Billable Hours

When it comes to law firm bonus news, there’s no such thing as “too late.” Heck, we covered Wachtell Lipton’s bonuses for 2011 and 2012 just last week.

If you have Biglaw bonus news that we have not yet covered, please email us or text us (646-820-8477). We’re always happy to hear from you.

Last month, Dechert announced the price it pays for associate talent. Let’s travel down this bonus road, shall we?

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There are only so many ways that we can tell our readers that the Biglaw boom years are over. Slow firm growth in terms of attorney headcount is now praised. Law firm mergers are common occurrences, if only because there’s always someone to save from a fate suffered like that of Dewey and the failed firms of yesteryear — Brobeck, Coudert, Heller, Thelen, and Howrey. Alternative fee arrangements are trending, and discounts are handed out as if clients are enrolled in fast-food loyalty programs (buy one multi-million dollar patent suit, get the next one 75 percent off!).

But just because the heyday is over does not mean that Biglaw’s all-stars are going to charge their clients any less cash. Back in the day, $1,000 per hour billing rates were considered obscene by some. Now, even in a still recovering economy, four-figure billing rates are just business as usual. In fact, some partners are edging closer and closer to a $2,000 per hour fee every day.

So which firms have the highest partner billing rates? Let’s find out…

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Ted Olson’s hourly rate.

* While we’re celebrating recently anointed Biglaw partner classes, let’s take a minute to call out the firms that haven’t bestowed the honor upon a single woman this year. Cheers, jerks. [Am Law Daily]

* The results of the NLJ’s Law Firm Billing Survey are out, and lo and behold, one of the top partners in the country is pushing $2,000 an hour for his services. Congrats, Ted! [National Law Journal (sub. req.)]

* Everyone’s buzzing about the federal law clerk who’s been accused of attempted aggravated rape and solicitation of a minor under 13. Don’t let that legendary 4.0 GPA go to waste. [Times-Picayune]

* Congratulations to Gerchen Keller Capital, the litigation finance firm founded by former SCOTUS clerks and hedge-fund alumni, on raising $260 million for its new fund. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Iowa is thinking about allowing law grads to practice ASAP instead of having to pass a bar exam. Paired with its recent tuition cuts, the Hawkeye State is looking better and better. [Des Moines Register]

* If you’re in the unfortunate situation of still having to look for a law job once OCI has ended, then you might want to start considering applying for some of the other law jobs that don’t want you. [Mashable]

* The incarceration of a blogger known for making salacious allegations against federal judges raises First Amendment concerns. [New York Times]

* The Tenth Circuit will not be blocking same-sex marriages from occurring in Utah, so the next stop will be Supreme Court intervention. Sorry, but we have a feeling that Justice Sonia Sotomayor isn’t going to be too helpful with that. [MSNBC]

* Winston & Strawn, if you’re overbilling on pro bono motions and you want fees, you might want to be more descriptive. Please tell this judge what “preparation for filing” even means, and why you spent more than four hours doing it. [New York Law Journal]

* This judge felt she was “being played with,” so she took a man’s kid away from him during Christmas. Now a judicial ethics commission is showing her that it’s not one to be played with. [Texas Lawyer]

* Yay, happy news! Chapman Law’s associate dean for student affairs really takes her job responsibilities to heart. She’s performed several wedding ceremonies for both students and alumni. [National Law Journal]

* The Indian diplomat who got strip-searched was arrested over a silly mistake, says her lawyer. It’s too bad that a lack of reading comprehension can result in having to bend over and spread ‘em. [Bloomberg]

Except with fewer hundreds. Lots fewer hundreds.

Did you grow up idolizing Bond, James Bond? Can you recite all the one-liners from Archer? Ever want to jump into the daring and dangerous world of espionage? Maybe try your hand at being an international man (or woman) of mystery?

Well, this probably isn’t the job for you then. But if you are a natural busybody who would like to get paid for those snooping skills, then you may be interested. And all you need is a J.D.

This tip was sent to us from Craigslist and it is exactly as ridiculous as it sounds….

