Biglaw

wall street bull backside.jpgCutbacks are hitting every level of Biglaw. Firms have gotten very creative in their attempts to wither cut or control costs. Because of all these rollbacks, weathering the global economic crisis is more challenging than simply holding on to your job — though that is hard enough.

How is the economic crisis affecting people day-to-day? We received an interesting story from a Biglaw staffer that really brings home the daily struggle to make it through this recession:

Last year Dechert sent out that retroactive memo about taking a certain percentage from the attorneys’ bonuses if they didn’t enter their time on time. Well, now they are saying that they are going to do it to the paralegals as well, BUT since most paralegals don’t get bonuses, they are threatening to take five percent from our vacation pay if we don’t qualify for a bonus and if we are late entering our time. I only make about $120 a day (in New York City!), so if the partners, who are making millions, want to take $6.00 from a struggling paralegal, that is just disgusting. …

Do any other firms treat their staff [like this]?

Dechert aside (and for the record, we don’t know if this story is an accurate reflection of Dechert’s policies on this specific issue), what other kinds of everyday, “standard of living” sacrifices are people having to make in these difficult times? Contrary to the popular belief, bonuses and pay raises don’t really go into the “coke and prostitutes” fund.

Are associates reorganizing their debt repayment plans? Are paralegals putting off plans to go back to school, or accelerating those plans? Beyond the dollars and statistics, there is a very real cost to all of the bad economic news.

How is it going out there?

Earlier: Biglaw: Welcome to the Credit Crunch

start date.jpgLast summer, we started an official Nationwide Start Date Watch as a few firms decided to trim costs by delaying the start dates for incoming associates. Why bring in new kids at $160,000 a pop when there’s no work to give them?

In 2008, Powell Goldstein, Thelen, Thacher, and Heller pushed their start dates back to January ’09 (though it was not enough to save the latter three firms); Seyfarth Shaw, K&L Gates, Shearman, and DLA Piper pushed their start dates back from September to October; Pillsbury pushed back to October, with bonus incentives offered to those who were willing to start even later; and Sonnenschein and WolfBlock asked associates to start in November.

This summer, firms may not have to “delay” start dates. Based on reports from a few 3Ls, it looks like late fall may be the new norm for start dates.

Start dates are in late October for new associates at Clifford Chance and Milbank Tweed, and November for new associates at Morrison & Foerster. (Though with Wednesday’s layoff news, MoFo-bound law grads are just happy to have start dates.)

Later start dates are good news for those who want to take nice, long bar trips, and bad news for those who want to start building their bank accounts as soon as possible. We’re wondering how widespread this trend is. If you’re a 3L with an offer letter in hand, please take this poll about when you’ll be officially entering Biglawdom.

Check out the results of the poll.

Earlier: Previous ATL coverage of Start Dates

pyramid scheme capstone small.jpgJonathan Glater’s article in the New York Times this morning is just further evidence that the pyramid scheme of major law firms is starting to show its age. Yesterday, the New York Lawyer (subscription) took more direct aim at the weak foundation of the Biglaw business model:

Over the last couple decades, high leverage–the practice of having each equity partner supported by three or more associates or income partners–was accepted as a basic tenet of profitability. A firm billed out these junior lawyers at significantly more than it paid them, often getting billings that were triple the lawyer’s salary. It seemed like a sure-fire way to make money. But high turnover and rocketing salaries ate into profit margins. Now, the whole pyramid model is looking fragile.

And it shouldn’t come as a shock that the pressure weighing down on the business model is coming from partners desperate to hang on to every penny of profit. It is clients that ultimately control the purse strings.

More detail after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Leaning Tower of Biglaw”

Fish Richardson logo.jpgFish & Richardson is conducting layoffs, another indication that IP work is not a safe haven during the economic storm.

The firm would not respond to our requests for comment, but a firm wide email sent to Fish associates confirmed that 30 support staffers were let go this week:

Today, Fish & Richardson is reducing the size of our staff by notifying 30 support staff that they will no longer be employed by the firm. Affected employees are in eight of our U.S. offices and in several administrative departments.

