Cheapness

Last month, we solicited law school success stories from you, our readers. We’re often quite critical of law schools around these parts. So, to even out the scales a bit, we’re going to be running a series of happy stories, focused on graduates who are glad they went to law school.

We’ve tried to organize the success stories under a few broad themes, to lend some structure to the discussion. Some of the themes exist in tension with each other, and not all themes will apply to all readers. By the time the series is done, however, we hope that the stories will collectively shed some light on the question of whether one should go to law school.

Let’s launch into our first collection of law school success stories. They could be grouped under the theme of “go cheap, or go home”….

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Spirit Airlines is a cheap airline. They advertise a “$9 fare club.” They advertise a lot. Their goal appears to be to let everyone know, to create the reputation, that they are the low cost alternative to other airlines – just like you want everyone to know you are the “aggressive” alternative to all other “aggressive” lawyers out there that will “fight” for their clients (free consultations and payment plans available of course as well.). In fact, when you Google “Spirit Airlines,” you get this:

“Spirit Airlines – cheap tickets, cheap flights, discount airfare, cheap … ”

I’ve never flown Spirit, and I don’t know if anyone has actually flown anywhere for $9, but I do know that I’ve never heard anything good about this airline. They call themselves “cheap,” while others say they’re “bad.” They do make a ton of money, which should bring a smile to the growing number of cheap and bad lawyers out there….

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Lat here. In late March, I wrote a story with this title: “Sullivan & Cromwell Will Pay Spring Bonuses — But Will They Be Too Small To Be Worth Matching?”

I’m sad to report that my prediction has come to pass. Sullivan & Cromwell has announced spring bonuses, but they’re nothing to write home about. They are probably too modest for other firms to bother matching. The spring bonuses of Quinn Emanuel will surely exceed the S&C amounts.

Sullivan promised spring bonuses in its 2011 year-end bonus memo, and it reiterated that promise on subsequent occasions. But the powers that be at S&C never said anything as to amounts, leading some to forecast wimpy payouts.

So how much are we talking about? Let’s find out, and get some color commentary from my colleague, Elie Mystal….

UPDATE (4:20 PM): We’re continuing to update this post. Go after the jump and refresh.

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Despite the media echo chamber saying that the economy is improving, it’s obviously still tough to find work. Especially for lawyers. Everyone says you’re supposed to have a can-do attitude, but we sometimes prefer to think about all the things that you can’t do as an attorney.

Included in that list is getting a paying job at the U.S. Department of Justice. The DOJ has had a hiring freeze in place for a year now. We’ve heard reports of some thawing — i.e., selected parts of the DOJ receiving authorization to fill a handful of priority positions — but, for the most part, there are hardly any paying lawyer jobs to be had in that division of government.

Instead, U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country have been posting unpaid Special Assistant United States Attorney positions for some time now. We covered them last May. My colleague (and former assistant U.S. attorney) David Lat defended the SAUSA gigs somewhat, arguing that the nonpaying jobs might not be as bad as they seem. It’s fun, exciting work, and it provides valuable experience and serious professional credibility.

There is a crucial, ominous difference between then and now, though. Previous SAUSA jobs were generally aimed at entry-level or fairly junior attorneys. Now we’ve got a recent opening that’s asking for more.…

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As we get back to our regularly scheduled programming, it’s pretty obvious that bonus season has gotten a little bit ragged. This is what happens when the overdog, Cravath, fails to set bonuses at reasonable levels: firms get confused and try to do things to make it look like they’re clearing the ridiculously low bar Cravath has set. There are so many firms now with some kind of performance or hours mark that will allow at least one of their associates to say, “I made more this year than if I was working at Cravath.”

And that’s just the firms that have announced already. Other firms seem to be waiting to make their “year-end” bonus announcement because they don’t want to have to go back and dole out more money once somebody gets around to announcing spring bonuses. While it might be fun for Cravath and Sullivan & Cromwell to play chicken over who will announce spring bonuses first, there are a whole bunch of firms that are just sitting around waiting to find out how much they are going to have to pay.

And there are a bunch of associates who are starting to wonder if they’ll be getting any kind of bonus at all.

