Public Interest

Career Center AboveTheLaw Lateral Link ATL.jpgDuring the past year, pro bono programs got an unexpected boost from the recession when firms like Skadden offered stipends to their deferred associates who took public interest jobs. On the flip side, associates who escaped layoffs at their firm probably felt some pressure to devote themselves to billable work to the exclusion of pro bono work.
This week, our ATL / Lateral Link survey asks about the effect of the economic downturn on the pro bono programs at your firm. We’ll use the information to update the ATL Career Center and bring you the results next week.

If you have information about your firm that you want to share with other career center users, please email us at careercenter@abovethelaw.com. Also, a reminder that we are still accepting applications for additional writers for the Career Center.

martin luther king.jpgToday we remember the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the pioneering civil rights leader. Dr. King’s birthday was actually on January 15th, but the holiday is observed on the third Monday of January each year.

If you’re not at work, we hope that you are enjoying the day off. If you are at work, check in with us from time to time; we are around today (but will be posting less than usual). Feel free to complain in the comments about the evil law firm / partner / client that does not recognize this important holiday.

If you are looking for something to do, we suggest that you use today as an opportunity for public service. You can look up a service project in your area at MLKDay.gov. (A number of today’s service projects are aimed at helping the people of Haiti.)

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service [MLKDay.gov]

In addition to being one of the world’s most successful law firms, Skadden is also a public-spirited one. The firm just donated $100,000 to Haiti relief efforts, for example. (More on that later.)

In addition, the firm supports public interest work through the Skadden Fellowship Program:

The Skadden Fellowship Foundation, described as “a legal Peace Corps” by The Los Angeles Times, was established in 1988 to commemorate the firm’s 40th anniversary, in recognition of the dire need for greater funding for graduating law students who wish to devote their professional lives to providing legal services to the poor (including the working poor), the elderly, the homeless and the disabled, as well as those deprived of their civil or human rights. The aim of the foundation is to give Fellows the freedom to pursue public interest work; thus, the Fellows create their own projects at public interest organizations with at least two lawyers on staff before they apply.

Fellowships are awarded for two years. Skadden provides each Fellow with a salary and pays all fringe benefits to which an employee of the sponsoring organization would be entitled. For those Fellows not covered by a law school low income protection plan, the firm will pay a Fellow’s law school debt service for the tuition part of the loan for the duration of the fellowship. The 2010 class of Fellows brings to 591 the number of academically outstanding law school graduates and judicial clerks the firm has funded to work full-time for legal and advocacy organizations.

The 2010 class of Skadden Fellows was just announced. Congratulations to the 27 winners, selected from 20 different law schools. Yale had four, Berkeley (aka Boalt Hall) had three, and Stanford and Fordham had two each.

Check out their names, law schools, and sponsoring organizations — maybe you know some of them? — after the jump.

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Haiti earthquake January 2010.jpgLarge law firms have a track record of stepping up to the plate and providing aid when major disasters strike. For example, back in spring 2008, several leading law firms made sizable donations to support China earthquake relief efforts.
Last night, a major earthquake — the worst in the region in more than 200 years, with a magnitude of at least 7.0 — struck Haiti. The death toll could climb into the hundreds of thousands. For more details and analysis, read this post by Elie over at True / Slant. (Elie has family in Haiti.)
The earthquake just happened, but law firms are already taking action. From a tipster at Paul Hastings:

Who says law firms are all bad? I’m happy to see that whatever bonus money I may miss come March is going to a good cause at least. PH donated $100,000 to earthquake relief.

Is your firm taking similar action? Feel free to let us know, in the comments. You can also make a personal donation in support of Haiti earthquake relief via Doctors Without Borders, the organization that Paul Hastings is supporting, or via the Red Cross (disclosure: ATL advertiser).
UPDATE: You can also donate $10 to the Red Cross simply by texting the word “Haiti” to the number 90999. See here.
The full Paul Hastings memo, after the jump.

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2009 Associate bonus watch above the law.JPGHere’s a bit of surprising good news, from a source at Simpson Thacher:

Thought that STB should get its props for the (completely unexpected) notice that those on the public service fellowships will receive a pro-rated portion of the bonus that their individual class years received. Not bad, considering that normally not being employed at the firm by bonus day means no bonus.

This does seem like a pleasant surprise — especially since we now know that Simpson initially didn’t budget for bonuses for younger classes. We looked back at the terms of the public interest fellowship program at Simpson for mention of prorated bonuses for participating associates, and we found none.

