It’s a problem that has vexed Biglaw types since the legal “profession” turned into a business where money is made off of huge hours billed by disposable, replaceable associate attorneys — what’s the maximum number of hours associates can bill before they break?
The question is not one of how much high quality work a person can do. Nor is it really an issue of attorney efficiency. Instead, the firms are looking at the manual labor hours they can expect to get out of each of their cogsdrones associates. Too few, and the firm ends up leaving money on the table. Too many, and associates leave faster than the firm can train replacements. Way too many hours, and people start, you know, dying and stuff.
Applying enough pressure so that the branches bend but don’t break is why office managers get paid the big bucks (most of them stopped being particularly useful attorneys years ago). Let’s check in on how one of the most profitable firms in the country gets it done….
Apparently Google thinks this Mob Wife is a 'cheap hooker.' If nothing else, she totally dresses like one.
* The harsh realities of post-recession practice: will Biglaw leaders have to resort to alternative billing practices in order to survive? Well, they better, or else they’re “not going to have a law firm for very long.” [Washington Post]
* I don’t think “secret service” means what you think it means. Listen up, agents, prostitution might be legal in much of Columbia, but it makes America look bad when you can’t afford a $47 hooker. [New York Post]
* Jessica Recksiedler, the judge assigned to oversee George Zimmerman’s case, may have a conflict of interest thanks to her husband. Somebody’s getting banished from the bedroom this week. [Bloomberg]
* Law firms with ties to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have seen record profits compared to their take under Jon Corzine’s rule. That said, even if he called them “idiots,” it was totally worth it. [Star-Ledger]
* UMass Law is being reviewed for accreditation by the American Bar Association, and opponents are throwing some major shade. As if Dean Ward’s scandalous resignation wasn’t enough. [South Coast Today]
* Is this house haunted as a matter of law? That’s what this New Jersey couple is hoping that a judge will say about their rental home. Hey, it wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened in the tri-state area. [ABC News]
* The billable hour may be far from dead, but last year, 61% of general counsel worked out alternative fee arrangements with outside counsel, including counsel from elite (read: Biglaw) firms. [Wall Street Journal]
* Dewey need to take lessons on revenge from this firm? John Altorelli, the D&L defector who spilled all the beans to the Am Law Daily, was blasted on Page Six this weekend. More on this to come later today. [New York Post]
* CHECK YOU LATERALS: recent Quinn Emanuel hires William Burck, Paul Brinkman, and Andrew Schapiro, as well as name partner John Quinn, have entered appearances on behalf of Megaupload. [Am Law Daily]
* Copyright infringement suits over porn downloading involving some 3,500 defendants were dismissed because the plaintiffs’ attorney, Terik Hasmi, couldn’t get it in legally in Florida. [National Law Journal]
* In England, there’s no such thing as a no-fault divorce, but instead, you can get one for “unreasonable behavior” — behavior like malicious service of tuna casserole, and speaking only in Klingon. [New York Times]
* This gives “I’m a Slave 4 U” some new meaning. Britney Spears’s fiancé, Jason Trawick, is trying to start their impending rocky marriage off on the right foot. He’ll soon be her co-conservator. [New York Daily News]
There comes a time in all associates’ careers when they stop and do the math. They think about their salary, bonus, and benefits. They think about their billable hours. They multiply their billable hours by their billable rate and suddenly they think, hey, WAITAMINUTE. My firm makes threefour five times what it pays me!
Like any other salaried employee, the more hours an associate works, the less they make per hour, bonuses notwithstanding. They might not mind so much if they’re also bucking for promotion, i.e., up for partner. Regardless, at some point, every associate thinks, “if only I were paid as much per hour as I bill per hour . . . .”
That moment for me was the epiphany that ultimately led to helping form my own firm. But since that time, I’ve also been able to see the other side of the fence, so to speak. There are a lot of reasons — some obvious, and some less so — why the math isn’t quite as simple as it seems….
Ed. note: This new feature is by “Rachel Marks,” the spouse of an attorney at a large law firm. She’ll be blogging about how having a husband in Biglaw affects the life on the home front. And she’ll be talking about what your spouses really want out of your career. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My name is Rachel, and I’m married to a NY Biglaw guy who’s married to his firm. (And when I say married to his firm, I mean it in the typing-on-his-Blackberry-as-his-wife-is-pushing-out-his-second-child kind of way.) Thus, for obvious reasons, my name is fake, my location is undisclosed, and this might not even be me writing these words.
Why would a Biglaw wife want to write on Above the Law, you might wonder? Well, my husband is usually doing one of three things: working, sleeping, or reading this blog. (How I wish this was an exaggeration!) And since he doesn’t like it when I call him in the office (not that that stops me!), and he’s impossible to wake up, I can FINALLY get his attention now that I’ve come to a place where he’s sure to come by. (And on that note — hon, don’t forget to put out the recycling this evening, and you MUST call your mother and have that *talk*.)
