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law firm associate bonus watch 2008 biglaw bonuses.jpgAs 7th year associates at Half-Skadden and Skadden-Mart come to grips with the fact that they will be getting a smaller bonus than 1st years at Skadden, let’s take a look at a curious article that came out on November 20th. The same day Cravath announced their reduced bonuses (and threatened their people about 2009) Chairman Chesler spoke to American Lawyer:

Evan Chesler, the presiding partner of Cravath Swaine & Moore, stresses that firms do not need lots of offices to be diversified. “It is too easy to confuse geography with geographic reach,” he says. “It is not the same thing.” …

Although Cravath has just one small outpost in London, the firm is highly diversified, Chesler maintains. “We certainly do Wall Street work, but we always have done work for companies not on Wall Street, companies that make things and are located all around the world, and will continue to do so.”

Apparently, for Chesler “it is too easy to confuse” words with deeds. Either the firm is diversified and is in a good position to weather this economic storm, or it is not. I’m sure that Chesler’s employees do not really appreciate Chesler running around publicly talking about the health of the firm, on the same day he sends around internal memos warning:

[A]ssociates should be prepared for the likelihood that the economy and the Firm’s financial performance next year will not show a significant improvement over this year and they may receive significantly reduced or no year-end bonuses next year.

If you want to criticize Cravath associates, don’t call them “greedy and entitled,” instead call them “foolish” for believing their own management. Believing their own firm is a mistake I’m sure most Cravath associates will not make again.

After the jump, guess who else was talking.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Cravath & Simpson & Mixed Messages”

Eric Holder

* Covington & Burling’s Eric Holder is now definite as Obama’s choice for Attorney General. Look out for the official announcement after Thanksgiving. [Politico]

* Former Hunton & Williams partner Emerson Briggs gets 70 months in federal prison for doing very bad things with his firm laptop. [Legal Times]

* California AG Jerry Brown is doing what he can for the pocketbooks of Walmart shoppers. Look out for a $3 discount near you. [Business Week]

* What year is this? “Judge rules that suspects cannot be detained because of ethnicity.” Thanks to Judge Frederic Block, now it’s okay to be Egyptian on a plane. [New York Times]

* Considering a lateral move? Ask the tough financial questions first. [The Recorder]

* Exxon Shipping, Footnote 17. It’s so hot right now. [New York Times]

* New Yorkers, join the ATL editors for drinks and merriment on Dec. 2, courtesy of Major, Lindsey & Africa. [Above The Law]

Bush pardons turkey.JPGAmid all of the wailing and gnashing about who President Bush might pardon during his last days in office, today’s grant of 14 requests failed to live up to any of the hype. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Bush has been relatively sparing in his use of pardons compared to past presidents, and the latest round of actions continued that pattern. …

Those issued reprieves had been found guilty of mostly garden-variety offenses, like Leslie O. Collier, who was issued a pardon for a 1996 conviction for the unauthorized use of a pesticide in killing bald eagles. Others receiving pardons had been convicted, among other offenses, for income tax evasion, unauthorized acquisition of food stamps, drug offenses and bank embezzlement.

“Stars” such as Michael Milken and Marion Jones (two people whom I never thought would be in the same sentence) have applied for Presidential pardons, but they continue to wait. Meanwhile, there has been a growing worry that Bush would pardon every counter-terrorism official in the land (for crimes not yet made criminal), but that massive Constitutional crisis issue will have to wait for another day.

In the meantime, Bush’s use of the pardon power continues to be more conservative and less objectionable than his predecessors.

… So that makes two sentences I never thought I’d write.

Bush Issues 14 Pardons and Commutes 2 Sentences [NYT]

law firm associate bonus watch 2008 biglaw bonuses.jpg“Not God Bless America, God-damn America.”

We are now able to report that Simpson Thacher & Bartlett has matched bonuses with Half-Skadden:

On behalf of the partners of the Firm, I would like to announce that year-end bonuses for associates in good standing will be as follows:

Class of 2008: $17,500 (pro-rated)

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: $32,500

Class of 2000: $32,500

Cravath has doomed us all.

After the jump, more analysis and the full STB memo.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Associate Bonus Watch: Simpson Announces Bonuses … And You’re Not Going To Be Happy”

partnership announcements.JPG‘Tis the season — not just for getting your holiday shopping started, but for many law firms to announce their new partners. Earlier this month, we commented on the announcement by Wachtell Lipton of six new partners. Given the firm’s relatively small size, six is a robust number, suggesting that all is well at WLRK despite the downturn.

Partnership announcements can shed light upon the financial health and practice-group priorities of law firms. Many firms like to say that they pick partners based solely on the talents of the lawyers in question, independent of such factors as the economy. Then again, many firms also like to say that dismissals of lawyers are strictly “performance-based.”

