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Mother Teresa.jpgA recent bar passer sent this query into Freakonomics:

I recently passed the bar and am currently applying for jobs. My main concern is bringing out the most charitable result. Should I work in the nonprofit section where my services are passed directly along to the most needy, or should I get the high-paying firm job and donate the difference in my salary to charity?

A certain Harvard Law School grad might say, “Do the right thing at every moment” — and avoid the Big Bad Law Firm. But Freakonomics blogger Stephen Dubner seems more skeptical of public interest work:

I am not so convinced that working for a nonprofit means that one’s “services are passed directly along to the most needy.” Here’s one reason why.

One Freakonomics commenter’s response to the question of “public interest v. Biglaw”: neither.

If you want to make the most “charitable result”, you’re too late. Lawyers rarely add any value to the economy (after all, this IS an economics blog). Lawyers don’t make anything but they consume large amounts of capital, both human and financial. Had you wanted to be a net contributor to society, an MBA or engineering degree or medical degree or some such would have been the way to go or even just start a small business. This would allow you to actually produce something of value. A law degree only allows you to add friction to the economy….

Scrap the law degree, start a company, get rich, buy a big house and a big boat, give generously when you can and do what Buffett and Gates are doing, give it all away when you’re finished. Nothing wrong with that at all. That would be a life well lived.

ATL readers, what do you advise?
Our Daily Bleg: How Can You Maximize Your Charity? [Freakonomics / NYT]
Earlier: Working in Biglaw = Killing Babies?

Elie Mystal Elie Ying Mystal Above the Law editor.jpgMy name is ELIE YING MYSTAL, f/k/a SOPHIST, and it looks like I will be taking over day-to-day editorial responsibilities here at Above the Law.
I would like to thank everybody who read anything that I’ve written over the past three weeks. I’ve always found writing to be a deeply personal experience and so I truly appreciate it when somebody bothers to read my work. Whether any of you actually liked it is a different question entirely, but one that we can work on together.
I’d also like to applaud the other contestants for their efforts. The best writing and journalism is almost always a collaborative process. I was impressed with what the other contestants were able to produce without the editors and other colleagues available to most professional writers. I hope this contest has given you all additional confidence about your own skills and talents.
I intend to rely heavily on the structures already in place here at ATL during this transition and beyond. I will learn everything I can from David Lat short of going “Sylar” with his brain. I was ecstatic to learn that many of the regular contributors to this site will be staying on. I will read as many comments as time allows, and try to draw out the “constructive” aspects hidden among the criticism.
I want to get better at this, and I will take advice on how to accomplish that in whatever form it is available.
More about me after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “And Now The Hard Part
(Or: Meet ATL’s incoming editor.)”

Fried Frank Harris Shriver Jacobson LLP Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgAs promised, we bring you an update on yesterday’s coverage of staff layoffs at Fried Frank. Here are a few additional details, from the National Law Journal (subscription):

Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson is reducing administrative staff in New York and Washington. The reductions, which a firm spokeswoman said were less than 10% of the law firm’s 730 staffers firmwide, affect primarily floating secretaries, part-time assistants and paralegals and library personnel.

The layoffs, first reported on AboveTheLaw.com, resulted from the law firm’s review of its administrative resources and staffing requirements. The employees will receive severance packages based on years of service, the spokeswoman said.

Update / Correction: One source questions the claim that the layoffs affected “primarily” floaters and part-time assistants. According to this tipster, many of the laid off employees were full-time, senior secretaries — a number of them over 50, and some just a few months shy of getting their pensions. This source predicts that age discrimination lawsuits will be filed.
One tipster tells us the number of affected employees was in the range of 50 to 60, which would amount to under 10 percent of 730 staffers, and that severance amounted to one week of pay for every year of service. We also hear this:

Apparently, mail room, duplicating and facilities were told that their jobs were being outsourced by the end of the year. They could start looking for new jobs before getting laid off at the end of the year or apply with the outsourcing agencies (with no guarantees of a job or placement at Fried Frank).

