Justin Bernold

Justin is the founder of Firm Prospects LLC, a boutique legal search and placement firm. Here on Above The Law, Justin was on the masthead as "Surveys Guru" from late 2007 to early 2009.

Posts by Justin Bernold

funny-pictures-kitten-offers-to-help-sad-friend.jpgWe received over 1,400 responses to our ATL / Lateral Link survey on layoffs, and last week we reported on associate fears and law firm strategies.

Today, we’ll talk about what attorneys are actually doing to protect themselves against, or cope with, a layoff.

Surprisingly, about 40% of respondents said that they weren’t doing a thing. A few commenters provided more detail on their non-coping strategies:

Drinking

 

crossing my fingers for three months’ severance

 

Drinking…. heavily.

 

Smoking weed; watching movies; working out; learning to play guitar

 

Glad to see that Marin and Elie’s advice column is having an impact.

More details on how attorneys are responding to the slowdown, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Associate Life Survey: What’s Your Strategy?”

funny-pictures-kitten-and-puppy-watch-a-scary-movie-together.jpgWe received over 1,400 responses to last Wednesday’s ATL / Lateral Link survey on layoffs, which is slightly more than the number of attorneys actually laid off in last week’s Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Even so, roughly 70% of the respondents who hadn’t already been laid off said that they were at least a little bit afraid of joining their colleagues on the breadline.

And very few respondents thought their law firms were doing much to help avoid a layoff:

* About 19% of respondents said their firms were letting associates in slow practices keep their hours up by doing some work supporting the busier practices.

* But only 9% thought their firm would actually let them transfer from a slow practice to a busy one.

* And only 2% thought their firm would let them relocate to another office to find work.

* Similarly, only 2% said their firm was letting associates go part-time.

As lack of work gives way to lack of a job, firms’ support mechanisms for the downsized are looking a bit slim:

* Only 16% of respondents said their firm was providing ample notice to terminated associates, so they could find a new job.

* Only 15% said their firm was leaving laid off associates’ bios on the firm website while they looked for work.

* Only 4% of respondents said their firm was helping associates find positions with clients or with non-profits.

* Roughly 5% of respondents said individual partners at their firm were calling around to try to help associates find new jobs.

* 9% said their firm was making a career consultant available to the downsized.

More than a quarter of respondents, 26%, said their firm wasn’t doing anything to help associates deal with, or avoid, a layoff, and 35% of respondents said they didn’t know.

A few thoughts from the commentariat, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Associate Life Survey: Fear, Firings and Firm Support”

been-waiting-3-hourz-for-a-high-five.jpgWe received about 1500 responses to last month’s ATL / Lateral Link survey on how much of your billable work in 2008 was really for “client billable” time, as opposed to pro bono or administrative matters.

Earlier in January, we had noted that more than a quarter of you couldn’t bill 1800 hours last year, but commenters pointed out that even these numbers were probably too rosy:

It is hard to tell how busy associates really were based on this data. One problem is that “billable hour” may mean different things at different firms. At some firms “billable hour” = client billable hours only. But many firms give billable hours credit for pro bono, recruitment and professional development work. I would be curious to see how much CLIENT BILLABLE hours associates had in 2008 and what they are expecting for 2009.

On the pro bono front, it turns out that the heart is only half empty. About a third of associates spent 100 hours or more on pro bono last year, and roughly 14% had more than 200 hours in pro bono:

Results: How many hours did you did you devote to pro bono matters in 2008?

 Pro Bono Hours   2008 Percentage
Less than 100   68.64%
100 to 199   17.66%
200 to 299   6.13%
300 to 399   3.24%
400 to 499   2.52%
500 or more   1.81%

Since relatively few associates had more than a hundred pro bono hours, there was generally only a one or two percent difference between the levels of “client billable” billable hours in 2008 and the overall billable hours reported. So, for example, while 14.32% of respondents fell short of 1600 billable hours last year, that percentage rose to 16.65% of respondents when only “client billable” hours were counted.

