The associates who work at Kirkland & Ellis remain sublimely confident that their firm will pay elite bonuses as opposed to the discount payouts being offered elsewhere.
But in these uncertain economic times, any change in firm policy — even one that seems positive — has to be met with skepticism.
Yesterday, our inbox started buzzing as various Kirkland tipsters let us know that the firm has undertaken a massive change in associate vacation policy. At first blush, the revised policy seems … awesome:
Instead of providing attorneys with a fixed number of vacation days each year, our revised policy will permit attorneys to take time off with pay – for rest and relaxation, or to attend to personal matters – at their discretion, subject only to the Firm’s overall performance expectations. Those performance expectations include, most importantly, that our lawyers will provide the highest quality legal work and service to our clients, contribute to the Firm’s pro bono programs and participate in non-billable efforts on behalf of the Firm. The revised policy aligns our associate paid time-off protocol with our long-standing practice for partners. We also feel it is consonant with both our Firm’s entrepreneurial culture and our associates’ desire to manage their own careers and maintain a suitable work/life balance.
Some associates would undoubtedly prefer to have a fixed amount of vacation time to which they are “entitled.” But most people enjoy being treated like adults with the maturity to manage their responsibilities. People know how to manage their own time better than law firm managers (wow, I just made a federalist argument).
After the jump, Kirkland associates weigh in on the full memo.
* A former federal courts chief is calling for the resignation or impeachment of an appellate judge in California for watching internet porn. In one month, there were 90,000 hits on 1,100 porn sites at the California Judiciary. [Miami Herald]
* Al Franken, the Senate candidate from Minnesota, may appeal to the courts because he argues that 1,000 absentee ballots were wrongly discarded in the recount. [CBS]
* The US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from the city of Garden Grove in California that argued that city police should not have to return seized medical marijuana to a chronic pain patient. California’s 4th District Court of Appeal sided with the patient, and now the case is closed, a victory for advocates of medical marijuana use. [The Los Angeles Times]
* At least something is going well for Detroit these days. “U.S. car maker Ford Motor Company Tuesday won its case at a European court over the registration of the word “Fun” as a European trademark.” [CNN]
* Chevron was found not-guilty by a federal court jury in San Francisco; the jury dismissed claims of Nigerian villagers who say they were attacked by company paid soldiers on an an off-shore drilling platform. [Bloomberg]
At least the USC Gould School of Law is being relatively honest. According to the administration, USC students do not get grades on par with students at peer institutions. This hurts USC students in the job market. The most simple way to fix this discrepancy is to just give everybody at USC Law an extra boost to their GPA.
You think it can’t possibly be that simple? Here is the grade reform proposal that USC faculty and student representatives will be voting on, on December 11th:
Under the current grading curve, the average grade in each first-year course is set at 3.2. Under the Dean’s proposal, the average grade in each first-year course would be set at 3.3 rather than at 3.2. The effect of this change would be to raise each first-year grade by .1. For example, a student who would have earned a grade of 3.2 in Torts under the current grading curve would instead earn a grade of 3.3. Similarly, a student whose year-end GPA under the current grading curve would be a 3.2 would instead have a year-end GPA of 3.3.
I don’t see why a major law school would admit that their grading system was a joke that they came up with out of a hat, but there you go. Free points for everybody, because halfway through the 2008/2009 school year USC decided that law school was just too damn hard.
USC’s justifications and rationalizations after the jump.
* I gave a brief interview to the LexisHub BBLP people. If you have questions that you’d like to ask, or simply want to hear more about my unified theory of everything, you’ll have your chance tomorrow December 2nd at Professor Thoms’ starting at 6:30. [LexisHub via BBLP]
* So far we’ve gotten a good number of responses to our Courtship Connections service, including many people who have self-identified as “women.” But more people will result in better matches, so fill out the survey and meet a fellow ATL reader. [Above The Law: Courtship Connections]
* … Speaking of popular law blogs, Above The Law has made the ABA Journal’s top websites for lawyers list. [ABA Journal]
* I’m unfamiliar with the concept of sending flowers to women after you’ve had sex with them, but I’m married. I’m very familiar with the concept of sending flowers to women after spending 10 hours in the warm embrace of the National Football League. [Sweet Hot Justice]
* If you like Blawg Review you should check out this week’s offering. If you like turkey you should also check it out. If you like offering injured turkeys up to the Gods of Blawg Review, then this link is a no-brainer. [New York Personal Injury Law Blog via Blawg Review]
American Lawyer released their annual survey of managing partners at top law firms. Despite a high level of uncertainty, managing partners still remain optimistic about the future.