So who did we miss? Who still owes you a bonus announcement?

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After stealing all the Whoville toys, the Grinch planned to re-gift them to his army of lawyers.

I’m much more likely to throw away a gift or give it to charity than to regift something I already have or don’t want. I think I’d live in fear of the original gift-giver meeting up with the regift recipient and talking about how I was a bad friend for orchestrating the whole mess. I’d rather those two people meet up and say, “Did Elie get you anything? No? Too bad. I was hoping he did and you could tell him it sucked. That’s what he told me when he opened my present.” There’s something intangibly sneaky and dishonest about regifting. It’s just not classy.

Of course, people do it all the time. And not because they lack class so much as they lack money. Even if it’s tacky, regifting usually comes from a good place: you want to give presents to more people than you can afford to shop for.

But there’s nothing laudable (or forgivable) about how one small law firm in California goes about re-gifting. They want to send gifts to their clients — so they commandeer the gifts sent to their secretaries and staff, and regift them.

I think this firm missed the “spirit” part of this holiday season….

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Schulte Roth & Zabel really came up with a creative way to make this terrible bonus season even worse for SRZ associates.

Schulte is matching the Cravath scale, but not all at once. Half of the bonus is being paid now, the other half in March. It’s Schulte’s way of issuing a retention bonus without actually spending any extra money.

It also sets Schulte up nicely to avoid paying spring bonuses next year. Not that Schulte management really cares what people think about them. The firm didn’t pay spring bonuses last year. Even though the firm is making people whole with a “spring bonus” payment to those who should have gotten one last spring, the money is still tied to hitting 2011 hours targets.

It’s really one of the most disingenuous bonus memos we’ve seen. While technically the firm is matching Cravath, it’s doing it in a nickle-and-dime way that makes it pretty clear the Schulte partnership begrudges every last cent they have to pay out in bonuses.

If the associates don’t like it, they know where the door is….

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Biglaw bucks can bring the bling.

Some people just can’t stay out of our pages. Back in 2008, we wrote about Ira J. Schacter, a prominent corporate partner and major rainmaker at Cadwalader. Schacter earned Lawyer of the Day honors after he was accused of beating his wife. (He claimed he acted in self-defense and was ultimately cleared of the charges.)

Well, today Ira Schacter is back in the news. He’s accused of refusing to pay for his teen daughter’s $12,000 hearing aids, while dropping $215,000 on a diamond engagement ring for his Playboy-bunny fiancée. If true, that’s pretty shoddy behavior — the very embodiment of cheapness, from a big-time Biglaw partner who can easily afford twelve grand.

But I know what you’re all wondering right now: “How hot is that Playboy-model fiancée?”

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Without paralegals, legal assistants, legal secretaries, clerks, and receptionists, the entire Biglaw model could come to a screeching halt. Speaking as a former legal assistant and full-time law clerk, I know this for a fact.

For some attorneys, if members of the support staff weren’t there to assist, important letters would go unwritten, coffee mugs would go unfilled, pleadings would go unproofread, and envelopes would go unlicked. So attorneys, always treat staff members graciously and respectfully — you never know when you’ll need them to get you out of a bind.

All that being said, we were a little bit shocked when we learned about what is allegedly happening at one of the world’s largest law firms, Baker & McKenzie. Apparently some members of the support staff aren’t getting the kind of support they need….

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I’ve only been on one “retreat” of any kind. It was with my church. My parents paid for it because anytime you can pay the Catholic Church to take your kids into the woods and tell them about God’s plan, it’s something you have to do.

Of course, going to a voluntary retreat sponsored by a religious organization is one thing. Going on a mandatory retreat ordered by your employer is quite another. Traditionally, if your employer is going to make you go on one of these things, then the employer is going to cover the hotel and airfare of the employees. That’s just how corporate America works.

Even Heller Ehrman paid lavishly for its last firm retreat. That would be its last firm retreat before dissolution.

I bring this up because associates at one midsize firm seem to be getting the short end of the stick. Their firm is apparently forcing them to attend a two-night retreat, but the firm is only paying for a one-night stay in their hotel rooms….

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