the whole point of Ave Maria Law School, founded by Domino’s pizza founder Thomas Monaghan, was that with enough money, you can do whatever you want. E.g., establish a very conservative, Catholic law school, and not care if the liberal legal academy raises its eyebrows — ’cause you could buy and sell them, several times over.
So doesn’t it defeat the whole point if Ave Maria requires funding from sources beyond Monaghan’s pile of pizza dough? From Julie Kay’s article in the National Law Journal:

Got $20 million? If so, you could have a law school building named after you.

Ave Maria School of Law is selling naming rights to the new law school facility it’s building in southwest Florida.

“We’d like to find someone who would want the opportunity to have their name associated with the school, to help us with the construction costs,” said Dean Bernard Dobranski. He said the school is rapidly moving forward with its controversial plan to relocate from Ann Arbor, Mich., to Ave Maria, Fla., and has even obtained architectural renderings of the new school.

Ave Maria is already in turmoil: controversy over its move from Michigan to Florida, lawsuits filed by three professors who claim they were wrongfully terminated, an ongoing investigation by the American Bar Association. A suggestion that Tom Monaghan’s coffers are not infinite could not come at a worse time.
Meanwhile, in other Domino’s news, they’re trying to return to the glory days of their 30-minute delivery guarantee — without getting sued. Delivering delicious pizza in under half an hour is a noble mission. We wish them the best of luck.
P.S. Tom Monaghan no longer owns the pizza chain. He sold his controlling interest to Bain Capital in 1998 for about a billion dollars, which he plowed into launching Ave Maria University.
Ave Maria still looks to move, puts name on block [National Law Journal]
Domino’s Pizza and the Law [WSJ Law Blog]
Will a Twist on an Old Vow Deliver for Domino’s Pizza? [Wall Street Journal]

Joseph Russoniello Joe Russoniello Cooley Godward Kronish Abovethelaw Above the Law online legal tabloid.jpgVeteran litigator Joseph Russoniello, recently nominated to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, previously served as senior counsel in the San Francisco office of Cooley Godward Kronish. If he’s confirmed, which is looking likely, one would expect him to take a big pay cut as he moves from private practice to government service. The current Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, earned $1,993,367 over 21 months while at Patterson Belknap; now, as AG, he takes home $186,600 a year.
But Joe Russoniello won’t be taking such a huge pay cut. A reader observes:

Buried at the end of a Recorder article (subscription) about a DOJ report about Joe Russoniello’s possible conflicts or interest due to his $1.5 million stock portfolio is Joe’s last year’s compensation from Cooley Godward. This is the part that I found interesting. Why? Because it’s so low.

What do you think Cooley Godward was paying the ex-U.S. Attorney to serve as counsel to the firm? Half a million? A million? No…. $244,802!

In light of that paycheck — which, while handsome by normal standards, is a pittance by Biglaw ones — we hope that Russoniello’s Cooley gig was super-cushy, with minimal billing required. His paycheck is pretty much equal to that of a third-year associate at Cravath, all in (base of $180,000, year-end bonus of $45,000, and special bonus of $20,000). But how many Cravath third-years can claim to have served as U.S. Attorney in a major city for eight years, as Joseph Russoniello did (1982-1990)?
Fighting Crime May Not Pay [The Recorder (subscription)]
Taking Stock of The DOJ’s Next Targets [Legal Pad]

laptop pink girl woman Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgLeave it to lawyers to complicate everything they touch. Over at New York Personal Injury Law Blog, Eric Turkewitz has this update on the New York bar exam fiasco:

The New York State Board of Law Examiners has confirmed to me that they will hear appeals regarding the July 2007 exam. That exam was plagued by malfunctioning software for those that submitted essays on laptop computers, only to see all or part of the answers disappear. The BOLE subsequently said that they approximated the answers if they were incomplete, based on how the examinees did on other answers. Those grade approximations were subsequently called into question based on an anonymous tip in this blog.

More details in the full post.
New York Bar Examiners Will Entertain Appeals Over Laptop Problems [New York Personal Injury Law Blog]

associate bonus watch 2007 law firm Above the Law blog.jpgFor associates in the New York office of Kirkland & Ellis, this Wednesday is when they’ll learn their financial fate:

From: Jonathan Putnam
To: New York Associates
Cc: John Desmarais, John Kuehn, Michael Movsovich, Maria Davalos
Sent: December 17, 2007
Subject: Associate Bonus Meeting

As in past years, John Desmarais will give a short presentation this week to explain our associate bonus methodology. The meeting will take place on Wednesday, Dec. 19, at 4 pm in Conference Room 50G-H. The bonuses will be paid before the end of the month.

