Public Interest

SimpsonThacher.gifHow should law firms respond to the recession? As reflected in the dramatic events of yesterday, which will go down in Biglaw history as the Valentine’s Day Massacre of 2009, lawyer layoffs are a common route.

But there are other options. We recently wrote about how unemployed (or underemployed) lawyers can do pro bono work — a way of enhancing their skills, while serving the public. Now one leading law firm is taking this idea and running with it.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett recently announced a new program of public interest fellowships for their associates. From the memo:

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP is pleased to announce a Public Service Fellowship Program which offers associates the opportunity to spend one year working on a public service project of their choosing, supported by a stipend from the Firm, with the option to return to the firm at the Fellowship’s conclusion. The Fellowship Program is designed to enable associates to provide greatly needed assistance, on a full-time basis, to organizations, communities, or individuals in the United States or abroad; encourage associates’ commitment to public service; and advance associates’ own vision of social justice.

One associate is pleased and proud:

I think it’s a creative, win-win solution for the firm, as well as for those of us — meaning, anyone with a paycheck and a pulse — who live in dread of layoffs. The firm saves $100k+ a year and doesn’t have either the spectre of layoffs or gaps in its associate classes when business turns around. It also sends a strong, morale-boosting signal to the associates that the firm is looking to do all it can to avoid laying off attorneys — and is actually willing to spend money to that effect (while, of course, also saving a good deal of money).

The reference to saving money while spending money refers to the stipend. Fellowship recipients receive a lump-sum stipend of $60,000, paid in advance. Yes, this is an upfront expenditure for the firm; but it’s less than the going rate for a first-, second-, or third-year associate.

More details, plus the full memo, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Dealing with the Downturn: Simpson Thacher’s Public Service Program”

volunteer.jpgWhen the economy was better, we had a career alternatives for lawyers series, for those in Biglaw looking to do something new. Given the layoffs and sluggish law firm hiring these days, we’re starting a new series: “Can’t find work?” We’ll offer “options” for those shut out — or forced out — of Biglaw.

On Tuesday, we suggested an “option” for recent law grads unable to find work: start your own firm. Two University of Missouri grads were unable to find work and hung out their own shingle in Kansas City. ATL readers lent their support to the venture by spell-checking the hell out of the Buckley & Hutchings website.

Today, we have a new “option” for those looking for work. Offer up your legal services for free!

CARPLS, a legal aid society based in Illinois, is offering unemployed attorneys true pro bono work. From the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (subscription):

A local legal aid provider is seeking unemployed lawyers as volunteers to staff its telephone hotline for low-income families in need of legal advice…

The volunteers must be licensed Illinois lawyers and are asked to work on the CARPLS hotline for at least four hours each week on a morning or afternoon shift. Schwartz said CARPLS officials hope that between 40 and 50 out-of-work lawyers will volunteer for the new program. The new volunteers will supplement the work of 32 paid staff lawyers, Schwartz said.

CARPLS officials posted a job description for the new program on craigslist and other online sites Thursday afternoon, Schwartz said. By Friday morning, there were about 35 responses, he added. The first response was from a lawyer who was offended because she was being asked to work for free, according to Schwartz. The rest of the responses came from lawyers interested in participating in the program, he added.

You may not get paid in cash, but you will get basic training in family, landlord-tenant and consumer law. Press release from CARPLS, after the jump.

So, if you’re twiddling your thumbs these days, think about calling up your local legal aid office and putting some of their attorneys out of work by volunteering your time.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Can’t find work? Try working for free volunteering.”

martin luther king.jpgToday we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the pioneering civil rights leader. If you’re not at work, we hope that you are enjoying the day off. (We are around, but will be posting less than usual.)

If you are at work, be proud. We’re pretty sure that equal opportunities to be productive cogs in the capitalist machine, regardless of race color or creed, were part of Dr. King’s dream.

If you are looking for something to do, we suggest that you treat today as an opportunity for public service. You can look up a service project in your area at MLKDay.gov or you can join the incoming president.

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

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

public defender.JPGATL has been providing in-depth coverage of firm layoffs, but we haven’t written much about public defenders suffering the same fate. With state budgets experiencing big squeezes, public defenders’ offices across the country are getting downsized, while their caseloads are getting upsized.

We wrote about layoffs in Kentucky, Minnesota, Florida, and Georgia back in July. In at least seven states, “public defenders’ offices are refusing to take on cases or have sued to limit them,” says the New York Times in an editorial today. It suggests that the constitutional right to counsel in state criminal proceedings is “hanging by a tattered thread:”

In a disturbing example of legal triage, a Florida judge ruled in September that the public defenders’ office in Miami-Dade County could refuse to represent many poor defendants arrested on lesser felony charges so that its lawyers could provide a better defense for other clients. Behind the ruling were some chastening statistics: Over the past three years, the average number of felony cases handled by each lawyer rose from 367 annually to nearly 500. Misdemeanor case loads rose from 1,380 to 2,225.

