Public Interest

Usually, we find conversations with lawyers to be very engaging. But in this video short, Ron Livingston does not:

The Responsibility Project

The video was produced as part of a corporate undertaking — The Responsibility Project — devoted to “exploring what it means to do the right thing.” So, what is it trying to say exactly?

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Desperate times call for measures to take advantage of the desperate. Why pay California lawyers $10 an hour when they’re willing to work for free? And not just willing, but eager to provide their services on a volunteer basis.

We wrote before about the public sector utilizing the unpaid legal workforce when the Marin County DA advertised for attorneys for “unpaid, temporary positions that offer a valuable opportunity to gain courtroom experience including trying misdemeanor jury trials.” Last week, a tipster sent along another Craigslist ad from the other side of the Bay, with the subject line, “Seriously?” An excerpt:

Superior Court of San Mateo County Seeks Volunteers

The Legal Research Department of the Superior Court of California, County of San Mateo, is seeking attorneys willing to volunteer their time as a legal research attorney with a minimum 6 month commitment to the court.

We write often about these depressing job ads and the fact that a degree that entails six figures of debt can only help you nail down a six-month unpaid position. We wondered what kind of response such ads were actually getting, so we reached out to the San Mateo Court.

The response makes the ads even more depressing. The hiring attorney tells us that his phone won’t stop ringing…

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Working as a lawyer for the government is regarded by many as the life raft for riding out the recession. But thanks to shrinking budgets, attorneys in the public sector are also losing their jobs.

Yesterday the Bronx District Attorney, Robert T. Johnson, issued a letter announcing a layoff of 12 assistant district attorneys in his office, scheduled to take effect by the end of this month. The prosecutors who are losing their jobs have already been notified. Johnson blamed the New York City financial plan, which significantly reduces the office’s funding for the fiscal years of 2011, which started yesterday, and 2012.

The cuts were not unexpected, since Johnson had laid the groundwork for layoffs in a letter back in May. In that letter, first reported by the New York Daily News, Johnson predicted that he might have to lay off as many as 45 ADAs. So the cut of 12 ADAs could be seen as “good news,” since it’s smaller than some expected. (In his letter yesterday, Johnson said that he was able to avoid larger cuts thanks in part to some cost-saving measures in the office.)

But Robert Johnson announced another piece of news at the same time, which a number of veteran prosecutors found strange and upsetting….

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Congratulations to Sutherland. The firm’s band, “Sutherland Comfort,” won the 2010 Battle of the Law Firm Bands in D.C. on Thursday night. Sutherland Comfort defeated a host of worthy challengers — including “Dangerous Communication Device,” the Williams & Connolly band that won the contest in the past two years.

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We’ve gotten used to private firms trying to take advantage of the terrible economy by convincing lawyers to sell their services for $0, but when it comes from a district attorney — a public servant with a law degree — it really stings.

A tipster reports that the DA’s office in Marin County (CA) is looking for new lawyers. The salary? Insulting:

Note: they’re not looking for a coffee-running intern; they want a full-on deputy DA. Yet they’re willing to pay him or her absolutely nothing…

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Last Friday, we named Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Ama Dwimoh our Lawyer of the Day. As a prosecutor, Dwimoh goes after child abusers. And yet, according to the New York Daily News — irony alert! — she herself abuses the kiddies, i.e., legal interns in her office.

One reader with firsthand knowledge protested this portrayal of the Brooklyn DA’s office and its treatment of interns:

I’m [a law student] intern at the KCDAO [Kings County District Attorney's Office], and from everything I’ve heard from all of my intern colleagues, the senior ADA’s have been nothing less than amazing — they find us work to do, always treat us with respect, always make us feel appreciated, and the office is gloriously drama-free.

This tipster has a theory about what’s going on here….

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Career Center AboveTheLaw Lateral Link ATL.jpgWelcome to the next post in our series on the results of the 2010 ATL/Career Center Associate Satisfaction survey. We’ve used the survey results to revamp the Career Center, powered by Lateral Link, with completely updated profiles, and we are highlighting insider information that Members shared about their firms in the eight key areas of associate satisfaction covered by the Career Center.

Today, it’s about doing good for everyone: PRO BONO.

  • This firm’s significant commitment to pro bono includes its “rotation” or “loaned associate” program, which allows associates to spend six months working full time for a poverty law or public interest organization.   
  • An impressively high 97% of associates at this Chicago-based firm perform an average of 111 pro bono hours each annually. 
  • Pro bono work has grown along with headcount at this ever-expanding firm – headcount has increased from 225 lawyers in 1995 to approximately 1,100 attorneys today, and the firm’s pro bono hours per attorney have nearly doubled since 2003 to 74 hours annually per associate.
  • An "unlimited" number of pro bono hours are counted towards billable hours at this firm, and some Members reported billing as much as 400-500 pro bono hours in 2009.

Additional pro bono highlights, after the jump.

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Ama Dwimoh looks composed here, but is it an act?

Deferred associates spending a year in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office claim that Brooklyn ADA Ama Dwimoh is an abusive boss.

At first blush, one assumes that kids who have been coddled at the best schools and top firms simply weren’t prepared for the rough and tumble world of actual lawyering.

But the Brooklyn D.A., Charles Hynes, is seriously looking into the allegations and has suspended Dwimoh. Can she really be that bad?

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A few weeks ago, we reported on how Dewey & LeBoeuf was being less than enthusiastic in welcoming back to the firm some participants in DL Pursuits, its year-long sabbatical program.

Dewey might not be alone in treating its returnees in this way. Simpson Thacher — widely regarded as having invented the public interest fellowship as an innovative way of dealing with the downturn, and praised for doing so — appears to be taking a similar approach. A source reports:

Simpson, creator of the public interest year, is reneging on its “guaranteed return” promise. Multiple corporate and satellite office associates who indicated interest in the return option were told either that there might not be capacity, or just outright that there isn’t a place for them. From the firm that “invented” and still spins this program as public service, that’s disappointing.

The number of public interest fellows who aren’t being invited back to the firm is not known. We don’t believe it’s a huge number — somewhere in the single digits. (If you have information, please email us.)

We reached out to Simpson for comment. The firm has a somewhat different characterization of what’s going on here….

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When the U.S. News rankings came out this year, Duke Law School had fallen out of the top ten. But one thing that hadn’t fallen was its Graduates Employed At Graduation statistic. As Elie noted (with skepticism), Duke reported that 100% of its 2008 graduates were employed.

Elie wondered how that was possible given the economic climate in 2008. Though the climate in 2009 was even worse, Duke maintained its perfect score. However, we’re told that Duke will likely not have a 100% in this box for its class of 2010.

As Duke Law News reported, Duke worked hard to ensure its graduates had jobs. While it didn’t go the SMU route of paying employers to “test drive” its graduates, it does now provide stipends to some of its unemployed graduates to allow them to work for a couple months at no cost to employers. Using SMU’s car metaphor, the law school pays for the gas while Dukies and prospective employers take a little spin. Duke calls it “The Bridge to Practice” program.

It started in 2008 — employing the nine graduates who would have otherwise ruined that nice round 100%. The numbers of participants have increased since then, as the economy has worsened.

We interviewed a couple of them about the experience. The escalating numbers and Bridgers’ stories, including how much Duke pays, after the jump.

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