Whatever happened to asking your paralegal to make some binders? Or asking your secretary for some photocopying, or to fill out your expense report? When it comes to support staff, why are lawyers getting so demanding all of a sudden?
First this. Now this, via the Tampa Tribune:
A former legal assistant in Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender Bob Dillinger’s office has filed a federal lawsuit against him, alleging she was retaliated against after complaining that male lawyers had made sexually degrading remarks to her.
Jessica A. Schwartz filed the lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Tampa….
[Schwartz's boss Alan] Bulnes and another lawyer, Brett Berger, [allegedly] had a conversation with Schwartz in which they suggested she pole dance in her office like a stripper, the lawsuit states.
[UPDATE on 04.03.09:Case dismissed.]
Paralegal-ing is a rough gig. Paralegals tend to get the legal drudgery similar to that done by first year associates, without the six-figure paycheck. And if you’re a paralegal for Richard Laminack, a titan of the Texas plaintiffs’ bar, you may also be asked to receive unwanted advances, fellate expert witnesses, and help defraud clients.
The American Lawyer reports on paralegal Angela Robinson’s complaint (PDF), filed against Laminack and the two firms at which she worked for him. (We have to wonder why she followed him to the second firm despite the workplace horrors. Cf. Anita Hill.)
Here’s a choice excerpt, available in full after the jump:
That is certainly above and beyond the paralegal call of duty.
The website of Laminack, Pirtle & Martines says that it’s their “honor and priveledge [sic]” to represent clients. And defraud them? According to Robinson’s complaint, Laminack “ordered checks on non-existent medical records for Fen-Phen clients and then docked the cost of the records checks from the clients’ settlement shares.”
(What is it with Fen-Phen lawyers and cheating clients? The WSJ Law Blog had extensive coverage of the Kentucky attorneys accused of bilking their Fen-Phen clients out of millions.)
Robinson put up with the sexual harassment for years; she alleges she was terminated when she confronted Laminack about the Fen-Phen scheme. She wants $55,000 for wrongful termination and back pay. A longer version of the salacious bits of her complaint, after the jump.
Herrera’s complaint — “for discrimination, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and fraud” — reads like a reality TV show pitch about the lives of paralegals. Herrera has been a paralegal in Weil’s Silicon Valley office since 2004. In his complaint, he talks about:
The bad news continues to roll in. Becker & Poliakoff, which just announced across-the-board pay cuts for its lawyers, isn’t the only Florida firm that’s hurting.
From a report by Julie Kay, for the upcoming issue of the National Law Journal:
In another sign of the hard times facing the legal industry, particularly in real-estate heavy South Florida, two local law firms — Holland & Knight and Shutts & Bowen — have laid off non-lawyer staffers.
On a day that could be dubbed Black Friday in South Florida legal circles, Tampa-based Holland & Knight, one of Florida’s largest and most venerable firms with 1,150 lawyers, laid off 70 staffers Friday, including legal secretaries, IT and accounting staff. No lawyers were laid off.
The layoffs of about four employees in each of Holland’s 17 offices represented 5% of Holland’s non-lawyer workforce.
Shutts & Bowen, a 200-lawyer, Miami-based firm, Friday laid off nine people, all entry level file clerks or paralegal clerks. No lawyers or legal secretaries were affected.
Holland & Knight spokeswoman Susan Bass told the Daily Business Review that the firm “had some redundancies and inefficiencies.” Seventy staffers is a whole lot of redundancies.
Read more — about prior layoffs at H&K, and the situation over at Greenberg Traurig — below the fold.
On Wednesday, we reported on a D.C. paralegal/legal assistant/assistant seeking advice at Slate.com. We were disappointed in the letter writer’s horror story, and solicited readers for better stories. Here’s the cream of the crop:
How about working 1.5 years with a Federal judge who hasn’t bothered to learn my name?
Short, sweet, and to the point.
A few years ago, I was an associate in a mid-sized firm in a mid-sized Southern city. One day, there was a notice in the break/lunch room about a State Board of Health inspection of the facilities. I was a little surprised, so I mentioned it to another associate. They laughed and said that it was because a partner’s secretary made a complaint to the Board of Health about the partner’s habit of picking his nose and wiping it on documents before handing them to the secretary.
I worked at a V2 firm. There are sooo many good ones. A sampling….
1) A female attorney nicknamed “Satan’s Spawn” who only made comments in purple pen and refused to use any other tape flag besides purple. She would also chew Grape Trident late nite to stay awake and sometimes wore binder clips in her hair. HOT! Of course she made partner.
