Apologies for the delay. We had to wait for Vizu to certify the poll results as anomaly-free, which they just did.
Congratulations to the winner of our ATL Idol “reality blogging” competition, who will become Above the Law’s new editor-in-chief: SOPHIST!!! With almost 1900 votes cast, SOPHIST (avatar at right) prevailed over your other finalist, FROLIC AND DETOUR, by a 60-40 margin.
In a subsequent post, Sophist will introduce himself to the readership in more detail. The handover of day-to-day editorial duties will take place sometime later this month.
Based on some of your comments, we’d like to clarify two things.
First, we will continue to write for Above the Law and to play an active role in its development. As reported in the Legal Times and FishbowlNY, among other places, we’re moving into the position of Managing Editor for Breaking Media, ATL’s parent company. Part of our new job includes overseeing Above the Law. So we’ll be working closely with Sophist to take Above the Law to ever greater heights (or lows, as appropriate). We will continue to blog for ATL, perhaps in a column of some sort, as well as on other occasions (e.g., coverage of events we attend; additional support during busy news periods; filling in for Sophist when he goes on vacation).
Second, your faithful Associate Editor, Kashmir Hill, will also still write for the site. Although she did not wish to be considered for the EIC position — for more on why, see her personal blog — she will remain as an active presence here. The same is true of ATL’s other contributors, including our surveys guru, Justin Bernold, and our Legal Eagle Wedding Watcher, Laurie Lin. Many of the things you enjoy about ATL will remain unchanged.
As we previously mentioned, the ATL Idol contest was a huge hit here at ATL, by a variety of measures (including traffic / pageviews, reader comments, and revenue). We thank our six finalists for their excellent efforts, as well as everyone else who expressed interest in the position; our three guest judges, Ann Althouse, Tom Goldstein, and Dahlia Lithwick; and you, our readers, who enlivened the contest with your commentary — and who picked the winner, with your votes.
Once again, congratulations to SOPHIST. He survived three weeks of grueling guest blogging, including tough love from the celebrity judges, hard knocks from the commenters, and formidable competition from the other finalists. He is clearly ready for the challenge of taking ATL into a new and even more glorious era. (And since you picked him, you are estopped from criticizing him in the comments.)
Please extend a warm welcome to SOPHIST — and to Above the Law 2.0!
Earlier: Prior ATL Idol coverage (scroll down)
* Nationwide Layoff Watch: Nannies. [Dealbreaker]
* Was Findlaw gaming Google? Bad, Findlaw, bad. [Real Lawyers Have Blogs]
* Stupid Patent Case of the Week? [Mendelson's Musings]
* We knew him way back when: a profile of Atlanta AUSA Jon-Peter Kelly (with whom we went to high school and college). [Fulton County Daily Report]
* Blawg Review #173 — with a swimming theme. [Chicago IP Litigation Blog via Blawg Review]
If legal novelist John Grisham and Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown were to get together and make a literary baby, it would look a lot like our lawsuit of the day. From London’s Daily Telegraph:
The heirs of the Knights Templar have launched a legal battle in Spain to force the Pope to restore the reputation of the disgraced order which was accused of heresy and dissolved seven centuries ago.
The Association of the Sovereign Order of the Temple of Christ, whose members claim to be descended from the legendary crusaders, have filed a lawsuit against Benedict XVI calling for him to recognise the seizure of assets worth 100 billion euros [$150 billion USD].
They claim that when the order was dissolved by his predecessor Pope Clement V in 1307, more than 9,000 properties as well as countless pastures, mills and other commercial ventures belonging to the knights were appropriated by the church.
1307? It seems like the statute of limitations has run out on that one. (Or “prescriptive period” per Spain’s civil law system.)
The Pope has the Vatican to blame for inspiring the lawsuit:
The legal move by the Spanish group comes follows the unprecedented step by the Vatican towards the rehabilitation of the group when last October it released copies of parchments recording the trials of the Knights between 1307 and 1312.
The papers lay hidden for more than three centuries having been “misfiled” within papal archives until they were discovered by an academic in 2001.
