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2009 Associate bonus watch above the law.JPGCongratulations to the associates at Irell & Manella. The firm announced its 2009 bonuses last week, and they were good — very good.

Irell took the Sullivan & Cromwell bonus scale, which is effectively “market” for the top New York firms, and then DOUBLED IT. There was no memo — the information was communicated in an associate-wide meeting — but we have confirmed the following:

  • To associates who hit the billable hours target of 1900 hours, Irell paid bonuses that, in total, were double those paid by Sullivan & Cromwell and similar New York firms. Bonuses ranged from $15,000 for the class of 2008 to $70,000 for the class of 2002.
  • The bonuses were lockstep by seniority — i.e., not just paid to a handful of star performers or super-high billers. If you hit 1900 hours, you got the designated bonus for your class year.

The success of lockstep firms like Irell raises the question: Is lockstep the way to go? If you’ll be in Irell’s hometown of Los Angeles this Thursday, Elie and yours truly are doing two events, and one of them is a debate about lockstep. For information and RSVP details, see here.

The full Irell bonus table, plus additional information, after the jump.

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ABA Blog 100 2009 Winner.JPG* Well, my resolution to be hopeful about the future of Biglaw in 2010 lasted all of five days. Thanks, Larry Ribstein, I guess I’ll still need to hang onto my Lexapro prescription. [Ideoblog]
* Why do lawyers make so much money? Kash and Lat’s cover story for Washingtonian magazine, which addresses this question, is now online (along with the list of D.C.’s top lawyers). [Washingtonian]
* Do law school career services operations need a complete overhaul? [Lawyerist]
* An old tale of sex in the champagne conference room at Skadden. [Clusterstock]
* Interested in making the transition from law to media? Above the Law’s sister site, Dealbreaker, is looking for an additional writer. [Dealbreaker]
* Thanks to all the readers who voted for Above the Law in ABA Journal’s Blawg 100 contest. Above the Law won the News category. We’ll keep it coming in 2010. [ABA Journal]

Harriet Miers Harriet E Miers Harriet Ellan Miers Harriet Elan Miers Above the Law.JPGOur latest Eyes of the Law celebrity sighting involves a household name: former White House counsel and Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. She may not have succeeded in getting on to the SCOTUS, but apparently she has joined another D.C. institution. We received this tip from a reader yesterday:

FWIW…. Just got sworn into the D.D.C. federal bar this morning. None other than Harriet Miers was also there getting sworn in. There were about 30 of us total. Pretty weird!

First things first: what was she wearing?

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Las Vegas federal courthouse Lloyd D George federal courthouse.jpgDetails continue to roll in about Johnny Lee Wicks, the shooter during yesterday’s gunfight at the Lloyd George U.S. Courthouse in Las Vegas. Apparently Wicks set fire to his own house before heading to the courthouse. ABC News reports:

The senior citizen who is being blamed for a Las Vegas courthouse shooting that killed a security officer had set his condo on fire in a fit of rage before the attack.
Friends and family told ABC News that Johnny Lee Wicks, 66, was so upset that his monthly Social Security check was being reduced that he set fire to his home in a gated retirement community around 5 a.m. Monday.

Wicks had filed a racial discrimination suit against the Social Security Administration because his benefits were cut. The suit got tossed and, apparently, that is what set him off. Over on True/Slant, Michael Roston hopes that Wicks’s deranged understanding of race in America isn’t used by neocons as a polemic against tolerance:

Of course, I’m still trying to be hopeful that the fact that Wicks was a black man shooting at a federal building won’t also be worked into the kulturkampf by agents of conservative histrionics. Rush Limbaugh is taking a few days off after his brush with the medical system, so he won’t be going on air tomorrow to declare that crimes like this happen only in “Obama’s America.” If anyone else out there was thinking about saying something like that, please, don’t. Let’s just all be thankful that there weren’t any more senseless deaths from this tragedy today.

Hear, hear. Bullets don’t care about skin color. An Above the Law reader who works at the Lloyd George Courthouse provides an eyewitness account of the harrowing minutes during the shooting.
The story after the jump.