When it comes to bonuses, K&E does things a bit differently. Associate bonuses are not lockstep but individualized, based on (1) your rank relative to your peers and (2) your hours.
Historically the Kirkland bonuses have been quite generous. Even for average K&E associates, as opposed to top performers, they’re typically well above-market — some of the highest in all of Biglaw (even if not at Wachtell levels).
But in light of this year’s “special” bonuses, how will the K&E bonuses stack up to the top tier New York firms? Check back later in the week to find out.

* Is this brilliant, or awful, or both? [LexBlog via WSJ Law Blog]
* Move over, bonsai trees. Make way for… law faculty recruitment swag? [Feminist Law Professors]
* State government lawyers to…. $197K! No, seriously. [Pennsyltucky Politics Blog / Harrisburg Patriot-News]
* A cautionary tale about law firm websites, courtesy of Jones Day. [Legal Blog Watch (Carolyn Elefant)]
* Don’t take tax advice from Wesley Snipes. [TaxProf Blog]
* Lots of Lawyers (and Judges) of the Day on this list. [Blogonaut]
* Blawg Review #138: on human rights, and law student rites. [De Novo via Blawg Review]

Anthony Kennedy 2 Justice Anthony M Kennedy Above the Law blog.JPGWhat are the duties of a Supreme Court law clerk? The primary responsibilities of SCOTUS clerks include reviewing cert petitions, conducting legal research, and drafting opinions.
But Justice Anthony M. Kennedy has added a new task to the list: congressional gossip gathering. On Friday, he dispatched one of his clerks to the Senate. The clerk’s mission? To skulk around hallways and offices, collecting intelligence about the status of the pending judicial pay raise legislation (and maybe to put in a good word or two in favor of the bill, too).
It’s not unusual for a clerk to serve as a justice’s eyes and ears — but these spying duties usually don’t extend beyond One First Street. If Justice Kennedy subscribes to a strict view of separation of powers, and wants cameras out of the courtroom, should he perhaps keep his clerks out of the Capitol?
Okay, we jest. We really don’t think it’s a big deal if Justice Kennedy wants to send a clerk over to snoop around the Senate (and we also suspect that Justice Kennedy, of all the justices, wouldn’t mind cameras in the courtroom). But AMK’s sending over a clerkly spy is a sad commentary on how desperate some judges are for a pay raise.
(Another depressing sign: rumor has it that one federal judge was wandering around the Federalist Society 25th anniversary gala, collecting the unclaimed $1 Madison coins that were left at each place setting.)
So come on, Senators. Pass the federal judicial pay raise, and give these judges back their dignity!
Federal Judiciary Salary Bill Progresses – With Caveats [Washington Briefs]

100 dollar bill Abovethelaw Above the Law law firm salary legal blog legal tabloid Above the Law.JPGThe litigation powerhouse of Williams & Connolly has announced associate pay raises, effective January 1, 2008. We have confirmed the fact of the raise with sources at the firm.
There was no comprehensive memo, so we’re not 100 percent certain of the specific numbers. But word on the street is that the new pay scale is as follows:

Year — Salary
1st: $180,000
2nd: $195,000
3rd: $210,000
4th: $230,000
5th: $250,000
6th: $270,000
7th: $290,000

These base salaries are well above market (160 – 170 – 185, etc.). But remember that Williams & Connolly traditionally pays an above-market base salary, since it does not pay year-end bonuses. So W&C’s move to a $180,000 starting salary is not as exciting as a similar move by Cravath or Simpson would be.
The old pay scale is available here. The pay raise appears to be a $15K bump for the first three classes. Fourth-year associates get a $20K increase. Fifth-year through seventh-year associates get a $25K increase.
We’re reasonably confident in these numbers. But, as noted, they were not set forth in a memo. So if you see any errors, please contact us. Thanks.
Earlier: Skaddenfreude: Williams & Connolly Weighs In

The combined firm will have over 1,500 lawyers in 23 offices. It will “employ the K&L Gates brand and have the legal name of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis LLP.” Press release here.
Update: Some commentary from an inside source, after the jump.
K&L Gates, Hughes & Luce Partners Vote to Combine Firms Effective January 1 [K&L Gates]

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