Billable Hours

Scalia’s buddy?

* The Supreme Court’s Term opens today, and the conservative justices may have the opportunity to shift the law even further to the right when it comes to today’s social issues. [Los Angeles Times]

* In his Biglaw days, Chief Justice Roberts “gave his adversaries heartburn.” Now, his litigation skills serve the same purpose for those giving oral arguments before SCOTUS. [National Law Journal]

* It seems that in the end, Justice Ginsburg’s career choices have been whittled down to the lyrics found in one of The Clash’s catchiest songs: Should she stay or should she go now? [Washington Post]

* In other news, in case you were wondering, Justice Antonin Scalia, a firm believer in the Devil, is just as scary in real life as he is when he haunts your dreams (which is impressive!). [New York Magazine]

* “If this continues, it’s going to be very problematic.” Clients are very annoyed, and some Biglaw firms continue to worry about how the government shutdown will affect their bottom line. [New York Law Journal]

* The defections at night, are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas: Weil Gotshal’s Houston office is still leaking partners like a sieve. We’ll have more on these developments later today. [Law360 (sub. req.)]

* President Obama continues to comment on the important issues of the day. He’d “think about changing” the Redskins team name if he were its owner — just like this fired Quinn Emanuel associate. [CNN]

* Viva la raza! The federal government is too slow for California, so the governor signed a bill into law that will allow illegal immigrants to become licensed as lawyers. Congratulations to Sergio Garcia. [Reuters]

* No, we won’t remove that embarrassing story we wrote about you — but at least we’re not trying to charge you hundreds of dollars for its removal like those pesky mug shot websites. [New York Times]

* According to Altman Weil, law firm merger mania is on pace for record highs as firms desperately attempt to stave off financial problems by gobbling up smaller firms’ clients. [Am Law Daily]

* The NCAA better watch its back: Jeffrey Kessler, the Winston & Strawn partner who helped bring free agency to the NFL, wants in on the potential case for unpaid college athletes. [Bloomberg]

* Lawyers doing regulatory work are very afraid that the shutdown will decimate their fourth quarter billables because “[t]he longer it goes, the more problematic it will be.” Yay government. [Reuters]

* GrayRobinson partner Philippe Devé is in need of a bone marrow transplant, and his firm is using its social media presence to crowdsource a donor. Will you lend a helping hand? [Daily Business Review]

* UpCounsel has successfully raised $1.5 million in funding to beef up its international patent practice, proving the point that it costs a pretty penny to protect clients from the world’s patent trolls. [TechCrunch]

* Law schools in New York State are feeling the pain of the drop in applications, and some are now willing admit that their graduates had to start “cannibalizing each other” in the job market. [New York Law Journal]

* But really, so what if applications are down? Lots of law schools consider themselves lucky to be keeping the lights on with the assistance of generous alumni donations in the millions. [National Law Journal]

* Another day, another “diploma mill.” Sorry to disappoint you, law students and alumni, but Charleston School of Law is moving forward with its plans to sell out to the InfiLaw System. [Post and Courier]

* Who’s bad? Not AEG Live. A jury made up of people unable to answer yes or no questions during the reading of the verdict found that the concert promoter wasn’t liable in Michael Jackson’s death. [CNN]

The glory days of 2006 and 2007 may never return. They call it the “new normal” for a reason.

But things at least can get better incrementally. And this is what might be happening in the in-house world, according to two new surveys. These studies report that in-house legal departments are increasing both their hiring and their spending — which could be good news for the law firms that service them, as well as all the Biglaw attorneys who dream of making the jump to in-house.

Don’t say that we never give you happy news around these parts….

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Lawyers pad bills. They shouldn’t, but they do. Sometimes it’s an honest mistake born of bad record-keeping. Sometimes it’s a genuine cash grab. Other times it’s brought on by an honest desire to exact a tiny measure of revenge on a client whose indecisiveness or incompetence has made the lawyer’s life hell.

But when lawyers unethically pad these bills, there’s little chance of getting caught when there’s just an extra 30 minutes billed to “further work” here and there. But if a lawyer were to, say, start billing the same client for 29-hour days, it’s really only a matter of time until the jig is up.

If you think no lawyer is dumb enough to bill the same client for a 29-hour day, you’d be wrong….

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I wrote several weeks ago about why I should waste time — why I should attend some meetings at which I’m not really necessary. I should do this to learn what folks on my team are doing on a daily basis, to have a chance to work one-on-one with more people who ultimately report up to me, and to improve employee job satisfaction by having a manager show interest in employees’ work.

To my in-house eye, that’s not “wasted” time; it’s “invested” time — time that improves our collective well-being, even though it doesn’t result in my having completed a specific task that the organization needs accomplished.

As I think about it, I see an awful lot of these things in-house that I would never have seen at a law firm. For example, several weeks ago, we decided to invite a junior in-house lawyer to attend meetings of our “Corporate Ethics Committee,” at which a fairly senior group addresses, among other things, important issues that arise through our corporation’s anonymous ethics hotline. We didn’t invite the junior lawyer because his or her attendance was important to the committee’s deliberations; rather, we thought that attending the committee meetings would provide helpful training and give the junior lawyer more exposure to senior people in the department.

