Clifford Chance

There’s no Biglaw intercity rivalry that can match the one between London’s venerable Magic Circle and New York’s elite white-shoe firms. Both groups of firms are the clear alpha dogs in their markets, attracting the top talent and most lucrative clients.

There are, however, some significant differences between the two groups in how they operate. For example, U.K. firms tend to follow a lockstep (rather than “eat what you kill”) compensation model. Last month, friend of ATL Bruce MacEwen took a deep dive into the relative performance over the last several years of the Magic Circle firms versus their New York cousins. The piece is highly recommended: it’s chock-full of data, and its findings suggest the groups are moving in different directions….

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When we covered the American Lawyer’s annual summer associate satisfaction survey last year, we noted that “[b]eing a summer associate just isn’t what it used to be.” All work and no play may make summer associates dull boys and girls, but it also makes them highly confident they’ll receive offers of full-time employment when their programs end.

Despite the fact that it’s a “buyer’s market for law firms,” many of them tossed out offers to their summer classes like Mardi Gras beads. Summer associates were no longer praying for offers, as they were in certain years past; no, this summer, they almost expected offers to be handed to them.

These were the conclusions drawn from the American Lawyer’s 2014 Summer Associate Survey. Am Law polled 5,085 law students at the nation’s largest firms about their summer experiences and used the results to rank 96 programs. This year’s crop of would-be lawyers was seemingly at ease about their situations, despite the fact that there is still a general unease permeating through Biglaw.

This summer’s overall rankings were overwhelmingly positive. If you’re a law student trying to figure out where to spend your summer, you’re probably asking: which law firms came out with the highest scores?

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Despite making six figures, some Biglaw associates are still unhappy with the amount of money they take home. Starting salaries at some firms are larger than at others, and for all of the intense labor that comes with being an associate, it’s just not fair.

How should Biglaw firms respond to these complaints? Some of the more enlightened members of law firm leadership would increase their associates’ salaries to match the rest of the market, but most would happily continue to work their associates to the bone and ignore their wage woes.

One firm apparently thought it had found a way around associates’ salary grievances, but it may have just backfired. Straight from the firm that produced the sexist women’s style memo seen ’round the world, we bring you what seems to be one of the craziest incentive programs we’ve ever heard of…

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This is the latest in a new series of ATL infographics — visual representations of our own proprietary data, relevant third-party data, “anecdata,” or just plain jokes. This infographic is brought to you by our friends at Prestige Legal Search. Earn another $5,000 to $50,000 with their Rewards Program.

For the most part, Biglaw associate bonuses remain stuck at last year’s levels, reflecting expectations that firm profits will be flat at best. This might seem fair, with everyone feeling the pinch of the “New Normal” and so on. But when we take a small step back and see how these bonus numbers compare as a percentage of partner profits to the bonuses of just a few years ago, these bonuses are arguably pretty measly.

The current $10,000 “market” (i.e., Cravath-following) rate for first-years is just 0.29% of Cravath’s profits per partner (according to the American Lawyer). Back in 2007, first-year bonuses equaled 1.36% of PPP. In other words, the Cravath partnership was nearly five times more generous to its associates back then.

Obviously, Cravath is among the most profitable firms in the world. What are the implications of matching Cravath’s bonus scale for those firms with much lower profit margins? Today’s infographic takes a look at how big a hit to PPP partners willingly take in order to Keep Up With The Cravathians….

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As 2013 draws to a close, let’s look back at the 10 biggest stories in the legal profession over the past year. This is an annual tradition here at Above the Law, which we’ve done in 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009. We’ll fire up the old Google Analytics machine to get data on our most popular posts, based on pageviews, and share the results with you.

Before turning to specific stories, let’s look at the top general discussion topics here at ATL. For 2013, our most trafficked category page was Biglaw, which bumped Law Schools out of the top spot — a spot that Law Schools held from 2010 through 2012. Now that the word is out about the perils of getting a law degree, leading to plummeting applications, perhaps it’s time to move on from the “don’t go to law school” narrative.

After Biglaw and Law Schools, our third most-popular category page was, as usual, Bonuses. This wasn’t a terribly exciting year for bonuses — there were no spring bonuses, and Cravath and its many followers paid out the same bonuses as last year — but people still want to know the score.