We thank all of these employees for their service to the firm. We know that this will be a difficult time for them, and we will assist them through this transition with a severance program. Our people are our greatest asset, and so we take these steps only after thoughtful consideration.

The firm wide memo did not mention anything about associate layoffs. That may be because the firm is also conducting stealth layoffs of associates.

More details from tipsters after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Nationwide Layoff Watch: Fish & Richardson Cuts 30 Staff: Unknown Number of Associates”

salary pay raise.jpgWe still don’t think Biglaw firms giving out normal raises is news. But judging from the number of e-mails and comments we’ve received begging for this list, many ATL readers judge this post-worthy.

In case you’re somehow unfamiliar with the practice, Biglaw firms tend to have a tiered salary system keyed to associates’ class years. In the new year, when an associate moves up a class, they move to the next level on the pay scale. An example of such a scale, from Cleary Gottlieb’s 2009 salary memo (posted in full after the jump):

Class Salary

2008 and participants in the International Lawyer Program – $160,000

2007 – $170,000

2006 – $185,000

2005 – $210,000

2004 – $230,000

2003 – $250,000

2002 – $265,000

2001 – $280,000

Some 32 firms (that we know of) are responding to economic pressures by freezing salaries: capping pay scales at last year’s rates.

But a number of firms are giving their associates the usual $10,000 – $25,000 raise. This is an open thread for those getting the pay bump to brag about it. A list of nearly 50 firms conducting business as usual with raises, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Open Thread: Business as Usual, or The Firms That Have Not Frozen Salaries”

John Grisham sat down with us this morning for an exclusive blog interview to discuss his new book, The Associate. The book’s main character, Kyle McAvoy, is a Biglaw associate with a mysterious past and intriguing future.

In his previous books, Grisham has explored emotional and ethical costs of practicing the law in various forms. But his latest book takes dead aim at the life, and lifestyle, of junior associates at top Manhattan law firms.

A lot of Kyle McAvoy’s Biglaw experience will ring true to most readers of Above the Law. We found out that Grisham’s depictions of Biglaw life are so accurate because typical associates told him the truth:

I found some wonderful blogs where associates post anonymously their stories. Beautiful stories….

But my best research was done by a research assistant that spent one year in the law…. He knew a ton of lawyers in the big law firms in New York. He told them up front what he was doing [researching for Grisham's new book] and that their stories would be kept anonymous, and they just unloaded on him…. Most of it went into the book.

The book contains scenes that are easily recognizable to most Biglaw associates, from the mind-numbing experience of document review, to the attorney who literally passes out due to exhaustion.

But we wanted to know if Grisham modeled the book’s central firm, Scully & Pershing, on any individual real-life firm. Grisham said that he unequivocally did not:

I was prepared to go to a big law firm and get inside and walk around and kick the tires. But I didn’t want to do that because I knew the portrayal would be unflattering and I didn’t want to embarrass any particular firm.

In fact, Grisham thought about changing the name of the fictional Scully to avoid any possibility of confusion with Skadden.

Why is the take on life in Biglaw so “unflattering”? Grisham explains that the wasted potential he explores in The Associate mirrors what he sees in the corridors of the nation’s top law firms.

More details, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “John Grisham: The Associate
An ATL Exclusive Interview With John Grisham About His Latest Book”

Not Hiring sign.jpgThus far, the University of Chicago Law School has been immune to the fever of grade reform. While other law schools bend over backwards to make the same level of education look better on a transcript, Chicago has held the line.

But it’s not like U of C Law is just ignoring the economic realities of the day. Another trend among top law schools it to make their on-campus interview process start earlier so firms don’t “fill up” on other candidates. Chicago is officially moving in that direction:

The fall 2009 on-campus interview program may seem very far away during the Chicago winter, but the Office of Career Services has begun planning in order to maximize your opportunities during this important phase of the job market for students exploring law firm careers. This planning has led to a notable calendar change: The University of Chicago Law School’s fall on-campus interviews will be held August 17-28, with an orientation to the program scheduled for August 15th.

