Money

Several years back, the Washington Post uncovered multiple instances of federal judges committing basic ethical breaches related to ruling on cases despite holding significant financial stakes in one party. It was an embarrassing black eye for the federal judiciary and the legal system altogether. It forced the bench to develop a comprehensive financial reporting system and an automated computer check to avoid any further ethical lapses. Sounded reasonable at the time.

Well, it turns out the computer system doesn’t work.

Or at least it doesn’t work as well as anyone would have hoped. The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) just released a report this morning reflecting their efforts to manually review a sampling of federal court decisions and cross-check those with financial disclosure forms. The report found multiple lapses. The most egregious involved a judge with as much as $100,000 in Johnson & Johnson when he ruled in their favor on an appeal regarding a malfunctioning implant.

But by and large the legal world’s responses to these findings vary from tone-deaf to downright hypocritical….

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* The $160K-Plus Club welcomes its newest member: Duval & Stachenfeld, a real estate firm in NY, is more than doubling its starting salary for associates to $175K. Look for them recruiting at your “tier one” school soon. [New York Law Journal]

* In this economy, bankruptcy firms are being hit hard: Stutman Treister & Glatt, a top L.A. firm that once assisted in cases against Lehman Brothers and Enron Corp. in their Chapter 11 proceedings, is closing up shop. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* It ain’t easy being dean at the law school with the best Biglaw prospects — oh wait, yes it is. Congrats to Gillian Lester, who will serve as Columbia Law’s fifteenth dean come January 2015. [Columbia News]

* “Do I think he thought he was gonna beat it? Yeah.” The district attorney who brought charges against Stephen McDaniel thinks the law school killer was too big for his chainmail britches. [Macon Telegraph]

* From catcalling to “jiggle tests,” NFL cheerleaders have to put up with a lot of really ridiculous stuff. Not being paid the minimum wage is one thing, but having to put up with being groped is quite another. [TIME]

Jodi Arias

* Retired Justice John Paul Stevens isn’t exactly too thrilled about the Supreme Court’s opinion in McCutcheon v. FEC: “The voter is less important than the man who provides money to the candidate. It’s really wrong.” [New York Times]

* Neil Eggleston, a Kirkland & Ellis partner who served as a lawyer in the Clinton administration, has been named as replacement for Kathryn Ruemmler as White House Counsel. Please, Mr. Eggleston, we need to know about your shoes. [Associated Press]

* The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office says the D&L trial could last for four months or more. Dewey know who one witness could be? Yup, the partner who allegedly shagged a spy. [Am Law Daily]

* Thanks to the turn of the tide in DOMA-related litigation, a gay widower from Australia is petitioning USCIS to approve his marriage-based green card application, 39 years after it was first denied. [Advocate]

* Here are three reasons your law school application was rejected: 1) you’re not a special snowflake; 2) your LSAT/GPA won’t game the rankings; and 3) LOL your essay. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

* No, Jodi Arias didn’t get Hep C in jail and file a lawsuit to get a restraining order against Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Nancy Grace. We have a feeling we know who did. We’ve missed you, Jonathan Lee Riches. [UPI]

These days, fixed fees (also known as flat fees) are all the rage in the legal profession. Long employed by solos and smalls for practice areas as diverse as estate planning, business incorporation, trademarks, bankruptcy, and criminal defense, today, flat fees are gaining traction  even with the big boys at Biglaw.

While the benefits of flat-fee billing, including cost certainty, increased efficiency, and administrative simplicity are well documented, there’s not much guidance on how lawyers can implement fixed fees in practice. As a result, many lawyers shy away from fixed-fee billing, fearing that if they charge too little, they’ll be stuck working for free if the case winds up taking more time to resolve than originally anticipated.  Meanwhile, many lawyers who experiment with fixed-fee billing claim that it doesn’t work — largely because they haven’t implemented it in a way that benefits the lawyer as well as the client.

So below are a half-dozen tips to help solo and small-firm lawyers implement fixed-fee billing without paying the price. Though not exhaustive, these suggestions may help lawyers currently contemplating fixed-fee billing get started, or convince those who’ve tried flat fees unsuccessfully to reconsider…

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192 Columbia Heights

What happens to people who work for failed law firms? Some of them wind up filing for personal bankruptcy.

But some of them experience far happier endings. Some of them wind up living in 25-foot-wide, 8,000-square-foot, $16 million townhouses.

Okay, a caveat: $16 million is what the owners are asking for their home. It’s not clear they’ll get that price, which would set a record for a single family home in Brooklyn Heights.

No matter which way you slice it, though, this is still an eight-figure home. Who’s the lawyer living in such luxury, and where did she once work?

