Fabulosity

Kourtney and Caleb Ballew, posing for a picture while at the White House for a state dinner with President Obama (with a portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in the background).

The White House State Dinner that President Barack Obama hosted on Tuesday night in honor of President François Hollande of France featured quite the convocation of legal eagles. As we mentioned yesterday, attendees included such law-world luminaries as Justice Elena Kagan, Secretary Jeh Johnson, and ATL’s reigning Lawyer of the Year, Roberta Kaplan.

Also in attendance: Caleb Ballew and Kourtney Ballew. They’re a pair of twenty-something, small-firm lawyers from Huntsville, Alabama.

Say what? Did the Obama White House get Salahi’d again?

Actually, no. The Ballews came as honored guests of President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Because the Obamas have had so few state dinners, invitations to the ones they do host are in especially high demand. How did two recent law school graduates score one of the most coveted invites in the country? I interviewed the Ballews to find out….

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David Boies: just one great lawyer among many at Boies Schiller.

What comes to mind at the mention of Boies, Schiller & Flexner? Perhaps the legendary named partners — David Boies, Jonathan Schiller, and Donald Flexner — or perhaps the legendary bonuses, which last year went as high as $300,000.

But there’s much more to the firm than that. Even though BSF is most famous for its litigation work, it has a sizable and well-regarded corporate practice, for example. And even though its biggest presence is in the state of New York, with offices in Albany, Armonk, and New York City, the firm has several other outposts — including a growing and high-powered presence in Washington, D.C.

Boies Schiller has been adding some impressive new talent to its D.C. outpost. Last week, the firm welcomed a leading litigatrix. Let’s learn more about her, shall we?

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Drake and Jay-Z look up to him. Music videos that reference him still get shown on MTV. Television talk-show hosts discuss his plans when he’s not a guest. Warren Buffett takes money from him, and Justin Bieber doesn’t act like an entitled spaz around him.

And he uses only $2 bills.

While your first guess is that we’re talking about the Dos Equis guy, we’re actually talking about a Biglaw partner in New York who adopted a unique calling card and translated it into becoming an under-the-radar celebrity among celebrities. He may not be the Most Interesting Man In the World, but he’s at least the Most Interesting Restructuring Attorney In the World…

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Some large law firms, when announcing year-end associate bonuses, also announce base salaries for the new year. In Biglaw, the salary scale hasn’t budged since January 2007, when Simpson Thacher announced the $160K scale (providing for base salaries ranging from $160,000 for first-year associates to $280,000 for eighth-year associates).

You could view this as a compensation cut, since we have had some inflation (even if not high inflation) since 2007. According to the inflation calculator of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $160,000 in 2013, the latest year available, had the same buying power as $142,407 in 2007. Of course, law school tuition has climbed quite a bit since 2007 — so even for the lucky souls who land Biglaw jobs, the value proposition of a law degree isn’t as appealing today as it was back in 2007. You’re paying more for a degree that gets you less.

What’s the solution? Work for a firm that will pay you more than $160,000 as a starting salary, of course! Let’s say hello to the newest member of the $160K-Plus Club….

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Litigation powerhouse Quinn Emanuel is known for many things, perhaps the most important of which is making money hand over fist. In the latest Am Law 100 rankings, the firm grew its gross revenue by 17.8 percent, posting revenue per lawyer of about $1.2 million and profits per partner of $4.4 million. That’s certainly a selling point — but perhaps what the firm is best-known for is its quirkiness. Quinn Emanuel is a firm that does things a little differently than any of the competition.

You may recall that starting in 2012, the firm did away with Biglaw’s tried and true method of summer associate recruiting — interview, check pulse, make offer — in favor of “fun, freewheeling ‘get to know you’ parties.” The firm apparently likes attorneys with social skills. Quinn Emanuel has thrown formal workplace fashion to the wayside and actively encourages its associates to dress casually because it “improves [their] creativity.” It’s no surprise that QE made our list of the 12 top rated firms last year.

This is a firm that likes to have fun, and say what you will about its most recent bonuses, but its fearless leaders want its associates to be happy. We think that Quinn Emanuel’s latest initiative may keep the firm at the top of our rankings for years to come….

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345 West 13th Street

Meet Michael Graffagna, who’s one impressive MoFo… partner. The Harvard Law School graduate, admitted to practice in New York, California, and Japan, heads up the project finance practice at Morrison & Foerster.

Graffagna is now resident in the firm’s Tokyo office. So he and his wife, Midori Graffagna, recently sold their Manhattan pied-à-terre. And oh what a pied-à-terre it was — larger than most Manhattanites’ primary residences.

How large are we talking? How much did the Graffagnas get for it? And which celebrity lives upstairs?

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Let’s play a game of law firm word association. What words come to mind when I say Skadden Arps?

Prestigious? Yes.

Profitable? Definitely.

Sweatshop? Perhaps; some sources say the hours can be “long and unpredictable.”

Funky?

Yes, you heard me: funky….

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William Tell

On a Wednesday evening in January, William Tell, a 33-year-old 3L at USC Gould School of Law, was sitting in the backyard of the L’Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills, a few blocks away from his apartment, sipping a scotch and munching on a bowl of pasta. At the moment, Tell is the only law student in America who goes home to the woman on the cover of Cosmopolitan — he’s engaged to Lauren Conrad, the reality TV star-turned-lifestyle entrepreneur who is regarded by many, including Martha Stewart, as being something like the next Martha Stewart.

More than a decade before his stint as a figure of tabloid fascination, Tell’s first act was as a guitarist in early ’00s pop-rock band Something Corporate, a band that was playing stadiums, arenas, and late night television shows by the time he was 22.

Clean-cut and wearing a simple grey sweater and skateboarding shoes, Tell laughs a lot but speaks with a hint of careful distance. He makes clear that he guards his privacy and would not have consented to an interview with a publication whose focus was his romantic life. But I wanted to ask Tell mostly about his unique experience as a law student, so I connected with him on LinkedIn, emailed him to explain myself, and now here we are….

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Each year in January, Fortune releases its list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For. As in years past, a few law firms have managed to sneak their way onto a list that includes employers like Google, the Mayo Clinic, and Goldman Sachs. With companies like that on the list, we still wonder if the people at Fortune have any idea what they’re talking about, because there’s just no way a law firm could be on a similar level.

We try to cover this list every year (click here for our posts in 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007). In 2013, only five law firms made the list: Alston & Bird (#23), Perkins Coie (#33), Baker Donelson (#45), Arnold & Porter (#62), and Bingham McCutchen (#82).

This year, six law firms made the list. Which six firms had pay that was high enough, perks that were good enough, and environments that were nurturing enough to make the cut? Let’s take a look…

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Partnership: Biglaw’s ultimate brass ring.

Becoming a Biglaw partner does not necessarily mean you’ll live happily ever after. It doesn’t even guarantee financial security. Indeed, some partners end up filing for personal bankruptcy.

But that’s an anomalous case. Partnership at a major law firm might not guarantee you happiness — sometimes you have to leave the partnership to follow your bliss — but it generally brings with it tremendous pay and prestige.

That’s especially true of partnership at the nation’s 10 most prestigious large law firms. Most of them have only a single partnership tier — equity or bust, baby — and sky-high profits.

Who are the new partners at these 10 firms, and what do their selections reveal about Biglaw today?

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