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law firm swag treasure chest.jpgOur inaugural Law Firm Swag Contest was about quality rather than quantity. We had just four entries, but they were goodies.
Eschewing trinkets and baubles, K&L Gates took the high road, urging recruits to change their world through an innovative website. Perkins Coie went green, arranging for trees to be planted in honor of interviewees. And who doesn’t like a customized iPod, the swag doled out by Dobrowski LLP, the Texas litigation boutique?
But in the end, dear readers, you voted with your feet. Following in the footsteps of the “Sex and the City” gals, or maybe Imelda Marcos, you made it all about the shoes. The customized Nike footwear doled out by Mayer Brown scored a runaway victory, with over 55 percent of the 2,100 votes.
Props to the person in the Mayer recruiting office who came up with the brilliant idea for this Niketown summer associate event. If you’re looking for new running shoes — or, for that matter, the opportunity to do appellate litigation in New York — then sprint in the direction of Mayer Brown!
Earlier: Law Firm Swag Contest: The Finalists
ATL Contest: Best Law Firm Swag of 2009

law firm swag treasure chest.jpgPerhaps it’s a sign of the times. We received a whopping four (4) entries in our inaugural law firm swag contest. Is law firm swag, like subsidized soda or staff attorney programs, another casualty of the recession?
But if we cancel the contest, then the terrorists win. So, onward!
We realize, of course, that not everyone approves of swag. See, e.g., this comment:

This is fairly disgusting…. I find this article particularly untimely, given that most law students are struggling to find good jobs, and many practicing attorneys are struggling just to keep the jobs they have.

Jeez, commenter 58 — lighten up! Considering that we cover law firm layoffs in excruciating detail, to the point where many accuse us of doomsaying and fearmongering, we are aware of the tough job market. But, even in the Great Recession, some people are still getting offers — along with a little swag to sweeten the pot. So what’s wrong with some fun to balance out the gloom?
In defense of law firm schwag, here’s a trend worth noting: “going green.” Firms are trying to be environmentally conscious in their swag selections, as well as more socially responsible in general. This may make schwag less “disgusting” to its critics.
A second theme of swag this year: customization. In this age of individualism and/or narcissism, firms are letting swag recipients have a say in what gets given away. Just as firms are moving away from lockstep in terms of pay and promotion, so too are they allowing for greater tailoring in terms of swag.
Check out the finalists, and vote for the best law firm swag, after the jump.

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world college rankings.JPGDoes your alma mater contribute to the social good? Or is it just another soul-sucking institution, hell-bent on training young people to do evil things like “make money” or become lawyers?
Well, Washington Monthly has released its annual rankings of colleges and universities. But the magazine ranks the schools by their “contributions to society.” Here is the magazine’s methodology, from Tax Prof Blog:

Community Service (33.3%)
* % of Alumni in Peace Corps
* % of Students in Army/Navy ROTC
* % of Work-Study Grants Spent on Community Service Projects
Research (33.3%)
* Research Expenditures
* % of Students Earning Ph.Ds
* Number of Science & Engineering Ph.Ds Awarded
* % of Faculty Receiving Prestigious Awards
* % of Faculty in National Academies
Social Mobility (33.3%)
* % of Students Receiving Pell Grants
* Actual Graduation Rate v. Predicted Graduation Rate

Oh dear. Where to begin? First off, the community service metric is FUBAR. The army counts; but students who become, say, firefighters, are left out? Meanwhile, surely not all research expenditures contribute to society. And if all research does, then schools should get credit for graduates who go on to work for Merck.
It would physically hurt my brain to break down the myriad problems with their “social mobility” metric.
But … whatever, their bleeding hearts are in the right place. Check out the top ten and the bottom ten universities, after the jump.

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Ted Frank.jpgSome class action settlements are highly questionable. Think of a case where, say, the victimized consumers get a stupid coupon, so they can purchase even more goods or services from the company that victimized them — while the lawyers representing the plaintiffs walk away with a big payday.
One man is out to change all that. Ted Frank — lawyer and blogger extraordinaire, from Overlawyered and Point of Law (and also Above the Law) — has left his perch as a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). He’s starting a new public interest law firm that specializes in pro bono representation of consumers unhappy with class action settlements. Ted is already handling two class actions in California.
We caught up with Ted to discuss his new gig. Read more, after the jump.

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Jason Pinney Jason S Pinney Bingham McCutchen.jpgWe like to highlight examples of Biglaw associates who get to do especially interesting or high-profile work. E.g., Lindsay Harrison, the Jenner & Block associate who argued a case — and won — before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Most lawyers tuned in to Congress yesterday were listening to Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings (even if day 4 was less than thrilling). But over on the House side, one young lawyer was talking rather than listening. Jason Pinney (pictured), a (rather handsome) sixth-year associate at Bingham McCutchen, got to testify before lawmakers.
Pinney addressed the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, specifically, the Subcommittee on International Organization, Human Rights and Oversight. He spoke about his work as part of a Bingham legal team representing a group of Uighurs detained at Guantanamo Bay. The Bingham lawyers obtained the release of two Uighurs in 2006 and four more Uighurs last month.
(As explained by the AP, “[t]he Uighurs, a Turkic minority from China’s far west, were sent to the U.S. facility in Cuba after their capture in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2001. The Pentagon determined last year that they were not enemy combatants.” Oops!)
Congrats to the Bingham lawyers on their successful representation of their clients — and to Pinney on his congressional testimony. To download a copy of the testimony, click here.
Today in Congress: July 16, 2009 [Washington Post]
Lawmakers want investigation into Uighurs at Gitmo [AP]
Jason S. Pinney [Bingham McCutchen]
Pinney Testimony [PDF]

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