Cheapness

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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Yesterday we covered the internet brouhaha over Progressive Insurance. The insurance company caught a lot of internet flak after comedian Matt Fisher wrote this provocative blog post: My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to Defend Her Killer In Court. Outrage against Progressive’s apparent provision of a defense to the driver who killed Katie Fisher — even though Katie Fisher was Progressive’s insured, not that driver — went viral over social media (especially after actor Wil Wheaton got involved).

Now Progressive is paying up. The company has reached a settlement with the Fisher family.

We recently heard from Progressive’s PR firm, which sent us a statement on the Fisher case. What does Flo have to say for herself?

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If you were on the internet at all yesterday, you likely heard about this. Your mom probably posted it on her Facebook wall and a thousand of your tweeps probably hit you up on the Twitter to register their outrage. On Monday, a comedian by the name of Matt Fisher wrote a post on his tumblr account titled “My Sister Paid Progressive Insurance to Defend Her Killer In Court.” What resulted was an outpouring of rage and hive-minded moralizing that has become the internet’s stock in trade. A great injustice had been done and, dammit, the internet was going to save the day. Or at least tweet about the day. Even Wil Wheaton made an impassioned cameo in the great shoutathon, presumably because a cameo is the best Wil Wheaton can hope for these days.

And this great unwashed mass of outrage went to sleep last night and slept like babies, secure in the smug knowledge that they had done good. Of course, the picture that was so broadly painted yesterday didn’t do justice to anyone. Progressive Insurance is not evil and the Internet remains a cesspool of pornography and legal blog posts. Matt Fisher did a pretty solid number on Progressive Insurance; this is true. They’ve taken a great PR hit, and most coverage of the whole affair has quickly moved on from any sort of analysis of the actual claim itself to a much easier consideration of how, and in which ways, Progressive Insurance is royally f**ked.

This is a shame….

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Scenic waterfront of Wheeling, West Virginia. And the town got a traffic light too!

We’ve written extensively about the offices of Orrick in Wheeling, West Virginia. It’s the place where non-partner track associates go to perform the kind of quasi-paralegal tasks that you really shouldn’t have to pay somebody $160,000 a year to get done.

Here’s the thing about these “onshore,” “insourcing” operations: they are successful. Ridiculously successful. In an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Orrick chairman Ralph Baxter called the decision to open the Wheeling center “one of the smartest decisions we’ve ever made for the firm and our clients.” And that’s coming from a man who made the smart decision not to merge with Dewey Ballantine.

That’s why every Biglaw managing partner, and every law student thinking of taking out hundreds of thousands of dollars to go to law school, should pay attention to what’s going on in Wheeling…

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Life moves pretty fast in the digital age. Yesterday, we reported on the horrendous decision by Dean Paul Schiff Berman of George Washington University Law School to cut the stipend of GW Law’s “Pathways to Practice” program. The program is for unemployed graduates who get a stipend from the school to take a fellowship while they continue to look for more remunerative work.

When George Washington Law students signed up for the program a month ago — just in time to be counted as “employed upon graduation” — they were told that the stipend would be $15 per hour for a 35-hour work week. But Dean Berman decided that GW Law grads needed more of an incentive to find paying work, and yesterday he announced a plan to cut the stipend by a third, to $10 per hour.

Last night, after an outcry from students (and some bad press), Dean Berman changed his mind and decided to restore funding to the $15 per hour level.

Good times! There’s nothing quite like having to fight and beg for a one-year, $15-an-hour job after paying $45,750 per year in tuition.

In his letter reversing his decision, Berman has recast the reasons for wanting to cut the funding in the first place. I hope the class of 2013 is paying attention, because in the high likelihood that funding is cut next year, this is the justification you should expect to see….

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The conceit of every Republican administration of my lifetime has been that poor people wouldn’t be so poor if they just “worked harder.” The dismantling of the welfare state was fueled by the notion that certain people needed more incentive to find work — as if being on public assistance somehow needs to be more hardscrabble and humiliating in order to really help people.

Now, it seems the same kind of flawed and sheltered logic will be coming to a law school near you. But the kicker is that it’s the students employed by the school, in programs designed to help the school game the U.S. News rankings and fleece the next generation of paying 1Ls, who are being told that they need more of an incentive to find employment.

We’ve got a school scolding students for being too comfortable in the post-graduate employment program the school itself designed to avoid telling the truth to U.S. News….

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