Magic Circle

From time to time we have the opportunity to talk about how massively unhealthy Biglaw jobs can be. Lawyers don’t get enough sleep. They take drugs to stay awake. Sometimes they even have panic attacks when they find themselves back at work right after a holiday.

Work/Life balance is not something they teach in law school.

That’s a reality that novelist Jonathan Lee knows all too well. The author of the critically acclaimed Who is Mr Satoshi? used to be a lawyer with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in the U.K.

Now, Lee is writing on the Huffington Post, and he’s sharing some of the details from his “Magic Circle” lifestyle to make a point about professional environments that are damaging to your health.

Lee might be fighting the good fight, but working a Biglaw job is kind of like smoking cigarettes: everybody who has one knows it’s bad for them, but they just don’t care at the moment….

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Over the weekend, we passed along some good news about Dewey & LeBoeuf. It appears that the firm has been given a new (even if temporary) lease on life by its lenders. Initial reports suggested that the firm was getting one week or maybe two in order to reach a new debt deal with its banks. It now appears, however, that the firm could be getting a more long-term extension, in the range of 90 to 120 days. The deal still needs to be finalized; keep your fingers crossed.

That’s the good news. Now, back to the bad news: more partner defections from Dewey….

Multiple UPDATES, after the jump.

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Deidre Dare aka Deidre Clark

The high-powered international law firm of Allen & Overy is a member of the Magic Circle. So why can’t they make Deidre Dare disappear?

As longtime readers will recall, Deidre Dare (real name: Deidre Clark) was a Columbia Law School graduate who worked in the Moscow office of Allen & Overy. Everything was going swimmingly, until Clark decided to write some erotic fiction on the side — erotic fiction that may have been based in part on Clark’s experiences working as an expat in Russia. One thing led to another, and Clark’s employment at A&O was terminated.

Clark sued the firm in London, alleging her firing was improper; that suit was dismissed on jurisdictional grounds. She then sued in New York, making claims for sexual harassment, sexual discrimination, wrongful termination, and retaliation, among other claims.

When we interviewed her last year, Clark (a member of the New York bar) sounded confident about her chances of success in the Big Apple: “I think NY will take jurisdiction. And thank God for that.”

So, was Clark correct? Will her suit be moving forward in New York?

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Be careful what you write when you’re young and idealistic.

In 2003, David Wolfe, a lawyer who works alongside Cherie Blair at top London human rights shop Matrix Chambers, decided he was unhappy with the way the British legal hierarchy works. So he co-signed an open letter criticising the Queen’s Counsel (QC) system –- a process that sees a handful of barristers (British trial lawyers) promoted to the elite QC rank each year, enabling them to charge clients more money. “The QC system cannot be justified as being in the public interest or promoting competition,” the letter stated.

Nine years on, and last week Wolfe found himself made up to QC — an honour which, despite the name, involves no input from the Queen or her family members. He didn’t decline. Indeed, all QCs have to actively apply in order to gain the title. Unfortunately for Wolfe, someone mentioned his youthful letter to RollOnFriday, a widely read U.K. legal blog.

When contacted about the letter, Wolfe responded….

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What happens when you put thirty American lawyers in a London pub where the drinks are free for the evening? Well, let’s just say it’s rather different to what happens when thirty British lawyers are assembled in equivalent conditions.

The attendees at last week’s inaugural Benedict Arnold Society meeting for young and young-ish American lawyers in the United Kingdom, held at the Witness Box pub in the heart of London’s legal district, were impeccably behaved. No one collapsed, vomited or — in spite of my continual prying for insider information — gave away a single secret about their firms. In fact, I think I was the only one there who was drunk.

Still, my memories of at least the first part of the evening remain. What stood out was how nicely many of the assembled Yank expats had done by coming to London — be it because they had saved money on legal education costs, were enjoying heightened status due to their willingness to travel, or were appreciating the health-inducing lighter U.K. workloads.

Several had undertaken their legal studies in the U.K., thus circumventing the enormous fees charged by U.S. law schools….

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“Oh, What a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive,” said Judge Guy Anthony, quoting Sir Walter Scott’s poem Marmion, as he sentenced British Biglaw attorney Francis Bridgeman to 12 months in prison on Friday. The former Allen & Overy (A&O) and Macfarlanes partner, who had already had his membership of the latter firm’s limited liability partnership terminated, then collapsed in the dock.

Until recently, Bridgeman, 43, was just another hotshot Biglaw equity partner enjoying a millionaire’s life-style. Educated at Oxford University, he joined Magic Circle firm A&O in the early 1990s and rose through the ranks so quickly that he made partner in 2000, aged just 32. Having got married, he bought a big house in the countryside outside London and became a governor at a local school. Three years ago, he capitalised on his success by moving to boutique financial law firm Macfarlanes, where profit per equity partner is still high for U.K. standards (last year it came in at £752,000) but the hours and stress are generally considered less than at the likes of A&O.

