Skaddenfreude

Very few people work in Biglaw for the thrill of being surrounded by lawyers. Nor are Biglaw refugees heard lamenting, on the odd chance they are lamenting leaving Biglaw at all, the fact that they are no longer surrounded by fellow attorneys. What do they miss, if anything? The money.

Biglaw refugees are not the only ones stirred by the thought of Biglaw’s outsized profits. Those profits are the nectar that draws the droves of worker-bee law students into the welcoming embrace of law schools. And the gruel that sustains the overworked bodies and minds of Biglaw’s associates and junior partners as they slave in the mineshafts hoping for their day in the sun. Biglaw’s millions are also the elixir that lubricates the arthritic joints of senior partners who insist on staying in their positions of power well past the expiration dates that their forebears adhered to. More than ever, it is about the money….

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We enjoy giving our readers the occasional peek behind the Biglaw curtain. Last month, for example, we shared with you the internal interview manual that Sullivan & Cromwell provides to its attorneys who conduct on-campus interviews at law schools.

Today, in a similar spirit, we take an inside look at the annual review process for attorneys at Skadden Arps. We’re into the fourth quarter of 2011, so these reviews are not far away.

In this special report, we’ll provide general observations on the Skadden review process, highlight noteworthy comments from leaked attorney evaluations, and show you a few reviews in their entirety (redacted to remove lawyer and client names). This information should interest Biglaw associates who want to know what partners look for junior lawyers, and it should also appeal to partners at other firms who want ideas on how to structure annual reviews.

If you’re interested in learning more about performance reviews at one of the world’s biggest and best law firms, please keep reading….

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Embarcadero Center (at right): Skadden's soon-to-be-former S.F. home.

Late last week, word started to leak out that Skadden Arps plans to close its San Francisco office, by the end of June 2011. A meeting was held on Friday where the closure was announced to the office. The S.F. office is essentially being folded into the firm’s Silicon Valley outpost.

Some of the initial reactions expressed concern. “Unclear with respect to job security,” said one source. “My cynical side wonders if this isn’t layoffs in disguise,” said another.

But further examination of the situation suggests that this is, as some might say, no big deal….

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Bonuses have just been announced at Skadden. The following memo went out earlier today to all Skadden partners, from executive partner Eric Friedman:

To All Partners:

The attached memo announcing a year end discretionary bonus will be sent to associates in North America on a class by class basis today. Bonuses will range from $7,500 to $35,000 and will be issued in mid-December. While the same bonus schedule will be applied in all offices, communication to our international offices is being handled on an office by office basis. Counsel bonuses will be announced next week.

Bonuses are announced by class, but the range of $7,500 to $35,000 strongly suggests that Skadden is simply matching the Cravath bonus scale for 2010.

The form memo to associates that just went out, plus confirmations of bonus amounts for specific class years, after the jump.

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We call it Skaddenfreude: taking pleasure in the misfortune of others who work at large law firms. Today’s tale of Skaddenfreude involves a contract attorney working a project in the Chicago office of Kirkland & Ellis.

Let’s kick it off with a picture….

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Nixon Peabody was a winner in Signature Flight Support Corp. v. Landow Aviation, a dispute between two aviation companies at the Washington Dulles airport. Nixon landed a victory for Signature Flight, and filed a motion for Landow to pay attorneys’ fees in the case.

Landow thought Nixon’s fees were sky-high and opposed the motion, resulting in a review of Nixon’s bills by Judge James Cacheris (E.D. Va.). Judge Cacheris buzzed Nixon’s bills. From the National Law Journal:

U.S. District Judge James Cacheris of the Eastern District of Virginia determined that Nixon Peabody’s $1.57 million in fees was too high and slashed about $440,000 off that amount, awarding $1.13 million….

In his July 30 decision, Cacheris found that the number of hours Nixon Peabody expended on the case demonstrated a “lack of billing judgment exercised by plaintiff’s counsel” and “overall excessiveness of plaintiff’s fee request.”

Less than half a million slashed? Pocket change — though that was on top of $205,102.50 that Nixon says it had already excluded from the bill.

Reading the opinion offers lots of fun Skaddenfreude, perhaps particularly for attorneys laid off by Nixon Peabody early last year. Partner Louis Dolan got knocked by the court for spending hundreds of billable hours at the end of 2008 doing work better suited for a junior associate…

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Rick Pitino and Karen Sypher

Every sports fan we know is bugging us to cover the prosecution of Karen Sypher, a former car-show model and auto-glass saleswoman, who is being tried for extorting University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino, lying to the FBI, and retaliation against a witness. Since it concerns balls, it seems like a natural fit for resident ATL sports fan Elie Mystal, but there’s lots of sex in the trial testimony as well, so the case has been reassigned to me.