The table below compares your 2007 hours and predictions for 2008 (from our November survey) with the overall billable hours we reported last month and the “client billable” hours from our latest survey results.

Results: How many hours did you bill in 2007 and 2008?

 Billable Hours   2007      2008 
(predicted) 
  2008 
(actual) 
  2008 
(actual 
client 
billable) 
Less than 1600     3.29%   7.93%   14.32%   16.65%
1600 – 1699     2.58%   6%   5.75%   5.55%
1700 – 1799     3.99%   5.61%   7.36%   8.87%
1800 – 1899     8.45%   7.54%   9.37%   11.39%
1900 – 1999     11.5%   16.44%   13.6%   15.21%
2000 – 2100     22.54%   21.08%   18.11%   15.79%
2100 – 2199     12.68%   14.31%     11.11%   9.52%
2200 – 2299     11.03%   6.77%   7.98%   5.77%
2300 – 2399     12.44%     5.42%   4.64%   4.33%
2400+     11.5%   8.9%   7.76%   6.92%

These numbers are, as commenters predicted, a bit bleaker than last month’s results, but about 42% of respondents still managed to bill at least 2000 hours to clients last year, as opposed to pro bono or administrative matters.

Will that hold true this year?

Some commenters thought hitting 2000 hours was actually pretty easy:

4, 18: Um, I definitely billed way over 2000 hours last year… and that’s client billable. In litigation it’s pretty easy to do. I had four appeals (one of which was a bet-the-industry appeal that I was working 48 hour stretches on), like countless depositions, unending motion practice, and two full-blown trials. Do you know how much time you have to bill preparing for a 20 day trial? And then for the trial itself?

It’s easy to rack up crazy hours in litigation when you’re busy.

Other commenters disagreed:

Hitting 2000 hours for 2008 was doable because the bulk of the slow-down didn’t occur until September/October. Only because I had very high hours before then was I able to just barely hit 2000 hours for the year. 2009 will be much worse. I’m worried.

Among survey respondents, pessimists outnumbered optimists about 1.5 to 1:

  * Roughly 44% of survey respondents expected 2009 to bring fewer billable hours than 2008, with 21% expecting much lower hours.

  * About 29% of respondents, however, expected at least a few more hours this year, with almost 9% expecting many more hours.

  * About 27% of respondents expect 2009 hours to be about the same as 2008.

Justin Bernold is a Director at Lateral Link, the sponsor of this Associate Life Survey.

is-wurkin-hird-lukin-4-luv.jpgLast January, we did an ATL / Lateral Link survey on how often you cancelled your social plans because of work.

Notably, we found that “[a]round forty percent of associates missed dates,” usually because a partner asked them to finish something at the last minute.

But now that the economy has collapsed slowed down, some employees are beginning to get their lives back. Yesterday, even as Kash was updating us on an avalanche of salary freezes in Big Law, Gizmodo was praising at least one company that’s trying to heat things up overseas:

This just in: Canon is the world’s greatest camera manufacturer. And it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with their actual cameras.

In response to Japan’s aging population and Japanese couples’ propensity to have too few children to maintain the country’s population, Canon called off the traditional 12-hour workday twice a week, encouraging their employees to go home early and make mini Canon employees of their own.

CNN chimed in that, even though this (pro)creative office perk meant missing out on overtime twice a week, employees were psyched:

“It’s great that we can go home early and not feel ashamed,” said employee Miwa Iwasaki.

To my knowledge, Big Law has not yet adopted a go-home-and-make-babies policy (although parental leave policies have certainly improved). But Lateral Link CEO Michael Allen tells me that “several firms encourage interoffice dating, and wrt marriage actually give a bonus, i.e., like $10,000 if you marry within the firm.”

