In-House Counsel

* Forget playing with Wade. LeBron took his talents to South Beach to avoid tons of state taxes. [The Legal Blitz]

* Steve Susman of Susman Godfrey just completed the 180-mile trek from Houston to Austin by bike. Susman took part in this MS fundraiser with his grown kids and 35 other Susman Godfrey team members. Kudos. (You can donate via the link.) [National MS Society]

* The Obama administration is entering a showdown over its use of the “state secrets” privilege. The government is concerned that if it cannot shield “no-fly list” paperwork, it might chill their frank discussion of racial profiling. [Politico]

* A new in-house tool to replace outside counsel? Sure it may be cheaper, but can a computer get you playoff tickets? [Associate's Mind]

* Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (affiliate link), received a good deal of praise, but her model of “trickle-down feminism” is a tad suspect. [JDs Rising / Minnesota Lawyer]

* We have a follow-up to the earlier Nevada benchslap. Now we have video of the judge handing out contempt charges for no reason. Wow. That’s some hardcore abused discretion. [Las Vegas Law Blog]

* Remember the L.A. Law puppets video from a couple weeks ago? Well, it’s now a series. Watch Episode 1 after the jump….

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Sometimes, we care about questions. Sometimes, we care about answers. Sometimes, we care about both.

When you’re reporting on a situation, remember that.

I see many, many interview reports that unnecessarily include questions when the reader cares only about answers. If you’re interviewing a witness, and the witness lived the facts (and you personally know bupkis), then we really don’t care about your questions; we care only about the witness’ answers.

So, when you’re reporting on your interview of the witness, do not assign an abbreviation to your name (Mark Herrmann, hereinafter MH), an abbreviation to the witness’s name (The Witness, hereinafter TW), and then report on your questions as though they mattered:

“MH asked . . . . TW responded . . . . MH followed up by asking . . . .”

We care only about the facts — which the witness knows, and you do not — so report only the facts:

“According to the witness . . . .” Your name should appear no more than once in the entire report, so we know who conducted the interview.

That’s a situation where we care only about answers. But there are other situations where we care only about questions . . . .

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Last week’s column was not intended for a particular group, other than those who enter the world of Biglaw and then wonder what has become of their work/life balance. Some accused me of whining. If that is how you comprehended my message, it speaks to a lack of either comprehension on your part, or writing talent on my part. I was not complaining, I was preaching — or trying to preach. I receive so many letters from young (inexperienced) attorneys and law students asking me about the mythical work/life balance that I took the opportunity to blow off some steam in an attempt to speak truth. I feel that I may not have been thorough, and want to further elucidate (bloviate).

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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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Here’s one great benefit of blogging: Publishers send you free copies of books, hoping that you’ll review them!

I received and read, but now choose not to review, Steven J. Harper’s valuable new contribution to the literature: The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession In Crisis (affiliate link).

I’m not reviewing the book, but instead using it as a jumping-off point to discuss a tangent. Harper explains in his book two things that every sentient lawyer has noticed over the past several years: (1) students are graduating from law school buried under a mountain of debt, and many of those students can’t find jobs, and (2) many law firms have lost sight of the law’s noble history as a learned profession and are now obsessed with maximizing their profits per partner in the coming year.

Harper’s right about these things, of course, and this isn’t exactly late-breaking news to anyone who’s been following either Above the Law or Harper’s blog, The Belly of the Beast, for the last few years. Harper’s book advances the discussion, however, by exploring these issues in more detail than others have. He also proposes possible solutions to these problems, including “allowing the federal government to recover [law school loan] guarantees from a law school (and its university) whenever a student loan became the principal contributor to an alumnus’s later bankruptcy.” (Page 159.) Or encouraging law firms to release their “Working Culture Index,” which would show the percentage of lawyers billing more than 2000, 2100, 2200, 2300, 2400, and 2500 in the previous year (perhaps with separate totals being released for partners and associates). (Page 173.)

These ideas are well worth discussing, and I’m glad that Harper has taken the time to analyze these things. But I have another topic to highlight, which is an odd tangent to Harper’s two issues . . . .

