David Lat is the founder and managing editor of Above the Law. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Observer, Washingtonian magazine, and New York magazine. Prior to ATL, David 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 book reviews editor of the Yale Law Journal. David has received several awards for his work on ATL, including recognition as an ABA Journal Legal Rebel, a group of innovators within the legal profession, and inclusion as a member of the Fastcase 50, "the fifty most interesting, provocative, and courageous leaders in the world of law, scholarship, and legal technology." You can connect with him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.
In our latest column for the New York Observer, we shine the spotlight on a firm that has figured prominently in these pages lately:
Founded in 1792, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft is “the oldest continuing Wall Street law practice in the United States,” as its website proudly notes. Name partner George Wickersham was attorney general under President Taft, and name partner Henry Taft was the president’s brother.
In addition to being one of New York’s oldest firms, Cadwalader is also one of the most lucrative. Last year, it was the city’s third-most-profitable law firm, behind perennial leaders Wachtell and Cravath.
But in the past few months, CWT has hosted some rather surprising visitors—at least by the standards of a prestigious, white-shoe law firm.
Some of these visitors will be familiar to ATL readers, but one will not. You can read the whole piece — and view a rather odd photo of Cameron Diaz and CWT litigation chair Gregory Markel — over here. Update: If you’re wondering about the identity of the Pimp, the mystery has been solved! Peter Lattman has the scoop over at the WSJ Law Blog. Cadwalader’s Strange Visitors [New York Observer]
That’s the question posed in this very interesting article, by Leigh Jones for the National Law Journal. It begins:
In recent weeks, some midsize firms have implemented drastic reductions to their billable-hour requirements for first-year associates in order to enhance training and to appease clients who are increasingly resistant to paying for new lawyers’ starts and stumbles.
Such a strategy is something other law firms say they are contemplating and could represent the advent of a change in the industry that many contend is long overdue.
The piece is an excellent round-up of the new approaches being employed by midsize firms, as they try to deliver cost-effective legal representation while remaining attractive places to work for associates. The strategies include reducing billable hour requirements for first years to 1600 hours, to allow for more training; abandoning billable minimums for first-years altogether, previously discussed here; and greater use of two-track systems, in which associates can choose to work fewer hours for somewhat less money.
And there’s a shout-out to ATL (which we’re vain enough to speculate was linkbait for us — if so, it worked):
As law firms have become bigger, so have associate salaries. First-year compensation jumped to $160,000 from $145,000 in January at many of the largest law firms, and law firm leaders are watching to see if speculation about pending increases to $190,000 reported on the blog Above the Law prove true.
NY to 190? Stay tuned. You can check out the full article over here.
P.S. Jones’s NLJ piece does remind us a bit of this recent post, by Amir Efrati, from the WSJ Law Blog. But then again, Efrati’s widely read Wall Street Journal story reminded us of Leigh Jones’s earlier National Law Journal article.
Maybe every story about law-firm associate life has already been written before. Maybe Efrati and Jones should just keep rewriting each other’s articles — and then have them rewritten again by the Des Moines Register, just for good measure. Midsize Law Firms Go for Big Changes [National Law Journal] Tinkering with Billable-Hour Requirements [WSJ Law Blog]
“There she is… Miss S&C Bonsai!”
Just to close the loop on last week’s contest, the bonsai tree pictured at right is the winner of our Sullivan & Cromwell bonsai beauty pageant. Congratulations, Bonsai #2!
Of course, as with any matter of taste, there was disagreement. Some viewed Bonsai Two as tawdry:
Bonsai Contestant 2 is a pageant patty: the garish lighting, the big contestant badge, the pose. Bonsai Contestant 6 is fresh, unscripted, and beautiful, and therefore gets my vote.
But in the end, more voters agreed with theseviews:
“The lighting for Number two makes it classy, and yet ever so slightly risque. It gets my vote hands down.”
“The garish lighting makes it. So stark, so ironic. Number two (the existential bonsai) has it all the way.”
Wait a sec — is the lighting scheme “classy,” or “garish”? Eh, who knows! All we know is that you like it, you really like it.
