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Heller Ehrman LLP Above the Law blog.JPGIt’s official: Heller Ehrman is dissolving. We have no desire to pile on, but major firms don’t close their doors everyday.

So, how does the dissolution process work exactly?

The first thing Heller is required to do by law is to give notice to all their employees under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN). Heller complied with this requirement this afternoon:

I regret to inform you that The Firm has adopted a plan of liquidation and will shut down substantially all of its operations on or about November 28, 2008. At the time of the shutdown, the employment of The Firm’s employees will be permanently terminated. Until then, please be aware that The Firm has work for you and expects you to report to work. Employees will be paid full salary and benefits until the shutdown. Where applicable, employees with accrued but unused vacation time may be scheduled for vacation prior to November 28.

You do not have displacement or bumping rights for other positions within The Firm. However, in order to conduct an orderly liquidation, The Firm may continue to employ a very limited number of employees after the date of the shutdown. If you wish to be considered for such work, please notify me by email; The Firm will let you know about past November 28 work within the next few days.

This letter constitutes notice to you pursuant to statute. As a terminated employee, you may be entitled to certain benefits, which will be the subject of a separate communication. The shutdown is being treated as a plant closing under relevant law, and includes the termination of employment of employees employed at 333 Bush Street, San Francisco, California 94104.

In the event you require additional information, please feel free to contact [redacted]

Additional analysis of Heller’s breakup, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Heller Ehrman: Anatomy of a Dissolution”

obama mccain laugh it up fuzzball.JPG* The rise and fall of Heller Ehrman. [Adam Smith, Esq.]

* Homoerotic novelist > SEC attorney. [Legal Blog Watch]

* The best presidential debate is the one you give yourself. [f/k/a]

* Why should Wall Street tycoons be the only ones getting a bailout? [Every Day Should Be Saturday]

* What do lawyers and prostitutes have in common (other than taking-it-hard from older men for money)? They are both recession proof! [Slate]

1a Charlie Herschel David Lat.JPG
Lawyer turned Survivor contestant Charlie Herschel, right, with your above-signed writer (in the yellow Survivor do-rag).

As previously reported in these pages, Charlie Herschel — a 29-year-old, openly gay associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges in New York — is a contestant on Survivor: Gabon, which had its two-hour season premiere last night. We’re pleased to report that Charlie is still in the running for the one million dollars. To read more about our handsome hero, including details of his friendship with fellow gay Clay Aiken, check out this interesting interview with Herschel in The Advocate.

Last night, we headed over to Professor Thom’s in the East Village, to attend a “Survivor” premiere party in Charlie’s honor. It was hosted by his employer, Weil Gotshal — which is doing well in the downturn, thanks in large part to its top-flight bankruptcy practice.

Correction: The party was not officially hosted by Weil, although many WGM attorneys were in attendance.

More discussion, plus a slideshow of party pics, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “ATL Party Crash: The Survivor Premiere Party”

Harvard Law School seal logo.jpgWe just brought you news of Stanford Law School changing its grading system. Now Harvard Law School is following suit.

Dean Elena Kagan just sent this message out to the HLS student body:

To all students:

I am writing to let you know that the faculty decided yesterday to move to a grading system with fewer classifications than we have now. The new classifications, much as at Yale and Stanford, will be Honors-Pass-Low Pass-Fail. The faculty believes that this decision will promote pedagogical excellence and innovation and further strengthen the intellectual community in which we all live. The new system will apply to students entering HLS in fall 2009; yet to be determined is whether it also will apply to some or all classes of current students.

The faculty began consideration of this issue last year, and has consulted with groups of students, alumni, and other employers in the course of our discussions. Before making a decision on whether to implement the system now, for all or some of our current students, I want to make sure that any interested student has a chance to express his or her views. To provide this opportunity, I will hold a “town hall” meeting on Thursday, October 2 from 2:30 to 3:30 in Austin North. I look forward to seeing you some of you there.

Elena Kagan

Was there an epidemic of A’s that caused these sweeping changes at Harvard and Stanford?

Like Stanford Law School Dean Larry Kramer’s message back in May, Kagan’s message leaves open the question of what kind of honors HLS will be doling out. Don’t count on Harvard’s system being any less complicated then Stanford’s. Remember, Harvard is moving away from a ridiculous 15-point system that nobody understands anyway.

But the crucial question is whether this new system will be applied retroactively to the classes of 2009 and 2010. If I were in either of those classes, I’d stop worrying about the economy and show up for the debate, on October 2nd.

stanford law school logo.JPGUpdate: Harvard Law School also just announced changes to its grading system that will make it more like the Yale and Stanford systems. See here.

