It has been a few days since our last detailed story about the largest law firm bankruptcy in history. So let’s check in on the Chapter 11 proceedings of Dewey & LeBoeuf, currently pending in bankruptcy court for the Southern District of New York.
There have been a few recent developments. For example, as we mentioned in Morning Docket, Dewey is being counseled in bankruptcy by some pretty pricey advisers.
In my humble opinion, there is nothing worse than billing time. Just think of the feeling you get when you’ve spent a day doing a million random tasks in your sad beige office, and you have no ten-minute entries to account for that day (i.e., you get no credit for a day spent at work doing work things). Not only is billing a pain, the practice of accounting for your time is even worse. While I was no better at it when I was at my Biglaw firm than at the small firm, the former had some software that would send me mean emails if I did not get my hours in on time. Oh, and there were scarier partners that would come after if me if I had a delinquent time report.
At the small firm, on the other hand, I was instructed to fill out time entries by hand, give them to my assistant to type into a billing program, review the print-out of the hours inputted by my assistant, and then send them off to the partner to review and approve.
I was less efficient at billing at the small firm than at my Biglaw firm. Not only did I lose precious ten-minute increments working with my assistant to bill hours, but I also worked on a minimum of four matters, and switching between matters meant less efficiency. And I suppose there are other things people do at small firms that they cannot bill for — like go get business or something?
Associates generally don’t have much room to negotiate salary or benefits in Biglaw. Beyond paying a premium for specialized skill sets (e.g., an engineering degree) or pedigree (e.g., a former Supreme Court clerk), those firms tend to pay a certain amount per class year with little variance among individuals. Among different Am Law 100 firms, there is relatively little variance. A few firms pay exceptionally well and a few others lag below market, but all the Am Law 100 firms have generally similar salary structures.
Not so with small firms, solo practices, and boutiques. According to the Robert Half Salary Guide, for example, the median starting salary for a first year associate at a ten-attorney firm in the San Francisco Bay area ranges between approximately $66,000 and $113,000 per year. That’s quite a spread. Of course, ten-attorney firms also vary so much from one to another that trying to compare salaries across firms often makes little sense.
Small firms thus have considerable flexibility in setting salaries, and associates have significantly more room to negotiate their salaries in the small firm environment. Granted, associates at small firms will tend to make less — sometimes significantly so — than their Biglaw counterparts. Be that as it may, valuing the worth of an associate to a small firm can be complicated.
Often, associates who are used to the Biglaw model both overvalue and undervalue their worth to a small firm or boutique….
Last week, we asked our associate readers to tell us how their billable hours were shaping up in 2012 so far. The results are in, and partners and associates alike may be glad to learn that things seem pretty normal.
It’s June already. Can you believe it? Time sure flies when your wife is pregnant and you have just a few more months to completely reorganize your life into something resembling “serviceable.”
As we approach the midway point of the year, we figure it is a good time to check in on how our readers’ billable hours are looking. Given how low the Cravath bonuses were, and the fact that most firms decided to not pay spring bonuses, one would expect that associates in Biglaw have responded by working as little as possible. Nothing says “you did not share the wealth” like a few months of bare-minimum billing!
I’m joking, of course: associates couldn’t band together to organize a work slowdown any more than a herd of stray cats could go wildebeest hunting. In fact, one of the reasons firms can low-ball bonuses with impunity is because associates are more afraid about losing their jobs to the masses than they are about competing for the highest compensation.
We expect associates are still busting their tails in 2012. But let’s share some horror stories, and take a poll to confirm those suspicions…
* Dewey know the firms that have been tapped to represent the groups that this failed firm owes money to? Yes, we do! Brown Rudnick for the unsecured creditors’ committee, and Kasowitz Benson for the former D&L partners. [Am Law Daily (sub. req.)]
* The Ninth Circuit is supposed to be issuing an order today regarding an en banc reconsideration request on the Prop 8 case. They really ought to slap a big fat denial on that motherf’er and call it a day so we get some SCOTUS action. [Poliglot / Metro Weekly]
* Matthew Kluger, most recently of Wilson Sonsini, has been sentenced to 12 years in prison, which is the longest sentence that anyone’s ever received in an insider trading case. Uh yeah, he’ll be appealing. [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]
* Hughes Hubbard & Reed has billed more than $17M in the first four months of its work on MF Global’s unwinding. Will the firm will be handing out spring“special” bonuses like they did last year? [Reuters]
* Mattel is appealing MGA’s $310M copyright award, claiming that the judgment was based on “erroneous billing invoices.” Don’t you call my billable hours into question, Kathleen Sullivan. [National Law Journal]
* Jerry Sandusky’s accusers will be named in court thanks to this judge’s ruling. But don’t worry — there’s no tweeting, texting, or emailing allowed in his courtroom. Like that’ll make a difference. [Legal Intelligencer]
* Trust me, I’m a lawyer: a now-disbarred Colorado attorney managed to scam a convicted con artist out of more than $1 million. Now that’s some pretty sweet karmic intervention for you. [Missouri Lawyers Media]
* A bus driver is suing a hospital because he claims that instead of treating his painful erection, the staff watched a baseball game on TV. Whatever, that was a really great Yankees game. [Associated Press]
Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard some surprising rumblings of discontent from Boies Schiller. Why do we say “surprising”? Because the complaints have been about compensation, which is typically something that BSF lawyers never complain about.
