Biglaw

The pace of law firm layoffs has apparently slowed to a crawl. We’ll go weeks between job losses at large law firms (that we know of). But, here and there, some people are still getting pushed out as firms retool for the new economy.

Sadly, legal secretaries at Dewey & LeBoeuf became the latest casualties of a layoff cycle that seems very close to its end. The firm-wide memo went out earlier today:

Beginning last week and concluding today the firm implemented a reduction in force impacting approximately 30 administrative staff positions in its Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C., offices.

Nobody wants to be the last person KIA in a war, and nobody wants to be laid off at the tail end of a recession. Why did Dewey make the move this late (hopefully) in the recession?

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Patricia Gillette of Orrick.jpgOver the weekend, I read an interesting article by Orrick partner Patricia Gillette about how law firms should rethink how and who they layoff in an economic downturn. Normally, when firms find themselves in a financial pinch, they immediately slash those that they consider most dispensable: the contract lawyers, part-time lawyers, and support staff that may very well be crucial to the firm running smoothly.

While it’s always attention-grabbing to hear critical rumblings out of the belly of the beast that is “Biglaw,” one paragraph from the article struck me. I read it again to make certain I had understood it correctly. Gillette says that not all of the best and brightest lawyers wind up as Biglaw associates. Craziness…

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Bingham McCutchen new logo Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgWhen you step into the killing lockstep zone, your bonus disappears into a black box. A while back, we reported that Bingham McCutchen adopted a lockstep-merit hybrid approach to associate compensation. Base salary would still be lockstep, but the bonus would be merit-based.

When we reported on the Bingham bonus, we noted that the firm intended to pay bonuses generally on the Cravath scale to its associates, based on a number of merit-based factors instead of hours.

But now our tipsters are telling us that some Bingham associates received much less than a Cravath-level payout:

A peek inside the black box, bonuses are generally well below the Cravath scale. The only associates receiving bonuses in the vicinity of the Cravath scale are those that exceeded the 2,100 hour minimum by a few hundred hours. Even bonuses in those instances were barely above the Cravath scale. Amazing considering JayZ just told the Boston Globe that the firm “had our best year ever.” Guess we know where all that money went. Morale is definitely at an all-time low. I would be shocked to see any associates making much of an effort to bill above the 2,100 hour minimum in 2010. I think “why bother” has become the most uttered phrase around the halls of Bingham over the last week.

“JayZ” refers to Bingham Chairman Jay S. Zimmerman, not the talented Mr. Shawn Carter.

But I suppose you could put Zimmerman’s positive outlook about the firm into a rap song …

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Akin Gump logo.JPGHave you had the privilege of voluntarily leaving your Biglaw job? I have, and let me tell you, the last day is a special kind of awesome. You kind of walk around, taking a survey of things you no longer have to deal with. Many of your friends and colleagues look at you with envy in their eyes. Friends of mine outside of the law have told me that leaving a job is bittersweet; but most associates who have left Biglaw on their own terms describe the sensation as “delicious.”

Now, when I left, I said all the right things, said goodbye to all the appropriate people, and wrote a standard, passionless departure memo. No gloating from me, I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as I could. But looking back on it, I wish I had done something notable. Nothing outrageous: boiling the managing partner’s pet rabbit sounds appropriate but is ultimately unsatisfying. I just wish I had taken advantage of my last day in some mildly humorous way.

An associate who left Akin Gump last week will have no such longstanding regrets. Here’s the “seeking contacts” email that was sent to the entire firm once the associate had both feet out of the door:

Sent: Friday, February 26, 2010 11:59 AM
To: FW ALL
Subject: Seeking contacts

Pardon the interruption. Please respond to sender only if you can recommend a reasonably priced plaintiffs’ attorney in Costa Rica. A friend of the firm has a handful of potential plaintiffs who believe there is a connection between their testicle cancer and a chemical used to make tea bags. They are looking for an attorney in Costa Rica to advise and represent them in this matter.

Thanks,
[Redacted]

You know, the lives of Biglaw attorneys are such that on first blush one might think that this message was intended seriously.

But we spoke with the associate who sent out the message. Thankfully, the message was a product of a last day dare.

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Lawyer boxer.jpgEd. 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.
My patient, a senior associate doing IP litigation at a downtown firm, brought me the bad news.
“I got a terrible review last week.”
She seemed calm about it, considering. That’s because she knows how law firms work.
“I’m expensive, and they’re preparing for lay-offs. So they told me I’m terrible. It was ridiculous. They made stuff up off the top of their heads.”
I had to hand it to her. I wish I could have been so cool when the same thing happened to me.

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world college rankings.JPGWhat should you do if you want to get a Biglaw job? Have sex with a partner? I wish it was that inexpensive.