In May, we reported that the faculty of Stanford Law School voted to change their grading system. The school went from the traditional “A, B, C, Die” system to a Yale-esque pass/fail hybrid. From the May message of Dean Larry Kramer:

[T]he faculty voted to adopt a grade reform proposal which will change our grading system to an honors, pass, restricted credit, no credit system for all semesters/quarters. The new system includes a shared norm for the proportion of honors to be awarded in both exam and paper courses. No grading system is perfect, but the consensus is that the reform will have significant pedagogical benefits, including that it encourages greater flexibility and innovation in the classroom and in designing metrics for evaluating student work.

We noted then that the school was still working on the exact meaning of “honors.”

“Honors” has now been defined. “Watch that first step … it’s a doozy.” From Dean Kramer:

[W]e will no longer use or award Order of the Coif or “Graduation with Distinction,” honors we have in the past recognized and given out at or after graduation. Instead, prizes will be awarded in individual courses to recognize outstanding student performance. Tentatively called “book prizes” (after the fashion of some other schools that use this system), one book prize may be awarded for every 15 students, and this will be true in all classes, whether the basis of evaluation is an exam or a paper. In first-year required classes, 2 prizes will be available in small sections, and 4 in large sections. In advanced classes, professors have discretion about whether and how many prizes to award, though within the same maximum guideline of one per every 15 students (faculty may round up at 8). Discretion is meant to signal that faculty are recognizing genuinely outstanding performance, not just the event of receiving a high grade. Prizes will be registered on student transcripts when grades come out at the end of each term and you will be free to list them on your resumes. The policy is effective beginning this term….

[T]he faculty also concluded that we should award book prizes to students in the class of 2010 for their 1L classes last year, following the standard set forth above. (It will take some time for these retroactive prizes to be calculated and incorporated onto student transcripts.)

The full message is reprinted, and students weigh in, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Stanford Adopts ‘Retroactive’ Honors Policy:
Students Complain In Real Time”

champagne glasses small.jpgEven as the national economy teeters on the brink of collapse, Wall Street’s elite continue to flock to the altar. Click here, here, and here, and imagine what this month has been like for these people. Getting married is stressful enough; we can’t imagine doing it while at the center of a financial meltdown.

In other random New York observations, both of the city’s baseball stadiums will close their doors this fall. Last Sunday’s final game in Yankee Stadium was celebrated with a Sports Illustrated cover and wall-to-wall coverage on ESPN. This Sunday’s game could be the last in Shea Stadium, and the New York Times marks the occasion with a gripping piece on how pilots landing at La Guardia won’t be able to use the place as a landmark anymore.

Here are this week’s couples:

1. Jean Park and Albert Cho

2. Trinity Jackman and Joshua Harlan

3. Edward Pierce and Robert Saltzman

More about our finalists, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Legal Eagle Wedding Watch 9.21: I’ll Meltdown With You”

scalpel_in_hand.jpgA Kentucky man is suing his doctor, his anesthesiologist, and their medical practice after the worst operation ever. From WLKY:

According to the lawsuit, Philip Seaton, 61, went to have a circumcision last October as part of treatment for a medical condition. Seaton said when he woke up from the procedure, he realized his penis had been amputated.

Seaton has suffered mental anguish, pain, and has lost the enjoyment of life, according to the lawsuit.

The doctor says he amputated after he found cancer. But that’s definitely a call you want to run by the patient first. It’s not like you’re just removing a random mole.

An AP article suggests that Seaton will see big money. An Indianapolis man who suffered a similar fate was awarded $2.3 million in 1997. Certainly a hefty sum, but there are some things money can’t buy. Like enjoyment of life. Or a new penis.

Man Sues Doctors After Penis Amputated [WLKY]

Man claims penis amputated without consent [Associated Press]

recession california associate pay raises.jpgIt is still way too early to get hard numbers on what Biglaw bonuses will look like for 2008. But because of the economic downturn, we expect it will be a rocky bonus season.

As readers of The Shock Doctrine will note, it is important to be aware of fundamental changes to the way bonuses are paid out. You don’t want something to slip in under the guise of a (massive) market correction.

Yesterday, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati announced that 50% of their bonuses would be paid out based on performance evaluations. According to the firm, the change was made in response to associates’ concerns:

To: All Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati Associates, Of Counsel, Special Counsel, and Staff Attorneys
From: John Roos
Date: September 25, 2008
Re: FY09 Associate Bonus Program

As always, the firm is committed to providing a competitive compensation package to our associates. We also are committed to listening to feedback from our associates and making adjustments to our approach to compensation as appropriate. Recently, the firm’s associates have voiced concerns about the bonus program’s heavy emphasis on billable hours. In response to those concerns and after a long and careful review of the associate bonus program, we’re pleased to announce a new component to the bonus program focused on qualitative performance factors.

