National Association for Law Placement (NALP)

The official title of the NALP conference panel that I attended on merit-based compensation contained a playful shout-out to Sarah Palin: “How Is That Performance-Based Compensation System Working for Ya?”

The panel was originally supposed to have featured a representative of the now-defunct Howrey law firm. So the snarky answer to the question presented might be, “Not well.” (In fairness to merit-based compensation, however, Howrey’s dissolution didn’t have much to do with its model for training, promoting, and compensating associates.)

No mention of Howrey was made during the introductory remarks (or anywhere else in the discussion, for that matter). Rather, the panel focused on the positive — and offered useful advice for firms that are contemplating adoption of performance-based systems….

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Is your law firm this transparent?

Greetings from lovely Palm Springs, California, home to the 2011 annual education conference of the Association for Legal Career Professionals (better known to many of you as NALP). The setting is beautiful, the weather is fabulous, and the conference panels have been stimulating thus far. Who needs SXSW?

Yesterday I attended a very interesting session, covering a topic near and dear to the hearts of many Above the Law readers. The apt title of the panel: “From Black Boxes to Glass Houses: Evolving Expectations of Law Firm Transparency.”

The lively discussion covered a wide range of topics — and also offered some advice for law firms for dealing with the increased transparency of the digital age….

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Get it into the Ivy League, or die trying.

* The GOP is right — September is a totally arbitrary deadline to re-write No Child Left Behind. Really, why would we need a new education law by the time school starts up again for the year? [Washington Post]

* Protip: if your client is suing a preschool over its TTT curriculum, you probably shouldn’t guarantee that her kid will get into an Ivy League school before she’s out of her Pull-Ups. [New York Daily News]

* “This lawsuit takes the cupcake. It’s all sprinkles and frosting until somebody files a lawsuit.” I think the title of this news story just gave me diabetes. [NBC Los Angeles]

* Charles Munger is donating $20 million to Michigan Law — which just moved up to #7 in the latest U.S. News rankings, by the way — so students in the Lawyers Club can have classier dorm rooms. It’s never too soon to instill the “models and bottles” mindset in young lawyers. [Bloomberg]

* Deval Patrick thinks he’s going to be saving Massholes $48 million by cutting 2,000 attorney jobs. What he’s really going to be doing is bringing tears to the eyes of fourth-tier law grads — er, make that second-tier law grads — and doling out more welfare checks. [MetroWest Daily News]

* Good news, everyone! NALP says that law students are going to be slightly less f*cked when it comes to getting a job. [ABA Journal]

* Too bad Latham didn’t hire a “social media guru” sooner — maybe they would have responded to our request for comment on their new Boston office. Throw us a freakin’ tweet here. [Legal Blog Watch]

In July, we profiled the efforts of a group of Vanderbilt law students who are trying to bring more accuracy and transparency to the employment statistics provided by law schools. Their group, Law School Transparency, has requested all ABA-accredited schools to provide useful information to prospective law students — information that neither the ABA nor U.S. News currently collects.

Without the regulatory hammer of ABA (which the organization inexplicably refuses to wield), or the public shaming of U.S News (a for-profit magazine, not an industry watchdog), LST is up against some long odds. They’re trying their best, but their interim report indicates that thus far, 188 law schools have completely ignored their efforts to report simple facts on the employment prospects of law school graduates.

In fact, to this point no school (not even Vanderbilt Law) has agreed to provide the information LST is requesting. Poor Zenovia Evans would have starved to death by now.

But 11 schools did find the time to send out a courtesy letter citing the reasons these schools cooked up to justify keeping people in the dark about employment prospects for law school graduates…

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Back in February of this year, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) announced a minor change to its recruiting guidelines. I was underwhelmed. New associates are graduating law school in a terrible job market, firms are sick of being forced to hire people two years before they know their staffing needs, and NALP is fiddling around with the open offer period? Make sure those deck chairs are properly arranged before we all drown!

A wise man once said: “This town needs an enema.”

Back in February I called for a complete overhaul of the fall recruiting process, and only the crickets heard me cry myself to sleep that night.

But today we’ve received word that a firm most of you have never heard of, and a school more known for its women’s basketball team than its law school, are teaming up to come up with a truly new approach to hiring law school graduates. Will it work? Will it catch on? At this point, who cares?

It’s a new idea — not some twice-baked, refried, reheated idea that wasn’t all that good the first time around….

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Greetings, loved ones. Hello there, California girls (and boys). We hope that you’re doing well. Gay marriage might be on hold for now, but there are other unions to celebrate on the West Coast.

