Above the Law

Recent Headlines from Above the Law

 

A 60-year-old Navy veteran needed money fast. So he did what far too many people do in that situation and applied for a short-term “payday-type” loan. When all was said and done, he was charged well over 100 percent interest. Seriously. One major player in the industry offered a $2,600, 47-month loan, and sought a total repayment of $20,280.03! That’s a 204.94 percent annual percentage rate!

Most of us realize that short-term lenders make their nut on exorbitantly high interest rates, but states have systematically cracked down on these companies and capped the interest they’re allowed to charge. State regulators have had a good deal of success in recent years securing hefty settlements for citizens victimized under state usury laws.

But our Navy veteran friend wasn’t so lucky. He got his loans from the wrong companies, and the state Department of Banking had to tell him that they were powerless to assist him.

It’s hard to believe a company can so blatantly thumb its nose at the rules, but they have a secret and some Biglaw bigshots on retainer to fight tooth-and-nail to protect their lending practices….

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Amal Alamuddin, ready to graduate from law school

* There’s a very good chance that if you go in-house, you could wind up making more money than even the wealthiest of Biglaw partners. But how much more? Take a look at the latest GC compensation survey. [Corporate Counsel]

* GM has hired outside counsel to review the way the company handles its litigation practices. Since we’re not sure which, we’ll take bets on whether this “well-respected outside law firm” is Wachtell or Jenner & Block. [WSJ Law Blog]

* A federal judge in California ruled that the state’s death penalty was unconstitutional. It seems that allowing a defendant to live with the “slight possibility of death” violates the Eighth Amendment. Damn you, appeals! [New York Times]

* “He hasn’t been charged with anything at the moment and we’ll deal with the charges when they’re filed.” Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is currently being represented by Yale Law lecturer Eugene R. Fidell, a recognized military law expert (and husband of noted legal journalist Linda Greenhouse). [New Haven Register]

* We all know that George Clooney’s fiancée, Amal Alamuddin, has both beauty and brains. What we didn’t know is that she poses for incredibly embarrassing pictures, just like the rest of us. [Us Weekly]

* How do Americans feel about the Supreme Court’s recent cellphone privacy ruling, Riley v. California? [Digital Constitution / Microsoft]

Justice Stephen Breyer

On Friday, the National Archives unsealed a fifth batch of Clinton Administration presidential papers. The documents were originally released by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock. Let’s get these pesky papers out of the way before Hillary Clinton, author of a new memoir (affiliate link), launches her presidential bid.

The latest papers contain some juicy tidbits for legal nerds. For example, as noted in Morning Docket, then-Judge Stephen Breyer got dissed as a “rather cold fish” while being considered for a Supreme Court seat (the seat that ultimately went to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg).

The papers contain candid assessments of Justices Breyer and Ginsburg, as well as other fun nuggets. Here are some highlights:

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At last night’s LeGaL dinner: Alex Levy (a 3L at NYU), Mary Bonauto of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), and David Lat. (Photo by Jeff Trachtman.)

Last night, I had the great pleasure of attending the LeGaL Foundation Annual Dinner, which took place at Capitale here in New York. The mood was festive — which wasn’t surprising, given the successes of both LeGaL and the broader LGBT rights movement over the past year.

Here’s my account of the evening, a celebration of the Foundation’s 30th anniversary and an opportunity to honor some pioneers of the gay rights movement….

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* According to Justice Kagan, Justice Ginsburg “is responsible for eliminating sex discrimination from American law.” Whoa, that’s a nice thought, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves with wishful thinking. [New York Law Journal]

* After handing out pink slips staff, Heenan Blaikie lawyers sat down and voted to dissolve the Canadian firm’s partnership and wind up its business. It’s kind of like Dewey, but with maple syrup! [Legal Post / Financial Post]

* Jack W. Butler, the bankruptcy bigwig who managed to negotiate the American Airlines / US Airways merger, will leave his home at Skadden Arps after 23 years and head to Hilco Global. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Vermont Law School has partnered with several historically black colleges and universities in order to put warm bodies in empty seats promote the expansion of racial diversity in the legal profession. [VT Digger]

* David Savner, a corporate partner at Jenner & Block, recently donated $1 million to his alma mater, Northwestern Law, to fund a high-tech classroom. It must be nice to be rich. [Crain's Chicago Business]

* The ABA Journal wants to know what the “oddest” elective course you ever took in law school was. If you took a “Law and _____” class and didn’t get an “A,” you should hang your head in shame. [ABA Journal]

In an era when “disruption” is celebrated, the world of large law firms is one of the last redoubts of conventional wisdom. For a uniquely rule- and precedent-bound profession, this makes sense. Biglaw’s conventional wisdom has the added virtue of being reliable. For example, we can count on Cravath taking the lead — at least chronologically — on bonuses, and for DLA Piper to have the most random Third developing-world offices.