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Lawyer of the Year 2009 AboveTheLaw blog Above the Law ATL.jpgThanks to everyone who submitted possible nominees for our Lawyer of the Year award. We reviewed your 160+ comments and developed a slate of ten worthy candidates.

Before we reveal them, we’ll talk about a few folks we passed over. A number of you suggested Mike Leach, the lawyer turned football coach who was recently fired by Texas Tech University. Although Leach’s achievements on the gridiron are considerable, he’s more of a football figure than a legal figure, so he didn’t make the team.

A few of the lawyers you suggested, while certainly well-known, really belong to years prior to 2009. These include former New York governor and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in disgrace after his dalliances with prostitutes came to light; former administrative law judge Roy Pearson, of the infamous $54 million (originally $67 million) pants lawsuit; and prominent IP litigator Jeremy Pitcock.

Also named: Kathy Henry, a former Legal Secretary of the Day, whose alleged oversight could have cost PepsiCo a pretty penny — over a billion dollars (until the default judgment was vacated). But since she’s a legal secretary rather than a lawyer (or even a law student), we passed her over.

So who made the cut? Check out the nominees and vote for your favorite, after the jump.

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Thumbnail image for handshake with fingers crossed behind back.jpgIf Kanye West talked about this past fall recruiting season, he’d probably say: “Biglaw doesn’t care about the NALP people.” This fall, we saw firms give the suggested 45-day open offer period an extended middle finger. Harvard Law School’s career services dean had to lead a revolt against Sullivan & Cromwell. I even suggested that law students should try ignoring NALP, just like the big firms did.
Apparently, NALP isn’t going to take this industry-wide disrespect lying down. They’ve formed a commission! The commission is writing a report! And, by golly, we’re going to get some real, draconian … guidelines, worth at least the paper they’re printed on. Am Law Daily reports:

Among the recommendations, according to three sources familiar with the report: Setting a date, likely sometime in late fall, before which firms would be prohibited from making offers to prospective summers. That proposed structure would replace the current system, under which firms can make offers to prospective summer associates at any time after interviewing them and then must leave those offers open for 45 days.

Respect NALP’s authority!
Look, they have to try something. Because right now nobody is happy with fall recruiting.

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Career Center AboveTheLaw Lateral Link ATL.jpgWhile layoffs dominated the law firm landscape in 2009, the worst of the downsizing seems to be behind us.  But it looks like 2010 will be bringing major changes to compensation structures at law firms.  Check out the ATL Career Center, powered by Lateral Link , for the latest information about which firms are moving away from lockstep compensation and how they are doing it.  In the last week, we have updated the firm snapshots for Kramer Levin, Mayer Brown, Kirkland & Ellis, Weil Gotshal, Cravath, Quinn Emanuel, Hogan & Hartson, Wachtell Lipton, K&L Gates, Cadwalader, Akin Gump, and Jones Day
Below are a few of the latest updates from the Career Center’s firm snapshots:
•   This firm announced it would be moving to a hybrid lockstep compensation structure.  Salaries will no longer be tied to seniority level, but based on a combination of objective and subjective factors.
•   This firm’s new compensation structure regroups associates into three seniority levels rather than class years.  Under the new plan, the firm will also withhold 15% of associates’ salaries until a year-end performance review. 
•   This firm is phasing in a new compensation structure over the next two years in which a larger percentage of each attorney’s total compensation will be in the form of individualized bonuses.
Use the Career Center’s firm snapshots and comparison tool to learn about other bonus news at firms around the country.  And as always, we encourage to send information about your law firm experience to [email protected].



terracotta warrior terra cotta army.jpgHow do you say schadenfreude in Mandarin? Babel Fish won’t tell me. In fact, Babel Fish doesn’t even have an option to translate German into Mandarin or Cantonese. (I think that’s BS — I’m sure you can get a good schnitzel in Beijing — but that’s beside the point.)
Anyway, back to China. The ABA Journal reports:

A new study supports the tales of woe told by recent law graduates in China.