At a law firm, everyone would spit in your eye if you suggested that a junior person should unnecessarily attend a meeting simply for the sake of training and exposure: This would constitute either over-billing the client or wasting potentially billable hours. . . .

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Partners versus associates in Biglaw. I am not referring to the annual end-of-summer softball game. This is more serious. Many groups are flat or slow. Even though associates leave firms and get replaced very slowly, or not at all, and even though incoming associate classes have shrunk, Biglaw firms make every effort to keep associates as busy as possible. For one, associates are expensive, with their high salaries and real benefits packages. Plus, it is always easy to generate some make-work for them, particularly when there are not as many around as there used to be.

These efforts are surely welcomed by associates, but at what cost to the firm’s other timekeeping employees — the partners? Does the fact that a partner “got elected,” has the title, signed a partnership agreement, and has money (either their own or a friendly bank’s) in the firm’s capital account mean that he or she should have first dibs on all available work? Put another way, do I have the right to insist that a fellow partner assign me work rather than an associate? Do I need to make sure my fellow partners are all fully busy before I assign some of my hard-earned client matters to them? Assuming that the clients do not care about who services a particular matter (e.g., it is a new client who only cares about the price and not who is providing the service), these are very difficult questions. Unfortunately for many in Biglaw today, they are also timely….

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What sense does that make? What kind of robber only takes two-thirds of your money? Not even a lawyer does that.

Cheryl Coleman, attorney for Raheem Hines, a client who faced life in prison for a violent mugging. Coleman’s closing argument that Hines could not have committed the crime because he left the victim with money in pocket resulted in an acquittal.

To pass the time while commuting, I like to listen to podcasts. If ATL had a podcast I would add that to my listening rotation (especially if Lat is able to pull in sitting judges to guest host or as interview subjects). But this is not a column about podcasts. Though the idea for this contest came from a podcast I was listening to, the B.S. Report with Bill Simmons. The host was interviewing a former ESPN colleague, and they were discussing how certain statistics in baseball are misleading.

An example? Wins for pitchers. Apparently there is a movement to abolish that statistic. Why? Because a pitcher can pitch a terrible game, and still come away with the win, assuming his lineup bails him out. Conversely, a pitcher can pitch a beautiful game, and lose just because his hitters decide to approach their at-bats like the pudgy partner from bankruptcy at the annual intra-firm softball game. To prove the limited utility of using wins as a proxy for determining who is the best pitcher, consider the following. By nearly all accounts, Clayton Kershaw of the L.A. Dodgers is the single most dominant pitcher in baseball today. Unsurprisingly, he is reportedly in line for the richest (around $30 million a year or so) contract extension for a pitcher — ever. But he has fewer wins this season (so far) than Bartolo Colon, a 40-year-old journeyman pitcher (on his sixth team, and nearly a decade removed from his last All-Star game appearance), who is making non-equity service partner money ($3 million) by baseball standards. Wins simply do not tell the whole story.

Biglaw has its share of statistical shortcomings….

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We don’t do enough reporting about the struggles of contract attorneys. We should do more, because that’s where the jobs are. Biglaw firms have been able to keep traditional associate hiring down thanks to an explosion in the use of contract attorneys. Getting one of these hourly wage jobs actually represents success in a market saturated with underemployed attorneys.

Now I remember why I don’t do a lot of reporting on contract attorneys: acknowledging that these, and not high-paying traditional associate salaried positions, are the jobs coming back in the “recovery” is terribly, terribly sad.

This might come as a shock to you, but being a document monkey on an hourly wage is not all that it’s cracked up to be. These hard-working people generally want to work as much as possible (kind of the opposite of traditional associates) for obvious reasons. But they are often frustrated by all sorts of bureaucracy and poor treatment in their quest to wring some value out of their J.D. degrees.

We have some emails detailing the struggles of one group of contractors working on projects in D.C. Hopefully, this will inspire other contract attorneys to share their experiences with “the new normal”….

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Last week, I wrote about face time considerations for associates. In Biglaw, face time is important for partners as well, albeit in a different way, with a significant exception for “pure” service partners.

Service partners are like associates when it comes to face time, with one major difference. In contrast to the often large constituency that associates need to please, your typical service partner needs to focus more exclusively on the specific rainmakers who provide them their work. That is why you will frequently find a service partner who is dependent on a particular rainmaker trailing that rainmaker around the office like a faithful Lab trailing a treat-bearing little kid. Or never leaving until the rainmaker leaves for the day. Vacations? Either timed to the rainmaker’s vacation, or planned with the idea that one would be perfectly accessible should the rainmaker call. Most of the time, this behavior by service partners happens naturally. When you have limited sources of work, it is folly not to stay close by those sources on a constant basis.

As important as face time is for senior and mid-level partners, it is even more important for junior partners….

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