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Clifford Chance LLP Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgClifford Chance leadership to the rank-and-file partnership: “Partners, spread the wallets, so we can smell the juicy insides.”

Associates, we feel your pain: slashed bonuses and salary freezes are bad news. But things could be worse: imagine having to pay your firm for the privilege of working there:

[A]s a Christmas “bonus” this year, partners at Clifford Chance were each required to make a capital contribution of £100,000 (roughly $150,000). Ouch.

Through a spokesperson, Clifford Chance declined to comment. But, if true, the news would not be completely shocking. The firm has done at least two rounds of layoffs, and they paid bonuses that were down sharply from prior years (although, in fairness to CC, at market levels for 2008).

If true, Clifford wouldn’t be the only firm looking to its partners for financing. As previously discussed, because of super-tight credit markets and the high cost of borrowing, more firms are financing their operations by tapping partner wallets. See, e.g., DLA Piper (letting some income partners become equity partners, if they can cough up capital contributions of up to $150,000).

Associates: next time you complain about greedy partners slashing your pay, consider the possibility that they’re suffering too in this economy. They’re trying to safely navigate the recessionary shoals, just like the rest of us. Some of the measures they’ve been taking, like pay freezes and reduced bonuses, may just be prudent planning. Better to have a smaller paycheck than no paycheck at all.

Are you aware of other firms that are hitting up their partners for cash in these dire times? Drop us a line, by email (subject line: “[Firm Name]: Capital Contribution”). Thanks.

Earlier: Biglaw: Welcome to the Credit Crunch

Prior ATL coverage of Clifford Chance

War on Laptops

laptops war class indiana.JPGA study conducted by Indiana University found that law students are more likely than other students to use their laptops in class. The study confirms our own internal data that shows that most law students enjoy having internet access on par with what can be achieved in Ghana.

The ABA Journal smartly put the study in the context of the University of Chicago Law School’s attempts to shut down internet access in most classes, a move no doubt applauded by this guy:

Distractions posed by laptops with Internet access have prompted some law professors to ban the computers and one law school–the University of Chicago–to shut down Internet access in most classrooms.

A very wise tenured professor once said to me:

The way I see it, if my presentations are not interesting enough to capture your attendance and attention to a lecture you’ve already paid for, the fault is on me.

Needless to say, his lectures were always well attended, and I know more about the English Revolution than I could possibly need. But I digress.

Other IU laptop nuggets after the jump.

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pls hndle copy 2.jpg

Dear ATL,

I’m a 2L, and the firm I’m working for next summer sent me fairly nice and useful Christmas present. Should I write the recruiting team a thank-you note? I’m from the South, where we write thank you notes for anything and everything, but I don’t know what the New York/DC norm is and don’t want to look stupid. The firm is DC-based, and I’m splitting with their DC and NY offices.

Eternally Grateful

Dear Eternally Grateful,

Once upon a time, I was on the phone with my mom, sobbing uncontrollably over a guy who dumped me. My mother’s a no-nonsense lady, and while I blathered on and on about how I should just throw in the towel now and move to a nunnery because I’d never find anyone as amazing, she cut me off and told me, verbatim: “I didn’t want to have to tell you this, but remember how we got him that Tempur-Pedic pillow for his birthday? He never sent us a thank you card. Let that sink in.” Her words stung. What kind of person doesn’t send a thank you note to his girlfriend’s parents? A monster, that’s who.

The point is, there is a time and a place for thank you notes. If your significant other’s parents get you a birthday present, send one ASAP. But if your firm’s recruiting team sends you and everyone else in your summer class and/or firm engraved paperweights, you look ludicrous if you send a thank you back.

I’m not saying that thank you notes are never appropriate in the law firm context. On the contrary, if someone referred business to you, it’s entirely appropriate to break out the heavy stock paper with the understated paisley envelope and thank away. But cards that say “thanks for interviewing me” or a “thanks for sending me this tote bag which you sent to everybody else in the firm” is just too much thanks. Nobody should be that thankful for anything, ever.

No matter how insanely useful the stainless steel pen inscribed with the firm’s name, no matter how much you cherish that firm-emblazoned mug, you need to show yourself (and the firm) some respect by reeling in the gratitude, except when it’s appropriate.

Your friend,


Elie thanks his lucky stars after the jump.

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Thank You For Being A Firm”

Roland Burris ATL Lawyer of the Day.jpgThe New York Times is reporting that U.S. Senate Democrats will likely seat Roland Burris, Illinois Governer Rod Blagojevich’s pick to replace Barack Obama.

Changing course, Senate Democrats emerged from a meeting with Senate appointee Roland Burris on Wednesday and set forth the legal steps under which they’re willing to welcome him into the Senate in President-elect Barack Obama’s vacated spot.

Isn’t it great to live in a country of laws? A country where disgraced executives can openly flaunt the law yet still wield its power. This whole Senate drama has really been a great example of the power of law.