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Would you go to work as a deep-sea welder and then complain that you don’t get home enough? Or how about an over-the-road truck driver? Or a fireperson(?) who works three on/three off shifts? No, you wouldn’t. And who would be so dim, right? People going into those jobs know the requirements up front, and still choose them. They don’t later bitch and moan that what they lack is a fireman’s committee that will present grievances to the higher-ups – and they especially don’t complain about this falsehood called work-life balance.

At my last firm, there was just such an “Associate’s Committee,” and they put together a manifesto of sorts that they presented to the partnership. And you know what? Not a damned thing changed, except the partners got angry. And I was angry. It was embarrassing to me that I would be viewed by some partners as actually agreeing to that tripe. I knew what I was in for when I signed on for firm life so very long ago. Don’t get me wrong, I am not taking the tack of a codger lecturing to newbie “why, in my day…” To the contrary, I am speechifying that if you find yourself in a position at a law firm in which you are unhappy, it is likely your own damn fault.

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The job scene for entry-level attorneys is rough. As we’ve discussed, only 56 percent of the class of 2012 were employed in full-time, long-term positions where bar passage was required. If you strip out school-funded jobs, that employment figure slips back down to where the class of 2011 was, with just 55 percent of them employed as real attorneys.

Recent law graduates are understandably pissed off. They want to put their law degrees to good use, but the constricted job market is forcing them to apply for positions as baristas. They are seething with rage, and they can’t even contain it anymore.

What you’re about to see is the byproduct of what we presume to be a few months’ worth of a failed job search. This disgruntled job seeker took a corporate job advertisement for entry-level attorneys and red-lined the hell out of it — after all, this legal department is looking for red-liners.

Do you think this person should get the job? Check out his stunningly accurate work….

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If you’re a former Supreme Court clerk, the legal world is your oyster. In the words of one observer, “Supreme Court clerkships have become the Willy Wonka golden tickets of the legal profession. So many top-shelf opportunities within the law, such as tenure-track professorships and jobs in the SG’s office, [are] reserved for members of the Elect.”

If you work at a hedge fund, maybe after a stint at Goldman Sachs or a similarly elite investment bank, you’re the Wall Street version of a SCOTUS clerk — at the top of the field, but with way more money. There aren’t many Lawyerly Lairs out there that cost $60 million (the cost of hedge fund magnate Steve Cohen’s new Hamptons house).

What could lure four high-powered lawyers and hedge-fund types, including two former clerks to the all-powerful Justice Anthony Kennedy, to leave their current perches? How about the chance to earn the kind of money that would make a Supreme Court clerkship bonus look like a diner waitress’s tip?

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I’ve finally plucked “big firm mediocre” out of my life.

First, I left Biglaw, so I’m no longer revising lifeless drafts that arrive either up through the ranks or from co-counsel.

Then, my corporation entered fixed fee deals for virtually all of its litigation work. We invited only firms that do good work to compete for our business, and the winners have performed as expected: No brief arrives at our doorstep until it’s been reviewed by someone who can write.

But we still have a few strays: There are cases in oddball jurisdictions or involving unusual specialties where we select counsel on an individualized basis. And we still have old cases lingering from before our fixed-fee days staffed by an assortment of counsel. Once in a long while, I still run into briefs written in the “big firm mediocre” style.

What’s funny is how consistent it is. Although the briefs address different subjects in different jurisdictions, and they’re written by different people, “big firm mediocre” constitutes its own distinct literary genre. Care to write in that genre (or assess whether you already do)? Here are the characteristics:

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Unlike the latest Harmony Korine movie, filled with neon bikinis, former Disney princesses. and James Franco in bad dreads, my Spring Break consists of hanging with my kids while my wife works 24/7 on a grant application. We don’t make annual pilgrimages to Turks and Caicos; we make bi-weekly trips to Wegmans. But you know what? I signed on for this, and no amount of island sand can replace the sound of my younger boy reading a bedtime story to his little sister for the first time last night.

I read with interest the compensation package for the anonymous in-houser that Lat posted yesterday. In the comments, I pointed out that the package wasn’t outrageous or impossible, just that it was (way) outside of the norm. And that is okay. I chose this life and I am happy to say that it has been a soft landing for me. I have a good job, in a real estate market that is hard to beat — anywhere.

Lat is correct that Susan, Mark and I need to be circumspect about compensation; it would not do for our employers to see a pay scale pasted on these pages. So what can I say about my comp?

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