Biglaw

Antonin Scalia

Society cannot afford to have such a huge proportion of its best minds going into the law.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, commenting on the state of the legal profession at the 2012 Midyear Meeting of the American Bar Association in New Orleans.

(Justice Scalia comments on Biglaw’s flawed compensation system, after the jump.)

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You may be one of those people who realized early on that law firm partnership is not for you. For me, this was the case even before I started law school. Law was going to be a second career for me, and by the day of my first 1L class, I already had two small children vying for my attention. Surprisingly, having small kids while in law school full time was not easy. You really need to be engaged in your kids’ interests, which can be hard when you’re also trying to dodge Socratic bullets for the first time. There was one semester when it literally took me an entire week to defeat the Elite Four in Pokémon Yellow. Tough times, tough times.

I later went into Biglaw with the understanding that the experience would look good on my résumé, and that I would get what people refer to as “great training.” (And, of course, the money was nothing to complain about, either.) And I actually did enjoy the work. But you can’t work Biglaw hours and expect to just breeze through all of the Pokémon versions — Gold, Ruby, Platinum, Black, etc. — there are so many of them! It’s just not possible, and I will challenge anyone who says it is.

So once you’ve decided that the in-house life is the life for you (or that there’s no way in hell they’ll make someone who’s so obsessed with kids’ games partner), when’s the best time to make the move? Well, it depends….

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Tom Wallerstein

A general counsel recently asked me, “Why should my company risk hiring a lesser-known, small firm?”

I told him that it shouldn’t. I don’t think any company should unnecessarily “risk” its business without good reason. I’ll be the first to admit that there are some matters that simply demand big firm attention.

But I also told the GC that there were many matters that I thought my smaller firm could handle just as well as could a big firm, and with cost savings that would be relatively significant given the amount at stake.

I wouldn’t ask someone to hire me if I thought that doing so was risky for them. A client should not have to choose to lose or win; it needs to make sure the small-firm attorneys have the necessary skill and experience. But with that caveat, some matters are particularly well suited for boutique treatment.

Assuming a client can afford to hire a Biglaw firm for a particular matter, why might it consider a small firm or boutique — beyond the obvious lower cost?

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Last year, Sullivan & Cromwell announced spring bonuses on January 21st. Today is February 3rd. It might be time to panic.

The conceit of this entire bonus season has been that the ridiculously low bonuses bar set by Cravath, Swaine & Moore was just an opening figure. People really didn’t expect that Cravath would halve bonuses. I mean, it’s CSM. They can count. Their profits went up. Why would they pay out 50% less than last year?

Well, I guess the answer “because they can” is going to have to be enough for Biglaw associates everywhere….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Spring Bonuses? Anybody? The Silence Isn’t Funny Anymore.”

Touchdown Biglaw!

* New York is considering allowing nonlawyer ownership of equity in law firms. If that somehow means we’ll see less Jacoby & Meyers commercials on television, then I’m definitely all for it. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* Football’s labor lockout legal fees: which Biglaw firms scored huge touchdowns thanks to their collective bargaining work? The three top billers included Latham, Dewey & LeBoeuf, and Patton Boggs. [Am Law Daily]

* The sanctions for filing a 9/11 conspiracy claim cost $15K, but forever being remembered as the lawyers who got benchslapped for drafting “a product of cynical delusion and fantasy” is priceless. [Reuters]

* Jared Loughner is still incompetent to stand trial, and he’ll remain in the loony bin for another four months. You know what that means? Time to make this kid swallow some more pills. [Arizona Republic]

* A panel of law professors over at Harvard thinks that while law schools have problems, but they’re certainly not in crisis mode yet. Not yet? You hear that Team Strauss/Anziska? Needs moar lawsuits! [Harvard Crimson]

* Well, that was a short-lived victory. Heather Peters, the former lawyer who beat Honda in small claims court, is preparing to do battle with the car company in Superior Court. [Los Angeles Times]

Today everyone’s talking tech, thanks to Facebook’s upcoming IPO. In light of how Silicon Valley is dominating the news cycle, it seems fitting to discuss the recent bonus and salary news from Wilson Sonsini — one of SV’s top firms, and counsel over the years to many startup companies turned tech giants.

