It’s hard to believe that another year has passed, but here we are. It’s December 31st, New Year’s Eve. The weather is turning cold, the Republican presidential contest is heating up, and it’s time to review this year’s biggest stories on Above the Law.
Consistent with past practice, we will refrain from offering our subjective judgments on the most important stories of the year. Instead, just as we did back in 2010 and 2009, we’ll identify the ten biggest stories of the past year as decided by you, our readers. With the help of our friends at Google Analytics, we’ve compiled a list of our top ten posts for 2011, based on traffic.
In terms of overall topics, the most popular category page for the year was Law Schools, for the second year in a row. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the year was an eventful one for the legal academy. It would be fair to describe 2011 as an annus horribilis for the law school world, with various forces laying siege to the ivory tower. The attackers include not just unemployed lawyers turned scambloggers, but the mainstream media, led by David Segal of the New York Times; plaintiffs’ lawyers, who have already sued several law schools (and have announced plans to sue at least 15 more in 2012); and even a tenured law professor calling for reform (Paul Campos, currently in the lead for 2011 Lawyer of the Year).
The second most-popular category at ATL: Biglaw. Although we’ve expanded our small-firm and in-house coverage dramatically here at Above the Law, adding multiple columnists in each space, our coverage of large law firms still draws major traffic and drives discussions.
Now, on to the ten most popular individual posts on Above the Law in 2011….
In the world of Biglaw, the subject of bonuses is a hot-button issue. People will disagree, often vehemently, on whether the bonuses paid by a particular firm are generous or cheap. To paraphrase an old joke, if you ask two people about bonuses, you’ll get three opinions.
Given these frequent differences of opinion, whenever we publish an Associate Bonus Watch post, we’re eager to get opinions and additional information from you, our readers. As you can see from looking back at our prior bonus coverage, we often update our bonus posts to add new information or another point of view. You can send us reactions to your firm’s bonuses — or news of bonuses we have not yet covered — by email or by text message (646-820-8477 / 646-820-TIPS).
It appears that the answer to that question is, “You’re welcome.”
If you made a list of people whose opinions matter when it comes to Biglaw bonuses, you couldn’t name ten people more important than Susan Webster. She’s the head of the general corporate practice at Cravath Swaine & Moore. If we knew how much she tipped her doorman, it would be big news.
But we can do better than that.
A tipster let us in on an overheard conversation between Webster and a Biglaw partner at a different firm. When we contacted her, Webster told us that the tipster mischaracterized the nature of her accidentally public conversation.
But why don’t you take a look, and prepare yourself for the possibility of a very sad spring….
We called the story “Part 1″ because we knew, at the time, that we’d be bringing you a “Part 2.” Think of Christine Raglan’s UWS penthouse as the appetizer — or maybe even just the amuse-bouche. Now it’s time for the entrée, something far more substantial.
Let’s fly across Central Park and alight in the Carnegie Hill neighborhood of the Upper East Side, where a Cravath partner recently sold his ultra-luxurious residence — for a whopping $4.6 million. Interestingly enough, the buyer is a lawyer as well, in-house counsel at a major media company.
Who are the parties to this transaction? And what does a $4.6 million apartment look like?
The venerable firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore has received a fair amount of criticism for its allegedly subpar bonuses. I’ve previously defended their payouts — in times of economic uncertainty, is paying modest bonuses to avoid later layoffs such a bad idea? — but my view has been poorly received. (For commentary castigating firms for their cheapness, please turn to my colleague, Elie Mystal.)
Partners at Cravath, where profits per partner exceeded $3 million in 2010, are definitely in the top 1 percent. But it seems that even non-partners are doing quite nicely for themselves, despite all the bonus bellyaching.
Check out the million-dollar penthouse — yay real estate porn! — of one of Cravath’s corporate lawyers. And she’s not even a partner….
UPDATE (12/12/11): We’ve gotten our hands on the floorplan, which we’ve added to the slideshow, and we’ve added additional comments about what a “practice area attorney” does at Cravath.
Agreeing on this point is former Kirkland & Ellis partner Steven Harper (whose apparent pro-associate stance may make him a sort of Biglaw apostate). As Harper points out, “equity partner profit trees have resumed their growth to the sky. As the economy struggled, Cravath’s average partner profits increased to $2.7 million in 2009 and to $3.17 million in 2010 … That’s not ‘treading water.’ It’s returning to 2007 profit levels — the height of ‘amazing’ boom years that most observers had declared gone forever. Watch for 2011 profits to be even higher.”
And yet associate bonuses remain stagnant at 2009 levels. Furthermore, as ATL commenter “The Cravath Cut” is so fond of noting, when viewed as a percentage of profits, bonuses appear especially measly, at least from the associate p.o.v. (The current $7,500 market rate for first-years is just 0.23% of Cravath’s profits per partner. Back in 2007, first-year bonuses equalled 1.36%.) Despite these numbers, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone Biglaw’s rank and file will follow Cravath’s lead.
Cravath is among the most profitable firms in the world. We thought it would be interesting to see what the implications of matching Cravath are for those firms with much lower profit margins. Which firms’ partners willingly take the biggest hit by keeping up? Are these firms arguably more “generous”? After the jump, check out those firms that pay the largest percentage of PPP in bonuses.
Since getting engaged, I’ve been wondering whether we should even bother trying to get into the New York Times wedding section. I’m sure that almost every newly engaged couple has similar thoughts, especially the blushing bridezillas in training. After all, the NYT wedding section is the place to announce your upcoming nuptials. Being featured in those hallowed pages is viewed as the ultimate sign of marital prestige.
You literally cannot go wrong with a write-up in the NYT wedding section (unless, of course, you end up with a Sex and the City situation and it looks like you’re a woman with a Hitler-esque mustache). So is there an easy way to get into the esteemed wedding section?
As proven by our very own Legal Eagle Wedding Watch, lawyers seem to have been featured in abundance. But that’s just the first part of the equation, according to a new demographics study….
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