Apparently, the Knights hope the suit will help improve their reputation, sullied by age-old accusations of worshipping Satan, denying Jesus, and practicing sodomy. It seems more likely that they’ll have a new accusation added to the list: filing frivolous and unsuccessful lawsuits.
Knights Templar heirs in legal battle with the Pope [Daily Telegraph via NPR]
Last week we started hearing rumors of imminent staff layoffs at Fried Frank. The rumors have now come true, as we’ve been hearing from multiple sources. Today appears to be the big day.
We submitted an inquiry to the firm. A spokesperson issued the following statement:
Over two years ago Fried Frank began a review of its administrative resources and staffing requirements. As part of this review process some departments were expanded and others consolidated.
Today’s administrative staff reductions are part of that business review process. Those affected are in the Firm’s NY and Washington DC offices. Severance and career counseling were offered to all of those affected.
We aren’t sure of the numbers (and the firm has not yet responded to our request for that data). One of the rumors from last week said the number could be as high as 10 percent of total staff headcount. We hear that in the D.C. office, at least eight or nine people have been laid off, as of the time of this posting. The numbers in New York are said to be significantly higher than in Washington.
The affected employees include secretaries, paralegals, and library personnel. Severance packages appear to vary, from as low as seven weeks to as high as three months.
People are being called in and given the bad news individually. But meetings are also being held at 3:30 and 4:00 p.m. in D.C. (It’s not clear what New York is doing.)
One staffer in New York was given 30 minutes to pack up all belongings and leave the premises. In Washington, however, that’s not happening; one source describes that office as “more humane.”
We will bring you more information as the story develops. If you have information to share, please email us.
[Ed. note: Ted Frank's posts analyzing presidential candidate Barack Obama's tax plan, available here and here, were some of the most popular in ATL history. They generated over 900 comments and thousands of pageviews. Because there have been some developments on this front since February, when Ted Frank first issued his analysis, we requested an update; he kindly obliged.]
Above the Law’s Fearless Leader David Lat asked me to update my earlier posts on Obama’s tax plan. As you recall, Obama made a series of promises of “fixing” the tax code, mostly on the backs of investors and the upper middle-class — like Biglaw associates.
I ran a spreadsheet that showed that, with reasonable assumptions, those tax increases would have the same effect on associate after-tax income as a New York law firm cutting salaries by $34,000, but permitted one to change the assumptions if you disagreed with the assumptions I made. I made no endorsements, noting that, Thomas “no relation” Frank notwithstanding, taxes and economic issues were not the only reason to vote for a presidential candidate. (Still, commenters’ reactions can best be described by Tyler Cowen’s description of “Obama insecurity“: “For some people no comment on Obama, other than the purely laudatory, is anything other than a hackish right-wing attempt to forge an alliance of lies with Karl Rove and his ilk.”)
Since then, Obama’s two top economic advisors have posted a Wall Street Journal editorial and a website giving somewhat more detail to the Obama tax plan. David asked me to update my post.
1. The most notable change is Obama’s social security tax plan. Recall that his original promise was to simply lift the cap, changing the system from a pay-in to income-redistribution — something that would have cost law firm associates thousands or tens of thousands and raised marginal tax rates to nearly 60%. When Hillary Clinton started hitting him hard about it, he backed off his original plan to make social security taxes uniform and said he might (but might not) add a “doughnut-hole” between $97,000 and $150,000 or $200,000 or $250,000.
Now that Obama has clinched the nomination and is pretending to be a centrist for the general election, after the Wall Street Journal hit him hard about it, Obama pushed everything he promised in the primaries overboard. First, he said he would raise taxes not the full 12.4%, but just “2 to 4%” — so much for making Warren Buffett pay the same rate as his secretary. The latest is that Obama will avoid any tax changes in social security until 2019, i.e., punting the problem into President Jindal’s lap. So zero out the social security tax increases, unless Obama changes his mind for a fourth time. (People at my high school backed off of plans for trillion-dollar tax increases when faced with outrage from Above the Law commenters all the time. It was no big deal.)
Read more, after the jump.
As reported last week, the Vault 2009 law firm rankings are out. You can find Vault’s ranking of the top 100 most prestigious firms here.
