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

marijuana pot cannabis doobie Above the Law blog.jpgWith the police, who pulled you over for a traffic infraction. But the good news is that you’re getting it back. From CBS:

Eight grams of medical marijuana seized from a Garden Grove man during a traffic stop must be returned to him, according to an appeals court ruling directing local law enforcement to uphold state, not federal law.

A three-justice panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal [in California] weighed in on the issue in a published decision that sets precedent for future cases on similar issues.

The marijuana, which belonged to Felix Kha, 22, was confiscated during a traffic stop on June 10, 2005.

The city of Garden Grove tried to argue “that to the extent state law authorizers or mandates the return of Kha’s marijuana, it is preempted by federal law.” The appeals court didn’t see it that way:

Kha’s attorneys argued that the 10th Amendment to the Constitution effectively prohibits federal interference with California’s medical marijuana laws, and the three-justice panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal agreed.

The justices found that because, under state law, Kha was lawfully entitled to possess the marijuana, “due process and fundamental fairness dictate that it be returned to him.”

Indeed. Pass the bong, Your Honors!
P.S. The headline that CBS gave to the story is wrong. It was a state court, not a federal court, that issued the ruling.
Federal Court Rules Pot To Be Returned To Driver [CBS]

Ira Robinson Judge Ira Robinson fights off mugger Above the Law blog.jpgCompared to their colleagues in the trial court, appellate judges have a reputation for being delicate, academic creatures, with less in the way of “street smarts.” But don’t lump New Mexico Court of Appeals Judge Ira Robinson in that group.

From the Albuquerque Journal (subscription):

New Mexico Court of Appeals Judge Ira Robinson expected the worst Tuesday night when he fell to the ground as he tried to fight off a man lunging at him with a knife.

“I really thought the son of a gun was gonna stab me when I was down,” he said.

So how did it all unfold?

Robinson, 65, said in an interview Wednesday that the ski-mask-wearing assailant demanded valuables from him and two cousins visiting from San Diego as they walked to their car parked near La Fonda about 10 p.m.

But Robinson refused the robber’s demands:

“He said ‘Give me your money, (expletive)!’ I said, ‘I’m not gonna give you a damn thing!”’

Nice. But we do wish the judge had invoked his judicial office. Maybe he could have held his assailant in contempt?

A little more, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Judge of the Day: Ira Robinson”

associate bonus watch 2007 law firm Above the Law blog.jpgIn the absence of more associate bonus news — we’ve heard rumors of various committees at various firms meeting, but we have no new announcements — let’s move on to a related subject. What about bonuses for staff attorneys, the non-partnership-track lawyers employed by many large law firms?
Here’s what one of them had to say:

Staff attorneys who work at Biglaw read your blog, too. Most shops have a bonus tied to hours, but they do not specify what the payout will be at each tier (2000, 2200), claiming they’ll see where the market is at in December. I’m wondering whether other firms have a similarly vague policy (vague because the market for staff atty compensation isn’t as established as associates, but it still exists). It would be great if you could dedicate a bonus post to this.

I know staff attorneys will get slayed as third-rate, but that’s why we didn’t work as hard in law school to try to get recruited…. We don’t give a s**t!

Our jobs may be headed to India, as glorified contract attorneys, but we do handle the grunt work, so associates don’t have to. We make their jobs easier, I think. Yeah, I know, they have to answer to the partner — but see my last sentence in the preceding paragraph.

If any of you have information to share about bonuses for staff attorneys, please spill your guts in the comments to this post. Thanks.

Maximilia Cordero small Jeffrey Epstein Dealbreaker Above the Law blog.JPGThe story of Cordero v. Epstein — the lawsuit filed by an aspiring model against prominent Wall Street financier Jeffrey Epstein, alleging that he took advantage of her when she was underage — gets weirder by the day.
The New York Post reported that the model, Maximilia Cordero, was actually born a man — one Maximillian Cordero, b. 1983. Cordero then sued the Post, filing as an exhibit with the court a birth certificate showing she was born a female. A number of you questioned the document’s authenticity, pointing out various irregularities. And such skepticism made sense: Cordero, despite filing the birth certificate with the court, is not including the Post’s claim that she’s a transsexual in her lawsuit.
But even if it may not be the gravamen of her complaint, Cordero still wants you to know she’s not a tranny. From a statement that William Unroch, her lawyer / roommate / possible ex-boyfriend, sent to the Daily Intelligencer (via Gawker):

Ms. Cordero will be happy to attend a televised nude settlement conference or celebrity charity benefit nude tea party with Rupert Murdoch and Lucifer Carne [a reference to Post reporter Lucy Carne] if the NY Post feels this would clear up the matter. Both Ms Cordero and Mr. Murdoch can appear nude and state their positions on this matter of grave public concern.