In our Wachtell post, we invited you to share your firm’s new-partner news with us (by email). A few of you did. E.g., Cleary Gottlieb (eight new partners); Cravath (three new partners).

Some tipsters were even more helpful, offering analysis of what the partnership news says about the firm. For example:

Not sure if you’re are keeping track of how many partners firms are making, or if it’s even a good metric, but Ropes & Gray made 12 new partners, several in corporate and private equity — the press release is on their website. Also, their start date [as partners] has been confirmed and is not pushed back. Thanks for all the good work.

So it sounds like Ropes Gray is faring relatively well. But then again, we already knew that.

A dissection of the Wilson Sonsini partnership announcement, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “New Partner Announcements: What Do They Say About the Health of Law Firms?”

S&C slowdown.JPGWhile the world waits for S&C’s bonus memo, here’s some interesting news from a person with a ground-level view at Sullivan & Cromwell: a contract attorney.

The blog Temporary Attorney has a post up about how the other half is living at S&C. An excerpt:

The economy is bad, so that means that down here at S&C, the clients are starting to dwindle, and the ones the firm has are having trouble paying their legal bills. New cases aren’t starting, which means that associates and litigation analysts don’t have anything to do. That means they’re starting to get the work that contract attorneys usually get.

This means that even “lifer” temps who have been working at S&C are being summarily dismissed, usually with little to no notice that we could lose the steady source of income that we’d come to expect. No notice, no severance. Your last day of earning is today. If you discuss this with lawyers not trapped in the temp system, or with basically anybody not on the inside, the situation smacks of outrageous and patent injustice.

Read the full post over here.

Even during good times, the work of a junior associate doesn’t differ much from the work of a contract attorney. When things are slow, it makes sense to funnel even more grunt work to your highly paid juniors — who have nothing else to do.

And we expect that work is slow all over.

But work is not so slow that it’s going to make S&C think about pulling a Half-Skadden?


P.S. Speaking of S&C contract attorneys, as we mentioned previously (see the “P.S.”), we’re also working on an item about a former contract attorney supervisor at the firm. We already have multiple sources but would like a few more. If you can help, please email us (subject line: “Sullivan and Cromwell”). Thanks.

Sullivan & Cromwell Update [Temporary Attorney]

Supreme Court hallway Above the Law Above the Law Above the Law.JPGOur last round-up of Supreme Court clerk hiring was published back in August, before the start of October Term 2008. Now that the justices are back in the country and back on the bench, they’re back to interviewing clerkship applicants.

Over at the Clerkship Notification Blog, there was buzz about Justice Stephen Breyer interviewing and hiring clerks for October Term 2009. That intelligence was correct. Here are his hires:

1. Christopher Fonzone (Harvard 2007 / Wilkinson)

2. Jennifer Nou (Yale 2008 / Posner)

Fonzone appears to be the “2007 Harvard grad” referenced in the comments. With Chris Fonzone and Jen Nou on board, Justice Breyer is all done for OT 2009. (We also hear that he’s started to hire for October Term 2010, but we have no details.)

Update (3:40 PM): We now know one of SGB’s hires for OT 2010:

Erika Myers (Stanford 2008 / Kozinski)

Interesting — although Chief Judge Kozinski is a big-time feeder, he tends to feed more to the right side of the Court. So he may be expanding his range as a feeder judge.

The updated list of Supreme Court clerks, with Fonzone and Nou and Myers added, appears after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Supreme Court Clerk Hiring Watch: New Term, New Hires”

Dewey logo.JPGYesterday, we received a number of reports that 11 Dewey & LeBoeuf associates were fired from Dewey’s NYC office.

This is lower than the casualty rate that some have mentioned in the comments.

In fact, as we’ve mentioned before and saw earlier today, 11 associates in a firm of 1400 worldwide attorneys probably wouldn’t be termed as “layoffs” during normal times.

Of course, these are not normal times.

Dewey’s response after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Nationwide Layoff Watch: Performance Review Attrition at Dewey & LeBoeuf”

Michael Mukasey small Chief Judge Michael B Mukasey SDNY Above the Law blog.jpgLast night, Attorney General Michael Mukasey collapsed while addressing the Federalist Society. Some feared the AG had suffered a stroke.

Today brings good news about his condition. This morning we reported (see the 10 AM update): “The AG is fine and will be released from the hospital later today. No word yet on what the diagnosis was. He will be taking a few days off.”

A few days off? Scratch that. He’s heading back into work, perhaps as you read this. Here’s the message he just sent to all Justice Department employees (via the BLT):

As you may have heard, I collapsed briefly last night at the conclusion of a speech. All tests at the hospital have come back with good results, and I feel fine. Accordingly, I plan to report to the Department this afternoon and to continue doing the work I swore to do last November and which it has been an honor to do with you ever since.

