Cheapness

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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I’m going to tell you the tale of two law firms.

Firm A: You win a major, high-profile case. The victory is covered by the legal press and mainstream media. The award to your client is huge, and the victory comes at the expense of a rival firm. Your only problem? Your client won’t pay you your millions in legal fees.

Firm B: You lose a major, high-profile case. Your well-known client gets rocked with a huge verdict, a rival firm is taking a victory lap all around town, and all you can do is tweet about the appeals process. But you are getting paid, and you expect to earn even more in fees as you plan your next move.

All else being equal, which firm would you rather work for?

If you chose Firm A, welcome to Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. And good luck to you…

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DLA Piper has released some information about its associate compensation and bonus payouts, and some associates who work for the firm are unhappy. Why? I don’t really know. I don’t know why they thought that working for the largest firm in the world would be a good thing when it came time to pay out bonuses.

Attempts to economize on associate salaries are not new at DLA Piper. The firm has been at the cutting edge (pun intended) of reduced associate base salaries, deferrals of incoming associates, and various other methods for keeping the cost of associates down. It’s just how they roll.

It should surprise no one that DLA associates are complaining about the firm’s bonus plan. In fact, I’m not even sure it’s news that the firm seems to be low-balling associates. If anything, the news hook is that there are still associates at DLA Piper who are surprised by sub-market comp….

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Upon receiving an email entitled “Breakfast battles at Cardozo,” I naturally assumed there was some kind of kosher issue between the administration and secular students at the school. I was hoping for something outrageous. Perhaps a kid was ready to bite into a ham and cheese croissant when he was tackled by a gang of lunch ladies who then tried to circumcise him with a bagel cutter? But sadly it turns out that I had a prejudiced outlook towards my gmail account. Cardozo students are perfectly able to skirmish with the cafeteria staff over non-religious issues. My bad, guys.

Instead of having religious overtones, this story is an old-fashioned one about a law school trying to nickle and dime its own students during a time of recession. Cardozo isn’t being quite as cheap as Columbia (which started charging students for plastic forks during the recession), but if you were spending tens of thousands of dollars to go to law school, you’d be pissed at your school over this.

Apparently, milk has become far too expensive for Cardozo to just give away anymore….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Inside Straight, Above the Law’s column for in-house counsel, written by Mark Herrmann.

All this perfection crap.

One reader wrote to me to complain. Surely, he said, there’s room in the world for a law firm that does work that’s “good enough for the occasion at a fair price.” Isn’t perfectionism the enemy of the reasonable bill?

That reader is undeniably correct.

Small matters, whether transactional or litigation, may not bear the freight of comprehensive factual or legal research. And lawyers who don’t recognize this — whether they work in-house or at firms — won’t last very long. For many matters, “good enough” is good enough.

But I’m not going to spend much time fretting about this, for three reasons.

First, there’s plenty of mediocrity in the world. Although it may engender outrage to type these words, the average lawyer is . . . well . . . average. You don’t have to search very far to find people who produce average work….

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Spring bonus stragglers: tick-tock, yo.

I’ve been trying to be nice. I’ve been trying to be positive. I’ve been trying to adopt a new, sunny, smoke-free attitude that assumes certain top firms will do the right thing by their associates and announce spring bonuses along the lines of Cravath, Sullivan & Cromwell, and a bunch of other top-tier firms.

Just last week, we reminded firms that it’s not too late to announce “spring” bonuses. Dewey & LeBoeuf announced spring bonuses that it will pay in the summer. And that’s okay, nobody is really complaining, associates just want their money. If top firms are paying out spring bonuses, associates who have been told they are working at a top firm want to see their cut.

But there are a number of firms that haven’t gotten the message. Did they think their own people wouldn’t notice that they are getting shortchanged compared to the market? Is this a way for those firms to force some attrition? Surprisingly, some of the firms that are being cheap with spring bonuses were lauded for being generous around Christmastime.

Those firms know how the internet works, don’t they? Information can be updated around these parts….

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There’s poor, there’s broke, and then there’s whatever you would call the economic state of current law students. They are up against it, and they know it.

It’s particularly tough on 3Ls. We’re in March, so graduating law students without jobs lined up are about to get kicked out of school and on to the street (or “mother’s basement” or “youth hostel” or whatever). So right now is about the time when these kids really start to freak out.

At one law school, fear and angst are reaching a fever pitch, over the most trivial of things. The soon-to-be graduates are having a conniption over having to pay $136 to rent a cap and gown for graduation.

Yep, some of these kids took on tens of thousands of dollars in order to go to law school, but now — at the end — they’re making a stand over a hundred bucks…

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