Biglaw

Last year, St. Martin’s Press published The Partner Track, the debut novel of lawyer Helen Wan. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, I praised the book for being engaging, suspenseful, and — unlike so many legal novels — realistic. The paperback edition of The Partner Track became available last week.

I enjoy fiction about lawyers, as both a reader and writer — my own first novel comes out in a few weeks — and I’m deeply interested in how other writers work. So I interviewed Helen Wan about her book, her approach to writing, and how she managed to write a novel while holding down a demanding job as an in-house lawyer for Time Warner. I also asked for her advice on how women and minority lawyers can succeed in Biglaw.

Here’s a (lightly edited and condensed) write-up of our conversation.

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When we covered the American Lawyer’s annual summer associate satisfaction survey last year, we noted that “[b]eing a summer associate just isn’t what it used to be.” All work and no play may make summer associates dull boys and girls, but it also makes them highly confident they’ll receive offers of full-time employment when their programs end.

Despite the fact that it’s a “buyer’s market for law firms,” many of them tossed out offers to their summer classes like Mardi Gras beads. Summer associates were no longer praying for offers, as they were in certain years past; no, this summer, they almost expected offers to be handed to them.

These were the conclusions drawn from the American Lawyer’s 2014 Summer Associate Survey. Am Law polled 5,085 law students at the nation’s largest firms about their summer experiences and used the results to rank 96 programs. This year’s crop of would-be lawyers was seemingly at ease about their situations, despite the fact that there is still a general unease permeating through Biglaw.

This summer’s overall rankings were overwhelmingly positive. If you’re a law student trying to figure out where to spend your summer, you’re probably asking: which law firms came out with the highest scores?

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We all dream of a world in which collegiality matters.

Partners at law firms are . . . well . . . partners. They look out for each other. They build each other’s practices. They work for the common good.

Perhaps that firm exists. I wouldn’t know.

From my perch here — as the guy who left a Biglaw partnership for an in-house job, and on whose shoulder other Biglaw partners now routinely cry — the view is pretty ugly. (Perhaps my perspective is distorted because of an obvious bias: Partners happy with their firms don’t come wailing to me.) What I hear these days is grim: Guys are being de-equitized or made of counsel; they think they’re being underpaid; they’re concerned that they’ll be thrown under the bus if they ever lose a step.

Several recent partners’ laments prompted me to think about something that I’d never considered when I worked at a firm. (Maybe that’s because I’m one of those guys who was perfectly happy laboring for the common good. Or maybe it’s because I’m a moron.)

In any event, here’s today’s question: I want to wrestle effectively with my own law firm. I don’t want to be nasty; I just want to be sure that I have implicit power when I negotiate with the firm. I want the firm — of its own accord, without me saying a word — to treat me right. How do I wrestle my own law firm to the ground? How do I pin my partners?

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She doesn’t needed to be educated about rap music.

* “Operas can get pretty gory. I should have put that in my brief.” In the upcoming Supreme Court term, it looks like law clerks will have to educate their justices about the intricacies of rap music’s sometimes violent lyrics. [National Law Journal]

* The pay gap between equity and non-equity Biglaw partners is growing wider and wider. According to recent survey, on average, equity partners are bringing home $633K more than non-equity partners each year. [Am Law Daily]

* Hackers are targeting Biglaw firms to acquire their clients’ important secrets. Unfortunately, no one is brave enough to step up to the plate and say their firm’s been hit — admitting that “could be an extinction-level event.” [Tribune-Review]

* Which Biglaw firms had the most satisfied summer associates this year? There was a big rankings shake-up at the top of the list this time around, and we’ll have more on this later today. [Am Law Daily]

* In the wake of the Ray Rice scandal, Adrian Peterson screwed up many of your fantasy football teams after he was indicted for hurting his child “with criminal negligence.” He’s now out on $15,000 bail. [CNN]

A 60-year-old Navy veteran needed money fast. So he did what far too many people do in that situation and applied for a short-term “payday-type” loan. When all was said and done, he was charged well over 100 percent interest. Seriously. One major player in the industry offered a $2,600, 47-month loan, and sought a total repayment of $20,280.03! That’s a 204.94 percent annual percentage rate!

Most of us realize that short-term lenders make their nut on exorbitantly high interest rates, but states have systematically cracked down on these companies and capped the interest they’re allowed to charge. State regulators have had a good deal of success in recent years securing hefty settlements for citizens victimized under state usury laws.