2) Once, a Partner threw a chair in the general direction of two paralegals and his partner secretary. The chair broke. The Partner was still popular with them because he’d take them out drinking.
3) Not to be outdone, I also heard (right after it happened, from the source) of a Partner who had told his secretary to hold all calls. Well, an important C-level client called and said he must speak with Partner X. The secretary demurred, but the caller was insistent. So, cute, kind secretary knocked, popped her head in and said, “Partner X, I know you said to hold all calls, but Important C-level client really needs to…” Partner X whirled around from his desk to face her and flung his pen toward her head, just like a dart. Luckily, not having played darts for a while since he was a V2 partner and all, the pen whizzed right by her ear and LODGED IN THE WALL.
This commenter had a total of eight stories. We took the top three. See the rest here.
8: approx. number of associates I know of, self included, who have had some version of the “talking with a partner about case and he walks into the bathroom and keeps talking to me, sits down in the stall and continues talking about the case” scenario.
The level of horror of this story varies, depending on how long one has to stay in the bathroom and how stinky it is.
Thanks for your horrific contributions. We hope we don’t have nightmares tonight. Earlier:ATL Seeks REAL Horror Stories
Over on Slate.com’s advice column, a young, struggling paralegal is seeking advice. “Deterred in the District” is happy about the high-pay and “career prospects,” but whines about a difficult partner:
The problem is that one of the partners I assist is particularly challenging. She’s intelligent and distinguished, but she is also a perfectionist. She’s an extremely daunting supervisor—especially for a legal neophyte and nonperfectionist like me. I’m functioning in high gear all day long, but I struggle to keep up. What’s worse is that she is heavy on the criticism and light on the positive reinforcement. A simple mistake like forgetting to put the “Northwest” at the end of a Washington, D.C., address in her appointment schedule will set off a string of negative interactions, while a perfectly orchestrated event will maybe muster an e-mail saying “Tks.” Our exchanges often leave me fuming yet stuck without a venue for venting. At what point can I turn to my boss and say, “Hey, I need things to be different around here” without sounding like an ingrate for the great opportunity that I have.
Slate points “Deterred” to a Wall Street Journal column on Generation Y’s need for praise and frequent feedback, and advises the paralegal to toughen up.
If we were answering this letter, we would say if you’re not a perfectionist, don’t be a paralegal. [FN1] We are annoyed by this whiny letter, because we like zombie movies and gore! Telling a horror story about a partner who only says “Tks” is lame. We invite you to tell us true ‘partner idiosyncrasy’ horror stories in the comments. We’ll round up the best ones and post them later.
Now, please give us positive reinforcement on this post. We are so Gen-Y.
[FN1] As a former Covington & Burling paralegal, Kash always remembered to include the quadrant on D.C. addresses. Generation Y Me? [Slate.com] The Most-Praised Generation Goes to Work [Wall Street Journal]
The rumor making the rounds of lawyer and staff layoffs at Thelen Reid Brown Raysman & Steiner is true. We just spoke to Thelen’s co-chair, Stephen V. O’Neal, who provided confirmation and details.
The firm is in the process of laying off 26 associates and 85 staff members, on a firm-wide basis, “in response to recessionary pressures.” (Unlike President Bush, Mr. O’Neal was not afraid to use the “r” word.) Thelen has approximately 600 lawyers, per its website, so the cuts amount to roughly 4 percent of total headcount.
With respect to the location of the affected lawyers, the cuts affected all major offices. With respect to seniority — one source told us that some first- and second-year associates were fired — Mr. O’Neal said that “some were fairly junior, and some more senior.”
In terms of practice areas, Mr. O’Neal said the layoffs were spread out among groups, but with “some areas more impacted than others,” including certain parts of capital markets and cap-markets-related real estate work. He noted that other practice areas are “thriving and increasing in scope,” including renewable energy, cross-border M&A, China practice, litigation, and workouts / bankruptcy.
With respect to staff layoffs, Mr. O’Neal explained that they are due in part to the economic climate, but in part due to post-merger staff redundancies. The merger of Thelen Reid and Brown Raysman took place in late 2006, making the consolidated firm a little over a year old. But the firm did not do much cutting of staff in 2007.
Last year “was not a year when we tried to make deep cutbacks in anything, even though we had combined two good-sized firms,” explained Mr. O’Neal. “It was a year of building, coordinating, and consolidating. We wanted to understand how best to organize this new entity.” Now that the firm has a better understanding of its staffing needs, and is in the process of consolidating multiple offices in the same cities (e.g., New York), it is reducing staff redundancies.