For anyone who cares, the full tally appears after the jump. Earlier: An S&C Bonsai Beauty Pageant!
Yesterday’s tip about K&L Gates no longer making contributions to attorney 401k plans has been confirmed. We’ve obtained the memo, which our source introduced as follows:
Here’s the memo re: today’s post on K&L Gates. No further materials or communications have since occurred, save a videoconference from firm Chairman [Peter] Kalis, where in response to an associate questions as to why this benefit was cut, he essentially said that it was to make partners’ compensation packages more competitive due to required combined firm IRS changes.
I like how it says firm compensation remains competitive. Check out what the firm pays in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. How is that competitive?
* “Jesus, He’s a Quadripeligic, Not an Opossum.” [QuizLaw]
* On Michael Mukasey’s “top ten” list: Dial-A-Porn? [Washington Briefs; Washington Briefs]
* Peter Lattman has gotten a hold of Elana Elbogen’s complaint in the Case of the Pastel Hydrangeas. Still at large: a copy of the “Party Pants” article. [WSJ Law Blog]
* Not yet legal, but quite the legal eagle. [Los Angeles Times via Blogonaut]
* NY to 190K — Canadian! The Canadian dollar is now worth more than the U.S. dollar. Is that loonie, or what? [Soloway]
* TV Links, a Napster of sorts for television and movies, RIP. [Guardian Unlimited]
For the limited but passionate segment of the ATL readership that avidly follows the federal judiciary and clerkship news, the past week has been a good one.
First, there was this very interesting Legal Times article by Joe Palazzolo, about the debacle known as the law clerk hiring process. Executive summary: “As in most family feuds, it’s the kids who suffer most. In interviews, newly hired law clerks rated this year’s hiring frenzy on a scale from ‘unfortunate’ to ‘an utter mess.’”
At the D.C. Circuit, lights shone in the windows of some judges’ chambers before dawn on Sept. 19. They had scheduled their first interviews between 6:45 and 7 a.m.
[Yale Law School Professor Christine] Jolls, who is a member of a committee of professors and deans that advises the Judicial Conference on the hiring process, says she got a 2 a.m. e-mail from one of her students who had just emerged from an interview with a 2nd Circuit judge. The judge had scheduled the interview for Sept. 19 at 12:01 a.m.
If you know, feel free to identify the judges who scheduled these insanely early interviews, in the comments.
Second, for those of you follow clerkship bonus developments, on Tuesday the ever-helpful Law Clerk Addict posted an updated Vault 100 clerkship bonus chart. You can access it here.
Third, today the National Law Journal serves up a delightful profile of the nation’s #1 judicial superhottie (male), Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit. As of December 1, make that CHIEF Judge Kozinski. Congratulations, Your Honor!
Links to the aforementioned sources, plus excerpts and commentary on the Kozinski profile, appear after the jump. Update: Also after the jump, some scuttlebutt about which judges were conducting the midnight and early morning interviews.
Readers of ATL are obsessed with lawyer compensation. But so is the mainstream media, it would appear — even in places outside New York, Washington, and Los Angeles.
From a piece by John-Laurent Tronche in the Fort Worth Business Press:
While local law firms are staying competitive, it doesn’t always pay to follow the nationwide trend to raise salaries for first-year associate lawyers.
A Texas pay raise explosion was sparked in mid-July when Houston-based Vinson & Elkins raised its first-year associate pay from $135,000 to $160,000, part of a nationwide move to match New York salaries. The firm’s pay hike prompted fellow Houston firm Andrews Kurth to raise salaries the next day, followed by a host of other big Texas law firms, including Dallas firms Haynes Boone and Thompson & Knight….
The move to match New York salaries is a matter of reputation, said David Lat, editor in chief of abovethelaw.com, a Web site that has been tracking the nationwide pay raise. But that reputation to “play ball with the big boys,” he said, isn’t always economically sound.
You can read the rest here. And a few days ago, the Des Moines Register “rewrote the WSJ story about lawyer salaries,” as one of you put it. (Well, Amir Efrati, remember what Coco Chanel once said: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”)
The Register article begins:
Jason Fernandez never expected to be delivering flowers six months after he graduated from law school. But there he was – a graduate of the top-tier University of Iowa College of Law – navigating Washington, D.C., streets to deliver bouquets at $8 a pop.