If that’s true, then it definitely adds a different flavor to some of the questions Marin’s been taking lately on inter-office romance, like this one last fall:

I’ve just been staffed on a relatively long term project with another associate. She and I went on one date a few months ago and hooked up, but that was it because she is batsh*t crazy. Since then she’s sent me a bunch of “let’s get lunch” emails and has “coincidentally” appeared at happy hour drinks when I’m out with people from the firm. I think this person is unstable and I don’t want to put myself in a position to be sabotaged by her. But I don’t want to appear like I’m rejecting work or that I’m not a “team player.” I also don’t want to make it known that I dated a co-worker. Any advice?

So, today let’s update last January’s survey to ask not only whether you were able to be social and be a lawyer at the same time, but also find out whether your firms (or you) support inter-office productivity, as it were.

Take the survey after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Associate Life Survey: Socially Challenged?”

funny-pictures-cat-does-not-work-hard.jpgPresident Obama made a pretty interesting statement in yesterday’s inaugural address:

Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished.

But based on last week’s ATL / Lateral Link survey, which asked you how many hours you billed last year, these words of inspiration might not quite fit the legal profession. As we noted last week, more than a quarter of respondents were unable to bill even 1800 hours last year.

And many commenters suggested that the situation will be more dire in 2009:

Hitting 2000 hours for 2008 was doable because the bulk of the slow-down didn’t occur until September/October. Only because I had very high hours before then was I able to just barely hit 2000 hours for the year. 2009 will be much worse. I’m worried.

 

what are these “billable hours” of which you speak? i keep hearing they’re good to have, but i can’t find them anywhere. i’ve looked under the rug and everything!

Other commenters pointed out that even 2008 was probably a worse year financially than last week’s survey suggests:

It is hard to tell how busy associates really were based on this data. One problem is that “billable hour” may mean different things at different firms. At some firms “billable hour” = client billable hours only. But many firms give billable hours credit for pro bono, recruitment and professional development work. I would be curious to see how much CLIENT BILLABLE hours associates had in 2008 and what they are expecting for 2009.

 

Also, pro bono hours are way up, which is great for our day-to-day feeling of some accomplishment, but not as great for our future viability.

In today’s survey, we’ll focus on both issues: how much of your “billable” work last year was really for “CLIENT BILLABLE” time, and what do you think 2009 will look like?

Update: This survey is now closed. Click here to see the results.

Justin Bernold is a Director at Lateral Link, the sponsor of this Associate Life Survey.

funny-pictures-hourglass-cat.jpgWe received over 2,200 responses to Monday’s ATL / Lateral Link survey, which asked you how many hours you billed last year.

In fact, we received more responses than most of you billed hours.

Although today’s Am Law Litigation Daily points out that litigation in federal courts actually rose by 9 percent last year, that doesn’t appear to have done much for your timesheets.

The table below compares your 2007 hours and predictions for 2008 (from our November survey) with the actual experience you reported on Monday.

Results: How many hours did you bill in 2007 and 2008?

 Billable Hours   2007      2008 
(predicted) 
  2008 
(actual) 
Less than 1600     3.29%   7.93%   14.32%
1600 – 1699     2.58%   6%   5.75%
1700 – 1799     3.99%   5.61%   7.36%
1800 – 1899     8.45%   7.54%   9.37%
1900 – 1999     11.5%   16.44%   13.6%
2000 – 2100     22.54%   21.08%   18.11%
2100 – 2199     12.68%   14.31%     11.11%
2200 – 2299     11.03%   6.77%   7.98%
2300 – 2399     12.44%     5.42%   4.64%
2400+     11.5%   8.9%   7.76%

Back in 2007, roughly 70% of respondents billed at least 2000 hours last year (not counting associates with stub years), with over a third billing at least 2200. And over 11% — almost one in eight associates — were in the 2400+ zone.

But by November, almost 20% of associates thought they would fall short of 1800 hours for 2008. Even so, less than 8% feared they would not make 1600. And roughly 56% of associates still expected to hit at least 2000 hours in 2008. More than a fifth of respondents thought they would even reach 2200.

Reality was a bit less kind:

  • A crushing 14% of respondents fell short of 1600 hours, almost twice the number predicted back in November.
  • More than a quarter of respondents, 27%, could not make 1800.
  • And a little less than half of associates, 49.6%, broke 2000.