You’d think all of the layoff news, dissolution rumors, half-bonuses, and the terrible American economy would make Biglaw chieftains more than a little worried about the future of the industry. But no! Everything’s going to be fine. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain:
But managing partners are still reluctant to throw away their head cheerleader pompoms. Even as uncertainty clouded the responses of the 112 firm leaders who answered this year’s survey, they remained surprisingly upbeat about their firm’s prospects. Make no mistake: Firm leaders know the boom has busted; most of them responded to the survey after September 15, the day that Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. filed for bankruptcy and Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc., was sold. Few, however, were willing to say–at least for now–that their business will be dramatically different as a result. Even in a time of financial turmoil, they’re counting on clients to continue to demand high-end legal services.
The results are really not that surprising at all, once you become accustomed to the never ending flow of BS that law firm managers spout right up until profits per partner take a significant hit.
But it is always funny to see the disassociation between a firm’s public statements and their internal machinations. Obviously, all of this public backslapping is for the benefit of clients who are not paying enough attention:
Still, one aspect of firm management may never change. In one of the most interesting responses, law firm leaders reported that they are still planning to raise billing rates in 2009. Ninety-eight percent of respondents to our survey said that their rates will be higher next year, though 63 percent said the rise will be 5 percent or less. (By contrast, 62 percent reported in 2007 that they’d raise rates by more than 5 percent.) It may seem counterintuitive to raise rates when clients are hurting, but in interviews, managing partners insist that, for most clients, value trumps rates.
That makes perfect sense. Charge more + Pay less (bonuses) = Stable PPP notwithstanding an economic crisis of global proportions. “I love this plan! I’m excited to be a part of it!”
After the jump, let’s bring out the Stay Puft “Straw” Man.
We’ve reported on various firms cutting back some of the “perks” that used to be associated with Biglaw. But Wilmer Hale has decided to hit associates where they eat, literally.
A memo went out to New York associates “updating” the firm’s overtime meal policy. For you law students out there who are not aware of the system, law firms usually allow lawyers to charge late night meals to clients. A long, long time ago astute managers realized that underlings perform better when they are fed. Apparently, there is a complex biological process that allows workers to convert the nutrients found in bread and water into menial legal tasks.
But Wilmer Hale has concluded that adenosine triphosphate is an “optional” luxury for associates lucky enough to work past 8 p.m. Paul A. Engelmayer, managing partner of Wilmer Hale’s New York office, clarified the overtime meals policy this afternoon:
The firm’s policy is to reimburse lawyers and bill clients for up to $30 per overtime meal not simply because a lawyer is present and working at the office at 8PM, but, rather, because the lawyer had to be here at that time to meet a specific client need or deadline. Just because a lawyer chose to work late does not mean that a client should have to pay for his or her food. Partners are constantly writing off evening meals billed to clients where it was impossible to justify to the client why they should be paying for a lawyer’s food. Please don’t bill clients for overtime meals where there isn’t a justification that you’d feel comfortable articulating to the client as to why the client should be paying for it.
I once knew a New York associate who always “chose” to work past 8 p.m. for no good reason. He was a great guy and a good attorney, until “the incident.” Now he lives at Bellevue and eats pudding out of a Redweld.
Look, we all know some associate at the firm who “abuses” the overtime meal system. But the vast majority of people who are working after hours are there because they have to be, not because they want to be and certainly not because Seamless Web is a bigger draw than a beer and a bed.
But Wilmer Hale presses the point, after the jump.
If things are a little slow in New York law firms, perhaps they should consider starring roles in the pictures. We’ve covered movie shootings at firms before, because it seems somewhat glamorous to host the Hollywood types and to see your firm later on the big screen.
But now we’re getting news that Dewey & LeBoeuf has deigned to be a set for the little screen. From a Dewey tipster last week:
[T]hought you might be interested to hear that yesterday and today we have production crews from the tv series “Damages” in our building at 1301 Ave of the Americas filming scenes for their upcoming season. It’s quite amusing actually. Crews are on our 23rd and 43rd floors, so people are tip-toeing around and there are signs all over the place that read “Filming in Progress … please avoid the Area.”
This is the second time D&L has been used as a set. Scenes from Michael Clayton were also filmed here. Needless to say there were many star-struck associates who got a chance to see George Clooney walking the halls.
