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GOD.jpg* Those crazy atheists are at it again. Eleven atheist groups have sued SCOTUS chief John Roberts and various Inaugural Committees to have “so help me God” taken out of the presidential inaugural oath. [Courthouse News Service]

* Barack Obama’s latest legal recruits: Harvard’s Elena Kagan, Indiana University’s Dawn E. Johnsen, and former Clintonites David W. Ogden and Thomas J. Perrelli. [Washington Post]

* R.I.P. Griffin Bell, President Carter’s attorney general and longtime King & Spalding partner. [Los Angeles Times]

* The Minnesota Senate race ain’t over yet… and may not be over for months yet. Norm Coleman’s lawyer vows to file a lawsuit protesting the Al Franken victory declared by the state Canvassing Board. [KDBC News]

* Retired NBA star Charles Barkley has the best excuse ever for speeding. But not so much for the DUI. [The Smoking Gun]

* A Connecticut landlord-tenant attorney demonstrates “how one stupid mistake can mess up an otherwise exemplary life.” The mistake was a big one: running a child porn web site. [Connecticut Law Tribune]

Roland Burris ATL Lawyer of the Day.jpgLawyer-politicians from Illinois are a mixed bag. One is Time’s person of the year and will be installed in the White House by the end of the month. Another has disgraced the governor’s office with federal corruption charges and the threat of impeachment. Today’s Lawyer of the Day was appointed by the latter to fill the seat of the former, and the Howard University law grad is adamant about filling that Senate seat.

As Rod Blagojevich might say, Roland Burris has got something f***in’ golden, and he doesn’t want to give it up for f***in’ nothin’.

Today, Burris is going to the opening session of the 111th Congress and he wants his seat. His sheer audacity might be enough to qualify him for the ATL Lawyer of the Day honor, but Burris has even more going for him: a death mausoleum. From CBS News:

The 71-year-old has built a mausoleum listing his achievements. The granite structure, with two columns supporting a covered area and three tablets, list his political and business accomplishments — “First African-American in Illinois” to become the attorney general, state comptroller, vice president of Continental Illinois National Bank, etc. — with the term “Trail Blazer” chiseled in large type above.

Burris is hoping to add “U.S. Senator” to the list (and there is room in the granite for it), but there are several roadblocks on the way to Capitol Hill.

More on Burris’ fight for the Senate, and our suggestion for his mausoleum, after the jump.

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ATL 2008 in review.jpgNow that we’re a few days into 2009, we’re going to pick up the pace in our 2008 round-up posts. Some of you are getting impatient. Complained a commenter: “At this rate, we’re going to get to #1s sometime in June.”

So, onward. We previously wrote about the #5 gossip story in Biglaw. Today we’re going to hit two birds with one stone, announcing the #4 and #3 stories in law firm land (on the gossipy side; the hard news / business stories are on a separate list).

Although they’re not in the top two, these tales were in some respects the most fun for us to cover. Take a trip down memory lane, after the jump.

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lord of misrule action figure.JPG* HLS graduate, public defender, and video game designer Melissa Brooks Batten was shot to death by her estranged spouse just days after obtaining a restraining order against him. David Giacalone writes “We certainly don’t often think about domestic violence reaching our profession, but when it does it should motivate all of us to work harder to help prevent domestic violence throughout our society, and to protect its potential and actual victims, through better procedures and education.” [f/k/a]

* AirTran removed passengers from a flight because they were talking about which seats were “safest.” Oh, did I mention that the passengers were Muslim? They were Muslim. What country do we live in again? [WebCPA]

* The IRS really needs to get one of them “take a penny, leave a penny” jars. [TaxProf Blog]

* Here are nine reasons not to attend law school. Shockingly “because business school is easier and shorter” didn’t make the list. [Legal Geekery]

* Apparently, Christmas used to be more fun before the church got involved. This week’s Blawg Review pays homage to that finest of pagan traditions. [Charon QC via Blawg Review]

law firm associate bonus watch 2008 biglaw bonuses small.jpgA few bonus announcements trickled in over the holidays. Here’s a round-up of recent bonus announcements that have not yet been covered in these pages. If you have new news, e-mail us at tips@abovethelaw.com.

1. Sheppard Mullin (New York): Sheppard Mullin is paying above market rate for attorneys who racked up the hours this year. Baseline hours are 2000 in New York (and 2100 outside of New York, see below). Bonuses range from $20,000 to $70,000, plus discretionary bonuses of $20,000 to $50,000. Reaction at the firm, after the jump.

2. Sheppard Mullin (outside New York): Associates in California and D.C. had to rack up a few more hours than their NY brethren to qualify for bonuses, with 2,100 as their baseline. And their lockstep bonuses for additional hours are not as generous. Details after the jump.

