Midsize Firms / Regional Firms

On a nice, lazy, summer Friday, it’s good to know that rudeness still exists this world.

Today’s example of questionable behavior comes from a midsized Midwestern law firm. Yeah, apparently Midwestern manners don’t extend to how you treat people while you are rejecting them. This firm decided to use its rejection letters as an opportunity to market its new iPhone/iPad application.

It’s an app for people looking for work, of course…

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I’ve only been on one “retreat” of any kind. It was with my church. My parents paid for it because anytime you can pay the Catholic Church to take your kids into the woods and tell them about God’s plan, it’s something you have to do.

Of course, going to a voluntary retreat sponsored by a religious organization is one thing. Going on a mandatory retreat ordered by your employer is quite another. Traditionally, if your employer is going to make you go on one of these things, then the employer is going to cover the hotel and airfare of the employees. That’s just how corporate America works.

Even Heller Ehrman paid lavishly for its last firm retreat. That would be its last firm retreat before dissolution.

I bring this up because associates at one midsize firm seem to be getting the short end of the stick. Their firm is apparently forcing them to attend a two-night retreat, but the firm is only paying for a one-night stay in their hotel rooms….

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Benesch Apportunity

Law firm marketing and technology don’t always go well together. When firms try to go high-tech, the results are often mortifyingly cheesy.

To avoid humiliation, many law firms — often culturally conservative, risk-averse institutions — play it safe. But caution can also result in some of the worst law-firm websites, ones that get compared to “a seventh-grade history project” or “[s]imply a brochure placed online.”

Sometimes, however, a law firm gets tech right. Check out the new iPhone / iPad app developed by the Benesch law firm, the subject of a nice write-up in the Cleveland Plain Dealer (via Morning Docket).

What does the app, called “Benesch Apportunity,” actually do? And might other law firms want to implement similar apps?

Let’s learn more….

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Tomorrow, March 15, the end will finally come for Howrey. Later this month, the law firm of David J. Stern, formerly known as Florida’s foreclosure king, will shut its doors.

This week, we’ve got another sizable law firm announcing its dissolution. Obviously not everybody is catching on to this economic recovery. While some firms are doling out the green, in the form of spring bonuses, other firms are handing out pink slips.

Today’s law firm obituary also comes from South Florida. Yes, we know, shocking that Florida is still suffering the effects of the recession. But there are another 280 people down there who will soon need to find new jobs….

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What’s going on with clerkship bonuses? The last time we really checked was over a year ago. We might do a follow-up; if you have tips — not questions or requests for advice, but hard information about clerkship bonus amounts — please email us (subject line: “Clerkship Bonuses”).

In our last look at the subject, in February 2010, the going rate seemed to be $50,000. You can look back at our prior post for the names of at least 11 firms paying $50K clerkship bonuses. (If any of that info needs to be updated, in either direction, please let us know.)

We can confirm that at least one firm is paying a clerkship bonus in excess of $50,000: BuckleySandler, a young, highly-regarded firm that focuses on banking and financial-services law. We’ve written quite a bit about the firm before; it started with a bang, when Skadden partners Andrew Sandler and Benjamin Klubes left the megafirm to set up their own shop.

Let’s learn a little more about BuckleySandler, and check out the memo announcing the $60K clerkship bonus (along with other compensation-related information)….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Size Matters, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

It is no secret that I do not like my small firm. But I do know people who have found happiness and professional fulfillment by working at small law firms. And, since Biglaw probably can’t hire all of you, what other choice do you have?

One positive feature of practicing in a small law firm is that is enables an attorney to take a wide variety of unique cases and to specialize in interesting areas of the law. Indeed, one small-firm lawyer is gaining huge notoriety with the Super Bowl XLV ticket class action on behalf of ticket holders who were denied seats at the game. The suit is being brought by Michael J. Avenatti, a Los Angeles based attorney and founding partner of Eagan Avenatti LLP — a firm of less than twenty attorneys, per Martindale-Hubbell. Per USA Today, Avenatti estimates that the class will reach 1000 fans and seeks $5 million in damages. Biglaw would likely scoff at such a case, but perhaps Mr. Avenatti will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Let’s look at a few other examples of niche practices….

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Wow. It’s been a long time since I wrote a headline starting with the words “Nationwide Layoff Watch.” But today it’s appropriate. Above the Law has learned that Husch Blackwell let go of around 20 attorneys, associates and non-equity partners, earlier last month.

We heard rumblings that Husch was planning on making cuts as far back as this July, but it appears that the layoffs only went through in September. Thanks to our sources, some of whom contacted us on our new text message line (646-820-TIPS), we’ve now received multiple reports of layoffs at the firm.

Here’s one tipster’s report:

Husch recently gave pink slips to about 20 attorneys; a number of them are non-equity partners. The sole criteria for termination is last year’s billable hours.

Husch didn’t confirm the number of attorneys let go, but a spokesperson for the firm did give Above the Law a statement…

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I wrote last week about the perceived level of interest from attorneys at small law firms in finding a collective voice. As I’m currently camping somewhere in the remote, internet-less regions of our northern neighbor, I haven’t the chance to check in with your comments and emails, but promise to do so upon my return to the internet-using world.

Speaking of camping, we’ve previously discussed lawyers decamping from Biglaw in favor of something cozier. Over at Adam Smith, Esq., Bruce MacEwen calls this phenomenon a “natural evolution of an industry under economic stress.” I call it an opportunity. The “natural evolution,” as MacEwen so eloquently terms it, means that there should be a growing interest among Above the Law’s existing readership in the opportunities offered by small-firm practice.

But I figured I needed a more clearly defined angle in order to pique the interests of your esteemed editors. As I thought about the potential for this column and how to pitch it to Lat and Elie, I ended up compiling a short list of reader profiles that I figured would take interest in such an endeavor.

Who is interested in reading about small law firms? Here’s an eye-pleasing numbered-list format….

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We told you this day would come. Way back in July 2009, we reported that the rankings behemoth, U.S. News & World Report, would soon be ranking law firms. In February 2010, we reported that the American Bar Association — so toothless in the face of U.S. News’s law school rankings — was worried about how this new U.S. News product would affect the profession.

Well, for better or for worse, the day has finally arrived. As of midnight (give or take a few minutes), U.S. News went live with rankings of 8,782 firms across 81 different practice areas. From their press release:

These inaugural rankings, which are presented in tiers both nationally and by metropolitan area or by state, showcase 8,782 different law firms ranked in one or more of 81 major practice areas. Full data is available online for the law firms that received rankings, from the largest firms in the country to hundreds of one-person and two-person law firms, providing a comprehensive view of the U.S. legal profession that is unprecedented both in the range of firms represented and in the range of qualitative and quantitative data used to develop the rankings.

It’s like Christmas morning — if only Santa were a jolly red prestige whore. Let’s get to it…

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Last week I had dinner with a friend who used to work at a large law firm and now has a non-legal career. I asked her what, if anything, she missed about life in Biglaw.

“Just one thing: the paycheck,” she said. “I miss being able to go crazy in the shoe department of Bloomingdale’s.”

It’s a common sentiment among people who leave jobs at large law firms (in terms of missing the paycheck; not sure about the shoes). Most people who leave large law firms, with the notable exception of finance folks, end up with lower incomes in their new lines of work. But many refugees of Biglaw report higher job satisfaction, as well as overall happiness.

An article in yesterday’s New York Times touched upon the trade-off between money and job satisfaction — and revealed a “magic number” of sorts, namely, the income level at which additional income does not bring you additional happiness….

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