As we previously wrote, there appears to be no truth to rumors of possible layoffs at Latham & Watkins. But even mentioning the words “layoff” and “Latham” in the same post got some people upset. We’d like to share some of the responses we received:
[T]he idea of layoffs [at Latham is] ridiculous. NYC M&A is still busy as hell, and on the whole the pace numbers, despite the traditional August lulls (read: not just credit market, it’s AUGUST) are very solid. They’re still bringing in laterals and still printing money.
And here’s a correction to the suggestion of possible slowness at the firm:
[O]ne of the comments you posted had incorrect data. The New York office was only at 90 percent pace for September, as some of your commenters noted. But for the year to date, even after a very slow August and September, New York’s pace is well over 100 percent. In fact, the office is about where it was last year, so things are nowhere near as bad as the doomsayers would have you think.
Plus, in the last week, things have began picking up substantially. In a few months, maybe we’ll be back to “NY to 190!”
Finally, we got our hands on firm-wide memo from Chairman and Managing Partner Robert Dell, discussing “firm culture.” It’s not very exciting, and it’s probably best read as a welcome to new associates, as opposed to some veiled discussion of layoffs.
If you’re curious, you can check it out after the jump.
When it comes to offeree swag, is the arms race among Biglaw shops heating up?
Sullivan & Cromwell brought out what we dubbed the “heavy artillery”: bonsai trees. But perhaps S&C has been bested — and not even by a New York firm:
Talk about firms taking recruiting to a whole new level. Last night, Choate Hall & Stewart held its offer dinner at a super-fancy, old school establishment. Choate had goody bags ready for all its offerees, and while most of us were expecting a pen (a la Goodwin) or a water bottle, lo and behold, in our red shiny gift bags, were brand new 8GB red video iPod nanos (at $200 a pop).
Soooooo sweet. It’s a little ridiculous, but at the same time, something has to be said for the financial health of the firm for them to be giving away iPods.
In the comments to one of our S&C bonsai posts, it was reported that Shearman & Sterling gave iPod shuffles to its summer associates. That’s quite nice. But it’s even nicer to give a nifty (and costly) gadget to a mere offeree, who at the end of the day might just say, “Thanks anyway, hello Ropes & Gray.”
What’s the nicest gift you’ve received, or heard of someone receiving, from a law firm encouraging acceptance of its offer? Please discuss, in the comments. Thanks.
When Chintan Panchal decided to leave a global BigLaw partnership to start his own firm, he could only hope that he would face the high-quality problem of firm building that many had cautioned him about. Focused on the uncertainty surrounding of a new firm launch, he decided to tackle staffing needs, IT challenges, and financial planning requirements after he had built up his legal practice.
Panchal Associates LLP–a corporate/finance and outside general counsel boutique–was quickly off to a great start. Clients and matters were flying in the door, and Chintan soon had a team of lawyers and staff with a variety of operational needs. To continue building an excellent team and provide them with a competitive benefits package, to expand his physical presence to include a European practice and additional partners, and to scale his operations and IT capabilities to support this growing enterprise brought with it demands of time, money, and expertise. Chintan knew he needed help.
“With the assistance of NexFirm, we have upgraded the capabilities of our firm to meet, and in some cases exceed, the standards we were used to at our former BigLaw firms. Operationally, we can now attract and service clients we didn’t have the bandwidth to support in the past, and continue to build our team with the best and brightest legal talent in the industry,” said Chintan Panchal, adding “It has worked out quite well in our case; NexFirm is an essential partner for us.”
The holiday season is upon us, and yet again, you have no idea what to get for the fickle lawyer in your life. We’re here to help. Even if your bonus check hasn’t arrived yet, any one of the gifts we’ve highlighted here could be a worthy substitute until your employer decides to make it rain.
We’ve got an eclectic selection for you to choose from, so settle in by that stack of documents yet to be reviewed and dig in…
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@example.com.
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