But our Navy veteran friend wasn’t so lucky. He got his loans from the wrong companies, and the state Department of Banking had to tell him that they were powerless to assist him.

It’s hard to believe a company can so blatantly thumb its nose at the rules, but they have a secret and some Biglaw bigshots on retainer to fight tooth-and-nail to protect their lending practices….

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Size matters, and to be successful today you really have to be in that Am Law 50.

Alan Levin, managing partner of Edwards Wildman, commenting on the importance of being viewed as a “tier 1″ law firm in the overall Biglaw hierarchy. Levin identified possible merger partners by commissioning a study to separate firms into “tier 1″ and “tier 2″ groupings. Locke Lord was considered a “tier 1″ firm, and Levin will become vice chair of Locke Lord Edwards if the merger goes through.

Kent W. Easter

* The justices of Supreme Court of the United States will discuss gay marriage cases from five states during their “long conference” at the end of the month. Which ones will they decide to take? Help us, Justice AMK! [National Law Journal]

* This law school is having some troubles adjusting to the “new normal.” Not only is its administration planning back-to-back tuition hikes, but it’s asking the state for help with its deficits. Yikes, that’s not good. [The Republic]

* This Gonzaga Law professor thinks that playing poker is part of having a balanced life. He might not come home with much after his games, but “it’s better than a kick in the head.” [Spokesman-Review]

* Remember Kent W. Easter, the Biglaw partner who was accused of planting drugs in a school volunteer’s car? During his recent retrial, he was convicted of false imprisonment by fraud and deceit. [OC Weekly]

* Following a “marathon trial marked by screams, tears, vomit, anger,” Oscar Pistorius has been found negligent, but not guilty of premeditated murder. Expect a final verdict tomorrow, perhaps. [USA Today]

True story: I didn’t leave Schulte to start ReplyAll, I left Schulte to work in the Houston office of BakerHostetler. As the father of three (two and a half at the time) kids living in a cramped apartment, moving to Houston was a no-brainer. The salary was the same, but the cost of living was a fraction of what it was in New York. But, after accepting the offer and traveling to Houston to find a house, I got this sick feeling in my stomach. During nights and weekends of the summer before I left Biglaw, my friend Ari Gold and I had been working on this little idea for a new kind of online conversation. Moving to Houston and starting another legal job would mean giving up on this idea, and I didn’t want to be sitting in a law firm seven years later wondering “what if?”

Calling Sameer Mohan, the partner at Baker who had recruited me, and telling him that I would not be accepting the offer was unquestionably the most difficult decision of my life, and I would by lying if I said I haven’t had my fair share of second thoughts. It’s not just the cash (although you know, the cash wouldn’t hurt). Despite the long hours, Houston firms (particularly Baker) value family and work/life balance in a way that I never saw at firms in New York (not just Schulte), or what I heard from friends who were working in other big markets like San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles. And because David Lat will be speaking in Houston next week, and since we at ReplyAll love to kiss the ass of pander to support and promote our partners, I thought it would be fun to invite Sameer himself for a conversation about the pros and cons of working in the Houston market.

As always, the conversation develops live, so check back over the next few days as the conversation unfolds….

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We’ve been hearing rumblings about it for weeks, and now there’s something to report: Locke Lord and Edwards Wildman Palmer have signed a letter of intent to merge.

Some folks at Edwards Wildman must be breathing sighs of relief (and hoping that nothing scuttles the deal). The past year or so has been challenging for the firm. In the spring, the firm laid off 52 lawyers and staff. In 2013, the firm experienced lots of partner defections and a significant dip in gross revenue.

It’s nice to see a troubled firm get rescued through a merger — e.g., Patton Boggs — instead of suffer the fate of Dewey. What do we know about the possible Locke Lord / Edwards Wildman deal?

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We can help you waste thousands of dollars in taxpayer money to fight for what you sort of believe in.

– “William Hostetler,” the fictional voice of the very real law firm BakerHostetler. BakerHostetler, recently hired by congressional Republicans to spearhead their infamous lawsuit against President Obama, got a send-up on last night’s Tonight Show with a phony ad in the style of every ambulance-chasing firm ever committing to help you, the viewer, work out your frustrations with a frivolous lawsuit against President Obama.

(The whole bit is available after the jump….)

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