Pro Bono

Jeh Johnson

Last year was a pretty great one for partners of Paul Weiss. And we’re not talking just about profits per partner, although we expect they’ll be robust once again.

In June, Roberta Kaplan scored a big win in the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor. Representing Edie Windsor, a widow who got hit with hefty taxes when her wife passed away, Kaplan got section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act struck down. Just yesterday, we declared Robbie Kaplan our 2013 Lawyer of the Year.

But she wasn’t the only PW partner who had an exciting 2013. In December, Jeh Johnson left the firm to become our nation’s fourth Secretary of Homeland Security.

On the morning of December 19, Johnson sent around a wonderful departure memo, which we’d like to share with you now….

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* The Tenth Circuit will not be blocking same-sex marriages from occurring in Utah, so the next stop will be Supreme Court intervention. Sorry, but we have a feeling that Justice Sonia Sotomayor isn’t going to be too helpful with that. [MSNBC]

* Winston & Strawn, if you’re overbilling on pro bono motions and you want fees, you might want to be more descriptive. Please tell this judge what “preparation for filing” even means, and why you spent more than four hours doing it. [New York Law Journal]

* This judge felt she was “being played with,” so she took a man’s kid away from him during Christmas. Now a judicial ethics commission is showing her that it’s not one to be played with. [Texas Lawyer]

* Yay, happy news! Chapman Law’s associate dean for student affairs really takes her job responsibilities to heart. She’s performed several wedding ceremonies for both students and alumni. [National Law Journal]

* The Indian diplomat who got strip-searched was arrested over a silly mistake, says her lawyer. It’s too bad that a lack of reading comprehension can result in having to bend over and spread ‘em. [Bloomberg]

The law firm of Skadden Arps might be a follower when it comes to bonuses, but it’s a leader when it comes to public interest. For example, Skadden was one of the first firms to support Philippine typhoon relief efforts. Over the years, Skadden has given generously to address a variety of humanitarian crises around the world. Its public-spirited nature is one of the reasons Skadden enjoys a perfect score for industry reputation in our Career Center.

Skadden’s most famous contribution to the world of public interest law is surely the Skadden Fellowship program, which has been described as “a legal Peace Corps.” It was established in 1988, in honor of Skadden’s 40th anniversary as a law firm, and it supports graduating law students committed to public interest work as they embark upon specific projects at sponsoring organizations.

How many fellowships were awarded this year? Which law schools do the fellows come from?

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… a damn about pro bono.

Pro bono work is often an afterthought in the minds of attorneys who have more important things to do with their time — things like “churn[ing] that bill, baby!” But for others, it’s a commitment to fulfilling the very concept their naive and idealistic law school applications were premised upon: helping the people who need it most.

We know lawyers like rankings, so we thought we’d provide you with a way to measure a firm’s prestige and beneficence, all at the same time. Out of all of the Biglaw firms in the United States, which five are filled with the most worthy do-gooders? Let’s find out…

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Last week, the New York City Bar released a report, Developing Legal Careers and Delivering Justice in the 21st Century. To the bar’s credit, it acknowledged the role that starting a firm can play in addressing joblessness in the profession.  To this end, the bar proposes to create a New Lawyer Institute that will provide training and advice to potential small firm and solo practitioners.  And while I realize the concept of starting a firm as a way to launch or continue a legal career in the absence of other options is hardly revolutionary (I’ve been blogging about it almost eleven years), in a universe where many law school placement offices direct students to unpaid internships or non-legal positions, the renewed focus on the startup option is refreshing.

But as I read more about the program, I began to wonder if the goal is to teach lawyers to start firms as an end in and of itself or as a means to expand access to justice. According to the Report, the program includes the standard “Starting A Law Firm 101″ fare – obtaining insurance, business forms, technical needs and “benefits and cautions of cloud computing” (but nothing about the benefits and cautions of housing files on site in a physical office).  Meanwhile, substantive classes focus on “Divorce Law 101, Handling Cases in Family Court, Estate Planning Basics, New York Civil Practice, Introduction to Land Use and Zoning in NY, Basics Residential Real Estate Closing, and Everything You Wanted to Know About Landlord/Tenant. NLI participants will be required to take a set number of credits in both practical skills and substantive law areas” (page 113).