Then, on April 6 2010, everything changed for Bridgeman, in the most unexpected and surreal way….

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“I thought Freshfields [Bruckhaus Deringer] was a supermarket when I got here,” says Kirsty Grant, a fourth-year associate in the London office of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher. Happily, Grant — a fast-learner who got through law school in L.A. while working full-time during the day — quickly figured out that the Anglo-German law firm, a member of the Magic Circle, wasn’t the place to fulfill her grocery needs.

The cultural assimilation enjoyed by the UCLA and Loyola graduate since she arrived in London last March hasn’t stopped there. “At first I couldn’t believe the drinking culture here,” she recalls. “The first Friday after work that I went to the pub, I thought, ‘I haven’t had any food; I can’t do this.’ And then the London lawyers went on until 5 a.m. I just don’t have the liver for it, but it shocks me less now.”

Not that Grant, 33, has oceans of spare cash to splash on boozy nights out. How do her finances as an American abroad compare to those of her Biglaw counterparts back home?

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* “It seems no one can use dirty words, except Steven Spielberg.” Well, sh*t, I’ll be damned. Is Elena Kagan going to be the voice of reason in the Supreme Court’s FCC profanity case? [Los Angeles Times]

* Ken Cuccinelli filed an emergency motion to get Virginia’s primary ballots printed. You can’t wait three days for Perry’s hearing? It’s on Friday the 13th. You know how that’s going to go. [Bloomberg]

* The Tenth Circuit upheld a ruling to block an Oklahoma law barring the consideration of Sharia law in court decisions. If this pisses you off, go and watch Homeland. You’ll feel better. [MSNBC]

* Dewey want to join the Magic Circle? Bloody hell, of course! Clifford Chance has snagged two mergers and acquisitions partners from Dewey & LeBoeuf. [DealBook / New York Times]

* What will an LL.M. get you in today’s job market? Not a whole lot. And if you’re counting that extra year of loan debt as something of value, then you’re just a masochist. [National Law Journal]

* Heather Peters, the former lawyer suing Honda in small claims court, may be SOL because of a SOL issue. Stay tuned for the results at her second hearing later this month. [Huffington Post]

The Financial Times Innovative Lawyers Awards ceremony, held in London last Wednesday, was most notable for the contrast between the puppy-like excitement of the lawyer nominees and the auto-pilot professionalism of the host, FT editor Lionel Barber, whose aura was of a man who’d rather be at home watching TV.

This was a shame, not only for the confused lawyers struggling to understand why Barber wasn’t high-fiving them as they collected their trophies, but because it overshadowed the setting of a world record. Never before has the adjective “innovative” — or its derivations “innovate,” “innovation,” and “innovator” — been used with such frequency in a single evening.

Between them, these four words featured in 14 of the 15 award names, peppered the subsequent acceptance speeches, dominated the copy of the awards brochure, and strangled the dinner conversation. Hypnotised by the repetition, I was convinced by the end that lawyers could see the future and were responsible for all of the great achievements of humankind.

However, having regained my sense of reality during the Tube ride home, it slowly dawned on me that most of the innovation I’d spent the last five hours being bombarded with wasn’t innovation at all, but simply lawyers doing their jobs. The “innovation in corporate law” award, for example, went to two law firms which acted on a merger, and the “innovation in dispute resolution” prize was given to a firm that won a case.

At other times, “innovation” was employed as a euphemism for not especially original ways to cut jobs….

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Oh happy Indian man, you know this globalization trend works both ways, don't you?

Protectionism is a song as old as time. We do it, and other countries do it to us. Every country is trying to figure our how to maximize the benefits of globalization without making their own people join a frenzied “dey tuk er jerbbbs” mob.

And that’s fine. This economic competition is good for standards of living all across the world — unless, of course, it leads to nuclear war.

But sometimes the lack of global reciprocity can become maddening. Take the outsourcing of legal work. For years we’ve been talking about how entry level, “document monkey” jobs are going from junior Biglaw attorneys to cheaper workers in India and a few other countries. Ever since the American Bar Association changed its rules in 2008 and allowed American legal work to be done offshore, competition from India over low-end legal work has been a key factor for those who care about the future of Biglaw.

And yet India remains a closed legal market to U.S. and British firms. Western firms are not allowed to do legal work in India, even though Western firms and clients are free to send work to India at the cost of American jobs.

Does this mean whoever keeps an eye on the Indian legal economy is doing a far, far better job than our own American Bar Association? Sure. But it’s hardly breaking news that the ABA is ineffective.

What’s far more newsworthy is that this fundamental inequity between the two legal markets might be changing — not because the ABA is magically getting its act together, but because Indian authorities might be willing to stop being a$$holes….

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