Biglaw

What do your clients think of your firm? Unfortunately, in-house counsel don’t usually send a review of services along when they’re paying their Biglaw bill. But a number of them do rate firms when asked to by Corporate Board Member magazine. It has released its 10th annual list of top law firms, based on what those paying the bills think of the firms.

The rankings are based on a survey of over 2,200 general counsel and 8,500 directors serving on boards of publicly traded companies. GCs were asked to select “up to 10 national firms they would choose to aid them should their company need a firm of national scope and reputation,” and the directors were asked who they would call when they had legal issues. In a press release accompanying the list, the magazine’s CEO says:

“When it comes to trust and loyalty, it is obvious these firms have both the depth and breadth of expertise boards are looking for as well as the necessary staying power to deliver it—even in challenging economic times,” said TK Kerstetter, president and CEO of Corporate Board Member.

So which firms topped the list?

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Am Law Daily has what can only be termed a frightening headline today:

The Am Law 100 2010: Too Big to Fail?

Nooooo! Haven’t we learned that “too big to fail” is terrible? It’s bad for our economy when things are too big to fail — too often, too big means too inefficient to change:

Carrying dozens of offices through the worst recession in a generation might sound like a prescription for disaster. But heads of The Am Law 100′s most geographically diverse firms say that their business model is not only alive, but robust.

Have we learned nothing from everything that’s happened? Do these firms really think that the entire legal recession can be blamed on so-called “entitled” junior associates who had the audacity to accept the money firms were willing to pay them?

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Ed. note: This post is written by Will Meyerhofer, a Biglaw attorney turned psychotherapist, whom we profiled. A former Sullivan & Cromwell associate, he holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work. He blogs at The People’s Therapist.

You pass through a stage when you’re about two years old – the famous “terrible twos.” It’s often marked by stubborn refusals to obey orders, and sometimes downright tantrums. The infant is growing into a person. For the first time, he wants control over his own life.

It’s called personal autonomy. You go where you want to go, do what you want to do, and refuse to do what you don’t want to do. A crucial phase of human psychological development, it marks the inception of an independent identity, a sense of purpose – and a sense of self.

This week I worked with a young second-year from a big firm. She related a hellish story of law firm life.

This past Saturday morning she was at the airport in line with a boarding pass, heading to her best friend’s wedding, when her cellphone rang. It was a partner. He needed her in right away.

She explained that she was about to step on a plane.

He asked, “Well, are you actually in the wedding?”

She said no.

“Then you don’t have to be there.”

You’ve heard stories like this. One of my clients admitted to a partner that it was actually his step-grandmother’s funeral he was leaving the office to attend. This old woman had been married to his grandfather for 30 years and was the only grandmother he’d ever known, but he lost on a technicality. He couldn’t be at that funeral because she wasn’t family. Some court filing was more important.

Young attorneys at big firms don’t have personal autonomy….

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The “pro bono year” is to Biglaw what a “study abroad program” is to most American universities: a time for reflection, exposure to new things, and a more relaxed pace.

It was a necessity born of the recession. Firms did not have enough work to go around; they didn’t want to lose perfectly good employees, but they also did not want to pay them six figures to sit in their offices, twiddling their thumbs until the economy picked back up. So, instead, they offered five-figure stipends and the requirement, in some cases, that their lawyers go off and serve the public good.

This fall, many of those lawyers are heading back to their firms (though some liked being “abroad” in the public interest sector so much that they don’t plan to go back). Skadden is still trying to decide how much worth the pro bono year, or “Sidebar Plus” in Skadden parlance, brought to its associates, and thus how much to pay them upon their return.

It seems though that Skadden is unsure about the worth of Sidebar itself. Though the firm has not officially commented on it, we understand that it is discontinuing the Sidebar Plus program, apparently because work at the firm has picked up and it wants all of its associates back at the farm, plowing the billable hour fields.

What will become of the “pro bono year” for Biglaw? When we emerge from the recession, will it be left behind? Heading into the fall, some firms are still offering the year-away option to incoming associates, including generous stipends…

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Career Center AboveTheLaw Lateral Link ATL.jpgOur recent Career Center survey asked about starting salaries and annual salary increases at firms across the country.  Over 70% of respondents indicated that their firms increase salaries during the traditional month of January.  About 8% percent of respondents, including associates at this Midwestern firm, see their salary increase in February.  Another 9%, including associates at these two global firms, get raises in March.  The remaining 12% of respondents indicated that their annual raises come at some later point in the year.  

Check out the full survey results after the jump — and visit the Career Center, powered by Lateral Link , for more on changing compensation practices at firms across the country. If you are an employer seeking more detailed information on firm salary scales please contact T.J. Duane at tjduane@laterallink.com.

Full survey results, after the jump.

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Ed. note: Law Shucks focuses on life in, and after, BigLaw, including by tracking layoffs, bonuses, and laterals. Above the Law is pleased to bring you this weekly column, which analyzes news at the world’s top law firms.

Although this column has turned away from layoff news, we’ll still touch on overall unemployment periodically. The news this week was mixed at best, and the White House accentuated the positive: 290,000 jobs added to payrolls, the vast majority of them in the private sector. Seasonal hiring for the census also contributed a fair number.