Now, on to my real order of business, since perhaps this could all just be handled in some couples’ counseling: SPRING BONUSES. Where the heck are they?! Even I’ve begun reading ATL regularly, in hopes of seeing that wonderful yet ever elusive siren at the top of the page, alerting readers of the breaking news that my husband’s bonus is now only 50% depleted (as opposed to its current 75% depletion) from the glory days of bonuses past….
When I visited New York back in January, I stayed with some friends. When I woke up Saturday morning on the couch, my buddy and his roommate had already taken out their laptops and were typing away. I asked, “What are you guys doing today?” They both responded, “Working.”
I could not believe it. It was a surprisingly warm winter day. And my friends decided to remain cooped up in their literally windowless Manhattan apartment. Why wouldn’t they go outside? Go to park, or a bar for some day drinking.
But that’s America. We are always connected, always on call, and ignoring your BlackBerry for more than 90 minutes may be a fireable offense.
It wasn’t always this way. And there are some heretics among us who make a compelling case for a return to the 40-hour work week. Before you shoot the scruffy Californian, hear me out….
Ah, nothing brings around the lawyers of today like the talk of money. One of the most popular Google searches by law students and lawyers is “how to make money as a lawyer.” I rarely see searches for “how to cross examine the expert witness,” or “building a reputation, one case at a time.”
It’s all about the cash.
So here it is, here’s your red meat:
Charging “what everyone else charges” is for losers.
Good clients know you get what you pay for. Cheap, annoying, time-sucking, Bar-complaint-filing clients try to own someone for nothing. If you want the same clients everyone else has, charge the same legal fees. You can be Wal-Mart, or you can be Saks. More people shop at Wal-Mart, but people looking for quality shop at Saks, and they know the difference. They go in, they see something they want, and pay for it (without a payment plan). (And don’t tell me “credit cards are payment plans.” The seller gets the full amount, the buyer makes payments to the bank.) Saks doesn’t have “low prices,” and customers aren’t going there for low prices. They’re looking for quality. Price is secondary….
I hate to invoke a cliché, but “David versus Goliath” captures the challenge a smaller firm faces when litigating against an Am Law 200 firm. A small firm can feel like David when facing a larger firm that can bring more resources to bear on legal research, drafting motions, reviewing documents, etc.
The challenge increases when applied to clients. Many of my firm’s initial clients were startups or emerging companies with limited litigation budgets. Their adversaries often were much larger, established companies with seemingly unlimited budgets. Thus, we faced not only the challenge of litigating against brand-name firms with hundreds of attorneys, but we also initially had clients who simply could not afford to spend as much in legal fees as their well-heeled opponents.
So how can a small firm, especially representing a smaller company, effectively litigate against a proverbial army of lawyers representing a client to whom money is no object?
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Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
Deal flow has clearly picked recently up for most US associates, counsels and partners in Hong Kong/China and Singapore. We are on the phone with a lot of these folks on a daily basis, many of whom we have known for years. Further, the head of our Asia team, Evan Jowers, and Kinney’s founder and president, Robert Kinney, frequently meet in person with leading US partners in Asia to assess their needs and keep on top of the inside scoop at as many firms as possible. The need for legal recruiting help in Asia from experienced recruiters appears to be live and well. In March, Evan and Robert were in Beijing at such meetings, in April, Evan was in Hong Kong, and for half of June Evan will be in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Thus its pretty easy for us to tell when there has been an across-the-market pick up in capital markets and corporate work.
On an average day in Asia when Evan and Robert visit firms, they typically have 5 to 9 meetings a day, mostly with US partners in the market. The reason they have these meetings is not simply because Kinney makes a lot of US attorney placements in Asia and that a particular firm may have openings; instead these are just visits with friends. After years of working together as business partners, the folks at Kinney are actually these peoples’ friends. The firms Kinney work closely with in Asia (which is just about every law firm – call us if you want to know the one firm in the world we will never place anyone with again, ever, and why) look forward to the visits, or at least act like they do. After seven years in the market, many of the client partners are former associate candidates. Also, these US partners see Kinney as a very good source of market information as well, because they know how deep their contacts are in the market and how frequently they are speaking to counterparts at peer firms.
In a land that is right here and in a time that is right now, a technology has arisen so powerful that it can replace basic human document review. Is it time to bow down before our new robot overlords?
First, here’s a little story about me: my life in the legal world began as a paralegal. My first case was a GIANT patent infringement case that was already six years old and had involved as many as five companies, multiple US courts, the ITC and an international standards committee. I knew nothing about any of this.
On my first day, my supervisor (a paralegal with at least eight other cases driving her crazy) sat me down in front of a Concordance database with a 100,000+ patents and patent file histories. “Code these,” she said. I learned that “coding”, for the purposes of this exercise, meant manually typing the inventor’s name, the title of the patent, the assignee, the file date, and other objective data for each document. I worked on that project – and only that project – for at least the first six months of my job. After a week or so, time began to blur.
What I know, in retrospect and with absolutely certainty, is that as time began to blur, so did my judgment. So did my attention to detail. If you could tell me that I did not make at least one mistake a day – one inconsistent spelling, one reversed day and month, one incorrectly spaced title – I frankly would need to see your evidence. I would not believe it. The human mind is trainable but it is not a machine.
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