New York staff were given “a few minutes to pack up and get out”; cars were provided to take people home (a nice touch — hopefully that will become “market”). One source claims that employees were laid off without regard to their seniority or their performance reviews, whether negative or positive.
What about attorneys? A spokesperson emphasized to us that Fried Frank “doesn’t do lawyer layoffs,” which was reiterated to associates by firm chair Valerie Ford Jacob at a meeting yesterday.
(Jacob also claimed that the firm has never laid off lawyers. But one source at FFHSJ begs to differ. This source claims that the firm laid off attorneys back in 1990, and then “suffered years of recruiting problems because of it,” which may explain its reluctance to go down that path today.)
More detail about the meeting, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Nationwide Layoff Watch: Fried Frank Follow-Up”


Kevin Newsom Benjamin Mizer Ben Mizer state SGs.jpgFormer Supreme Court clerks, also known as the Elect, have no shortage of job opportunities. And a new development in state government is giving them even more. From the National Law Journal:

A trend among states in recent years to appoint a solicitor general has increased opportunities for young attorneys to get into court and ultimately return to private practice far from Washington, the traditional heart of the nation’s appellate bar.

In the past decade, a dozen states, including California, Florida and North Carolina, have added state solicitor generals [sic], many of whom oversee large staffs, said Dan Schweitzer, Supreme Court counsel for the National Association of Attorneys General. Nationwide, 37 states have a solicitor general, he said.

“There are a lot more appellate positions that attract top-notch lawyers,” Schweitzer said.

There are shout-outs to several hot young lawyers whose names should be familiar to ATL readers.
Find out who, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “A Hot New Trend: State Solicitors General”

comparing.jpgWe’re back with the next installment of open threads on the Vault 100 law firms.
A particularly insightful comment from the last post on the top five firms:

[Davis Polk & Wardwell] and [Sullivan & Cromwell] do very similar work. DPW has a stronger underwriters’ practice, Sullivan is marginally better on the issuer side. DPW is much stronger than anyone at converts. Sullivan does more edgy contested M&A while DPW excels at deals with cutting edge securities components.

Sullivan is a slightly better place to work than its reputation. DPW generally lives up to its strong rep as a good place to work.

Now on to the next five from Vault, with their prestige scores in parentheses:

6. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP (7.985)
7. Latham & Watkins LLP (7.784)
8. Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton LLP (7.754)
9. Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP (7.623)
10. Kirkland & Ellis LLP (7.473)

The most notable of “notable perks” in this batch is at Kirkland, where NYC associates get a “$350 office art budget” (previously reported here). Can associates use the money to commission work from their toddlers?
Please compare and contrast the firms in the comments. We’ll continue to work our way down the Vault list in future threads.
The Top 100 Most Prestigious Law Firms [Vault]
Earlier: Fall Recruiting Open Thread: Vault 1-5 (2009)

Clarence Thomas Justice Thomas Barack Obama least favorite justice.jpg* Obama and McCain name their least favorite Supreme Court justices. McCain hates four of them; Obama focused his hatin’ on just one. [Legal Times]
* The legal battle over the 2008 presidency gets started in Ohio. “The Ohio Republican Party yesterday threatened legal action if Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner allows Ohioans to simultaneously register to vote and cast absentee ballots…” [Toledo Blade]
* Senators want to delay new rules for FBI national security investigations, because everyone’s a little bit racist. [Associated Press]
* Princeton Review joins the ranks of companies that have exposed customers’ personal information. The test scores and personal data of thousands of Virginia and Florida students were inadvertently made accessible online for weeks. [New York Times]
* Self-described “antifeminist” lawyer goes after Columbia University’s department of women’s studies. [City Room / New York Times via Jezebel]
* Our favorite American-themed international headline of the day: “US lesbian wins fertility battle.” [BBC News]

ATL Idol Above the Law Idol AboveTheLaw Idol medium.jpg
Apologies for the delay. We had to wait for Vizu to certify the poll results as anomaly-free, which they just did.
avatar Sophist ATL Idol.jpgCongratulations 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)

Nanny Diaries movie poster.jpg* 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]

knights_templar copy.jpgIf 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]

Fried Frank Harris Shriver Jacobson LLP Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgLast 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.

Barack Obama Senator Barack Hussein Obama Above the Law blog.jpg[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.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Obama Tax Plan
(Or: Ted Frank’s What’s the Matter with Manhattan?)”

comparing.jpgAs 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).

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