But even these numbers may paint too rosy an economic picture. As one commenter pointed out:

I billed over 2000 hours, but had over 300 pro bono this year.

Another suggested that this year’s performance will be much weaker than last year’s:

Hitting 2000 hours for 2008 was doable because the bulk of the slow-down didn’t occur until September/October. Only because I had very high hours before then was I able to just barely hit 2000 hours for the year. 2009 will be much worse. I’m worried.

Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments.

You know, as long as you’re not billing anything today.

Justin Bernold is a Director at Lateral Link, the sponsor of this Associate Life Survey.

funny-pictures-your-cat-totally-has-too-much-free-time2.jpgBack in November, we asked you to predict what your hours would look like for 2008, and we reported some worrisome results:

This year, the mighty have fallen, and so have their hours. While roughly 56% of associates still expect to hit at least 2000 hours in 2008, the number reaching 2200 is expected to fall from 35% to about 21%.

Meanwhile, the number of associates who won’t even make 1800 hours has roughly doubled, rising from 9.86% to 19.54%. Almost one in twelve associates don’t even expect to make 1600 hours, way up from 3.29% a year ago. (Remember, these numbers exclude stub years.)

But as gloomy as those results were, many commenters expected a much more dire view:

These reported hours seem WAAAAAAYYY high. People here are averaging maybe 80-110 hours per month. I myself would be happy to hit 1200 or 1300 by year-end.

 

These numbers are still too high. Everyone I talk to at my firm and others is super slow in corporate. The fact that only signle digits are below 1600 for almost all class years is suspicious. People hitting 1400 are having an above average year at many firms.

 

If I hit 1100, it’ll be a miracle (and a shitty Christmas).

Oh, and my small corporate group at a satellite office is looking at a range of approximately 700 – 1200. I think the group will likely be getting smaller…

 

Um, some of us are padding our hours and are still coming in at under 1600. There was literally no work for months, though things have picked up somewhat in the past couple of months.

And, let’s face it, you know last year’s billable hours must have been awful if the presiding partner of Cravath wants to scrap the system.

So, now that 2008 has come to an end, let’s see if last year’s predictions hold true. Today’s ATL / Lateral Link survey will focus on what your billable hours actually were.

Update: This survey is now closed. Click here to see the results.

Justin Bernold is a Director at Lateral Link, the sponsor of this Associate Life Survey.

ATL 2008 in review.jpgIn an ATL / Lateral Link survey posted on New Year’s Eve, we announced your nominees for the 2008 ATL Commenter of the Year.

Almost 1,800 of you have voted since, and several of the nominees posted their thoughts in comments to the survey post.

Nominee Jack Bauer wrote in:

It’s good to know that I still have some friends. My track record with friends isn’t exactly stellar, seeing how I shot Curtis in the throat and I’m pretty sure Tony has become a terrorist. For those of you who had to work over Christmas, don’t feel too bad, I got a weekend assignment dealing with breach of contract in the Middle East.

funny-pictures-cat-eats-baseball-players.jpgUnfortunately, the terrorists appear to have taken out Jack’s friends’ communication network. Only 81 of them were able to vote for him.

Hang in there, Jack. You may not have made it to Day 2 in our poll, but we’re still looking forward to a strong season from you in 2009.

Read on after the jump to see more of our nominees’ comments and learn the results.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Associate Life Survey: 2008 Commenter of the Year”

ATL 2008 in review.jpgAs we savor the final hours of 2008, it’s time to look back at some of our favorite people this year: the commenters.

In today’s ATL / Lateral Link survey, it’s time for you to pick the 2008 ATL Commenter of the Year.

Your nominees for Commenter of the Year, and select comments explaining why, are as follows:

nomnomnomno128391045611718750.jpg1. Count Layoffula

One! One Reason!