Public defenders’ offices all over the country are reporting similar problems. The immediate result is that innocent defendants may feel pressure to plead guilty. There also is an increased risk of wrongful conviction, which means that the real offenders would go free.

The NYT recommends meeting the budget shortfall by increasing the state registration fees for lawyers and expanding pro bono representation by the private bar.

Another out-of-the-box solution would be to get rid of all those pesky drug laws.

Remember to send in all of your layoffs stories and worries to tips@abovethelaw.com.

Hard Times and the Right to Counsel [New York Times]

Earlier: D.C. AG Office Faces Lawsuit After Firing Attorneys (And News of Layoffs For Public Defenders in Other States)

128294720808907500callmahlawyur.jpgEarlier this month, an ATL / Lateral Link survey found that 86% of you were talking about politics in the workplace. And 18% of you reported that a fellow associate had tried to convince you to vote for their favorite candidate.

But are politics just seeping into your workplace, or will you be taking your profession to the polls? As the Obama campaign recruits lawyers to join the world’s largest law firm next week and the McCain campaign recruits its own Legal Response Team, how are you and your firms planning to spend the day?

Will you be policing the polls for pro bono — or billable — credit?

Update: This survey is now closed. Click here for the results.

Justin Bernold is a Director at Lateral Link, the sponsor of this Associate Life Survey.

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?

Seattle swingers.jpgWhere is the Institute for Justice when you need it? Or maybe the Pacific Legal Foundation?
A libertarian public interest organization needs to defend two victims of intrusive government regulation. From the Seattle Times:

Regan “Draco” Lane-Smith and “Naughty” Nonah Elliston outfitted their six-bedroom rental house with 15 mattresses, bondage crosses and sex swings. They built elaborate sets in their backyard for taking erotic photos. And they promoted the Hardwood Cabin online.

Up to 60 guests at a time came to mingle, sunbathe nude by the pool and have sex with fellow swingers and fetishists, Elliston said. Parties were frequent enough that the couple’s laundry service was cycling through 50 bedsheets a week.

But the couple shut down the sex club last month when they were cited for running a business without a license and threatened with fines of up to $513 a day.

So it was the commercial component that got them in trouble. A post-bar-exam orgy, or some German prison role playing, would have been just fine.
There are legal connections to this story in addition to the licensing and zoning issues. Read more, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Needed: Pro Bono Representation for the ‘Hardwood Cabin’”

Great Depression 2 Dorothea Lange Migrant Mother Above the Law blog.JPG* “Are we headed for another Great Depression?” [McClatchy]
* Quelle surprise: Bear Stearns shareholder lawsuit (filed in S.D.N.Y. by Coughlin Stoia). [Bloomberg; WSJ Law Blog (PDF of complaint)]
* Speaking of Bear Stearns, here are some law firms losing out on BSC business. [WSJ Law Blog]
* Tenth Circuit reverses convictions of former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio. [AP]
* Harvard Law School will pay the 3L tuition of future students who agree to work for nonprofit organizations or government for five years following graduation. [New York Times via Tax Prof Blog; Harvard Law School (news release)]
* Settlement in Paul McCartney-Heather Mills divorce (more on this later). [Legal Week]
* SCOTUS to hear Second Amendment / D.C. gun control case today (more on this later too). [New York Times; Reuters]

Martin Luther King Jr Dr Rev.jpgToday we celebrate 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.
Many of you are not in the office today, in honor of the holiday. If you’re not at work, we hope that you are enjoying the day off. (We are around, but will be posting less than usual.)
If you are looking for something to do, we suggest that you treat today as an opportunity for public service. You can look up a service project in your area at MLKDay.gov.
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!
Blawg Review #143 [Public Defender Stuff via Blawg Review]
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service [MLKDay.gov]

James Sandman James J Sandman Jim Sandman Above the Law Blog.jpgRemember James Sandman? Oh no, you don’t? Well, surely you remember the Arnold & Porter partner’s infamous essay, The High Price of Escalating Associate Salaries, which he wrote while president of the D.C. bar.

Jim Sandman’s article, dishing out harsh criticism of law firm associate pay raises, did not endear him to ATL readers. In a near comments clusterf**k, he was condemned as the greediest of greedy Biglaw partners (along with other epithets not fit for printing here).

Well, maybe Sandman has gotten a bad rap. After all, he was public-spirited enough to serve as president of the D.C. bar. When we met him at this party, one of many charitable functions he attends, he didn’t have horns growing out of his head.

And now we hear that he’s leaving his lucrative partnership, to toil in the considerably less profitable precincts of the D.C. public school system. He’s accepted a position as General Counsel for the District of Columbia Public Schools, and he’ll also be a member of Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s senior leadership team to the DC School Board.

Read the A&P memo announcing Sandman’s departure, from firm chairman Thomas Milch, after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Musical Chairs: Jim Sandman Isn’t as Greedy as You Thought”

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