Secretaries / Administrative Assistants

In case you weren’t aware, New York’s annual Comic Con — an event for nerds of all ages to salivate over all matters of fictional media — took place this weekend. This year was the largest NYCC ever, with about 151,000 people in attendance, with many of them dressed to the nines in full cosplay gear as their favorite characters.

“What the hell is cosplay?” you might ask. For the uninformed, cosplay (short for “costume play,” according to Wikipedia) is a time for adults to dress up and pretend to play roles from comic books, cartoons, video games, television shows, and even movies. It’s like a Halloween party on crack.

You’d never know it from looking at these wacky people, but some of them are members of the legal profession. From legal assistants to paralegals to lawyers, all sorts of legal professionals are into cosplay, and BuzzFeed was kind enough to unmask some of them for us.

Do you recognize any of these legal professionals?

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Fictional depictions of high-powered executives and lawyers feature personal assistants with job portfolios more akin to “slave child” than “professional.” Sometimes these assistants are associates, but usually they’re in some other job — like legal secretaries, or whatever Waylon Smithers does. These jobs don’t usually exist in real life. Sure, a partner might ask a paralegal or secretary for a cup of coffee, but they aren’t really so full of themselves as to expect some low-wage employee to peel grapes and fan palm leaves.

Unless you’re this guy, of course. This guy is a partner who wants an employee to “reduce my stress level” by handling every task that he feels is beneath his lofty stature. Behold someone so out of touch with basic decency….

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After twenty years of operating my own law firm, I still answer my own phone – much to the pleasant surprise of many of my callers. Though you’d think that having the firm principal pick up would signal a one-person, fly-by-night operation, to the contrary, callers’ ability to get in touch with me directly conveys the impression that I’m an accessible, hands-on kind of lawyer.

Of course, answering the phone works for my practice because frankly, I don’t get all that many calls. Most of my clients and referrals who want to speak with me by phone will typically email me initially to determine a mutually agreeable time for a call. And because my work is so specialized and many cases come via referral, when clients reach my voice mail, they’re not likely to move on to the next lawyer on the list of internet search results. That means if I’m too busy to talk, I can let calls go through to voicemail without fear of losing a piece of business.

But what about lawyers who aren’t in such a position?

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Bruce Stachenfeld

“Low overhead is great!” That is one of our sayings. We recite it all the time — yes, even out loud at meetings — as it is a powerful competitive advantage for a law firm. It seems pretty obvious, but if so, why doesn’t everyone get with this concept?

There is a term informally used to describe how overhead impacts a law firm called “Implied Overhead.” The “Implied Overhead” of a law firm is the cost of everything except the lawyers divided by the number of lawyers. So if you have 50 lawyers and the cost of “everything” except the lawyers is $10,000,000, then you have implied overhead of $200,000 per lawyer.

Our Implied Overhead for last year was about $165,000. Anecdotally I believe that Implied Overhead for major law firms averages about $300,000. (I admit I don’t really have this data for sure; it is just what I have heard.) If your firm has 100 lawyers and implied overhead of $200,000 and the average for major law firms is $300,000, then you have a $100,000 per lawyer competitive advantage over your major law firm competition. Multiply that by 100 lawyers and you just made $10,000,000! And this flows right to the bottom line! If there are, say, 30 partners at this firm, then each partner just got a check for $333,333!

Yikes — did I do that math right? Was that $333,333 per partner merely by reducing the implied overhead?  I just double checked and $10,000,000 divided by 30 partners does indeed equal $333,333. That’s a sizable number, so maybe you should read the rest of my article….

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In a recent survey, managing partners of large law firms expressed tepid expectations about demand for legal services. So it’s not surprising that cost cutting — or, to put it more nicely, expense-management initiatives — remain popular in Biglaw.

Who’s the latest major law firm trying to reduce its payroll through a voluntary retirement program?

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Ed. note: This is the latest post by Anonymous Recruitment Director, who offers an insider’s perspective on the world of law firm hiring.

In my last column, I offered advice for summer associates. Today I’ll return to the mailbag and answer questions received from readers by email.

Today’s topics: paraprofessionals and legal recruiters. As always, please note that these are simply my personal views on the questions presented.

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The arrival of summer associates brings good news for the permanent lawyers and staff of Biglaw. Not only do summer associates infuse their firms with youth and beauty (and opportunities for free lunches), but they serve as an amulet of protection against the layoff spirits.

Yes, summer programs have shrunk dramatically since the pre-recession glory days. Check out this sobering infographic for a powerful illustration.

But for those folks lucky enough to land summer associate positions, the odds remain high that they will get offers (unless they misbehave). And firms want those offers to be accepted, so they try to present themselves to summer associates as shiny happy workplaces. Layoffs, whether of lawyers or staff, are kind of a buzzkill. Firms prefer to conduct them before or after their summer programs.

So perhaps this latest news will be our last layoff reporting for a while. Which firm just made double-digit cuts to its ranks?

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We’re midway through Biglaw’s second quarter, and this will be the third week in a row we’re covering law firm layoffs or buyouts of some variety. This just goes to show that no matter how well a firm does, it’s always looking to do better, and the easiest way to do so is by managing human expenses.

Sometimes the firms attempting to trim their ranks are members of the “Super Rich,” with high revenues per lawyer (at least $1 million) and even higher profits per partner (at least $2 million). Other times, these firms are rich but not super-rich — firms that generally saw “modest, hard-won gains” last year, according to the American Lawyer.

The firm we’re writing about today falls into the latter group, with relatively small financial gains in 2013. Despite this, it’s still offering “very generous” packages to inspire employees to walk away….

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It was just last week we were informed that the firms designated as “super rich” among all other Biglaw firms — specifically, the 20 with profits per partner of $2 million or more and revenue per lawyer of $1 million or more — were only getting richer.

That being the case, we can’t imagine that these Biglaw titans are hurting for cash, especially when the chasm between the super rich and everyone else keeps growing wider and wider.

This is why we were shocked to find out that the top-tier law firm recently revered for having the best brand in the business was trying to trim its ranks with offers of buyout packages…

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For months, if not years now, the Biglaw buzzword of choice has been “rightsizing.” The practice has infiltrated all sectors of the legal profession, even law schools. Pushing aside all the flowery BS explanations, we know what that phrase really means. There’s not enough money to go around, and whatever is left isn’t worth spending on you.

This week, yet another law firm decided that some of its employees were more expendable than others, conducting a double-digit layoff.

How many were let go, and which firm was it?

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