Our fourth most-popular category page was small law firms. Small firms, including boutiques, are an area of increasing focus and readership for us — and also where many of the job opportunities are these days.

Moving on from the topic pages, what were the 10 most popular individual posts at Above the Law in 2013?

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The week’s almost over, but we’ve got more bonus news for you. While Sullivan & Cromwell, by matching Cravath, might have dashed your hopes of the bonus market climbing higher, there’s still a chance — probably a one-in-a-million chance — that another very special firm could do it.

In fact, every time an associate says, “I don’t believe in higher bonuses,” there’s a would-be Boies-level bonus someplace that falls down dead.

Were Clifford Chance and Fried Frank daring enough to raise the bonus market? Let’s find out….

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Justice Ginsburg: a full-service wedding provider.

Ed. note: We’ll return to our normal publication schedule on Monday, December 2. We hope to see you at our holiday happy hour on Thursday, December 5 — for details and to RSVP (to this free event with an open bar), click here.

* Even in a post-nuclear world, Republicans can still block certain judicial nominees. [New York Times]

* A prominent Toronto lawyer has gone missing — and so, allegedly, has $3 million in client trust funds. [Toronto Star]

* Dewey see legal fees in the future for Stephen DiCarmine and Joel Sanders? Well, multimillion-dollar lawsuits won’t dismiss themselves. [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.); Law360 (sub. req.)]

* Congratulations to Matthew Layton, the new managing partner of Clifford Chance. [The Lawyer]

* And congratulations to Ralph Pellecchio and Jim Wernz, who were married by none other than Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — who even helped them write their vows. [Talking Points Memo]

Harry Potter: guilty!

* Sure, let’s have the whole “is now a good time to go to law school?” debate again. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Especially if you’re a minority, since white people are losing interest in law school. [Am Law Daily]

* Congress can’t even get its act together about real guns, so perhaps it’s no surprise that limits on fake guns are set to expire soon. [New York Times]

* Harry Potter was convicted of obstruction of justice. Just because you’re a wizard doesn’t mean you’re above the law. [Daily Utah Chronicle]

The ruins of a house on the outskirts of Tacloban, capital of Leyte.

Law firms and the legal profession have a long and distinguished tradition of contributing to the public interest. Earlier today, we highlighted five Biglaw firms that are pro bono all-stars.

Most pro bono cases involve clients and causes here in the United States. But in today’s increasingly global world, law firms look beyond borders when it comes to helping the needy.

Yesterday we commended Skadden for its generous support of Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts in my ancestral homeland of the Philippines. And today we recognize several other law firms that have joined in this worthy cause….

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Would you rather be a great lawyer or be perceived as being a great lawyer?

For many people, I think the answer to that question varies over time: At age 30, you’d rather be a great lawyer. At age 60, you’d rather be perceived as being a great lawyer.

Why?

Because, over time, your reputation may come to track reality. If you’re perceived as great when you’re 30, but you’re actually no good, that truth may out over time. As you age, your reputation may catch up with you.

By the time you’re 60, your professional horizon will have shortened, and it’s less likely that the world will unearth your incompetence. If you’re perceived as being a great lawyer when you’re 60, you may well make it to retirement unscathed.

What of law firms? Would you rather that your firm be great or be perceived as being great?

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Did you say threesome, Dean?

* The Magic Circle isn’t very magical across the pond in New York City. Four out of five firms from the U.K. — Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, and Linklaters — have yet to pull rabbits out of their hats in the Big Apple. [Am Law Daily]

* Dewey know how much this failed firm’s old domain name sold for at auction? At the conclusion of the sale, it ended up going for $210,689, which was just a shade over the initial asking price of $200,000. Someone just got ripped off. [Law360 (sub. req.)]

* The judge on this case against Skadden Arps isn’t sure that document review should count as anything other than practicing law, “even if it’s not the most glamorous.” Ahh, the luxurious life of a contract attorney. [Am Law Daily]

* Professor Raymond Ku has filed an amended complaint against Case Western Law Dean Larry Mitchell, and now the allegations are even juicier, including a possible ménage à trois. [Cleveland Plain Dealer]

* The number of people who took the LSAT in October has dropped for the fourth year in a row, this time by 11 percent. “This is a big deal” for law professors interested in keeping their jobs. [National Law Journal]

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