This is Elie Mystal, coming to you live from Austin, Texas, and the 2012 conference of the National Association of Law Placement. It’s my favorite annual conference, because every year, NALP just gets all the law school career services officers and all the law firm recruiters in a room, and tells them all the trends in legal hiring. We’re not talking about anecdotal evidence or law firm spin. It’s the one time each year we get to look at some hard numbers.
And in case you live under a rock, let me tell that every year since the recession, the numbers get more and more terrible. Looking at some of these statistics is as close as you can come to physically witnessing a dream die a horrible, mangled death.
This year, the numbers are worse than ever! And that’s the good news. NALP’s Executive Director, Jim Leipold, thinks that we’ve probably “hit the bottom” in terms of new associate hiring, with the class of 2011 suffering the absolute nadir of this process. While he doesn’t know if things will get significantly better any time soon, he figures they pretty much can’t get any worse.
I’ve written before about some of the challenges a small law firm faces when hiring employees. But more fundamental and difficult questions are why and when should a solo or small law shop expand by adding employees?
Like all businesses, most firms with excess demand for their services have a natural incentive to grow. A company is leaving money on the table if it is forced to turn away work because all of its lawyers are at full capacity with their billable work.
The incentive to grow might be tempered by concerns over preserving a valued culture. A small law firm might resist growth because it fears disrupting a favorable workplace environment. With each new associate hired, however, the reasons for not hiring the next associate get weaker.
The major disincentive to growth is the inability to predict future business. Litigation is especially fickle. A case might go to trial, and generate hundreds of hours of billable work, or suddenly be dismissed or settled. In litigation especially, sometimes the line between swamped and dead is razor thin.
This uncertainty makes hiring additional associates extremely risky — even if the immediate workload warrants it….
The conference was frenetic, to say the least. There was a lot going on, regarding a cornucopia of technological topics and tools to help lawyers. As expected, the biggest hype revolved around predictive coding and computer-assisted review.
The legal technology world has been buzzing about this stuff for a while now, and we have covered it on these pages several times before. (Here and here, for starters). At the conference, attendees got to hear from the naysayers, the enthusiasts, and everyone in between. Several panels helped explain exactly what the technology means on a practical level. And no, cyborgs will not be stealing all the contract attorney jobs any time soon.
One of this week’s highlights was a lunchtime panel featuring two prominent attorneys and a New York magistrate judge. The discussion helped clarify, demystify, and define the terms that have been making headlines (even in the New York Times) for a good part of the past year. Is computer-assisted review as scary as it seems? Of course not.
Let’s see what the panelists — and at least one irate audience member — had to say….
I’ve always wondered what kind of salary contract lawyers make these days. Okay, not really, I kind of already know, because a lot of my friends are contract lawyers. But for those of you who aren’t familiar with the wonderful world of contract lawyering, the Wall Street Journal had an interesting article yesterday, by Vanessa O’Connell, on the trials and tribulations of these lawyers-for-hire.
The Journal editors decided to give the piece a cutesy title by using a play on words: “Lawyers settle… for temp jobs.” Lawyers are supposed to be settling cases, and now they’re settling for temporary jobs. Oh, that’s so very witty.
What the WSJ folks might not have realized is that when you’re an unemployed new lawyer in this kind of economy, or even if you’re an older one, you don’t really have the option of “settling.” It’s depressing, but you kind of just accept the fact that this is the hand that you’ve been dealt.
But maybe there is a bright side to this situation after all. Maybe these contract attorneys are making serious bank in these temporary positions….
From a legal staffing viewpoint, it means that a lot of people who used to be allocated to conduct document review are no longer able to be billed out. People get bored, people get headaches. Computers don’t.
I know lots of guys fantasize about boinking “barely legal” teenage girls. Not me, I like women: fully formed, adult women. There’s just something unseemly about older men salivating over girls who could have been in high school a year ago. Call me crazy, but it’s just more interesting as an adult to be intimate with other adults.
Similarly, I like my lawyers to actually practice law. There’s something unseemly about watching market forces turn law school graduates into glorified paralegals and secretaries. Call me a prude, but there’s just something gross about seeing young, nubile attorneys going around begging for document review positions. These people spent three years of their lives and six figures of their (or someone else’s) money to get law degrees; they should have something to show for their efforts.
But even if I don’t like to look, I can’t deny that this is happening. We are all living in a time that will be studied by future generations: a time when attorney career paths bifurcated, between traditional partnership-track associates and what I’ll call “barely legal” career paths….
Earlier this week, I had the chance to sit down with David Tanenholz, one of the co-founders and partners at Hardinger & Tanenholz LLP (H&T), which is one of the few firms — if not the first — to promote itself solely as “discovery counsel.” And with their experience as Biglaw alumni, the two founders may represent a glimpse into the future of how lawyers can carve out a niche by fusing technology and project management.
So what is it that puts them ahead of the curve? Let’s find out….
We call it Skaddenfreude: taking pleasure in the misfortune of others who work at large law firms. Today’s tale of Skaddenfreude involves a contract attorney working a project in the Chicago office of Kirkland & Ellis.
“Believe me, kiddos, this is bad news for all of us.”
As many websites and blogs (including ATL) mentioned last week,The New York Times published an article by Heather Timmons entitled “Outsourcing to India Draws Western Lawyers.” The quote above was from the blog Shilling Me Softly giving its take on the article. As you can probably discern from The Times headline, the piece was very favorable toward legal outsourcing taking place overseas…
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We currently have a number of active openings for associate roles at US and UK firms in HK / China, Singapore and two new in-house openings. As always, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org in order to get details of current openings in Asia, as well as to discuss the Asia markets in general and what we expect for openings later this year. Our Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney will be in Beijing the week of March 25 and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong the week of April 1, if you would like to meet them in person.
The US associate openings we have in law firms are in the usual areas of M&A, cap markets, FCPA / white collar litigation, finance, and project finance. The most urgent of our top tier (top 15 US or magic circle) law firm openings in Asia (among many other firm openings that we have in Asia) are as follows:
• 2nd to 5th year mandarin fluent M&A associates needed in Beijing and Hong Kong at several firms;
• Korean fluent 2nd to 4th year cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 5th year Japanese fluent M&A associates needed in Tokyo;
• 4th to 6th year mandarin fluent cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 4th year M&A / cap markets mix associate needed in Singapore.
The last time I flapped my wings your way, I tried to make at least enough noise about your mobile phone to make you more than a little bit uncomfortable. I hope I did. If enough of us become anxious enough about the known and unknown unknowns and knowns in our mobile phones, then we can start making wise decisions about how to manage that information and its resultant investigations.
Today, I’d like to put a finer point on the last installment’s topic by asking a question that seemed to catch most attendees off-guard at a conference panel that I moderated last week: is there discoverable personal information in a mobile app? Our panelists’ answer was a uniform “yes” with one stating that, if he had to choose only one type of data that he could discover from a mobile phone, he’d choose app data. Why? Because there’s simply so much of it and because almost all of it is objective – not just user-created like an email – but machine-tracked like GPS, usage duration, log in and log out times, browsed web addresses, browsed actual addresses. Also, most of us seem to have the idea that data doesn’t actually “stick” to our mobile devices the way it “sticks” to our hard drives. Maybe there’s a disconnect based on the fact that our phones are mobile so we assume the data is mobile to?
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