Compensation

Lana Landis: Give her all your money.

* It’s Alito time, bitch! If you were wondering about any of the cases in which the justice recused himself last year, his latest financial disclosure report is quite telling. [Blog of Legal Times]

* Yet another appellate court has ruled that Obama’s recess appointments to the NLRB were unconstitutional. Alright, we get it, just wait for the Supreme Court to rule. [TPM LiveWire]

* Hey baby, nice package: With stock awards soaring, general counsel at some of the world’s largest companies had a great year in 2012 in terms of compensation. [Corporate Counsel]

* NYU professors want Martin Lipton of Wachtell Lipton to swallow a poison pill and step down from the school’s board of trustees over his ties to the University’s unpopular president. [Am Law Daily]

* Now that they’ve stopped acting like the doll they were arguing about in court, MGA has put aside its differences with Orrick to amicably settle a fee dispute in the Bratz case. [National Law Journal]

* Who needs to go on a post-bar vacation when you can take a vacation while you’re studying for the bar? This is apparently a trend right now among recent law school graduates. Lucky! [New York Times]

* A man puts assets into his pin-up wife’s name on advice of counsel, she files for divorce, and the firm allegedly takes her as a client. This obviously happened in Florida. [Daily Business Review (sub. req.)]

* David Schubert, the deputy DA who prosecuted Paris Hilton and Bruno Mars, RIP. [Las Vegas Sun]

Ed. note: The Aspiring Lateral, a new series from Levenfeld Pearlstein, will analyze a variety of issues surrounding lateral moves, drawing on the firm’s experience in the lateral market as well as the individual experiences of LP attorneys. Today’s post is written by Peter Donati, the chair of Levenfeld Pearlstein’s Labor & Employment Group and the head of its Compensation Committee.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that lateral moves are all about money. Popular thinking — which may not be far from the truth — holds that law firms, held in collective thrall by the American Lawyer’s profit-per-partner numbers, focus on lateral hiring as the first step in a virtuous cycle that will increase their PPP metric, in turn attract more profitable laterals, and so on and so on. Laterals themselves, meanwhile, are viewed as economic actors lured away from their firms primarily through the prospect of increased, or guaranteed, compensation.

(Given the prominent role that guaranteed compensation is said to have played in the downfall of Dewey, and the pains Weil Gotshal took to point out its relative lack of compensation guarantees when announcing its recent layoffs, this particular carrot may be falling out of fashion. Even Weil conceded, however, that it has compensation guarantees in place for first-year laterals.)

In light of the focus on dollars in connection with lateral moves, it may surprise the reader to hear the head of a compensation committee say that in many cases, lateral candidates do not talk enough about money. To be more specific, lateral candidates often don’t scratch beneath surface questioning about their prospective new firm’s compensation system. If they did, their answers would inform them more deeply not only about their future paychecks, but the character of the firm they are considering….

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Isn’t it a bit early to be pocketing bonus money?

As law students gear up for fall recruiting season — yes, the Biglaw gravy train still accepts new passengers, even if not as many as before — some rising 2Ls might start to think, after researching firm after firm, “All of these places sound alike! They all have cutting-edge practices in bet-the-company litigation or cross-border M&A. They all have collegial cultures and ‘no screamers.’ They’re all committed to diversity and pro bono.”

But there are real differences between law firms. If you doubt this, just check out Above the Law’s Law Firm Directory. You can see the different letter grades we’ve assigned to firms, based on reports from lawyers who work at each firm and on overall industry reputation.

Further proof that law firms aren’t all the same: while some firms are giving out pink slips, others are issuing bonus checks. And we’re in the middle of July, not exactly peak bonus season. What gives?

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We have partner profits on the brain here at Above the Law. Earlier today, we wrote about a law firm that instituted a 20 percent holdback on partner pay — a move that was met with anger by some.

In that story, we noted the “continued expansion in the gap in power and pay between what we’d call ‘super-partners’ — partners in firm management and major rainmakers, who are often one and the same — and rank-and-file partners.” You can see this yawning chasm in the disparities in partner pay that exist within the same firm. As partner turned pundit Steven Harper has argued, partners aren’t true “partners” when they are paid and treated so differently.

New information from the American Lawyer shows how extreme some of these gaps between partners have gotten….

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One firm just started pocketing 20 percent of partner pay.

Many lessons can be drawn from the collapse of Dewey & LeBoeuf. We’ve learned, for example, that it’s dangerous to have a law firm name that’s highly susceptible to puns. (Dewey know why that is? Howrey going to find out? Heller if I know.)