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Bitcoin, your anarcho-syndicalist little brother’s favorite cryptocurrency, has created quite the stir of late. Just last month, your dead grandmother’s favorite newsweekly, Newsweek, covered itself in whatever the opposite of glory is when it pinned the blame for bitcoin on an unsuspecting and camera-shy Californian named Dorian Nakamoto. The man, who reacted to the accusation that he had created a massively popular currency as if someone had shot his dog, retreated to the safety of an awful haircut shortly after the “news” broke. But if Nakamoto wasn’t the creator of bitcoin, then who was?

Yesterday, Slate magazine (a digital publication that is only a magazine because we all agree it is one) reported on the latest developments in bitcoin founder speculation. The results of an academic analysis might shock you. They might horrify you.

They might make you wonder whether that class you took at George Washington Law was taught by the inventor of bitcoin…

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We brought the matter to the Provost and although he is supportive of our goals he cannot bend the University rules to make this creative idea happen. However, we remain committed to finding ways to fund post-graduate opportunities and address other employment issues facing our graduates.

– Part of a statement issued by University of Oregon Law professors on the OregonLawBlawg, describing the status of their proposal to cancel law faculty raises to fund a jobs program for the school’s graduates.

(Keep reading to see the rest of their statement, plus the law school’s response to our media inquiry.)

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We all know that the employment landscape for recent law school graduates is still looking pretty bleak. Fifty-seven percent of 2013′s law school graduates are employed in full-time, long-term jobs that require bar passage. If we exclude the percentage of full-time, long-term jobs funded by law schools, the legal employment rate drops to 55.3 percent. Meanwhile, 11.2 percent of 2013′s graduates are still unemployed nine months after receiving their degrees. The job market sucks, for lack of a better word, and law schools are sinking in the U.S. News rankings because of their terrible employment statistics.

That’s why law schools are doing anything and everything they can to try to put their graduates to work. It seems that some schools are even willing to go to extremely unconventional lengths to do so. For example, one law school is thinking about suspending faculty raises and using that money to create a new jobs program for its graduates.

A law professor there just found out that he may not be getting a raise this year, and he is PISSED….

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Ed. note: Please welcome Shannon Achimalbe to Above the Law. Shannon will be writing about the journey from solo practice to a larger law firm.

Some time ago, I met with a consultant to discuss how I could improve and expand my solo practice. I told him my future goals: to be recognized as an expert in my areas of practice, make lots of money, and have free time for my personal life. He said I could accomplish these goals, but it would depend on how much time and effort I put in. He then told me that I would need to “invest” money in marketing, blogging, networking events, and joining various organizations. I would also need to make plans to upgrade my office and get a staff. Finally, he told me to pick a religion, because I’d be praying often.

But when I looked at the projected costs to accomplish my goals along with the non-guarantee of success, I hesitated. A flurry of questions went through my head: Who do I need to connect with and hire? What niches are marketable and enjoyable? When would I start to see a return on my investment? Where are my potential clients?  How many more networking events do I have to attend? Why am I doing this? Am I going to enjoy doing this? When I found myself asking that last question, I knew it was time to look at other options…

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After yesterday’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, where the Supreme Court found that aggregate contribution limits violate the First Amendment, campaign finance is back in the spotlight. In October, when the Court heard oral arguments for McCutcheon, I wrote about why I thought Shaun McCutcheon should prevail and why “rumors of democracy’s death are greatly exaggerated.” Others apparently still believe the rumors.

Something else this week delivered grist for the mill, as the country considers how political causes ought to be funded. Mozilla, the nonprofit foundation responsible for the Firefox browser and other open-source ventures, promoted Brendan Eich to CEO last week. California law required the public report of Eich’s 2008 contribution to the campaign to pass Proposition 8, the ballot measure amending the state constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. Prop 8, of course, eventually gave rise to the Supreme Court’s decision last term in Hollingsworth v. Perry. Eich’s financial support of Prop 8 has now given rise to a slew of woes for Eich and Mozilla.

Half of Mozilla’s board members quit, protesting a CEO with a history of activism against same-sex marriage. Some Firefox app developers decided to boycott Firefox projects until Eich is removed from his position. Twitter has been, well, atwitter with criticism.

Then, earlier this week, the dating site OkCupid rerouted all of its users accessing its site from a Firefox browser to a message that began, “Hello there, Mozilla Firefox user. Pardon this interruption of your OkCupid experience. Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla software to access OkCupid.” The message goes on to read, “Equality for gay relationships is personally important to many of us here at OkCupid. But it’s professionally important to the entire company. OkCupid is for creating love. Those who seek to deny love and instead enforce misery, shame, and frustration are our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure.”

OkCupid’s arrow struck deep. What Eich now faces raises questions about political expression and association, laws requiring disclosure of political contributions, and the consequences of both….

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