In case you don’t know about it, Damages is a legal series on FX that starts Glenn Close (aka, bunny boiler from Fatal Attraction), William Hurt and Ted Danson.
Oscar-winning film Michael Clayton and mega-wattage star George Clooney meet the standards of Biglaw prestige. Film away. But a legal series on FX?
Oh, Dewey, like Glenn Close, your acting career is on the decline.
Before Thanksgiving, we were hearing rumors of layoffs in Dewey’s New York office. Like an aging Hollywood star, going to the small screen may be an act of desperation. Filming revenues must pay the salaries of a couple of first year associates.
Another law firm informed associates that their hard work was worth half of what it was a year ago. Davis Polk & Wardwell is the latest firm to announce Half-Skadden bonuses.
The official DPW bonus structure is as follows:
Class of 2008: $17,500 (prorated)
Class of 2007: $17,500
Class of 2006: $20,000
Class of 2005: $22,500
Class of 2004: $25,000
Class of 2003: $27,500
Class of 2002: $30,000
Class of 2001 and senior $32,500
So much for elite law firms paying their associates at the top of the market. Instead, Cravath has succeeded in opening the door to the “thank you sir, may I have another” theory of associate retention and company morale.
It could be worse. These guys are are still getting a bigger bonus than law students who interviewed with Skadden this year. Yay seniority!
What is particularly annoying about the DPW memo is that they act like they are meeting the market with these bonuses, as if Skadden doesn’t even exist.
We are pleased to announce that associates in good standing will receive a bonus payment as outlined below. …
We thank all our associates for their diligent and skillful efforts as we support our clients in this challenging economic environment.
“Pleased to announce.” Not “horribly embarrassed that we are slavishly short-changing our associates because Daddy-Cravath said it was okay.”
Thacher Proffitt & Wood has been struggling for some time. A memo sent by managing partner Paul Tvetenstrand to TPW staff the Wednesday before Thanksgiving provides the latest evidence of the firm’s faltering state:
From: Paul D. Tvetenstrand
To: Non-legal staff
As you are aware. The past year has posed many challenges for the firm given the downturn in the economic climate which has affected our clients and ultimately the firm. Unfortunately given this continuing downturn the firm will not be able to pay any bonuses or year end service awards this year. We truly appreciate the contributions each of you has made in these trying times and we wish we were able to recognize each of you as you deserve.
I’m not at all sure why TPW tried to bury this information within the Thanksgiving news cycle. Did they think TPW staffers were not going to notice? Maybe they were thinking of maintaining their industry reputation, but most people who have been paying attention already know that TPW is in serious trouble.
… And now back to our regularly scheduled programing …
We are now able to report that at least 15 litigation associates at Fried Frank have been laid off in the past week.
At least 15 litigation associates, but the numbers could be higher. Multiple tipsters report that there are many “skeletons” in the Fried Frank closet right now.
Over a week ago, we reported that 15 corporate associates had been let go. At that time, we also said that the number of corporate layoffs could be higher than 15. We’ve received information since then that more than 15 corporate associates were laid off, but we can’t get a handle on the true number. So, conservatively speaking, we’re reporting 30 associates that have been let go from Fried Frank over the past two weeks.
I heard of opposing counsel on the East Coast that scheduled a deposition on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, knowing that the counsel from California will likely have Thanksgiving plans torpedoed.
I also heard of a partner who told an associate that a party was moving for a TRO on the Monday following Thanksgiving. The associate worked on the case on Thanksgiving and the weekend. The associate later found out that the partner learned on Wednesday that the TRO was off-calendar, but the partner neglected to tell the associate — because the partner was preoccupied with getting out of the office for his own Thanksgiving plans.
Of course, even a year ago, there was a much more depressing prospect than working on Thanksgiving. As Loyola 2L put it:
What’s more horrifying than working during Thanksgiving is the thought of being unemployed next Thanksgiving with six-figures of student loan debt.
This year, with work slowing at many firms, what was your experience? Did you have to work over the holiday?
Update: This survey is closed. Click here to see the results.
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This year, the Trust Women conference will take place 18-19 November in London. From women’s economic empowerment to slavery in the supply chain and child labour, this year’s agenda is strong and powerful. Speakers include Professor Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate and founder of the Grameen Bank; Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women; Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of Women’s World Banking and many other influential leaders. Find out more about Trust Women here.