As observed by one astute commenter, “the prestige rankings will tell you nothing about the quality of your work experience.” In order to address this, we are relaunching a popular feature from last year: a series of open threads on the Vault 100 firms, organized in batches of five, to allow for comparative discussion (and gossip) about perks, hours, recruiting standards, firm life, etc.
We’re starting with the top five firms — and experiencing a bit of déjà vu, since the list is identical to last year’s (although the prestige scores, indicated parenthetically, have changed a little):
1. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (8.777)
2. Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP (8.732)
3. Sullivan & Cromwell LLP (8.257)
4. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP (8.135)
5. Davis Polk & Wardwell (8.070)
Cravath is closer than last year to passing Wachtell in the rankings. Perhaps the bedbugs prevented CSM from retaking the top position, which it held back in the 2003 rankings. We’re amused that Vault lists this as a Cravath “notable perk”: “Grinds associates into a fine, self-important powder.”
Please discuss and compare the top five. More threads to come.
The Top 100 Most Prestigious Law Firms [Vault]
Earlier: Rejoice: The 2009 Vault Rankings Are Out!, Fall Recruiting Open Thread: Vault 1-5 (2008 edition) and Fall Recruiting Open Thread: Vault 96-100 (2008 edition — with links to all of last year’s posts).
One of the more contentious issues in the legal profession this year is whether firms are conducting “stealth” layoffs, or simply culling non-performing associates after bad reviews.
Even among firms doling out these bad reviews, many say that performance standards have gotten tougher during the down market. Other firms, however, claim that their firms’ standards remain the same, and that the
downsized departing associates simply didn’t measure up.
In today’s ATL / Lateral Link survey, we’ll focus a bit more on the review side of the equation. How often does your firm give real feedback, and do you think it’s actually fair?
Update: This survey is now closed. Click here for the results.
Justin Bernold is a Director at Lateral Link, the sponsor of this Associate Life Survey.
The embarrassing Google hit is one of the great new fears of the modern age. If the number-one Google hit for your name is your work bio, Corporate Challenge race-time results, or nothing at all, consider yourself lucky. You could have something worse, like, “Kashmir Hill. Is that her real name or her porn screen name?” Or something much worse, like the derogatory comments that spurred the Autoadmit lawsuit.
Seattle lawyer Shakespear Feyissa is in a Google predicament. He wants a ten-year-old article removed from his college newspaper’s archives. The school administrators say sure, but the college newspaper editors are adamantly opposed. We love principled undergrads. From the Seattle Times:
While a senior at [Seattle Pacific University] 10 years ago, Feyissa was arrested on suspicion of attempted sexual assault and suspended. He was never charged, but the suspension stuck — indefinitely.
Feyissa complained that his punishment was more severe because of his race, he told the student newspaper at the time, but an investigation dismissed his claim.
He’s a lawyer now, and that article — still among the first hits for Feyissa’s name on Google — continues to hurt him personally and professionally, he said. So Feyissa, at 33, has been pressuring SPU to help clear his name.
We question his tactics. By going after the school, he has succeeded in getting the original Falcon article knocked back a few pages when Google searching his name. But due to the media coverage of his crusade, he now has tons of hits with the paragraph intro, “A decade ago Shakespear Feyissa was arrested on suspicion of attempted sexual assault.”
Read more, after the jump.
* A California trial starting this week marks the first time the obscure Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act is used to prosecute a former soldier for actions taken during combat. Former Marine Sgt. Jose Nazario will be tried as a civilian for voluntary manslaughter in the deaths of four Iraqi prisoners. [ San Francisco Chronicle]
* It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a “Super Lawyer.” The New Jersey Supreme Court will decide whether attorneys can reveal their “Super Lawyer” identities. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune]
* Senator Max Baucus acts to make the phrase “The Last Best Place” exempt from trademark protection. Montanans everywhere rejoice? [New York Times]
* Note to teachers: please don’t tie the special ed kids to their chairs. [New York Post via Gothamist]
* The cold-fighting claims of Airborne are a joke, says the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC decision and the settlement of a related class-action lawsuit mean the company will be paying out $30 million to consumers. Echinacea retailers, listen up. [Washington Post]
* ATL idol draws to a close today at noon. Don’t forget to vote! [Above The Law]
* … Speaking of the contest to determine ATL’s new editor-in-chief, Kash appreciates the write-in votes, but… [Moving into the Fourth Estate]
If you’re in New York today (Sunday) and looking for something to do in the afternoon, consider checking out Thurgood. It’s a one-man show about the life of Justice Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993), starring Laurence Fishburne (best known as Morpheus of The Matrix, but with a long list of other film and theater credits).