3. Akin Gump (outside New York): We posted on the New York market/ half-Skadden bonuses for Akin New York associates, announced on New Year’s Eve. Associates outside of New York received an e-mail saying that “merit bonuses” will be given based on “productivity, quality of work and Firm citizenship.” Check out the e-mail, and news of a freeze watch there, after the jump.

4. Linklaters (all U.S. offices): This Magic Circle firm announced bonuses and salary increases for U.S. associates right before Christmas. The London-based firm is following Cravath’s lead, paying half-Skadden bonuses to all U.S. associates, with no hours requirement. The firm will have normal class-year raises. Per our tipster, “the firm had a good first half, including in NY, so a Latham-style salary freeze would have been pretty shocking.”

5. Arnold & Porter (New York): Associates outside of New York got individualized bonus memos last week. New Yorkers got their bonus announcement on Jan. 2. Per our tipster, “the scale was as expected, the half-Skadden, which is significantly less than the bonus in non-NY offices, but at least is “market,” unlike our salaries.” Our tipster says the first A&P paycheck of the year remains at 2008 levels.

Bonus memos galore, after the jump.

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December to remember.JPGIf you think about it, it kind of makes sense. You’ve just been through the holidays, which is nothing more than an annoying reminder of all the love and happiness other people pretend to have. Meanwhile you’re sitting there trying to choke down a forkful of stuffing while your spouse drunkenly tells the exact same story you’ve heard on the order of 1400 times before, not counting the time you actually witnessed the described events.

So you try to zone out in front of the tube, but the Television God has determined that if you purchase a new Lexus you’ll feel like a kid again. As if some girl who is so rich her family could afford a real live pony is going to go all weak in the knees over a freaking SUV. But whatever, the economy is so bad you can’t even afford a canister of “new car smell.”

Holidays and poverty, they’re murder on marriages. In the U.K. the lawyers are prepared:

And with 17 per cent of divorced men blaming financial problems for the end of their marriage, the credit crunch is putting extra pressure on relationships in trouble.

The report doesn’t discuss how American divorce lawyers deal with the first full work week after Christmas, but in Britain they apparently call it “D-Day.”

The traditional New Year rush to end marriages after the stress of Christmas means divorce lawyers brand today D-Day, or Divorce Day, kick-starting their busiest week of the year.

After the jump, we’re reminded that divorce rarely if ever helps anything.

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pay freeze salary freeze pay cut law firm.jpgAnother day, another firm, another salary freeze. The latest is from Sheppard Mullin:

We feel it is critical to rigorously control expenses during these times. As part of our management of expenses, we have decided to “freeze” Associate compensation for 2009. This means your base compensation will be the same as in 2008. Special Counsel and Senior Attorney compensation will also be frozen, with minor exceptions.

First Latham, then Orrick, and now Sheppard. So far, Gibson Dunn looks like the place to be on the west coast.

A tipster reports a calm over at Sheppard that is very Zen:

Yes. Sheppard is freezing salaries. I’m not thrilled about it, but it is consistent with Sheppard’s conservative style. We had an hour and a half Associate Issues conference call to discuss it … Sheppard will re-evaluate the policy every quarter and Management suggested that Associates who make their hours (1950 or so) will probably also get an end of the year bonus to make up for any lost salary.

I’m sure associates would prefer to get that “suggestion” in writing, but so long as all remains quiet on the layoff front nobody is complaining.

Read the full memo after the jump.

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wall street bull backside.jpgIt’s a new year, and for Biglaw that usually means it is time for firms to go out and get a loan.

Obviously, this year it might be a little more difficult than usual. The American Lawyer is reporting that the credit crisis is coming to a partnership near you:

Law firms, typically considered good credit risks, are now experiencing the toughest and most expensive lending conditions in years. “Even good borrowers, prime borrowers, are having more restrictions and more difficulties than they used to,” says Altman Weil consultant James Cotterman.

Most firms will still be able to get loans to cover their immediate expenses. But to do so they will have to submit to more vigorous financial vetting than they did in the past. And, of course, it’s going to be a whole lot more expensive to borrow money:

Meanwhile, firms that didn’t secure a credit line early last year, and who went looking for it in recent months, discovered that credit wasn’t cheap anymore. “We just took out some lines from several different banks,” says the head of one firm, who asked for anonymity to speak frankly. The firm let its credit lines expire in 2003 and relied instead on capital contributions from partners. The banks used to give the firm credit for free. “Now we had to pay for the lines,” he says.

Rates have doubled, from below 1 percent in 2007 to 2-3 percent today for the top 50 firms, says Andrew Johnman, head of professional services at Barclays plc. “If they need additional money or if they need an amendment to their credit facility, then we reprice it to current market pricing,” he says.

Apparently, banks are worried that additional firms will dissolve like Heller and Thelen. More on that after the jump.

