Billable Hours

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Sarah Powell, author of Biglaw: How to Survive the First Two Years of Practice in a Mega-Firm (affiliate link), helps new associates face their own unrealistic expectations about life in Biglaw.

My last post focused on how much it can suck to be a junior associate in Biglaw today. In fact, much of what I say about Biglaw could be construed as a tad critical by the cynical and jaded (or sane).

So let me begin with a caveat: what I write is never aimed at my former firm, or any firm in particular. In fact, if you choose Biglaw, I have no doubt that my firm is one of the best places to practice. My crucial point, which is not controversial, is that Biglaw’s pathologies cannot be isolated to one or two crazy partners here or there. The problems of Biglaw are endemic.

So before we get too far down that Biglaw-bashing road, and especially for the folks gearing up for OCI, let’s look at what you can get from Biglaw if you decide to say “damn the torpedoes” and push ahead despite all warnings.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

Ed. note: This is the latest installment of The ATL Interrogatories, brought to you by Lateral Link. This recurring feature will give notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.

Jeffrey E. Stone is Co-Chair of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and Chair of the Firm’s Management Committee. In addition to his management roles, Jeffrey is a nationally recognized trial lawyer and a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. He concentrates his practice in the areas of white-collar criminal defense, complex commercial litigation, internal investigations and RICO. He represents corporations, boards of directors, senior executives and other individuals in a variety of complex civil litigation and criminal prosecutions, involving a broad range of industries, including health care, manufacturing and financial services. He has tried more than 40 cases to verdict before juries in federal and state court.

Jeffrey has served as National Chairman of the Stanford Fund (responsible for all annual giving to Stanford University), as a National Trustee for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, as outside counsel to the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board, as a board member of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, and as president of the Jewish Family and Community Services agency. He currently serves as a member of the national Board of Governors for the American Jewish Committee.

1. What is the greatest challenge to the legal industry over the next 5 years?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The ATL Interrogatories: 10 Questions with Jeffrey Stone from McDermott Will & Emery LLP”

George Zimmerman: Not Guilty

* Size matters when it comes to hourly rates. Because when you work in Biglaw, it’ll be all the more odious for your poor clients when you “churn that bill, baby.” [Corporate Counsel]

* Would you want this Cadwalader cad, a former mailroom supervisor, at your “erotic disposal”? The object of his affections didn’t want him either, and she’s suing. [New York Daily News]

* In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, the NAACP is pressing for federal charges and a civil suit may be in the works. This trial isn’t over in the court of public opinion. [Bloomberg]

* This experience inspired George Zimmerman, fresh off his acquittal, to go to law school to help the wrongfully accused. If it makes you feel better, when he graduates, he’ll be unemployed. [Reuters]

* Here’s the lesson learned by Prop 8 proponents: If at first you don’t succeed at the Supreme Court, try, try again at the state level and base your arguments on technicalities. [Los Angeles Times]

* You do not want this patent troll — one of the most notorious in the country — to “go thug” on you. Apparently this is just another danger of alleged infringement in the modern world. [New York Times]

* Asiana Airlines is considering suing the NTSB and a California television station over the airing of “inaccurate and offensive” information (read: wildly racist) about the pilots of Flight 214. [CNN]

* Ariel Castro was slapped with an additional 648 counts in the kidnapping case against him, bringing the total to 977. Prosecutors are not yet seeking the death penalty. [Cleveland Plain Dealer]

I recently heard the managing partner of a regional law firm say that alternative fee arrangements are like teenage sex: “More of it is being talked about than is actually being done, and the little that’s being done is being done poorly.”

My corporation now uses alternative fee agreements for a large percentage of its work. All of those arrangements have worked out acceptably, and one (which I’ll discuss after the jump) has played out spectacularly. The harder question is this: How does one convince tens of thousands of readers to click through the jump (and “continue reading”) a column about alternative fee arrangements (because clicks through the jump are, after all, the relevant metric to the Above the Law gang)?

I’ve got it! Gin up a riddle, and put the question before the jump and the punch line after. What reader could resist?

So — riddle me this:

What’s the similarity between discussions about alternative fee agreements and elephantine mating?

Both take place on a high level, involve much trumpeting, . . .

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Tom Wallerstein

Starting a new firm is daunting. Many lawyers focus on their expenses, and are pleasantly surprised that the overhead and other necessary expenses are less than they expected. But the real difficulty arises on the other side of the ledger because accurately projecting income can be so elusive.

If you’re starting with guaranteed clients, then making projections is easier. But otherwise, you really can’t project your income unless you know the extent to which your business plan in general (and your business development plan in particular) will succeed.