Herein lies my beef with the New York City Bar program….

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Legal and industry conferences can provide great educational and networking opportunities for solo and small firm lawyers, particularly those just starting out. Sure, there are some conferences that are a complete waste of time, but in some fields, simply doing face time at conferences year after year is critical to keep business flowing. And in other practices, conferences may offer high-level, substantive training on new legal developments.

Of course, back in law school, you could take advantage of your student i.d. card to access almost any conference you wanted to attend. And if you ever worked for a firm, your employer willingly footed the bill for conference attendance.

But now, as a solo or small-firm lawyer, conferences are on your dime. And as many solos quickly learn, conferences can take a toll on your wallet….

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Many lawyers love food and wine — not wisely, but too well. Their stressful jobs cause them to develop unhealthy obsessions with eating and drinking. A fair number of lawyers end up overweight and out of shape or suffer from serious drinking problems.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Food and drink should be sources of health and happiness in one’s life. And they’re worthy subjects of intellectual interest as well; someone should start a museum devoted to them, don’t you think?

Let’s meet a lawyer whose love for food and drink has manifested itself in a healthy way….

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* Former top Pentagon lawyer Jeh Johnson previously told us he was done with public service, but when the president asks you to join the Cabinet, it’s kind of hard to say no. Plus this Paul Weiss partner is filthy rich, so he can secure our Homeland any day. [Washington Post]

* Earlier this year, Gibson Dunn appointed a seventh-year associate as the firm’s first ever global pro bono director. We wish her the very best of luck as she tries to make lawyers do work for free. That can be a really tough sell in Biglaw. [Am Law Daily]

* Law school rankings existed long before U.S. News was even conceived of, and they broke schools into two lists: those that matter, and those without the “slightest significance.” Sick burn. [National Law Journal]

* Arizona Law alumni really don’t need to worry themselves about the fact that the school’s servers were hacked. Come on, your credit couldn’t be much worse than it already is with all that debt. [KVOA News 4]

* Lady Gaga is nearing settlement with a disgruntled ex-employee, which is too bad, because we were dying to see her get on the stand. The dropping of F-bombs would’ve been fabulous. [New York Post]

The American Bar Association is out there, fighting for the rights of law students to labor without pay. Wait, that doesn’t sound right. Maybe that sentence should go, “The American Bar Association is out there, fighting for the rights of legal employers to not pay their laborers.” Yes, that makes much more sense.

The Department of Labor sent a letter to the ABA, assuring the organization that hiring unpaid law students to do pro bono work is totally fine. This news makes the ABA happy for some reason. The ABA applauds the Labor Department declaration because of something about “service” and “experience” and other things that sound really nice when you can already pay your bills…

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Lady Gaga

* You skip over the footnotes when you’re reading for class, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg doesn’t think you should. She’s a proponent of the most important footnote in all of constitutional law. [New Yorker]

* New York will modify its pro bono requirement for LL.M. students to allow public service completed outside the country. Well, so much for closing the state’s justice gap. [New York Law Journal (sub. req.)]

* Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the government-initiated trademark infringement actions over “Don’t Mess With Texas.” Like “I <3 NY," the Lone Star State's slogans are off limits. [New York Times]

* WUSTL Law Dean Kent Syverud didn’t mind advocating for halving professors’ salaries. He just stepped down to become Syracuse University’s president — for much higher pay. [National Law Journal (sub. req.)]

* You can sue Lady Gaga for overtime pay all you want, but you do not want to face her wrath. The pop star is due in court in early November where she’ll tell a judge “exactly what f**king happened.” [Daily Mail]

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