Like unions between law firms and job-seeking law students. As we’ve discussed in these pages before, on-campus interviewing at law schools seems to be on the upswing.

And it’s not just in New York, where schools like Columbia and NYU report increased interviewing activity. It’s happening in California too, as reported by Sara Randazzo and Kari Hamanaka of the Daily Journal:

Career counselors around the state are reporting that the number of employers signing on to the recruiting process this year is either steady or up slightly. The mood, however, is still tempered by the reality that the recruiting climate is nowhere near the fever pitch preceding the downturn when there were barely enough top law students to go around for associate-hungry firms.

“When I talk to lawyers in the field, it seems things are busier, but given all the excess in the hiring pipelines they are still very conservative,” said Terrence Galligan, assistant dean of career development at UC Berkeley School of Law.

Well, conservative can be good (and not just politically). The conservative hiring of summer associates for 2010, for example, seems to have resulted in very high offer rates.

For 2011, some firms that stayed on the sidelines in 2010 are back in the game….

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I’ve been critical of the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) in the past, but you have to give them credit for at least one thing: they have been tirelessly trying to make people understand that most lawyers do not make $160,000 a year straight out of law school.

In fact, NALP has been at the forefront of educating prospective lawyers on the dangers of focusing on “average” starting salaries. The average is meaningless. The median is just slightly more helpful, and NALP has been begging people to pay attention to the bimodal salary distribution curve that tells the true story of how much lawyers are likely to get paid.

And the bimodal curve is only useful if you are actually lucky enough to secure full-time employment. If you have to work part-time, God help you…

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This isn’t going to come as a galloping shock to anybody here, but the new NALP numbers confirm that the job market is terrible for young lawyers (aka the “lost generation”) :

Analyses of the NALP Employment Report and Salary Survey for the Class of 2009 reveal an overall employment rate of 88.3% of graduates for whom employment status was known, a rate that has decreased for two years in a row, decreasing 3.6 percentage points from the recent historical high of 91.9% for the Class of 2007. The employment figure for the Class of 2009 also marks the lowest employment rate since the mid-1990s.

“There are dozens of reasons why the employment report for the Class of 2009 will be different than those that preceded it, and dozens of reasons why the data that has been gathered will require special explanation and analysis to make sense of it,” said NALP Executive Director James Leipold in commentary accompanying the Selected Findings. He noted that while the employment rate of 88.3% may seem stronger than expected, when the statistic is teased apart, it begins to reveal some of the fundamental weaknesses in the job market faced by this class.

Please, prospective law students, do not look at the 88% figure and start wetting yourself. There are a number of reasons to explain why employment statistics look as basically decent as they do…

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I’m back in New York City — a place that has infinitely more Puerto Rican culture than a Hilton in Puerto Rico. But I still have a few more write-ups from the 2010 NALP Annual Education Conference. I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring back a little information for the hordes of lawyers laid off or shut out of Biglaw during the recession. Rest assured, you are not alone.

On Friday afternoon, I attended a panel called “The State of the Legal Economy and the Legal Employment Market.” This should have been the highlight event for the conference. The only panelist was James Leipold, Executive Director of NALP, and he was slated to talk about the hard numbers NALP has put together describing the recession. The panel was booked for the largest conference room in the hotel — the room easily sat 250 people.

Jim Leipold, of NALP

Total attendance = 12 people (I counted). The lesson: do not hold your executive summary panel at 3:30 on Friday in Puerto Rico.

Why was I there? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m actually confused as to how I ended up covering a panel with 11 other attendees. The room was so cold (air conditioning for 250) that I’m convinced that when conference room air met the Puerto Rican humidity, it caused the tropical depression that hammered the Gulf Coast over the weekend.

In any event, I received some hard numbers for my trouble. And I got to hear Leipold’s thoughts on just how screwed the “Lost Generation” of would-be Biglaw associates are. Not good times, my friends.  Try not to finish your cup of hemlock before you hear the numbers…

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We’re on to day 3 of the NALP conference. With all the racial tensions going on back home, day 3 has been a pleasant reminder that once properly tanned, everybody basically looks the same. Of course, there is a downside: I can no longer figure out which panelists may be genetically predisposed to say something intelligent.

Absent these helpful signals, I could only guess at which Friday morning panel to go to. I decided to hit Navigating Online Rumor Mills and Maintaining a Positive Image for Law Firms/Schools. Being a walking rumor mill myself, I figured it was worthwhile to learn how I should be handled.

For our partner readers, the panel produced some good advice. For our commenters, all I can say is that firms and law schools fear you guys. It’s not us, it’s you…

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