It’s an entertaining and educational production, and Laurence Fishburne turns in a superb performance. As one friend of ours, an ex-theater major, put it, “Fishburne was able to make the audience forget that this is a one-man show.”
As one might expect from a play based on the life of a heroic historical figure, Thurgood occasionally verges on the pedantic and preachy (“one person can make a difference”; “we know how far we’ve come — but we also know how far we still have to go”). Law nerds might find feel patronized by the more expository parts of the play, like the mini-reviews of Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education. You can often sense the “message” button being pushed.
But hey, everyone needs a refresher course every now and then. And there are enough interesting bits of biographical trivia — as well as ample entertainment, in the form of humorous anecdotes from Marshall’s life, well-told by Fishburne — to make you forgive the more didactic or heavy-handed elements.
If you’d like to see Thurgood, you need to act fast; it’s closing today. The 3 p.m. matinee is the final performance. You can probably get discounted tickets at the TKTS booth (since Thurgood was there last week, and there were definitely a few empty seats at the performance we attended yesterday).
Additional thoughts — if you’re planning on seeing the play, save these for later, so you can form your own opinions free of taint — after the jump.
In this video clip, Stephen Colbert observes that “you can’t blame all the problems of the past seven years on Monica Goodling.” But that won’t stop some people from trying.
To be sure, Monica Goodling has made mistakes — and she’s the first to admit them. She forthrightly acknowledged, when testifying before Congress, that she “crossed the line,” by taking political considerations into account when hiring career employees at the Department of Justice.
But has the Goodling Blame Game gone too far? Has she become the new Karl Rove, responsible for everything from DOJ politicization to childhood obesity to the war between Russia and Georgia?
Quite possibly. Read more, after the jump.
In the immortal words of Roxette, “It must have been love; but it’s over now.” Last month, we marveled at all the law firm merger rumors making the rounds. These days, however, merger talks are falling apart, left and right.
As we first reported, the contemplated merger between Heller Ehrman and Baker & McKenzie is officially dead. For the skinny on their breakup, see Legal Pad. Apparently client conflicts were the deal breaker (as they so often are; they’re the law-firm equivalent of serious religious differences, or really bad STDs). Baker & McKenzie will have to settle for being a firm with a measly $2.2 billion in annual global revenue.
And now this, from the National Law Journal:
In the days that followed the joint announcement by Wolf Block and Akerman Senterfitt that their merger talks hit a snag over a conflict, sources have pointed to deeper issues affecting the drawn-out discussions…
One source aware of the merger discussions said the combination would be a good thing for both firms but said Wolf Block leadership is unwilling to work out certain tax and pension concerns.
There is concern among some of Wolf Block’s partnership over having to pay a significant amount in taxes upon merging with a corporation, the source said. There is also concern over having to make up for Wolf Block’s unfunded pension liabilities. Both of the issues could cause partners to “take a real financial hit,” the source said, adding that a loan could solve those problems, but firm leadership seems unwilling to go that route.
We’d end with the requisite punchy quip, but unfunded pension liabilities leave us uninspired.
(It’s a Friday, in August, after 3 PM. Why are you still here?)
Trouble with WolfBlock-Akerman merger talks over more than conflicts [National Law Journal]
Conflicts Blamed for Failed Heller Merger Talks [Legal Pad]
Bakers breaks £1bn mark with 20% revenue boost [Legal Week via ABA Journal]
Earlier: Heller Ehrman Is NOT Merging With Baker & McKenzie
Law Firm Merger Mania: Collected Rumors and News