Real Estate

On our recent post about bonuses at Bingham McCutchen, some commenters complained about our coverage of the firm. Here’s what one said: “What this article fails to mention is that NO ONE made their hours, it’s THAT slow. Good job, ATL, for eating whatever it is Bingham pays you to NOT report [on bad goings-on at the firm].”

Actually, we’re perfectly willing to report on negative developments at Bingham (or any other major law firm). Just email us or text us (646-820-8477), and we’ll investigate.

There’s certainly a lot to cover over at Bingham: tumbling profits, partner departures, and unfortunately timed staff layoffs. We’ve collected some reporting from around the web, which we’ve combined with inside information from ATL tipsters at the firm. Let’s have a look, shall we?

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Where The Wild Things Are (affiliate link)

Grover Cleveland’s excellent book of career advice for young lawyers has a delightful title: Swimming Lessons For Baby Sharks (affiliate link). It nicely captures the competitive nature of the legal profession today.

But the cutthroat competition isn’t for everyone. One high-powered lawyer, coming up on partnership at a top-tier law firm, decided he didn’t want to swim with grown-up sharks. He’d rather go swim with blue whales — quite literally. He’d rather be where the wild things are — and by “wild things,” we aren’t talking about cute drunken paralegals at a post-closing party.

Let’s look at this lawyer’s departure memo — great opening line, or greatest opening line? — and find out how he made enough money to break out of Biglaw’s golden handcuffs….

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345 West 13th Street

Meet Michael Graffagna, who’s one impressive MoFo… partner. The Harvard Law School graduate, admitted to practice in New York, California, and Japan, heads up the project finance practice at Morrison & Foerster.

Graffagna is now resident in the firm’s Tokyo office. So he and his wife, Midori Graffagna, recently sold their Manhattan pied-à-terre. And oh what a pied-à-terre it was — larger than most Manhattanites’ primary residences.

How large are we talking? How much did the Graffagnas get for it? And which celebrity lives upstairs?

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When I started my law firm twenty years ago, there were just five things that I knew.

I knew I didn’t have any clients. I knew that my husband and I could scarcely afford the loss of my paycheck, let alone come up capital for me to invest in my practice. I knew that I was way too mortified at having been laid off from my former firm to share the real reason for starting my own firm.  I knew that when I finally opened for business, in truth, I was just putting on a game face every day, biding my time until something else came along or until I got pregnant and could, like some of my other law school classmates, gracefully exit the law.  But I also knew, somewhere deep down, that I had it in me to be a good lawyer.

Those five things are all that I knew for sure when I started my law firm. Clearly I had a lot to learn.  And while there was plenty of information on the black-letter, nuts-and-bolts aspects of starting a firm, the kind of advice that I really wanted to know to jump-start my practice — specifically, whether the solo option was actually feasible — was in short supply.  Moreover, as an attorney with a traditionally big-firm practice (energy regulatory law and litigation), I was even worse off because attorneys familiar with my field and doing what I hoped to were particularly rare.

So to spare those of you starting out from what I went through, here are five things that I wish someone would have told me when I started out:

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Let’s play a game of law firm word association. What words come to mind when I say Skadden Arps?

Prestigious? Yes.

Profitable? Definitely.

Sweatshop? Perhaps; some sources say the hours can be “long and unpredictable.”

Funky?

Yes, you heard me: funky….

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The court will not countenance the gross overreaching evidenced under the facts and circumstances of this case in which the client is not even being billed for legal services. To move any court to put its imprimatur of approval on such practices is simply intolerable.

– Judge Frank Nervo, denying a Biglaw firm’s request for more than $126,000 in attorneys’ fees in a lawsuit over a $6,400 security deposit. Judge Nervo added that the firm spent “a grossly unnecessary amount of time” on simple tasks, including “research on the most basic and banal legal principles.”

(Which firm was on the receiving end of this benchslap? Find out after the jump, where we’ve posted the full opinion.)

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[T]he defendant’s practice basically consisted of him showing up at the office every now and again to do a closing and then leaving to go drinking or sleep with his paralegal. You can’t do $33 million in business in real estate closings if that’s what your practice consists of.

– Rhode Island Assistant Attorney General Ron Gendron, commenting on former state Sen. Patrick Timothy McDonald’s conviction for conspiring with his paralegal and sometimes mistress, Kimberly Porter, to embezzle more than $160,000 from his real estate clients.

Let’s play the game where we spot unenforceable contractual clauses and laugh at people who are afraid of modernity.

Actually, let’s play the game where we marvel at how good it must be to be a university president, even at a small school that most people have never heard of. Then we can imagine all the personal freedoms we’d willingly give up if we could in order to have such a life. Because I can think of a number of unmarried women who would cede control of their bedroom to the state in order to have such a sweet job….

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I like to say we traded in an old Camry for a new Mercedes, and the Mercedes is cheaper.

Paul Thompson, partner-in-charge of McDermott Will & Emery’s office in Washington, D.C., joking about the firm’s new office space. MWE’s D.C. office recently downsized from 189,000 to 165,000 square feet in real estate.

‘They showed me the money, Xenu!’

* Judge Richard Leon’s decision in the NSA surveillance case is ripe for review by the D.C. Circuit, and given the court’s new make-up, we could see a very interesting result. Oh, to be an NSA agent listening in on those calls. [National Law Journal]

* With seven business days left until 2014, law firms all around the country are still desperately trying to get paid. Lawyers are working hard for the money — 83.5 cents to the dollar — so you better treat them right. [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]

* Who you gonna call? Your local bankruptcy attorney. Alston & Bird, currently housed in Heller’s old digs in Silicon Valley, will head to a new office whose former occupants include Dewey, and Howrey, and Brobeck, oh my! [Am Law Daily]

* Four were arrested in the tragic murder of attorney Dustin Friedland, and each is being held on $2 million bond. One of the alleged assailants has a history of putting guns to other people’s heads. [NJ Star-Ledger]

* “I think it would be wise for the NCAA to settle this now.” Thanks to the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, the world of college sports will be forever changed, so all those video games you’ve got are now antiques. [CNBC]

* Tom Cruise settled his defamation lawsuit against a tabloid publisher over claims that he’d abandoned his daughter during the pendency of his divorce proceedings. Xenu is pleased by this announcement. [CNN]

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