Thank you for your good wishes and your good work. It has been and remains an honor to serve with you.

We’re glad to hear that Attorney General Mukasey — widely respected among DOJ lawyers, especially compared to Alberto Gonzales, whose job performance even conservative lawyers won’t defend — is doing well and back on the job.

Feeling Fine After Collapse, Mukasey Returns to Work [ABA Journal]

Mukasey Says He’s Ready for Work Again [The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times]

Earlier: Breaking: Attorney General Mukasey Collapses at Federalist Society Dinner

lawyers hanging on.JPGAre you still trying to catch your breath from the bonus announcements at Skadden and Half-Skadden (f/k/a Cravath)? Or are you waiting patiently for S&C to “settle” this bonus debate among top firms? Either way, most people are still just trying to understand why Cravath low-balled the market yesterday.

A couple of days ago we mentioned a theory that has become very popular over the last 18 hours: firms are going to give low bonuses to look responsible to their clients. On Tuesday, we explained the theory like this:

So, reason one: If they give you a bonus, you might tell someone, um, like Above The Law. And reason two: pressure from clients to control costs. Anonymous firm leaders say they fear the effect a big bonus announcement would have on their fee negotiations with belt-tightening clients, especially those in the financial sector.

Some people really believe this is happening, and are using Cravath’s bonus announcement as Exhibit A. One tipster even asked ATL to “stop reporting bonus information.”

But while we can’t know what kind of paranoia is gripping law firm leaders at the moment, we’re pretty sure that clients don’t actually care about associate bonuses.

Our friends at What About Clients attacked this issue yesterday:

So ATL also asks in the post, what about clients? Should great clients care about associate bonuses this year–this evil and financially difficult one of 2008–more than any other year?

The answer: absolutely not.

More analysis after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Do Clients Care About Associate Bonuses? Answer = No”

Fried Frank Harris Shriver Jacobson LLP Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgWe’ve gotten credible information that Fried Frank has laid off at least 15 associates from their corporate department, including 6 in the real estate practice group. A tipster collects the information in a clear way:

They are veiled as performance-based reviews, but virtually everyone is getting a negative review (mostly, it seems, to justify in a paper-trail [a decision] to not give bonuses)….

There has been no formal review process announced, and no one knows what directive came from management last weekend at the partner retreat, but it seems that each group was told to make cuts. People were completely taken off guard when they started getting calls earlier in the week calling them in for their reviews, some of which dredged up years-old information to use as justification for lay-offs, and many of which lasted only 5 minutes or so. Most of the layoffs have been mid-level associates and up, but most junior associates have not yet been reviewed.

The axe is expected to fall on the litigation side of the firm today.

The firm has not responded to voice messages or emails left earlier today. The number of layoffs could be higher than what we are reporting, but right now the best number is 15.

We understand that a three-month severance package has been offered.

Every single tipster (and there are a lot of them) said that the laid-off attorneys were told that they were being let go for performance reasons.

But that’s not all they were told. Read the rest, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Nationwide Layoff Watch: Stealth Layoffs at Fried Frank”

public defender.JPGATL has been providing in-depth coverage of firm layoffs, but we haven’t written much about public defenders suffering the same fate. With state budgets experiencing big squeezes, public defenders’ offices across the country are getting downsized, while their caseloads are getting upsized.

We wrote about layoffs in Kentucky, Minnesota, Florida, and Georgia back in July. In at least seven states, “public defenders’ offices are refusing to take on cases or have sued to limit them,” says the New York Times in an editorial today. It suggests that the constitutional right to counsel in state criminal proceedings is “hanging by a tattered thread:”

In a disturbing example of legal triage, a Florida judge ruled in September that the public defenders’ office in Miami-Dade County could refuse to represent many poor defendants arrested on lesser felony charges so that its lawyers could provide a better defense for other clients. Behind the ruling were some chastening statistics: Over the past three years, the average number of felony cases handled by each lawyer rose from 367 annually to nearly 500. Misdemeanor case loads rose from 1,380 to 2,225.

Public defenders’ offices all over the country are reporting similar problems. The immediate result is that innocent defendants may feel pressure to plead guilty. There also is an increased risk of wrongful conviction, which means that the real offenders would go free.

The NYT recommends meeting the budget shortfall by increasing the state registration fees for lawyers and expanding pro bono representation by the private bar.

Another out-of-the-box solution would be to get rid of all those pesky drug laws.

Remember to send in all of your layoffs stories and worries to

Hard Times and the Right to Counsel [New York Times]

Earlier: D.C. AG Office Faces Lawsuit After Firing Attorneys (And News of Layoffs For Public Defenders in Other States)

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