But the base employment rate increased from 9.7% to 9.9%. That’s actually the result of some optimism. A lot of people who had given up on the job search renewed their efforts. Of course, they didn’t count as unemployed when they weren’t looking, so their return to the hunt increased the overall workforce (i.e., increased the denominator).

Lump in the discouraged workers, and the "true" unemployment rate is north of 17%, close to its all-time high of 17.4% from October.

While announced law-firm layoffs were few and far between in April, the legal sector lost 1,100 jobs, according to BLS. Note that we specified "announced" layoffs. Stealth layoffs continue, and we think it’s important to specify exactly what that does and doesn’t mean.

For those who abide in BigLaw, there were plenty of interesting developments….

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I’m back in New York City — a place that has infinitely more Puerto Rican culture than a Hilton in Puerto Rico. But I still have a few more write-ups from the 2010 NALP Annual Education Conference. I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring back a little information for the hordes of lawyers laid off or shut out of Biglaw during the recession. Rest assured, you are not alone.

On Friday afternoon, I attended a panel called “The State of the Legal Economy and the Legal Employment Market.” This should have been the highlight event for the conference. The only panelist was James Leipold, Executive Director of NALP, and he was slated to talk about the hard numbers NALP has put together describing the recession. The panel was booked for the largest conference room in the hotel — the room easily sat 250 people.

Jim Leipold, of NALP

Total attendance = 12 people (I counted). The lesson: do not hold your executive summary panel at 3:30 on Friday in Puerto Rico.

Why was I there? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m actually confused as to how I ended up covering a panel with 11 other attendees. The room was so cold (air conditioning for 250) that I’m convinced that when conference room air met the Puerto Rican humidity, it caused the tropical depression that hammered the Gulf Coast over the weekend.

In any event, I received some hard numbers for my trouble. And I got to hear Leipold’s thoughts on just how screwed the “Lost Generation” of would-be Biglaw associates are. Not good times, my friends.  Try not to finish your cup of hemlock before you hear the numbers…

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For the past five years, Yale Law School has produced a list of the top “family friendly” law firms. And for the past five years, men have acted like “family” issues are something only women need to worry about.

Maybe that’s true if you are a committed bachelor who never intends to procreate or know the love of a real woman. Maybe that’s true if you subscribe to some kind of 1950′s television ideal where the man works and the woman is exclusively a stay-at-home mom. Mind the pool boy, fellas.

But the majority of men will one day marry and spawn. In many cases, they’ll marry a woman of equal career ambitions. At that point, being able to take some paternity leave might be very important. Maybe their wife won’t even be a lawyer, and thus make more money than her husband (have you seen what legal salaries are like these days). Most likely we will see more and more male primary care givers, and the firms will have to adjust. We’ve heard a lot about the “mommy track,” in our professional lifetimes one expects the “daddy track” to become just as important.

So which firms are already ahead of the family friendly curve?

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Ed. note: Law Shucks focuses on life in, and after, BigLaw, including by tracking layoffs, bonuses, and laterals. Above the Law is pleased to bring you this weekly column, which analyzes news at the world’s top law firms.

The big news in BigLaw this week was the release of the American Lawyer rankings.

League tables come and go, Vault rankings are for students – the AmLaw 100 is the de facto scorecard for BigLaw.

The trend we’ll be keeping an eye on is perhaps the beginning of a rift between elite and big:

[T]he top quintile of firms in PPP was the only segment of the market to show modest increases in both profits and RPL. This group includes New York’s 13-firm moneyed elite, plus such giants as Latham & Watkins, Kirkland & Ellis, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, as well as smaller, pure litigation plays like Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and Boies, Schiller & Flexner.

There were a number of other themes in the reporting: “it could have been worse”; New York outperformed the rest of the country; and litigation was the place to be.*

* Sort of – Quinn Emanuel was #2 and Boies Schiller was #4 in the profits per partner rankings, but they also both had significant declines: -6.1% and -6%, respectively. Of the rest of the top 10, only Simpson Thacher (#8, -2.4%) and Cleary Gottlieb (#10, -0.6%) showed declines. Perhaps the high profitability is due to the firms’ leverage, rather than their practices. Boies Schiller has 240 lawyers, of which just 34 are equity partners. Compare that to #1 PPP firm Wachtell, which has almost the same number of lawyers, with 231, but more than twice as many equity partners, at 86.

But that was last year. What’s been happening this week?

After the jump, we focus on the deals, suits, and other stories from BigLaw that made headlines this week.

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Today is an exciting day. As we noted earlier, the Am Law 100 rankings for 2010 have been announced. This is a big deal — the Biglaw version of the U.S. News law school rankings.

You can access the various charts via this portal page. Aric Press and Greg Mulligan summarize the results:

It could have been worse. That’s the best that can be said for the performance last year of The Am Law 100, the top-grossing law firms in the nation. Three of the four key categories we’ve measured for 25 years — gross revenue, head count, and revenue per lawyer — fell, while profits per equity partner (PPP) barely increased by 0.3 percent, or $3,463, to $1.26 million.

So PPP was basically stable in 2009 — not a bad result given the continuing economic weakness last year. Perhaps law firm partners are better business managers than they get credit for?

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