Another reflection of conventional wisdom is the way in which Biglaw lends itself to — and revels in — superlatives and rankings. There tends to be a generally acknowledged and perennially dominant player (or a few) in most practice areas: Wachtell Lipton for M&A, Weil Gotshal for Chapter 11 work, Patton Boggs for lobbying, and so forth. There’s no doubt that many worthy firms get overlooked.

Last year we took a look at which firms’ practice groups were considered “underrated” by peers in the field. Among the notable 2012 nominees: Cahill for corporate law, Arnold & Porter in litigation, and Proskauer for its bankruptcy and tax practices.

We wondered whether the same practice groups were still considered by practitioners to be unfairly underrated. Or are there other firms deserving more recognition?

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This coming Friday, it is the inalienable right of all Americans to sleep off their hangovers, or riot at Walmart, or do anything at all rather than work for The Man. But Biglaw is a different country. As illustrated by Elie’s decision matrix, the “choice” of whether to work on this sacred day is, for the denizens of the law firm world, fraught with other pressures and expectations. We all know that Biglaw careers demand a Faustian bargain: in return for their fat paychecks (and bonuses?), lawyers are expected to work grueling, unpredictable hours. This time of year, that reality is brought into sharp relief: the “holiday season,” with those “family obligations” and so forth, is something that occurs elsewhere.

But law firm billable expectations are not homogeneous. There are significant differences across practice areas, seniority levels, and, of course, individual firms. So how do the various practices, employment statuses, and firms stack up?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Best Of Hours, The Worst Of Hours: ATL Survey Ratings”

… a damn about pro bono.

Pro bono work is often an afterthought in the minds of attorneys who have more important things to do with their time — things like “churn[ing] that bill, baby!” But for others, it’s a commitment to fulfilling the very concept their naive and idealistic law school applications were premised upon: helping the people who need it most.

We know lawyers like rankings, so we thought we’d provide you with a way to measure a firm’s prestige and beneficence, all at the same time. Out of all of the Biglaw firms in the United States, which five are filled with the most worthy do-gooders? Let’s find out…

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The popular conception of “lawyer” — as seen on television and in the movies — is that of a litigator. Understandably, law students are also susceptible to this view and will be so as long as the case method remains the pedagogy of choice in law school. Cases, by definition, are always about litigation. Both popular culture and the law school curriculum show lawyers most often in court or, at least, investigating the facts of the case. However, the truth of litigation practice is very different: the overwhelming majority of litigators’ work takes place outside the courtroom. Never mind that upwards of 90 percent of all lawsuits settle before trial or that most litigators’ spend their actual in-court time arguing procedural motions rather than the substance of the dispute. Oh, and there’s also doc review.

Anyway, most new associates and law students who aspire to Biglaw are going to be confronted with a question. To grossly generalize and simplify: am I a litigator or a transactional attorney? Many would say that there are distinct personality types best suited for each. Are you a win-lose kind of person or a win-win kind of person? Do you enjoy confrontation? Do you care if you ever see the inside of a courtroom? How important is the predictability of your schedule? And so on. (Of course we must acknowledge that wrestling over such questions is the classic “luxury problem.” For the majority of law students, what follows is, at most, of voyeuristic interest.)

For those in a position to choose, which Biglaw shop’s litigation departments offer the highest quality of life? We’ve dug into our survey data for answers…

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The idea of “happiness” is the basis of an ever-growing body of research. In fact, while economists traditionally measure a nation’s prosperity by looking at GDP, there is a growing movement for them to consider a different measure, something akin to “Gross National Happiness.” One of the best-known efforts to move away from a reliance on GDP as a measure of national welfare is the UN’s Human Development Index, which amalgamates three metrics: lifespan, educational attainment, and adjusted real income. Then there are dozens of much more subjective surveys of national happiness, many of which find Costa Rica to be the happiest country in the world. Others say it’s Norway. (Then there is this preposterous “Happy Planet Index,” which ranks the U.S. at number 113, between Madagascar and Nigeria.)

Of course happiness research is performed in more narrowly targeted ways, such as examining specific professions. Earlier this year, Forbes reported on a “Career Bliss” survey of 65,000 employees that ranked “law firm associate” as the unhappiest job in America. (See Joe’s take on that survey here.)

This week, over at In the Belly of the Beast, Steven Harper is asking “Are Lawyers Becoming Happier?” Harper takes a look at two recent studies that suggest the answer is “yes.”

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