(But not Facebook, at least with respect to the IPO. That’s being handled by Fenwick & West and Simpson Thacher.)

So what kind of bonuses did WSGR just announce? Let’s find out….

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I was getting a little worried yesterday about the state of Biglaw bonuses. But a new day brings a new hope. Yesterday, Law360 (subscription req.) reported that Finnegan broke off a huge bonus payment that once again highlights how cheap Cravath and other Biglaw firms following Cravath have been this season.

Don’t get me wrong, Finnegan is a smallish “boutique” firm. And their bonuses are merit based as opposed to lockstep. It’s exactly the kind of place where they can post an eye-popping top number for the highest performing associates, while the rank and file aren’t doing all that well.

But even if Finnegan’s bonuses aren’t quite as magnificent as the firm would like you to believe, they still look impressive when compared to the low numbers Cravath and other lockstep followers have been dishing out. Eventually, you have to think that some of Cravath’s top talent will leave and try their hand someplace where their talents and hard work will be rewarded with cash….

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In the first lawsuit (during the proxy fight), the judge held that certain statements made in proxy materials were false and misleading. That lawsuit settled. In the next lawsuit (the 10b-5 class action), plaintiffs explain that precisely the same statements appeared in an annual report, and it is now settled law that those words are false and misleading. How do you avoid the devastating effect of collateral estoppel in the second case?

I solved that puzzle back in 1990. Now I’ve moved in-house, and I fear that I’ll never solve a similar puzzle again.

Have I lost my creativity? I don’t think so. Does my job still require creativity? Yes — but different kinds of creativity. This column is a requiem to a type of thinking that an in-house job — or, at a minimum, my in-house job — doesn’t seem to permit….

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* How many friend requests did these firms just get? Fenwick & West and Simpson Thacher are the Biglaw stars of Facebook’s S-1 filing for its $5B initial public offering. Like. [Am Law Daily]

* The prosecution is expected to make its arguments today in Julian Assange’s appeal of his extradition from the U.K. to Sweden. Hope it won’t affect his role on The Simpsons. [CNN]

* Adventures in fourth-tier second-tier law school marketing: go to the University of Dayton School of Law, take a tour, and get your first-year textbooks for free. Mmm, the sweet smell of bribery. [National Law Journal]

* The little hybrid that could: Heather Peters, the former lawyer who decided to sue Honda in small claims court, has won her case. Maybe she should reconsider her career options? [Los Angeles Times]

* Looking for a way to shield your assets during a wrongful death suit? Just adopt your adult girlfriend. It has “nothing to do with the lawsuit” — dude just wants to bang his daughter. No big deal. [Palm Beach Post]

* Unpaid internships are so last season. A former intern for fashion mag Harper’s Bazaar wants class action certification for a lawsuit claiming that her free labor violated wage and hour laws. [New York Times]

In case you were wondering, it’s pretty much time to panic about the lack of spring bonuses. Believe it or not, Biglaw could actually allow bonuses to go down despite soaring profits. But that’s a post for another day.

The bad news today is that after a trend of firms easily topping the low bonuses set by the former “market leaders” at Cravath, we’re now looking at a firm that claims it is top tier, but is paying demonstrably less than the already sad CSM bonus amount.

Well, check that, if you bill upwards of 2400 hours at the firm, you might make a little more than your counterparts at Cravath. And hell, if you bill upwards of 2800 hours, you might really do well for yourself (which should help with the alimony payments after your spouse divorces you). But if you are just a standard, 2000 hour biller, the firm didn’t even match Cravath.

I don’t know, maybe making a pathetic bonus payment isn’t so much of an issue in Washington, D.C.?

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