It is more difficult to find a job in law than any other profession studied, the China Daily reports. The story cites a June 2009 study by China’s Academy of Social Science and the Mycos Institute, a consulting company.

Mmm … terracotta law students.
I wonder how much (if any) private debt Chinese law schools saddle their students with?
Additional details after the jump.

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2009 Associate bonus watch above the law.JPGOn Monday, Dechert made its 2009 bonus announcement. It’s a match of the Cravath scale. The Legal Intelligencer reports:

Dechert’s bonuses for 2009, though lower than those paid out for 2008, are in line with what market-setting Cravath Swaine & Moore announced in November.
In a memo obtained by The Legal Intelligencer, Chairman Barton J. Winokur told associates the class of 2008 would receive $7,500, the class of 2007 would get $10,000, the class of 2006 would receive $15,000, the class of 2005 would be paid $20,000, the class of 2004 would get $25,000 and the class of 2003 and more senior associates would receive $30,000.

And just for good measure, Dechert will pay for a super bonus to a few lucky associates:

According to the memo, associates with “exceptional performance” will receive bonuses up to $25,000 above the outlined grid “and in a couple of truly extraordinary circumstances even more.”

These may not be Wachtell Lipton bonuses, but I’m sure whoever receives Dechert’s largesse will not complain.
The firm also announced that it would make raises — for the most part.
However, a couple of Dechert offices will be taking a huge salary cut.

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Google Phone Nexus One.jpg* Is it me or is Justice Scalia running his mouth a lot lately? [ABA Journal]
* The Las Vegas courthouse gunman has been identified as a 66-year-old man. [New York Times]
* Did you know you could use Twitter to harass lawyers you don’t like? [Legal Blog Watch]
* Senator Charles Schumer wants the Feds to pay any security costs New York incurs during the trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and friends. [The Hill]
* Willkie Farr: now under new management. [Am Law Daily]
* Google Phone! Google Phone! [Engadget]

Los Angeles palm trees Above the Law blog.jpgIn light of the frigid temperatures we’ve been experiencing here in New York, Elie and yours truly have decided to visit sunny Los Angeles this Thursday, January 7. We’ll be doing two events, both of them free and open to the public (and featuring free food):
1. The Future of Big Law: A Debate
When: Thursday, January 7, 2010, 12 noon.
Speakers: David Lat and Elie Mystal, editors of Above the Law, will debate whether lockstep is the best system for associate compensation and promotion at large law firms.
Where: Room 1457, UCLA Law School, 71 Dodd Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095.
Cost: Free. Lunch will be served.
2. Reception at Corkbar
When: Thursday, January 7, 2010, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Description: Meet and mingle with the editors of Above the Law and other lawyers from the area during this informal networking opportunity.
Where: Corkbar, 403 West 12th Street, Downtown Los Angeles, CA 90015.
Cost: Free. Appetizers will be provided; no host bar.
These events are being sponsored by the Los Angeles Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society, the Libertarian Law Council, and the UCLA chapters of the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society.
Both events are free and open to all, but please reserve a spot by emailing [email protected]. Hope to see you there!

Justice Antonin Scalia headshot.jpg* Antonin Scalia listens to Bach while writing opinions. I wonder if he has one of the original recordings of Toccata & Fugue J.P. Stevens smuggled out of Weimar in the 18th Century? [105.9 FM, WQXR]
* If you are one of the Elect that has heard organ music oozing out of Scalia’s chambers, you’ll be happy to know that clerkship bonuses are still on. [Washington Briefs]
* Gibson Dunn was named the best litigation department in 2009. Congratulations. Take a bow, pop a collar. [Am Law Daily]
* Find Law needs to work on its definition of blogs. [New York Personal Injury Law Blog]
* Katrina survivors turned litigants take on New Orleans area hospitals. Wow. Just to be safe, I think Poseidon should lawyer up, I’m sure the Gulf of Mexico is next on the litigation list. [Overlawyered]

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