Boies Schiller, the litigation powerhouse founded by the legendary David Boies, is an amazing firm. Its lawyers work on some of the biggest and most important cases of our time, and their compensation reflects that. In addition to paying above-market base salaries — the BSF scale starts at $174,000 — the firm pays bonuses that blow the NYC market out of the water.
In recent years, Boies has made two bonus payments to associates, one in December and one in April. But this year, April came and went, and many lawyers did not receive any payout. Of those who did receive payments, many were surprised at the small size.
Billable-hour requirements are generally like the price of gas: they just keep going up. A law professor might compare it to a one-way ratchet. As law firms try to increase their profitability — by doing more work with less manpower, thanks to recessionary layoffs that haven’t been completely reversed — they ask more and more of their lawyers. Right?
Well, not necessarily. One Biglaw firm recently lowered its hours requirement — and instituted some other perks worth noting.
There are firms that won’t do it at all, and God bless them if they can get away with that in this environment. Any law firm leader today who thinks they can do 100 percent of work on billable hours forever into the future is not going to have a law firm for very long.
It’s a problem that has vexed Biglaw types since the legal “profession” turned into a business where money is made off of huge hours billed by disposable, replaceable associate attorneys — what’s the maximum number of hours associates can bill before they break?
The question is not one of how much high quality work a person can do. Nor is it really an issue of attorney efficiency. Instead, the firms are looking at the manual labor hours they can expect to get out of each of their cogsdrones associates. Too few, and the firm ends up leaving money on the table. Too many, and associates leave faster than the firm can train replacements. Way too many hours, and people start, you know, dying and stuff.
Applying enough pressure so that the branches bend but don’t break is why office managers get paid the big bucks (most of them stopped being particularly useful attorneys years ago). Let’s check in on how one of the most profitable firms in the country gets it done….
Watch to find out what some of our subscribers received in their May box!
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We currently have a number of active openings for associate roles at US and UK firms in HK / China, Singapore and two new in-house openings. As always, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org in order to get details of current openings in Asia, as well as to discuss the Asia markets in general and what we expect for openings later this year. Our Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney will be in Beijing the week of March 25 and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong the week of April 1, if you would like to meet them in person.
The US associate openings we have in law firms are in the usual areas of M&A, cap markets, FCPA / white collar litigation, finance, and project finance. The most urgent of our top tier (top 15 US or magic circle) law firm openings in Asia (among many other firm openings that we have in Asia) are as follows:
• 2nd to 5th year mandarin fluent M&A associates needed in Beijing and Hong Kong at several firms;
• Korean fluent 2nd to 4th year cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 5th year Japanese fluent M&A associates needed in Tokyo;
• 4th to 6th year mandarin fluent cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 4th year M&A / cap markets mix associate needed in Singapore.
The last time I flapped my wings your way, I tried to make at least enough noise about your mobile phone to make you more than a little bit uncomfortable. I hope I did. If enough of us become anxious enough about the known and unknown unknowns and knowns in our mobile phones, then we can start making wise decisions about how to manage that information and its resultant investigations.
Today, I’d like to put a finer point on the last installment’s topic by asking a question that seemed to catch most attendees off-guard at a conference panel that I moderated last week: is there discoverable personal information in a mobile app? Our panelists’ answer was a uniform “yes” with one stating that, if he had to choose only one type of data that he could discover from a mobile phone, he’d choose app data. Why? Because there’s simply so much of it and because almost all of it is objective – not just user-created like an email – but machine-tracked like GPS, usage duration, log in and log out times, browsed web addresses, browsed actual addresses. Also, most of us seem to have the idea that data doesn’t actually “stick” to our mobile devices the way it “sticks” to our hard drives. Maybe there’s a disconnect based on the fact that our phones are mobile so we assume the data is mobile to?
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