Biglaw

I’ve now written more than 250 columns at Above the Law; I’m invoking a point of personal privilege.

Neil Falconer (of Steinhart & Falconer in San Francisco) passed away last week at the age of 91. He was an extraordinary lawyer, a fine man, and a mentor to anyone who had the sense to listen. Between 1984 and 1989, I learned from Neil what it meant to be a lawyer – “be a sponge; soak up the law;” “never tell a small child not to stick peanuts up his nose;” “you take as long as necessary to solve the problem; let me worry about the bill” – and I later dedicated The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law to him. I expected to shed a tear when I read his obituary, but I didn’t expect to be dumbstruck. Words are a terribly feeble way to encapsulate a life. And sometimes you’re paid back, years later, for even the smallest of gestures. Here’s a link to Neil Falconer’s obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle. Rest in peace, Neil. And thank you.

Thinking about Neil caused me to reflect on the decision that I made, 30 years ago, to work at a small firm (of 20 lawyers) on the West Coast.

Everyone told me that I was nuts: “You can always move laterally from a big firm to a small one, but you can’t move laterally in the other direction!” “You can always move from a big New York firm to a firm in California, but you can’t move west to east!” “You have to start by getting the ‘big firm experience.’ Then you can always move to a small firm.” “Go to a big firm! That’s how you keep your options open!”

The conventional wisdom isn’t always right . . . .

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An angry God is one without a line of credit.

* “[T]he one thing Windsor does not do is clearly establish a nationalized definition of marriage.” No one will be surprised when the same-sex marriage cases wind up before the Supreme Court. [National Law Journal]

* Law firm mergers continue to hum along at a record pace, but whether they’ll actually work out is another question entirely. Only time will tell if we’ll see another “spectacular flameout.” [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]

* “The billable hour’s day has passed.” Eighty percent of law firm leaders believe hourly billing may soon be going the way of the dodo in favor of alternative billing arrangements. [Capital Business / Washington Post]

* Despite its anti-gay policies, Trinity Western University Law has been granted approval from the Law Society of British Columbia to open its doors. And here we thought Canadians were supposed to be polite. [GlobalPost]

* If you want to take an “Law and _____” class, sign up for Law and Traumatic Brain Injuries at GW Law. Having a TBI yourself seems like a requirement for enrollment, but shockingly, it’s not. [New York Times]

* Times are so rough that God can’t even get a credit card. Instead of casting plagues upon the earth, he’s suing Equifax — though we’re sure he wouldn’t mind if the credit agency reps caught lice. [New York Post]

This probably isn’t a surprise, but the market still sucks for newly minted lawyers. The ABA has published the employment data it gathered from affiliated law schools, and the best way to spin this is as a “modest uptick.”

So if you’re a 0L super psyched about going to a subpar law school, this is cold, hard data that should terrify you. Terrify you even more than the indebtedness stats. Except you’re not going to be deterred, because you think you’re the exception. Like the high school girl convinced that Jimmy isn’t going to cheat on her like he did his last five girlfriends. Good luck, kid.

For the rest of us, let’s take the temperature of the legal market while we await the law school press releases telling us it’s not so bad.

And, hey, it looks like there may be one tiny ray of hope in these numbers. Don’t worry, I did say “tiny”…

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Rachel Canning

* The panel investigating the Bridgegate scandal gave Gibson Dunn until the end of the week to turn over all materials relied upon to clear Gov. Christie from wrongdoing. Thankfully, the governor was too busy working out to be upset. [New Jersey Star-Ledger]

* Penn Law has named Wendell Pritchett, the chancellor of Rutgers University-Camden, as interim dean to take over for Michael Fitts, who is leaving to become Tulane’s president. What an incredibly deanly name he’s got there. Congrats! [Philadelphia Inquirer]

* New York Law School is launching an in-house institute — the first of its kind in New York City — to help corporate attorneys solve their problems and law students learn about life inside a legal department. Gee, this idea sure sounds familiar. [Corporate Counsel]

* Jennifer Gaubert, the New Orleans lawyer/ former radio diva who lied about a cabbie sexually harassing and taking a lewd video of her, is now being sued by him. Karma’s a real bitch. [New Orleans Advocate]

* Rachel Canning, the New Jersey schoolgirl who recently dropped a lawsuit against her parents, was caught partying with the boyfriend who was the cause of the entire affair. Tsk tsk, bad girl! [New York Post]

Want to see what it looks like when a fourth-year Weil Gotshal associate plans to marry a family law practitioner from a small firm? It looks like it’s going to rival the epic display of elegance and class that is the upcoming Kimye wedding.