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Thacher.jpgThacher Proffitt & Wood made its dissolution official last month. Last Monday, the firm officially rescinded offers to approximately twenty 3Ls who were bound there after graduation.

One would-have-been Thacherite said no one was surprised to have the offers rescinded but that the soon-to-be law school graduates are still “bummed.”

The “firm did it right.” The partners in charge of Thacher’s summer associate program called all of the 3Ls on Monday. With the firm bound for nonexistence by May, the reason for the call was fairly obvious. The partners offered to do anything they can to help: forward resumes on, provide references, resend offer letters, etc. (Though those not rescued by Sonnenschein may be a bit busy looking after their own job prospects.)

Law students who placed their eggs in the baskets of failing firms Thacher, Thelen Reid, and Heller Ehrman may no longer be looking forward to cap-and-gown day. One Thacherite-would-have-been talked to us about what it’s like to see one’s Biglaw prospects dissolve. “When you take an offer from a 150-year-old firm, you think it’s pretty solid,” said the UnThachered 3L.

Full interview with “NoMoreTP”, after the jump.

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ATL 2008 in review.jpgIn an ATL / Lateral Link survey posted on New Year’s Eve, we announced your nominees for the 2008 ATL Commenter of the Year.

Almost 1,800 of you have voted since, and several of the nominees posted their thoughts in comments to the survey post.

Nominee Jack Bauer wrote in:

It’s good to know that I still have some friends. My track record with friends isn’t exactly stellar, seeing how I shot Curtis in the throat and I’m pretty sure Tony has become a terrorist. For those of you who had to work over Christmas, don’t feel too bad, I got a weekend assignment dealing with breach of contract in the Middle East.

funny-pictures-cat-eats-baseball-players.jpgUnfortunately, the terrorists appear to have taken out Jack’s friends’ communication network. Only 81 of them were able to vote for him.

Hang in there, Jack. You may not have made it to Day 2 in our poll, but we’re still looking forward to a strong season from you in 2009.

Read on after the jump to see more of our nominees’ comments and learn the results.

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Elena Kagan 3 Harvard Law School Above the Law Elana Kagan Elena Kagen.jpgMany have speculated that Harvard Law School’s hot and high-powered dean, Elena Kagan, might be a Supreme Court nominee in an Obama administration.

Dean Kagan is one step closer to sitting on the Court. Assuming her confirmation process goes smoothly — which it surely will, given how universally adored and admired she is, by liberals and conservatives alike — Elena Kagan will soon be arguing before the SCOTUS, as the Solicitor General of the United States.

As expected, President-elect Barack Obama has selected her as his SG nominee. From a message just sent out by Dean Kagan:

I am writing to all of you – the community of students, faculty, staff, and alumni of Harvard Law School – to let you know that today President-elect Barack Obama will announce his intention to nominate me to serve as Solicitor General of the United States. If confirmed by the Senate, I will resign the deanship of the Law School and take a leave of absence from the faculty.

If Dean Kagan makes the jump from solicitor general to justice, it won’t be unprecedented. The justice for whom she clerked, Thurgood Marshall, served as SG from 1965 to 1967, until President Johnson appointed him to the Court.

Back in 2007, Dean Kagan lost out on the presidency of Harvard University. Near the end of the Clinton Administration, she was nominated to the Most High D.C. Circuit, but never confirmed. Is 2009 going to be her year?

The full announcement from Dean Kagan to the HLS community, after the jump.

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Pro bono awards.JPGEvery year, the National Law Journal names individual people and firms that have done outstanding pro bono work. This year perhaps more than others, it is especially important to recognize those that gave their time to charity. With the economy crumbling, there is a huge need for free legal services.

The NLJ has recognized the work done by Proskauer Rose, Holland & Knight, and Mayer Brown towards resettling Iraqi refugees:

Eric Blinderman, international legal counsel to Proskauer Rose, had gone to Iraq in March 2004 as an associate general counsel for the Coalition Provisional Authority. Later, he served as chief legal counsel and associate deputy to the Regime Crimes Liaison. In 2007, Blinderman’s firm officially became a part of The List: Project to Resettle Iraqi Refugees, a nonprofit organization founded that year to help resettle Iraqis in danger because of their affiliation with the United States. Holland & Knight had already been collaborating with the project, and Mayer Brown signed on this year.

The other big firm winner was Pillsbury Winthrop for its efforts during the election:

Firms nationwide were inspired by the historic 2008 presidential election to devote pro bono time to protecting access to the voting booth. Lawyers went to court in several states on voter access issues, most frequently to prevent a voting reform law, the Help America Vote Act, from becoming a barrier to the ballot. The law required states to match voter rolls with another database, usually the registry of driver licenses, to create a more accurate list of voters.

Read the full list of winners here. And please share your stories about other great pro bono acts in the comments.

2008 NLJ PRO BONO AWARDS [National Law Journal]

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