Hmm… Time for an ATL field trip?
More insanity, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Maximilia Cordero: Maybe Not a Man – and Ready To Prove It”

Our latest legal celebrity sighting: Justice Antonin Scalia, spotted at Georgetown University Law Center. He is believed to have been at GULC to speak to a con law class.
Of the current justices on the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia clearly inspires the greatest amount of fanatical devotion. How many other justices have their own fansite?
(Okay, Justice Thomas has one too. And with his new, bestselling memoir, My Grandfather’s Son, he’s definitely building a fan base. But we still think that Justice Scalia has the most groupies of any member of the SCOTUS.)
And how many other justices are asked to sign students’ laptop computers? This student, who had his laptop autographed by AS, was proudly displaying his computer to his classmates, saying that he felt Scalia had “blessed” his laptop for the upcoming exams.
autograph laptop Justice Antonin Scalia Above the Law blog.jpg
With such a large and devoted following, we have a feeling that Justice Scalia’s forthcoming book — Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges, a guide to persuasive legal writing and oral advocacy, which he’s writing together with legendary legal writing teacher Bryan Garner — will sell pretty well too.
Scalia to Join Supreme Court Book Club [Legal Times]

Richard Scruggs 2 Dick Scruggs Dickie Scruggs Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgYesterday the FBI executed a search warrant on the Scruggs Law Firm in Oxford, Mississippi — the shop of high-flying plaintiffs’ lawyer Dickie Scruggs. It wasn’t immediately clear what investigation the search was related to. Here’s some commentary on the situation that we enjoyed, from David Rossmiller (in brackets, following excerpt from news article):

“This is a surprise to everybody connected to the Scruggs Firm,” [lawyer Joey] Langston said, “but I’ve got to tell you people who are very high profile and very successful have to contend with unpleasantries and this is unpleasant, but we’ll contend with it.”

[I like the touch of noblesse oblige here -- as if the FBI descending on one's place of business is the same as, say, getting heckled by drunken lumpenproletariat while showing up in top hat and tails to receive an award for charitable giving.]

suitcase briefcase cash money Above the Law blog.jpgNow we have a better idea of what the office search was probably about. From the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger:

Multimillionaire trial lawyer Dickie Scruggs has been indicted on charges of conspiring to bribe a judge in the case involving $26.5-million in attorney fees involving Katrina claims….

According to the indictment, Lafayette County Circuit Judge Henry Lackey cooperated with the FBI in the investigation after reporting a bribery overture to authorities.

According to the indictment, Scruggs and others tried to influence Lackey by giving him $40,000 in cash to resolve the attorney fees’ dispute in favor of Scruggs’ law firm. Some of the conversations between Balducci and Lackey were captured on tape.

An interesting observation, from the WSJ Law Blog:

Down in Mississippi, there has been speculation of a connection between the FBI search warrant and this week’s surprise resignation of Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), Scruggs’s brother-in-law. Lott’s office told the Sun Herald the two events were but a mere coincidence.

Because, you know, it’s so much better to have people think you stepped down because of a gay sex scandal, as opposed to your brother-in-law’s indictment.
(For the record, the rumors about Sen. Lott and the gay sex scandal appear to be unfounded. See HuffPo and Wonkette — two sites that would, of course, love for the rumors to be true.)
Scruggs arrested on bribery charges [Clarion-Ledger]
More on FBI search of Scruggs’ law offices [Insurance Coverage Law Blog]
Dickie Scruggs Indicted On Federal Bribery Charges [WSJ Law Blog]

More Partner Income Greedy Partners Above the Law blog.jpg* Hey look! Biglaw partners have an ATL of their own, and it’s called, appropriately enough, More Partner Income.
Here’s a post about how to get associates to enter their hours in timely fashion — so partners can get themselves PAID, w00t. Helpful hint: Offer them CANDY! [MorePartnerIncome.com]
* “JD, No Job, Debt – What An Opportunity!” Here’s some advice about how to deal with your predicament. [Law and More]
* Boalt Hall — er, Berkeley Law — students discuss whether post-1L grades matter. For the record, Yale does have grades, and its system is pretty similar to Berkeley’s (except without “High Honors”). [Nuts & Boalts]
* Speaking of Yale Law School, Professor Ian Ayres — our small group professor, and a great teacher — has come up with a brilliant way to get people to lose weight. If you overindulged over Thanksgiving, you should check it out. [New York Sun]

Nancy Cohen Nancy Sher Cohen diva Heller Ehrman Above the Law blog.jpgSome of our prior coverage of Heller Ehrman has been a bit gloomy. We take it all back. Now that the firm’s Los Angeles office is under a magnificent new leader — Nancy Sher Cohen, whom we have previously praised in these pages — we see nothing but good things ahead.
Legal Pad conducts a very interesting interview with Nancy Cohen. Here’s an excerpt:

Legal Pad: How do you feel about “Above the Law” blog calling you “divalicious”?

