Cheapness

We spend a lot of time chronicling the lows of being a contract attorney. It’s the very bottom rung of the legal profession, but no matter how disrespected the job it is still an essential part of modern litigation. These jobs are rarely permanent positions so as contractors move from temp job to temp job there is an inordinate amount of terrible and just plain crazy jobs out there. Horrible working conditions, bad bosses and low wages are all par for the course, so it takes something really special to stand out.

This job posting a tipster sent in literally had my jaw dropping. So what job is flirting with minimum wage and has even a jaded industry insider like me shocked?

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Most days, I’m proud of owning my own small law firm. And while technically, I’m not a solo — I’ve had an assistant for over eight years now as well as a revolving crew of of counsel, part-time associates and independent contractors — many of my colleagues lump me and most very small law firms into that category nonetheless. So when other solos act foolishly or unprofessionally, it reflects poorly on the rest of us.

Understand, I’m not picking on solos.  Let’s face it — large law firms are hardly paragons of upstanding conduct; one needn’t look further than the recent Dewey & LeBoeuf scandal as proof. But for whatever reason, when Biglaw behaves badly, that conduct doesn’t diminish the reputation of Biglaw in the eyes of judges and other lawyers as it does for solos.  

So that’s why it bugs me when solos do stupid — and often avoidable — things. Here are my top three peeves:

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It’s one thing to say that you bill at $200 or $500 or $1,000 an hour; it’s another to actually collect those fees. Every time a client fails to pay a bill, you’re effectively discounting your overall rate. And while writing off $500 here or there may not seem like much, over the course of the year it can amount to several thousand dollars – which doesn’t take into account the added cost of chasing down clients to collect from them.

Of course, the best way to avoid getting stiffed is to obey Foonberg’s Rule: Get the money up front. Unfortunately, sometimes, you can’t predict the full cost upfront – and if the expected bill is mid-five figures or more, a client simply may not have that kind of money all in one place. Moreover, taking payment up front won’t guard against a client asking for a refund down the line if you haven’t vetted the client properly. So beyond upfront payment, here’s a list of tips to avoid getting stiffed:

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Jessica Strom

How much do you think it costs to kill a lawyer these days? Would it depend on the lawyer’s pedigree and prestige? How big is his book of business? Does he wear a pocket square?

These are just some of the important questions that factor into the price for a lawyer’s head, and if we had to guess, we’d start the bidding at about $75,000, since that’s likely what the very average lawyer who’s been practicing for a while could expect to earn in a year’s time.

Using that number as a starting point, if you found out that someone you loved wanted to kill you and offered just a measly $1,000 to the contract killer, you’d probably be insulted. But wait — what if she also offered sex as an additional incentive to “blow [your] brains out”?

Honey, no offense, but you really aren’t that good of a lay….

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Years ago, back when I was in Biglaw, I had an unpleasant interaction with Kasowitz Benson. I will spare you the details — they involved who would pay the costs for photocopying certain documents (in the ancient days before e-discovery) — but the Kasowitz lawyer made a promise that she did not honor. I thought to myself, “Watch out when dealing with Kasowitz Benson.”

That’s probably wise advice — not just for folks litigating with Kasowitz, but also for people applying to work there. Last year, we covered KBTF’s exploding offers during fall recruiting and cold offers to summer associates — practices that are frowned upon, to put it mildly.

And now we have new allegations of shadiness at Kasowitz, this time coming from people already working at the firm as full-time associates. They involve the hot-button subject of associate bonuses….

(Please note the multiple UPDATES at the end of this post.)

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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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Alex Rich has a whole “worst job” thing going for contract attorney gigs. So far, that little contest has turned up lawyers getting paid minimum wage. That is pretty dismal.

But what about getting paid zero?

While some federal judges are making tentative steps toward ending the exploitation of regular folks at the hands of unpaid internships, others feel you shouldn’t have to pay for a cow when you can get milk from desperate cows hoping that giving away their labor might increase the dim likelihood of securing a decent wage somewhere else in the long-term for free.

If you’re looking to work for free, maybe this job listing is for you. If you just want to hate on a federal judge for taking advantage of lawyer misery for personal gain, you may want to read on as well…

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I recently started a new project (yay money). It was accompanied by all the usual strum und drang — the seating chart, the log-ins, the deadline — typical but annoying stuff. I noticed that a buddy of mine was there. Well, at least it was someone I’d been on reviews with before who was distinctly not weird. When you’ve been on multiple projects with the same agency or vendor you start assembling a cast of “regulars,” and these people can be your lifeline during arduous projects. We start to reminisce about past projects like old war buddies and it strikes me.

I’ve been doing this too long.

Not just in a “what am I doing with my life” existential crisis kind of a way, but for at least the foreseeable future this IS my life. Like anyone in any position for a bunch of years I’ve amassed tips and tricks to get through the day, and can predict the general course of a project. So in celebration of the stalled nature of what I, laughingly, call my career, I present the 7 signs you’ve been doing document review too long…

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Pop quiz, hotshot: Can you identify your law school logo on sight? Can you describe it blind? The answer is probably yes, because law schools emblazon everything from your first acceptance letter to the most recent letter you got begging for money with their logo.

It’s a critical part of law school branding. Long-established schools are rocking heraldic shields to convey gravitas. Schools interested in a more modern edge employ slimmed-down, Apple-style minimalist symbols. Either way, a lot of time and effort goes into creating and packaging the logo to sell the school.

On the other hand, a school trying to desperately attract more students to pay tens of thousands of dollars a year could post an open job listing online for a graphic designer to make them a logo for a whopping $50. Fifty bucks won’t get you much in 2013.

Which law school would do such a thing?

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I guess Lexington, Massachusetts, wasn’t quite desperate enough to offer a big firm a better deal.

Last month we told you that Biglaw firms have encountered success in putting offices in small cities staffed with non-partner track associates and back office personnel.

The trend now continues with Bingham McCutchen’s announcement that they are opening a “Global Services Center” in Lexington, Kentucky. The center will eventually house 250 employees who will handle administrative support functions for the firm. Some current Bingham employees will be given the option of relocating from Boston to Lexington.

Hmm… this reminds me of another person who went from Kentucky to Boston and then back to Kentucky. “Newbury Street isn’t walking through that door, Bingham staffers. Quincy Market isn’t walking through that door, and Fenway Park isn’t walking through that door. And if they did, you’d still be living in Lexington freaking Kentucky.”

Oh, I kid. In all seriousness, though, and from the firm’s perspective, in-sourcing is clearly the way to go…

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