 

six. six times he has made me laugh aloud

 

Turns the frightening inevitability of layoffs into a moment for comedy; not easy to do. Very clever idea, keeps character, funny as hell. Wildly popular on this board. Hands down the Commenter of the Year.

2. Douche Patrol

He’s the only commenter that gives a sense of order to the otherwise chaotic commentary. His commentary is also always dead-on.

3. FRAT STUD

Because guys in my high school used to vote for FRAT STUD all the time. It was no big deal.

4. Fraternity Lothario

Hilarious, dry, terrific writer. Captures both the essence of ridiculous, in-joke ATL commenting while bringing genuine criticism to the issue of every post. As long as you give the award to the guy who burned up the comments all spring, then left (on a sailing trip? to become a pirate?) this summer with a formal farewell, you would be giving the award to a commenter whose work is Oscar-worthy.

 

Although his posts have been less frequent, no one is more eloquent (e.g. ATL EIC) while comically germane.

5. Glass Cock

avatar is amusing, and attitude rocks

6. Guest

The most insightful and informed comments are consistently made by Guest. Everything else is trash.

 

Most comments, most firsts, most everything. Guest rocks.

7. Jack Bauer

He’s funny without being offensive or annoying. In the words of the ATL editor “consistently brilliant.” Finally, do you think that it’s a coincidence that when the legal industry is facing it’s darkest hour, Jack is back?

 

I don’t know any other person who would take the LSATs, apply and go to law school, purely to infiltrate BIGLAW to get information leading to the takedown of a suspected traitor to this nation.

8. Nervous T-10 1L

Personifies the economic doom and fear among law students. Also kinda funny.

 

he’s the post-modern Loyola 2L of the apocolypse

9. Commenter 83 in the interview horror stories thread.

“Where I remain to this day.” Priceless!

Technically, commenter 83 was actually “Guest,” but it wouldn’t be an official ATL reader poll if we didn’t give Guest an opportunity to comment about the unfairness of the poll. Also, that comment really was . . . something.

Having a hard time deciding? It’s no big deal. We’ve selected some of the choicer comments from our candidates to help you decide.

Unfortunately, we really couldn’t put some of them above the fold. Some are pretty crude, and Glass Cock’s is far too long. [Ed Note: That's what she said.]

So, keep reading after the jump to see some of the nominees’ exemplary comments, and then cast your vote.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Associate Life Survey: Commenter of the Year (2008)”

ATL 2008 in review.jpgIn Monday’s ATL / Lateral Link survey, we asked you to cast your vote for the 2008 ATL Lawyer of the Year.

More than three thousand ballots were cast, but there can be only one Lawyer of the Year.

Starting at the bottom, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich may not have hit the very lowest point in Chicago political history, but he did manage to get the lowest tally in our vote, with only 96 supporters.

Harvard Law Avenger Phil Telfeyan was a close second-to-last in your esteem, with a mere 110 votes.

funny-pictures-princess-cat-is-finally-being-recognized.jpgJudge Halverson rounded out the bottom three at 167 votes.

That makes THREE! THREE! THREE candidates who did worse than Count Layoffula! HA! HA! HA! (He received a total of 233 votes.)

Listen dude, you really want the Spitzer? Apparently not. The prosecutor-turned-commentator came up only average in our slate of nominees, with 288 votes.

Nervous T-10 1L may not have found a job this year, but he touched the hearts of 428 voters, landing him in the Final Four.

Marc Dreier — if that’s his real name — swindled up 485 ballots, more votes than disgraced governors Eliot Spitzer and Rod Blagojevich combined. Way to rock the scandal vote, sir. You’re the Second Runner-Up for the 2008 ATL Lawyer of the Year.

That leaves us with the final two. Will last year’s runner-up, President-elect Barack Obama, finally be Number That One? Or will The Anonymous Laid-Off Big Firm Attorney finally get something to soothe his pain? (Elie won’t share his pot.)

Find out who will be crowned the 2008 ATL Lawyer of the Year, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Associate Life Survey: Lawyer of the Year”

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