Another lesson: avoid excessive dependence upon bank financing. When a firm starts to spiral downwards, that spiraling can be accelerated by a bank calling a loan, not renewing a credit facility, or otherwise taking steps to protect itself that, while reasonable for the bank, can be damaging to the firm.

Firms have responded by turning to their partners for more financing. An increasing number of firms are issuing capital calls to partners or requiring high capital contributions.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that one law firm has instituted a new policy of withholding 20 percent of partner pay….

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Yesterday, some summer associates watched kitten videos on YouTube.

It’s the middle of June, the sun is shining, and Biglaw summer associate programs are in full swing. An old joke: Satan offers incredible wealth to a man in exchange for his soul. The man replies, “B-b-b-but, won’t I have to go to Hell?” Satan says, “Oh, don’t believe what you’ve heard, Hell isn’t that bad. Here, take a look.” And it’s all cocktail receptions and long lazy lunches at fancy restaurants. So he sells his soul. Later, when he dies, he goes to Hell, and sure enough, it’s all flames, pitchforks and eternal agony. The man protests to Satan, who replies – “Oh, that was our summer program.”

The joke smells a bit like 2006 or so, when Biglaw summer programs were at their largest and most extravagant, and most firms barely pretended any substantive work was part of the equation. Yet even though summer associate classes have been significantly downsized post-recession and the perks aren’t as lavish, the summer associate experience certainly retains much of that Bizarro world detachment from the actual realities of practice.

Summer programs have traditionally served as bait-and-switch recruitment tools used to woo rising 3Ls with wine tastings, sporting events, theater outings and boat rides. Since the recession, many firms have begun to emphasize “real work” as central to their summer associate programs (e.g., here and here). But these claims need to be taken with an ocean of salt. As the Dothraki say, “it is known” that newbie lawyers just aren’t ready to do any real work.

In any event, let’s take a look at the top-rated Biglaw summer associate programs, according to the ATL Insider Survey.

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It’s been a while since we last spoke of firms that are best suited for female lawyers, and it seems like every few months, a new “best of” list pops up to remind us that women usually get the short end of the stick if they’ve chosen a Biglaw career. You see, little lists like this don’t exist for men, because they don’t need to. No one is curious about which firms have the most men in leadership roles. No one is wondering about which firms have the greatest number of male equity partners. Biglaw lives to serve men, and in most cases, they are the ones claiming all of the power, the prestige, and most importantly, the money, while women are left in the dust.

Sure, we love finding out which firms have been ranked as the most family friendly, and at which firms a woman might be able to land a top management role, but what we really want to know is which firms are capable of offering perks like these along with booming compensation.

Luckily, thanks to the Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF), now we’ll be able to find out. Want to see which Biglaw firms are offering female attorneys the chance to perform on par with their male colleagues in terms of both power and pay? Let’s check out the list…

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Minnesota, or Vaes Dothrak?

When I think of Minnesota, I think of Lake Wobegon — “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

Michele Bachmann is strong. Jesse Ventura is good-looking (if you’re into that whole “manly” thing). And the law students at the University of Minnesota Law School are above average. Their academic qualifications help Minnesota Law claim the #19 spot in the U.S. News law school rankings. (In the Above the Law law school rankings — which focus on outputs, like job placement, rather than inputs — Minnesota also fares well, ranking #25.)

The professors at Minnesota Law are above average too. The Minnesota faculty ranks #19 in terms of scholarly impact.

How do they fare in the professorial pay sweepstakes? Let’s look at the data….

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Biglaw partners may not be having coke-fueled orgies on piles of cash any more, but partners are still doing well compared to mere mortals.

In fact, the biggest rainmakers are doing really really well compared to many of their colleagues. According to Steven Harper, the Northwestern professor and author of The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis (affiliate link), the highest-paid Biglaw partners used to make three times more than their run-of-the-mill colleagues. Today, rainmakers can pull down ten times more.

And this is not good for the legal industry…

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As we mentioned in Morning Docket, the American Lawyer recently released its Am Law 200 law firm rankings — a list that’s still closely watched, but not quite as prestigious as being a ranked member of the influential Am Law 100. Sorry, but being a part of the “Second Hundred” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

While the Am Law 100 celebrated a year of “slow growth” in 2012, it looks like the Am Law 200 will be known for its “bets on bulk.” When all of the big boys were busy playing it safe, perhaps out of fear of becoming the next Dewey, firms in the Second Hundred were gobbling up talent like there was no tomorrow.

Of course, as could’ve been expected, this kind of aggressive hiring had some pretty major effects on firms’ financial performance. So how did the Am Law 200 stack up? Let’s find out…

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