After the jump, Chicago Law makes its intentions clear — but there are other problems with changing the timing of OCI.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “University of Chicago Law School The Latest to Change Fall OCI”

Happy workers.JPGFortune has released its annual list of the top 100 companies to work for. Despite the general feeling of malaise in the legal industry, a few law firms made the cut.

The highest ranked law firm (number 21 overall) is Arnold & Porter. Fortune reports:

Law firm offers world-class benefits to staff and attorneys: 18 weeks’ paid leave for maternity and adoption, $5,000 for adoption fees, $30,000 for fertility services, free onsite fitness center, on- and off-site child care.

I guess a salary freeze that their peer firms in the Vault 20 are largely avoiding doesn’t trump a free gym.

Fortune also released a list of the top 20 companies that are great places to work and still hiring. No law firms made that list.

So I guess we’ll focus on other law firms in the top 100 after the jump.

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Collectively Depressing Soul.jpgSo…. Here’s The Thing….

It’s kind of like what Collective Soul said a decade ago, when things were just fantastic:

Are these times contagious?

I’m never been this bored before.

Is this the prize I’ve waited for?

These days, it seems like all my friends are depressed on account of the Depression. (Or the “recession,” for those ostriches who choose to bury their heads in the sand.) It certainly doesn’t help that CNN keeps slapping Obama into FDR’s car or that every reporter declares 600,000 jobs were lost today or the “Dow hasn’t dipped this low since 1929.” Good lord. No wonder no one is spending. I’ve stopped reading the papers. It’s all just widespread panic. Pretty soon they’ll be bringing polio back, too.

And the law firms. Wow. Who ever would have thought those blue-blooded Ivy Leaguers who were doing filings and writing law review articles about all those “complex financial instruments” would now be unemployed? And each day there are more and more layoffs. Where are the acquisitions? And where are freaking derivatives? I mean you always need lawyers, right? And what: associates doing paralegal work? They don’t know how to shepardize, much less tab and hole-punch briefing books. Geez.

The Depression takes its toll, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Depression Is So Freaking Depressing (Part I)”

Kathryn Ruemmler Kathryn H Ruemmler Kathy Ruemmler Latham Watkins.jpgSuperstar litigatrix Kathryn Ruemmler, a litigation partner at Latham & Watkins and an Enron prosecutor before that, has been picked to serve as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General in the Obama Justice Department. That title is a mouthful, but lawyers inside the Beltway know it’s a Big Deal.

The revolving door between the DOJ and Latham swings again. Ruemmler has traded places with another fierce female litigator: Alice Fisher, who rejoined the firm after heading up the Criminal Division.

As for Ruemmler, the government’s gain is Latham’s loss. Says one LW tipster: “She’s a really good lawyer, and a genuinely nice person. We’re very sorry to lose her.”

Kathy Ruemmler isn’t just a genial genius; she’s stylish, too. From the WSJ Law Blog, reporting on a day of the Ken Lay trial:

Speaking of footwear, the boldest fashion statement of the day — possibly rivaling O’Melveny paralegal Bill Evans’s goth getup for the gutsiest sartorial move of the week — came from the government’s Ruemmler. The deputy director of the Enron Task Force, who won convictions against four Merrill Lynch bankers in the 2004 Nigerian Barge case, paired a conservative gray suit with stunning 4-inch bright pink stiletto spikes.

Litigatrix indeed. Just because you work for the DOJ doesn’t mean you have to shop at DSW.

There’s a lot of diversity in Obama’s Department picks so far. Eric Holder, nominated to serve as Attorney General, is African-Amercan. Elena Kagan and Dawn Johnsen, nominated to serve as, respectively, Solicitor General and head of the Office of Legal Counsel, are women.

The full memo about Ruemmler’s move, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Musical Chairs: Kathy Ruemmler from Latham Back to DOJ”

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