Please save the date for the “Boss Wedding,” which is what they’re calling this dignified affair…

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Ed. note: Please welcome Above the Law’s new poet-in-residence, Qui Tam. You can read the rest of his law-related poetry over here.

In football, a lateral pass by definition cannot go forward. I thought about that in the merry-go-round lateral market of the mid 00s; a whole lot of sideways movement and shuffling around, most of it just trying to put off a little longer the oncoming inevitability of a bone-crunching tackle in the form of Biglaw up and out. Two lateral experiences…

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One of the things that was always interesting about Biglaw was just how much the skills of senior partners were celebrated, even in the absence of any verification. Or rigorous comparison to their peers, for that matter. Such exaltation of abilities was not limited to individual lawyers, of course, but extended also to practice groups and even other firms. In fact, a fair amount of Biglaw’s “prestige” is pollinated by secondhand anecdotal evidence, many times passed along by people who have either never seen their subjects in action or who are not qualified to distinguish between a great performance and a mediocre one.

Of course, I do not doubt that many, if not the vast majority of, Biglaw reputations are well-earned. For example, even though my knowledge of real estate law is severely limited, I would feel comfortable hiring some of my old colleagues at Greenberg Traurig in New York for real estate help, should I ever be in a position to acquire or dispose of some commercial real estate. I admit that I have no frame of reference, other than reputation and some personal relationships, supporting such a prospective choice. But it is not like I could “shadow” a closing and figure out which set of lawyers is doing a better job anyway. “Wow, those guys really put out a nice refreshment spread in the room with the closing binders” would be the level of my analysis. Probably not a good idea to choose counsel solely on that basis.

Are there other options out there?

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* The Eighth Circuit axed a $900K jury award after a lawyer recounted her tale of sexual harassment by a law professor at Drake University Law during closing arguments. Well, that sucks, but we’d really love to know which professor this was. [ABA Journal]

* If flat is the new up, then mergers must be the new growth. The new year is upon us, and law firms are on track to either meet or break the merger record set in 2013. Thus far, 22 firms have announced mergers or acquisitions in 2014. [Washington Post]

* A lawyer in Minnesota who’s been in trouble with the bar quite a few times was recently charged with setting his girlfriend on fire. Yikes, someone’s way too excited about the Fargo mini-series. [Star-Tribune]

* Oscar Pistorius took the stand in his murder trial yesterday, revealing that when he killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, he was really trying to protect her. This case gives us the sads. :( [New York Times]

* Sorry we’re not sorry about the toupee: Paramount wants this Wolf of Wall Street suit dismissed since it’s undeniable the plaintiff was part of “bizarre travesty that was Stratton Oakmont.” [Hollywood Reporter]

As we noted earlier today, the legal sector has added 2,300 jobs since the start of 2014. For an industry that currently employs more than 1.1 million people, 2,300 new jobs doesn’t sound like a lot — but hey, it’s better than shedding jobs.

Note that we’re talking about net job growth. Some legal employers are hiring, while others are firing.

Which major law firm just laid off a total of 52 lawyers and staffers last week?

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While 7.1 million Americans enrolled in Obamacare and Fox tries to explain why this is a bad thing, the majority of Americans just sauntered along with their employee health plans like nothing ever happened.

But in the legal sector, a lot was actually happening. By and large, law firms were engaged in what can be called “stealth cost shifting” where the high-profile benefits remained unchanged while the firms subtly reduced the cost of plans through other avenues.

Basically, this means employees pay more for stuff they don’t need. Now you know how the client feels…

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