Most people will come to the conclusion that going to law school is a more reliable long-term career strategy than latching onto a partner stuck in a loveless marriage. But which law school should you go to? According to the National Law Journal, students looking to land in Biglaw faced a lot of challenges in 2009, but some schools were better than others at placing graduates in top jobs:

The National Law Journal’s annual Go-To Law School List paints a pretty sorry picture of first-year associate employment at the nation’s 250 largest law firms last year. The No. 1 law school sent just 55.9% of its 2009 graduates to NLJ 250 law firms. In 2008, the highest percentage of graduates heading to NLJ 250 firms was 70.5%. Importantly, the 2009 percentages include deferred associates, so an even smaller group actually went to work last year. Remember, the list consists of the very top performing schools, where job prospects in years past have proven recession-proof. Not so in 2009.

On the bright side … well … hey, a lot of the people who did land Biglaw jobs will burn out after a few miserable years. So maybe getting shut out of the few jobs that can support an enormous law school debt load is actually a blessing, merely disguised as rejection and poverty.

So which schools did the best at placing people in Biglaw?

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Grant Folland killed in snowmobile accident Jenner Block.jpgWe have tragic news from Jenner & Block this weekend. Grant Folland, 29, a litigation associate in the firm’s Chicago office, was killed in a snowmobile accident on Saturday. According to the Associated Press, which first reported on the accident, he “lost control of his snowmobile and struck a tree next to the trail.”

Jenner & Block managing partner Susan Levy sent out a statement about his death last night:

It is with profound sadness that I tell you that our colleague, Grant Folland, passed away today from a snow mobile accident in Wisconsin. He was with several of our colleagues at the time. We do not yet know any of the details of the arrangements the family will be making, but will of course pass those on when we learn more. Words cannot begin to describe this tragedy, but our hearts go out to his family, and our many fond memories of Grant will live on.

The accident happened in Lake Tomahawk, Wisconsin. Folland was traveling with four other snowmobiles when he crashed. He died at the scene of the accident at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. According to the AP report, the accident was due to inexperience; alcohol was not “a factor in the crash.”

The devastating news has circulated today among firm attorneys and among Folland’s University of Chicago law classmates.

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Elie Mystal Fox Business News Above the Law.jpgAlthough our colleague Elie Mystal is on vacation this week, he took some time today to sit down with Fox Business News, where he discussed how some large law firms enjoyed record profits in 2009 — thanks, in part, to record layoffs.

An added bonus: he offered weight loss advice! No donuts involved.

Check out the clip, after the jump.

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(Or: Elie critiques capitalism — on Fox Business News.)

Career Center AboveTheLaw Lateral Link ATL.jpgOur recent Career Center survey asked about whether the recession has affected clerkship bonuses and law firm hiring of clerks.  Of respondents at law firms, a slight majority — 57% — indicated that their firms are not interviewing judicial clerks for Fall 2010 positions.  Of respondents who are currently clerking, only 30% indicated that they have a position for Fall 2010 or have even been able to get interviews for such positions.  Despite these depressing statistics for post-clerkship employment, a majority of law student respondents indicated that they are planning on clerking after law school. 

Check out the full survey results after the jump — and visit the Career Center, powered by Lateral Link, for more on clerkship bonuses and hiring trends at firms across the country.

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therapist couch lawyers psychotherapy.jpgWill Meyerhofer was your typical high-achieving Biglaw associate. He went to law school because he didn’t know what else to do with his Harvard English degree. He graduated from NYU Law in 1997 and went to work for Sullivan & Cromwell in New York.

“I did my part in destroying the nation’s economy,” he told us. After two years doing securities and M&A work — working for clients like AIG and Goldman — he decided to leave Biglaw, and become a psychotherapist. “Law fundamentally shaped me. It made me ask important questions that led me to therapy.”

He’s certainly not the first Biglaw attorney forced into therapy…

It wasn’t a huge leap for him. His mother and brother are social workers, and his dad was a therapist — he died when Meyerhofer was a teenager. His life insurance policy paid for law school, leaving Meyerhofer blessed with no law school debt, though “he would have preferred to have had Dad.” After a brief detour into business, working as a marketing executive at BarnesandNoble.com, he started taking classes in social work, getting his MSW from Hunter College in 2004.

Even at Sullivan & Cromwell, he had become an unofficial therapist. When working late on deals, colleagues would come into his office, close the door, and seek advice for stress, difficult relationships, and strained marriages. These days, his sessions are somewhat more formal. He has over 60 patients who come to individual and group sessions at his Financial District apartment, A Quiet Room. He has a sliding scale for payment, ranging from $10/hour for a 19-year-old to $200/hour for Wall Street types. “Therapy should be there when you need it, not when you can afford it,” he said.
He blogs about his work at The People’s Therapist, though he goes to great lengths to disguise the identities of his clients, obscuring details and switching their gender and sexual orientations.

Given his insight into the world of law and lawyers, we asked him to psychoanalyze you. Find out why lawyers are bad at therapy, why law firms are toxic environments, and why our comments section can be such a nasty place, after the jump.

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