And hey, how ’bout those Democrats? They control the executive and both houses of Congress, but they sure aren’t letting “winning” go to their heads are they? No, no, no. Looks like the Invertebrate party hasn’t lost it’s talent for folding like a cheap accordion under the slightest bit of pressure:

The pleasantries and complaints were a far cry from the he-can’t-be-seated rhetoric that came from the Senate Democratic caucus a week ago when the governor shocked the party and nominated Burris, who would be the Senate’s only black member now that Obama has departed.

Neither Durbin nor Reid guaranteed Burris would be seated but the majority leader said there almost certainly would be a full Senate vote on it.


Reid Says Burris Might Ultimately Get Senate Seat [New York Times]

Earlier: Lawyer of the Day: Roland “Self-proclaimed Trail Blazer” Burris

sokolove_james.jpgThere is a great profile in the Boston Magazine about attorney James Sokolove, a guy that advertises his legal services on T.V. so often I just assumed he didn’t actually exist.

Apparently, he does exist, but his legal services don’t, at least not in the traditional sense:

Despite his prodigious success and his omnipresent image as a bulldog attorney, Sokolove hasn’t seen the inside of a courtroom in nearly three decades. Truth be told, he’s argued only one case before a jury; it was back in the early 1970s, and he lost. It wasn’t tenacious lawyering that allowed Sokolove to build a legal empire, but rather his prowess as a businessman and an innovator. He and his staff of 80 don’t try cases; instead they connect prospective clients to other lawyers, who pay Sokolove a cut of their fees for ginning up business.

Sweet. The only thing better then an unabashed “ambulance chaser” is an unabashed ambulance chaser who doesn’t know where the courthouse is located.

But after the jump, what’s really fascinating is that this guy really does have a system.

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ATL 2008 in review.jpgBad things happened in the business of Biglaw in 2008. Some people are still so scarred by the experience that they’d just as soon pretend last year never happened.

But the events that transpired in 2008 could have ramifications for the legal industry for a long time.

Our third-place story is the Biglaw salary freeze. It could be the “Shock Doctrine” of the market meltdown. Slashing bonuses during a down year is one thing, but freezing pay (or cutting pay depending on your perspective) is downright deflationary.

We’ve given a lot of “credit” to Latham & Watkins for being the most prestigious firm (according to Vault) to freeze salaries, but as commenters have pointed out, Latham wasn’t the first.

That distinction goes to Squire Sanders. When they froze salaries back on December 15th, the news was so shocking people didn’t know what to make of it. Back then, we said:

The memo below was sent to us by a tipster, with this prefatory comment: “No one really knows what the f*** the second half of the first sentence of the memo means.”

Since then, the following firms have instituted some form of a salary freeze: Orrick, Dorsey & Whitney, Reed Smith, Venable, Sidley, DLA Piper, Arnold & Porter, Sheppard Mullin, and Sonnenschein.

And those are just the ones we know about.

But it’s also important to remember which firms are not on that list. Skadden and Cravath and countless others are going ahead with the expected pay raises for rising classes. Neither Squire Sanders nor Latham set the market for associate pay. They just gave firms another option in dealing with the financial crisis.

Firms need options because you don’t want to work for a firm that is part of our number two story of the year.

Second place melts away, after the jump.

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Firms that Froze & Firms that Melted”

Roland Burris ATL Lawyer of the Day.jpg* Yesterday’s Lawyer of the Day was snubbed by the Senate. But Democrats may reconsider if Roland Burris agrees not to compete for the seat in 2010. [Washington Post]

* …UC Irvine School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky says they certainly should. [Los Angeles Times]

* Adam Liptak profiles Obama’s solicitor general nominee Elena Kagan. She may not have revealed her views on unilateral executive power, but she did manage to bring harmony to the “notoriously dysfunctional Harvard Law School.” [New York Times]

* More problems for U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent, the first federal judge to be charged with federal sex crimes. More sex crime charges! [Houston Chronicle]

* Judiciary Committee Republican Sen. Arlen Specter is going to the mat over the AG nomination of Eric Holder. He questions his character and his ability “to say no instead of to say yes.” [New York Times]

* Nationwide Government Layoff Watch: The Arizona Attorney General’s Office says goodbye to 20 people. [Phoenix Business Journal]

Alex Kozinski David Lat.jpgSometimes readers complain that Above the Law focuses too much on the East Coast. Since our headquarters is here in New York, and since we lived in Washington from 2006 to 2008, we may have an East Coast bias.

But we do try to run a national legal news site. Even if we’re physically located in New York, wherever two or more lawyers are gathered in our name, there we are.

In recent months, we’ve been making a conscious effort to do more for the West Coast. For example, we’ve started posting — later in the day, to account for the time difference — material aimed at a West Coast / California audience.

And next week we’ll be in L.A., to participate in three events (all kindly sponsored by the Federalist Society). One is with a leading light of the federal judiciary, and another is with a top law professor/blogger. Here are the details:

1. A Judge in Full: Personality and Jurisprudence

When: Tuesday, January 13, 12 p.m. – 1 p.m.

Speakers: The Honorable Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge, Ninth Circuit; David Lat, Founder, Above the Law

Where: Omni Hotel, 251 South Olive Street, Los Angeles

MCLE Credit: One Hour

Cost: $38 if paid in advance; $40 if paid at the door. Public employees, students and law clerks may pay the discounted rate of $15.