Even if you can accurately project how much potential business you will have, it’s still easy to slip by overestimating your expected income…

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Biglaw lawyers are a late-arriving crowd compared to their banking counterparts. It’s one of the few perks of the job. Lawyers work hard and have to be at the beck and call of their clients, but in this age of wireless connectivity, they don’t have to punch into a physical plant every morning like a common dock worker. Yay?

Grown adults can usually be trusted to manage their own time efficiently, but occasionally partners decide to crack the whip and demand that associates be physically in the office during “business hours.” Why? Who knows. Partners at MoFo did this a few years ago. It’s an office, dammit. People should be in theirs so I can sit in mine and say “come here,” and then I can hand them a document because I’m a partner and .pdfs frighten and confuse me!

Whatever, it’s the partners’ world, associates are just living in it. That’s why associates at the D.C. office of one Biglaw firm received two “demoralizing” emails this week — one that was kind of boasting how the entire firm was slammed, another that seemed to have no knowledge of the first one that instructed all of these slammed people to be tied to their desks….

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Tom Wallerstein

By the time I graduated from law school in 1999, I had become rather risk-averse. For example, several of my friends were excited to enter the dot.com world with hopes of becoming uber-wealthy. I eschewed those prospects for the security of a more regular, albeit more modest, Biglaw paycheck. Eighty thousand per year struck me then (and now) as a generous starting salary.

Of course, forming and managing a new law firm is a risky business proposition. But to the extent that I now am fully responsible for generating my own work, I feel like I actually have greater job security than I did when I was beholden to working for other rainmakers on their cases. So even though starting a firm was risky, it didn’t really portend a fundamental shift in my natural inclination to prefer security over risks even if that means foregoing potentially bigger gains.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Skin in the Game: Mixed Hourly and Contingent Fee Billing”

* “[T]hese senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them” Yesterday, the Senate blocked gun-control legislation that could have saved lives, and Gabrielle Giffords, a victim of gun violence, wrote a powerful op-ed in reaction. [New York Times]

* DLA Piper won’t be churning that bill anymore because the firm managed to settle its fee dispute with Adam Victor, but it’s certain that the firm’s embarrassment over the overbilling incident will know no limits. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Ahh, best-laid plans: Kim Koopersmith, the first woman to serve as Akin Gump’s chair, never thought that she’d be working in a law firm. In law school, she wanted to work in public interest. [Bloomberg]

* You’ll never guess which firm has the best brand in Canada according to the latest Acritas survey, but that’s probably because you don’t care. Come on, it’s Canada. Fine, it’s Norton Rose. [Am Law Daily]

* Oopsie! Burford Capital claims that it would never have funded plaintiffs’ representation by Patton Boggs in the Chevron case if it weren’t for a partner’s “false and misleading” statements. [CNN Money]

* The wife of a former justice of the peace has been charged with capital murder after she confessed to her involvement in the slayings of Texas prosecutors Mike McLelland and Mark Hasse. [Reuters]

* Baltimore Law has a beautiful new building that cost $112 million. Just a thought: perhaps more of that money should’ve been spent putting the class of 2012 to work as lawyers. [National Law Journal]

Biglaw competition is getting intense. Everyone is chasing the same clients, while also deploying rearguard actions to protect institutional clients from being poached. Forget about lateral partners taking clients for a moment. I am talking about overt approaches from competing firms regarding existing matters, bearing promises of handling things more cheaply and more efficiently. In-house lawyers, under pressure to contain costs, almost have to listen. They may not act right away, but with each such approach another dent has been made in the Biglaw client-maintenance bumper.

It is no secret that in the face of declining overall demand (especially for the profit-pumping activities like mega-document reviews that were Biglaw’s joy to perform in the past), firms need to aggressively protect market share. While also seeking to grow market share. In an environment where more and more large clients are either (1) reducing the number of firms that they are willing to assign work to or (2) embracing an approach that finds no beauty contest too distasteful to engage in. So partners, at least those tasked with finding work for everyone to do, are falling back on a tried-and-true “sales approach” — putting things on sale.

How bad has it gotten?

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The fact that the billing rates of contract attorneys are in excess of what the law firm pays them is not unusual or untoward. That’s to cover overhead and have a profit built in.

Ira Press, a partner at Kirby McInerney, offering commentary on the Citigroup billing frackas that’s made headlines of late. On average, the firm billed out contract attorneys who worked on the matter at about $465 an hour, but likely paid them just $60 to $75 an hour for their “special expertise” and services. Ted Frank, aka the Class Action Avenger, is not happy about all of this.

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