As for associate severance packages, Mr. O’Neal stated that firm provided a “market-level” package. We floated three to four months as our understanding of market, and he said that the firm is “in that ballpark.”
“We are anticipating a profitable 2008,” said Mr. O’Neal. “We are being prudent businesspeople, and when you are dealing with recessionary pressures, you adjust your business so you will have — and maintain — a strong level of profitability, notwithstanding those pressures.”
We thank the firm for the information and candor with respect to the layoffs (i.e., not casting these departures as “performance-based”). If you have more information, feel free to email us. Updates: A few additional nuggets:
1. As noted in the comments, total headcount includes partners and counsel, so the percentage of associates laid off is higher than 4 percent. Some of you suggest it’s around 10 percent.
2. We’re a little annoyed at Legal Pad for the lack of an ATL shout-out — in both the blogosphere and the MSM, it’s proper form to credit and/or link to the source that breaks a story first (even if you were working on the same story too) — but we’ll link to them anyway.
They have more on the Thelen layoffs here. Much of the info in their post appeared previously in ours, but they do add that the firm “is also trimming its summer program from eleven to eight weeks and is pushing the start date for first-years from September to January.”
3. A source at the firm tells us that the severance packages were in the two- to three-month range.
As the old adage goes, “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” And there is some anecdotal evidence in support of that proposition. See, e.g., Elana Glatt / Elana Elbogen (depending upon how you view the merits of her case against her wedding florist).
Here’s another example of what can happen when Biglaw litigators represent themselves. From TaxProf Blog:
The Tax Court today decided Hynes v. Commissioner, T.C. Summ. Op. 2008-1 (1/2/08), a case involving Shawn T. Hynes, a fifth year securities litigation associate in Cleary Gottlieb’s New York City office. The taxable year at issue was 2003, when Hynes was a Penn 3L (he tranferred to Penn after completing his first year at Oregon).
More about the facts of Shawn Hynes’s case, and how he got benchslapped by the Tax Court, after the jump.
In the absence of more associate bonus news — we’ve heard rumors of various committees at various firms meeting, but we have no new announcements — let’s move on to a related subject. What about bonuses for staff attorneys, the non-partnership-track lawyers employed by many large law firms?
Here’s what one of them had to say:
Staff attorneys who work at Biglaw read your blog, too. Most shops have a bonus tied to hours, but they do not specify what the payout will be at each tier (2000, 2200), claiming they’ll see where the market is at in December. I’m wondering whether other firms have a similarly vague policy (vague because the market for staff atty compensation isn’t as established as associates, but it still exists). It would be great if you could dedicate a bonus post to this.
I know staff attorneys will get slayed as third-rate, but that’s why we didn’t work as hard in law school to try to get recruited…. We don’t give a s**t!
Our jobs may be headed to India, as glorified contract attorneys, but we do handle the grunt work, so associates don’t have to. We make their jobs easier, I think. Yeah, I know, they have to answer to the partner — but see my last sentence in the preceding paragraph.
If any of you have information to share about bonuses for staff attorneys, please spill your guts in the comments to this post. Thanks.
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: [email protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months (Robert Kinney and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong again March 15 to 23), and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.
Are you challenged by the costs and logistics of maintaining your office, distracting you from the practice of law?
Many small firms are successfully moving part—or even all—of their practice to a virtual setting. This even includes multi-jurisdictional practice spanning several states and practice areas, although solo and small partnerships are still the largest adopters of virtual law.
Can you do the same? The new article Mobile in Practice, Virtual by Design from author Jared Correia, Esq., explores how mobile technology bring real-life benefits to a small law firm. Read this new article—the next in Thomson Reuters’ Independent Thinking series for small firms—to explore how a mobile practice:
Everyone is talking about the importance of Social Media in Corporate America. But it is relatively safe to say that most law firms and lawyers are slightly behind the social curve. Most lawyers, at minimum, use LinkedIn, for networking. Some even use Twitter for pushing out short, pithy content, while many have Blogs, where they write their little hearts out. The adage “it is better to give than to receive” is not always true though in the world of Social. In the Social World – it is best to listen, give back and engage.
Social Media is a communications tool that can deeply educate you about the needs and wants of your clients and prospects when used in conjunction social media monitoring and sharing tools.
Take this quick quiz and see if you know how to use Social to help you engage more with your clients or to better service the ones you have.