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Earlier this week the Anonymous Partner wrote about Biglaw’s dirty little open secret, which he generously referred to as “creative billing” but which we all know is simply bilking money from your clients. It’s a common enough practice, and while an associate’s bonus may or may not be linked to the number of hours billed, it certainly improves the firm’s bottom line. But could you imagine the abuses that would occur if the associate’s weekly paycheck fluctuated depending on the number of hours they billed that week?

Welcome to the world of the contract attorney…

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Two weeks ago, I wrote about one of Biglaw’s most pressing issues: the failure of senior partners to pass along clients to younger partners. But that is not the only problem some of Biglaw’s senior partners are causing for their firms and the industry as a whole. Unfortunately, a measurable portion of senior partners, those of the august titles and stratospheric billing rates, are among the worst offenders of one of Biglaw’s most notorious shortcuts to extreme profitability: creative time entry and billing.

While I hate to acknowledge, even though I have seen it firsthand, that partners make up time entries wholesale for work never performed, it is not hard to realize that in this age of the multimillion-dollar partner there exists a tremendous incentive for such behavior. Or at least for partners to “round up” time entries, a tacitly accepted practice within Biglaw.

Incentives matter, and the more richly compensated a senior partner is, the more pressure there is on them to put down a solid four to five hours for “reviewing and revising” a draft brief on Tuesday, only to make a similar entry when they review a more robust version of the same brief a few days later. And because senior partners are frequently responsible for a horde of timekeepers below them, the tone set by the lawyers at the top of the pyramid has an impact on the behavior of those lower on the chain….

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This coming Friday, it is the inalienable right of all Americans to sleep off their hangovers, or riot at Walmart, or do anything at all rather than work for The Man. But Biglaw is a different country. As illustrated by Elie’s decision matrix, the “choice” of whether to work on this sacred day is, for the denizens of the law firm world, fraught with other pressures and expectations. We all know that Biglaw careers demand a Faustian bargain: in return for their fat paychecks (and bonuses?), lawyers are expected to work grueling, unpredictable hours. This time of year, that reality is brought into sharp relief: the “holiday season,” with those “family obligations” and so forth, is something that occurs elsewhere.

But law firm billable expectations are not homogeneous. There are significant differences across practice areas, seniority levels, and, of course, individual firms. So how do the various practices, employment statuses, and firms stack up?

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Associates waste lots of time because senior lawyers are absolutely terrible managers. It’s not totally their fault. They think that a prestigious law degree means they’re an expert at everything. So armed with an irrelevant skill set, a complete lack of management training, and a hefty chunk of hubris, lawyers roll into personnel management sure that they know something by gut that business leaders endure hours and hours of MBA classes, Dale Carnegie seminars, and Six Sigma trainings to figure out.

Anyway, this leads to massive amounts of wasted time. The hours usually get (at least partially) billed and clients are savvy enough to know they deserve a write-off — but just how would they react if they knew exactly how their $500/hour was being spent?

Here are just a few tales of the wasted time billed to clients. Maybe you have some that top these?

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Do you really think you can bother this woman and not get cut?

* The trial of a Utah doctor accused of murdering his wife-to-be with a mistress 20 years his junior has kicked off a battle of medical experts trying to guide the jury through the competing theories about the cause of death. See, this was all easier when you could just introduce a new sister wife into the equation. [The Expert Institute]

* Is it acceptable to interrupt Justice Ginsburg’s dinner to show her something on your phone? [Slate (second item)]

* Case against Iowa law school for barring a student training a service dog will go forward. They should have just been happy it wasn’t a llama. [Des Moines Register]

* This week in clever footnoting: citing The Chairman of the Board in Footnote 2 (page 17). [U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit]

* Professor Eric Posner reviews Professor Rahul Sagar’s new book, Secrets and Leaks (affiliate link), which posits that people may be overreacting when they call for tearing down the NSA. [The New Republic]

* Jay Edelson and his associate Chandler Givens explain why the billable hour is the first thing that must go. Don’t they mean “Reason Number 1″ to reform the legal profession? [Reuters Legal Solutions]

* Judge Scheindlin is lawyering up, and Bloomberg looks at the various legal experts — including our own David Lat — who have spoken out about the case. Video embedded after the jump… [Bloomberg Law via You Tube]

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