2. Cocktail Reception with David Lat

When: Tuesday, January 13th, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Where: Bel Air Bar and Grill, 662 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles

MCLE Credit: No. This will not be educational in the least — just gossip and booze.

Cost: Cash bar. Heavy hors d’oeuvres will be served. YUM.

3. How Bloggers Changed the Legal World

When: Wednesday, January 14, 12:45 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Speakers: Professor Stephen Bainbridge, Warren Professor of Law, UCLA; David Lat, Founder, Above the Law

Where: UCLA Law School, Room 1357

Cost: Free and open to the public. Lunch will be provided.

Please come to any or all of these events. We look forward to seeing you!

A Judge in Full: Personality and Jurisprudence [Federalist Society - Los Angeles Lawyers Chapter]

How Bloggers Have Changed the Legal World [Facebook]

Two Events / One Day with Chief Judge Kozinski and David Lat [Facebook]

foxwoods the place of dreams.JPG* At least one person got this right, Obama’s Kagan hire helps Yale. A bunch. [Holy Hullabaloos]

* Paul Michel, Chief Judge of the Federal Circuit, actually explains the law. He wants it to be better. [Intellectual Property Colloquium]

* The smell of marijuana is the smell of freedom from tyranny. Or it’s the smell of involuntary incarceration. It really depends on where you live. [Underdog]

* God, does anybody else remember when Wesley Snipes was kind of cool? “We should have gotten a live chicken.” “Jeffrey Dahmer? I love that guy!” “This thing is bigger than Nino Brown. This is big business. This is the American way.” [TaxProf Blog]

* I remember 3L year. I went to Foxwoods on my way from NYC back to Boston and won a ton of money at craps. I was in the Parody. And then my parents came to watch me graduate. I’m told other things happened as well. What a great year. [Ridiculum]

law firm associate bonus watch 2008 biglaw bonuses.jpgSonnenschein is the latest firm to adopt a creative approach to associate compensation during the financial crisis. The firm announced bonuses that can go much higher then their peer firms, but also announced a salary freeze.

First the bonus news:

We are pleased to announce that Associate productivity bonuses for 2008 range from $10,000 to $70,000. The Policy and Planning Committee has approved the attached bonus schedule which, as we have discussed during recent Firmwide Associate meetings, remains unchanged from last year and includes a step up for seniority. These bonus levels will result in some of our Associates receiving significantly higher bonuses than their peers at many of the firms with whom we compete for talent and clients, and reflect our strong belief that it is important to recognize and reward our most productive Associates.

You don’t often see a firm go the “significantly higher bonuses than their peers” language. Clearly, Sonnenschein wants its people to know they are valued.

However, no firm is an island in this economic storm. The salary freeze reflects that reality:

With respect to our Associate salary schedule, Policy and Planning has concluded, after consultation with our Practice Group Leaders and Office Managing Partners and consideration of marketplace and client factors that, effective January 1, 2009, Associates moving to the next class year in 2009 will continue to receive the same base compensation as they did in 2008.

As with Quinn Emanuel, the top bonuses are available for highest billers. But, if you were a top biller, the extra bonus offsets the lack of a pay raise.

But perhaps the larger point here is that every firm needs to come up with individualized answers to the economic client. Sonnenschein laid off 25 attorney, acquired 100 Thacher Proffitt attorneys, is paying very high bonuses to associates who bill more than 2450 hours, and is freezing associate salaries. Put another way, Sonnenschein is just another entity trying to navigate through the new economy as best it can until things settle down.

Read the full memo after the jump.

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ATL 2008 in review.jpgIn our first two installments of 2008 law school stories, we looked back at our favorite law school students of the year and important trends. For our third post in the series of four, we’re indulging in one of our favorite topics: law school listservs.

When tightly-wound law students use the e-mail list as their forum for airing grievances, the back-and-forth can get rather catty. A mixture of Type A personalities, the desire to procrastinate, and extreme law school stress has resulted in some explosive exchanges in 2008.

Whether you call them list servs, list serves, listservs, listserves, list-servs, or list-serves, we call them extremely amusing. Find out which three law schools made the “Best of” listserv list, after the jump.

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Evan Chesler Cravath.jpgEvan Chesler, presiding partner at Cravath, is the latest to raise his voice against the billable hour. In an op-ed piece he penned for Forbes magazine, Chesler says:

I’m a trial lawyer. I bill by the hour. So do the associates who work for me. I have lots of clients, so I can pretty much work, and bill, as much as I want. This needs to be fixed. Yes, you read that correctly.

Of course, partners and clients and even journalists have been calling for or predicting the death of the billable hour for years. As Chesler himself contends in his piece, nobody really likes the billable hour:

The billable hour makes no sense, not even for lawyers. If you are successful and win a case early on, you put yourself out of work. If you get bogged down in a land war in Asia, you make more money. That is frankly nuts.

Of course, there is a reason that the billable hour won’t die. More on that after the jump.

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