Biglaw

Today, the National Law Journal lets us in on an ambitious project. The publication has tried to identify the 40 most influential lawyers of the decade. The 40 people they came up with are relatively well known to the general Above the Law readership, but they won’t be household names to your lay-friends:

The list spans law firms, academia, government and advocacy groups, but, consciously subtracts a few obvious categories: Members of the Supreme Court and attorneys general, for instance, are generally influential by definition, and they are not included here.

The NLJ was looking for lawyers that don’t get their name in the mainstream media every day:

Instead, we have focused upon lawyers in the following specific practices: antitrust; appellate; bankruptcy; civil rights; corporate; energy and environmental; in-house; intellectual property; labor and employment; legal education; litigation; and regulatory. In other words, we’re primarily focusing on hard-working lawyers who’ve been in the trenches on big deals or major litigation or who have been pioneering at in-house positions or the nation’s law schools.

So, who made the cut?

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Nathan Sawaya went to the trouble of getting a law degree, but now he’s making a living with a skill he mastered in kindergarten.

Instead of building cases these days, Sawaya is building large-scale sculptures out of LEGOs. He’s been a LEGO fanatic since he got his first set at 5 years old. He told Image Magazine that while at NYU Law, rather than using his law school desk for studying, he used it for building a LEGO replica of Greenwich Village.

Despite spending his law school days playing with blocks, he managed to score an offer from Winston & Strawn.

Six years ago, though, he won a contest at Toys R’ Us and left the firm to take a $30,000 job as a builder at LEGOland. That batsh*t crazy decision has actually turned out well for Sawaya, 36, if you consider being a world-renowned LEGO artist to be a good thing.

New Yorkers can now check out his work at Agora Gallery in Chelsea. “Brick by Brick: The Lego Brick Sculpture of Nathan Sawaya” opens today.

What might you see beyond a man-size Blackberry (with a built-in flat screen TV)? Here are some examples of Sawaya’s “art”:

dan cooperman apple to bingham mccutchen.jpgThe common assumption is that corporate counsel positions are cushier than Biglaw gigs. One of the big reasons is that in-house hours are supposedly more humane. However, Daniel Cooperman, a former partner at McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen (now Bingham McCutchen), who left Biglaw to work as general counsel at Oracle and then Apple, suggests otherwise.

At Oracle for 11 years, he only lasted two at Apple before he burned out. He talked to the Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog about his time getting housed:

Mr. Cooperman admitted that he needed a break from the intensity of the general counsel job, which he has held for a total of 13 years.
“It’s an extreme amount of responsibility and accountability and you need to be available fully 24 hours a day. After all that time, I really wanted a bit of sabbatical,” he said.

Cooperman is getting that “breather” by heading back to Biglaw. He’s returning to Bingham as of counsel in the firm’s Silicon Valley office. He told the WSJ that his mission is to help the law firm understand its corporate clients’ culture.

Lesson one: don’t be offended when people hang up on you…

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legally blonde attractive lawyers.jpgWomen’s Health recently had an article about how pretty people have an advantage in this world. D’uh. In other breaking news, strong people have an advantage when it comes to beating the crap out of others.

Still, the Women’s Health article has a money quote that every lawyer — especially an unemployed lawyer — should note:

Job recruiters have come to learn that sending aesthetically pleasing candidates gets a better reaction from their clients. “I’ll write ‘This person is attractive’ on the applicant’s cover letter before passing her on,” admits a professional who does hiring in the legal field.

“Whether they admit it or not, many employers feel that having pretty female employees will reflect well on their firm.”

This seems like a good time for ATL editors to opine on hotness and career success in the law….

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A question started percolating around the ATL offices this morning (your ATL editors do work out of an office, at least since our moms kicked us out of the basement): Is Kathleen Sullivan the FIRST female named partner in the Am Law 100?

We figured that surely there was at least one other firm that had a female partner with her name in lights. But we’ve thought about it, conferred with the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession, and googled around a little, and so far we’ve come up empty.

According to a spokesperson from Quinn Emanuel, Kathleen Sullivan is the Alpha female of the Am Law 100:

We believe she is the first female partner to be a named partner in the Am Law 100.

Is this possible? Were all of the top 100 firms named after old white men until today? All of them?

If you know of an exception, send us an email or put it in the comments. Please tell us that we didn’t have to wait until 2010 to cross this threshold. Regardless, we’re always happy to see a woman on top.

Earlier: CHECK YOU FIRM NAME: Quinn Emanuel Adds Kathleen Sullivan to the Stationery

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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