Cohen: I found out about it from several associate who came to show it to me. Isn’t that funny? I just looked at it and howled. There is a lesson there. You just never know who is going to be writing about you, thinking about you, making comments about you. It’s a reminder that you should always do your best and always be sensitive and nice, civil.

We’re confused. Does Ms. Cohen think that we were speaking negatively of her? To the contrary, we had only good things to say. From our prior post:

When we were in private practice, our experiences with Heller Ehrman were quite positive. We attended several depositions defended by the diva-licious Nancy Sher Cohen, who protected her witnesses like a lioness protecting her cubs. We were most impressed by this badass litigatrix (who is also a community activist and cancer survivor; see this profile).

As for the “diva-licious” quip, let the record reflect that the term “diva” is ATL’s highest form of praise. Longtime readers are well aware of our obsession with strong-willed women — especially women who have managed to achieve tremendous success in a traditionally male-dominated field like law.
This is why we are such fans of Senatrix Hillary Clinton, who is a tough, smart, fearless leader. We have no clue why some of you seem to think we don’t like her. We think Senator Clinton is fabulous.
Why do you think we’ve snapped up so many domain names related to her? Visit HillaryClintonIsMyGirl.com, HillaryIsMyGirl.com, Hillarylicious.com, HillaryIsSexy.com, HillarySexy.com, or HillarySex.com. Where do you get redirected to?
‘Badass Diva’ Ready to Run Heller in L.A. [Legal Pad /CalLaw]
Earlier: Going to Heller in a Handbasket? (Part 2)

Headhunter from Hell Above the Law blog.jpgEd. note: We have nothing against headhunters or legal recruiters. To the contrary, we’re generally big fans of them — especially the ones who advertise on ATL, making this website possible.
But it can’t be denied that some of them can be real pains in the a**. If you have a headhunter horror story to share, feel free to submit it by email (subject line: “Headhunter Horror Story”).
We’ll kick off the series with this fantastic story, which a reader just submitted. It’s long, but worth it — highly entertaining, suspenseful, and written with real panache. Enjoy!
********************
Sure, we’ve all had annoying recruiters call. Many of us have decided to accept a free lunch from these yahoos from time to time to garner some legal gossip. I was not such a person until yesterday, and it turned out to be an utter disaster.
Part 1: The romancing.
A recruiter, let’s call him Bob, has been calling me for over a year. I have blown him off 1000 times and told him I am happy at my mid-sized firm. My salary and bonus structure is good, and as a third-year lawyer, I’m really practicing law. (I’ve never even summarized a deposition.)
One day, we had plans to go to lunch at a nearby seafood restaurant, but I canceled at the last minute. Still, he calls every few weeks about some new position at some major firm looking for a person exactly like me (which is doubtful, considering my less than stellar law school grades).
Part 2: The lunch invitation.
Bob calls me Monday and says that Jones Day is interested in seeing my resume. Again, he tells me what amazing experience I have, blah blah, and asks me to give him my resume. He also says he still wants to take me to lunch. I say, “Let’s go tomorrow.” He says ok and that he will call me Tuesday morning to finalize plans.
Part 3. The planning.
First thing Tuesday morning, Bob calls and asks me where I’d like to go. I say that I have no idea, he presses me to choose, and I say, “Well, let’s redo our old plans and go to [the seafood restaurant]. I’ve never been there, so I don’t know if it’s good.” He says, “It’s…ok, that’s good. Let’s go there. I wouldn’t want to take you to Jason’s Deli or anything, and there’s not much more over there. Let’s meet at noon.”
Part 4. The falling apart.
At 11:30, Bob leaves a voice mail that he needs to move our lunch to 12:30. At about 12, he calls again to ask if I got the message. He then says, “I wish I could say that some big negotiation came up, but the truth is, I forgot my ATM pin number and it locked me out from getting cash after I tried three different numbers. So I’ll have to use credit for our lunch. But I’ll see you at 12:30.” He then describes what he’ll be wearing.
Read the rest, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Headhunter Horror Stories: The Lunch from Hell”

Thacher Proffitt Wood LLP Above the Law blog.jpgIn the world of Biglaw, bad news and good news go hand in hand these days. Recall that Clifford Chance announced associate layoffs and generous bonuses in the same week.
And now Thacher Proffitt & Wood, on the heels of yesterday’s news about likely future layoffs, is raising base salaries for its senior associates. We haven’t seen the full memo yet, but here’s an excerpt:

“It has long been a primary principle of our attorney compensation philosophy in New York and Washington DC to have our base salaries and annual discretionary bonuses be competitive with the top firms in New York City. In that regard, we are announcing the following changes to associate compensation…”

Our sources describe it as basically a match for the class of 2002 and more senior: 2002 – $250,000, 2001 – $265,000, 2000 – $280,000, and 1999 – $290,000.
Update (2:55 PM): We now have the memo. It appears — together with additional discussion, including a word about bonuses — after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Nationwide Pay Raise Watch: Thacher Proffitt???”

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