Well, not lots of sex. A little bit of sex. Like 15 seconds of it.

The trouble started with a sexual encounter between Pitino and Sypher back in 2003. Pitino, who is married with children, says the encounter was consensual. Sypher says it was rape. It gets really complicated from there. Lots of salacious stuff has come out of the trial: Pregnancy. Abortion. Extortion. Multiple lovers. Sypher giving her lawyer, Dana Kolter, a blow job to get representation. You know, pretty standard stuff…

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(Or: University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino must really hate Karen Sypher)

In my day (circa 2003), to be discouraged from going to law school, you had to make the effort to apply to a Biglaw firm for a paralegal job. After a year or two of working with disgruntled corporate lawyers, there was a good chance that your desire to become one of them would wither like a houseplant watered regularly with bleach.

These days, getting dissuading from going to law school is much faster and easier. Everywhere you look, people are saying that law school is a lost cause. Even Gawker — and if that’s not an expert source on the worth of a law degree, what is?

But, hey, we are law groupies here at ATL. We love and respect The Esquire. We also love debates. We will keep offering arguments for and against law school. (A big argument in the “for” category: If people don’t go to law school, who will read us?)

We are, however, frequently amused by those naysayers who lampoon the law school experience. One such law school regretter recently sent us an “unofficial law school orientation” memo that she had prepared for entering 1Ls. What caustic pearls of wisdom does this rising 2L have for law school newbies?

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MTV has sunk low. Really low. Its newest program, Downtown Girls — a reality TV show about a group of hot girls living in TriBeCa — is using the New York bar exam as a dramatic narrative hook.

We wrote before about the law grad on the show in our post: Why Unemployed Lawyers Shouldn’t Go On Reality TV Shows — Exhibit A: Victoria, of MTV’s Downtown Girls. Her bio on the MTV site described her as an aspiring attorney who is “a source of rattlebrained comic relief” and “currently awaiting the results of her second attempt at the bar exam.”

We’ve since learned from tipsters that Victoria is a Brooklyn Law School grad. Her results came in on episode 4 of the show. The show’s lead Carrie Bradshaw-inspired character real person is Shallon, who narrates at the beginning of the episode: “Victoria is about to find out the results of her bar exam and that could totally shift the course of her whole life.”

Consider life shifted. The second time was not the charm for Victoria. So what do you do if you find out that you failed the bar exam on national television?

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Earlier this week, we published a Lawyerly Lairs post about a graduating 3L named Jimmy. According to the blog Urban Turf, “Jimmy” is a 27-year-old law student with a job in D.C. Biglaw lined up, starting at $160,000. If that’s not enough to make you hate Jimmy, he also has a credit score of 781, $140,000 in the bank for a down payment on his first home, and no student loan debt.

Jimmy triggered envy, player-hating, and other strong reactions in the comments:

“F**k Jimmy. I graduated with 3.3 and couldn’t fund a job with a Biglaw firm in DC. Hence I make $75K, have $90K in student loans, $5K on credit cards and $0 for a down payment. Again, F**k Jimmy.”

“I’m sure there are several women here who are also thinking ‘Fuck Jimmy.'”

Meanwhile, blogger Jane Genova expressed doubt that Jimmy exists. A newly minted law school graduate, with zero debt and (at least) $140K in the bank — is this like believing in Santa Claus?

Jimmy is certainly very fortunate. But is he so fortunate that he’s incredible? No. His financial state could be explained by any number of factors, alone or in combination, such as (1) generous parents or other relatives, (2) a past inheritance, (3) a successful first career before law school (e.g., in finance), or (4) a full-ride scholarship to law school.

In the comments to the Jimmy post, ATL readers started to anonymously share details about their personal finances and net worths. If you found this interesting, be sure to check out this article in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, entitled “Net-Worth Obsession.” It’s about people who obsessively track their net worths over time and compare themselves to others on this front, sometimes with the help of websites (such as NetWorthIQ, featured prominently in the article).

Are you a net-worth obsessive? Tell us your net worth (anonymously), learn the net worths of some of your fellow readers, and see how your net worth stacks up against that of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan — after the jump….

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