[Redacted] will be sending out a memo shortly with more details on the changes, but I’d like to give you a brief rundown on the changes, as well as the process that led to them. In essence, the total bonus opportunity will consist of three independent components:

— a basic level of bonus paid at 1,900 hours;

— an adder paid at 2,100 hours; and

— a variable bonus based on work quality and overall contribution to the firm.

You’ll note that the new bonus program allows us to continue to reward high-billing associates for their hard work–a factor that many associates pressed us to maintain–but it also allows us to reward those who are exceptional performers in other ways.

More from the memo, including explanation of the qualitative bonus component, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Wilson Sonsini To Adopt Performance-Based Bonuses”

apprentice apprenticeship lawyer baker.jpgClients want associates to remember who pays their salary. As we have previously reported, the authors of What About Clients are trying to start a “Value Movement” which, among other things, asks whether associates should pay their firm for the privilege of working.

Unfortunately, this idea just won’t die. And Holden Oliver thinks that the market meltdown is a perfect opportunity to reexamine the structure of the business of law:

Hopefully, there’s this silver lining in the Down Economy: a renewal of the notion that workplaces exist to serve and give value to Customers and Clients, and the companies organized to help them. Not to serve and cater to Employees. As we see it — and most states have traditionally seen it–it’s a privilege to work. Not a right. And it’s a special honor to learn and practice the law.

More people jump on the bandwagon, below the fold.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Clients Want Associates To Get To Work”

Back to the Future 2 DeLorean time machine.jpgWelcome to BACK TO THE FUTURE. In this occasional ATL feature, we’ll step into a time machine and take a look at what the legal profession looked like at some point in the past.

In a post about staff layoffs at Fried Frank, a commenter drew our attention to this fascinating 1990 article from the New York Times. It seems that the commenter was trying to challenge the recent claim by firm chair Valerie Ford Jacob that the firm has never laid off attorneys. The NYT piece — by David Margolick, former national legal correspondent for the Times, now at Portfolio (and also one of Kash’s journalism professors at NYU) — mentions Fried Frank as a firm that may have engaged in “stealth layoffs.”

Margolick’s article doesn’t use the term “stealth layoffs,” but the phenomenon it describes is essentially identical to what we’ve been reporting in the pages of ATL lately. The article begins:

They were the legal profession’s gilded generation, an army of lawyers without limits. As law students, they were wined and dined and wooed by the most prestigious law firms in New York. Once hired, they began settling into a frantic but fantastically lucrative life. It was a life of glamour, prestige and, they assumed, stability.

Now, only a few years later, dozens of these lawyers have had a crash course in the realities of modern Wall Street practice. For the first time in their lives – lives of success atop success – they find themselves in an unusual position. They have been fired.

As the sour corporate climate reaches large law firms in New York and to a lesser degree cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, a bubble has burst. With business down, particularly in corporate work, real estate, and mergers and acquisitions, several of the most famous law firms have dismissed substantial numbers of lawyers, particularly those in the early years of their careers.

This article could have been written yesterday. But it was actually written over 18 years ago; the dateline is August 12, 1990. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

More excerpts and discussion — including a brief comment from Margolick, plus information about what junior associates earned back in 1990 — after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Back to the Future: Stealth Layoffs in 1990″

flipphone.jpg* The bailout is not on. Talks imploded at 10:30 p.m. last night. Congress is back at it today. [New York Times]

* Two-time ATL Lawyer of the Day Jack Thompson, the crazy controversial video game crusader, has been permanently disbarred. [Crave / CNET News]

* Words to live by: Don’t make sex videos. And don’t store said sex videos on your cell phone. [Courthouse News Service]

* A whistleblower suit against Medtronic for perks paid to doctors was filed by the company’s own lawyer. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune]

* The young Indiana Jones has a crushed hand, but no misdemeanor. No DUI charges for Shia LaBeouf after all. [People]

Heller Ehrman LLP Above the Law blog.JPGAt a firm-wide meeting held at 1 p.m. Pacific time, Heller associates were informed that there would be an “orderly dissolution” of the firm, starting on Monday.

Associates have been given 60 days’ notice, with pay.

But it’s not a severance payment. Associates are expected to show up and participate in the “orderly dissolution.” As one tipster puts it:

[O]ver the next 60 days the focus will be collections, finding employment for associates and shareholders, ethically transitioning client matters from Heller to other firms when associates and shareholders take their clients with them, and general administrative clean-up. There will be a small core staff that remains after the 60 days in order to deal with finance matters, etc.

Another Heller insider tells us:

Everything is contingent on the vote tomorrow which needs 2/3 of the Shareholders to approve dissolution. And banks control all cash.

Individual meetings are still taking place. We’ll bring you updates as we have them.

We hope that everybody lands on their feet.

Update (7:45 PM): More Heller information appears here. It looks like getting paid for accrued vacation time will be the next battleground.

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