Depressing stuff

Albert Togut: man with a plan (of reorganization).

Maybe the floundering firm of Patton Boggs can actually right itself. It doesn’t have the Biglaw mark of Cain, namely, a name that lends itself to bad puns — e.g., Dewey and “do we,” Howrey and “how are we,” and Thelen (rhymes with “feelin’”). In hindsight, Patton Boggs did the right thing when it dropped George Blow’s name from the marquee and went from “Patton Boggs & Blow” — a name we would have had a field day with — to simply “Patton Boggs.”

(Yes, Patton Boggs has some pun potential. But there are only so many “bogs down” and swamp-related plays on words to be had. Yes, even for us.)

Luckily, for the time being we can use some “Dewey” puns. Because Patton Boggs, for whatever reason, is using all of Dewey & LeBoeuf’s old advisers….

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For those of you who haven’t tuned out Jarndyce v. Jarndyce Chevron Corp. v. Donziger, the never-ending litigation between oil giant Chevron and plaintiffs’ lawyer Steven Donziger, today brings some news. It shouldn’t come as any surprise to those who have been following the case, but Judge Lewis Kaplan (S.D.N.Y.) just ruled in favor of Chevron, enjoining Donziger and his Ecuadorean-villager clients from trying to enforce here in the United States the multi-billion-dollar pollution judgment they secured against Chevron in Ecuador — a judgment that was the result of fraud, according to Judge Kaplan. (Links to coverage and to the parties’ reactions to the ruling appear at the end of this post.)

The Chevron/Ecuador case is one of those matters that’s most interesting to those who are actually involved in it; to the rest of us, it’s a lot of noise. Speaking for myself, I’m interested in only two aspects of it: (1) its impact on the revenue and profit of Gibson Dunn, which has been litigating the case aggressively on behalf of Chevron, and (2) its meaning for the deeply troubled law firm of Patton Boggs, which made the ill-advised decision to align itself with the Ecuadorean village people.

In a media call this afternoon that I joined, Chevron’s general counsel, R. Hewitt Pate, declined to discuss the size of the company’s legal fees in the litigation. So we’ll have to focus on that second item: the bog that is Patton Boggs. Which right now looks like the Lago Agrio oil field, prior to remediation….

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Smokey Bear, please report to Patton Boggs.

Is Patton Boggs on fire — and not in a good way?

The prominent lobbying and law firm recently announced the closing of its office in Newark, New Jersey. Discussing the move with Politico, managing partner Edward Newberry said, “We’ve lit intentionally a forest fire, we’ve controlled that forest fire. While we’ve lost a few people over the last year, who are good friends and good partners, our firm is much stronger today than it’s been in a long time.”

The firm has lost “a few people” over the last year? How about roughly 100 attorneys, representing 20 percent of lawyer headcount, plus an unknown number of staff? With additional prominent partners said to be eying the emergency exits?

Somebody call 911, law firm fire burnin’ on the dance floor….

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On our recent post about bonuses at Bingham McCutchen, some commenters complained about our coverage of the firm. Here’s what one said: “What this article fails to mention is that NO ONE made their hours, it’s THAT slow. Good job, ATL, for eating whatever it is Bingham pays you to NOT report [on bad goings-on at the firm].”

Actually, we’re perfectly willing to report on negative developments at Bingham (or any other major law firm). Just email us or text us (646-820-8477), and we’ll investigate.

There’s certainly a lot to cover over at Bingham: tumbling profits, partner departures, and unfortunately timed staff layoffs. We’ve collected some reporting from around the web, which we’ve combined with inside information from ATL tipsters at the firm. Let’s have a look, shall we?

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Times are still desperate for recent law graduates looking for work. There’s no guarantee that you are going to get a good job… or any job.

One parent of a Millennial is doing what parents of Millenials often do: stepping in to soften the slings and arrows of their son’s outrageous fortune.

I can’t really fault the parent, but I’d be mortified if I were the son. Of course, the son could have thought more critically about his future before he went to law school in the first place….

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Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Bad Therapist: A Romance, is available on Amazon, as are his previous books, Way Worse Than Being A Dentist and Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy (affiliate links).

Here’s what you never hear anyone say at a Biglaw firm — followed by a discussion of why you never hear anyone say it.

Here we go…

Let’s work on this together. It’ll be more fun.

People write me all the time, complaining I’m too down on Biglaw. Nothing new there, but one guy, recently, expanded on the topic, adding that he works at a firm where everyone, so far as he knows, is happy — enjoying a rewarding career in a supportive, non-exploitative environment.

Perhaps you can see this coming: It turns out this guy owns the firm — and specializes in oral arguments before federal appellate courts. Prior to becoming managing partner, he attended top Ivy League schools.

By way of a reply, I opined: “Your experience might be considered atypical.”

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Although Am Law and ATL covered the story first, the long spread in The New York Times alerted the whole world to the woes of Gregory Owens, a former Dewey partner who’s now a bankrupt non-equity partner at White & Case.

The legal blogosphere naturally lit up over this story, with Scott Greenfield dispensing his usual simple justice and the Volokh Conspirators (and their many commenters) debating Owens’ personal and professional worth.

But my emailbox filled up, too, with assorted reactions from people at all levels in the law. The most interesting rant — and the one I’m sharing with you today — came from a person who looks a lot like Owens; he or she is a non-equity partner at a Vault 50 firm who’s in his or her 50s. This person disagrees violently with the conventional wisdom about non-equity partners. My correspondent sings their praises and insists that both law firms and many law firm consultants terribly misjudge the value that non-equity partners provide to their firms. . . .

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Let’s be honest: despite being the Biglaw version of the Titanic, the collapse of Dewey & LeBoeuf could have been worse. Even though the Dewey dissolution constituted the largest law firm collapse in history, many D&L lawyers and staff were able to find new employment. Even Steve Davis, the disgraced ex-chairman of Dewey, landed a new gig.

But not everyone emerged unscathed. Some attorneys and staffers never got back on their feet professionally. Many Dewey partners scored new positions, but not all of them took all of their people with them to their new firms.

And even some partners are still suffering. In fact, one former Dewey partner, now a partner at another major law firm, recently filed for personal bankruptcy….

(Please note the UPDATES at the end of this post.)

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I find New Year’s to be a fairly depressing time of year. The calendar demands that you reflect on everything in your life over the previous, arbitrary, and finite period. And if you are naturally cynical, depressive, or even just ambitious, that reflection and self-assessment reveals flaws and unrealized potential.

It’s why the whole “New Year’s resolution” phenomenon is a thing. Every New Year’s resolution can be reduced to “I think I suck, tomorrow I’m going to try to not suck.” And, of course, New Year’s resolutions tend to be either petty or wildly unrealistic. If you can look into your soul and decide that the most important “self-improvement” you can make is to lose ten pounds and fit back into your wedding dress, I kind of hate you. But if you find yourself looking in a mirror thinking “okay, January 1, no more cocaine,” as if you can muster the Earth’s orbital transit to aid you in freeing yourself of addiction, then you’re also very annoying.

What I’m trying to say is that I’d bet that the seeds to the most terrible and irrational decisions to go to law school are planted on New Year’s (or your birthday). I have no evidence to back up this opinion, but “I’m going to do something with my life and go to law school” seems like exactly the kind of desperate thought that makes a lot of sense to people when the calendar demands they spend a lot of time gazing at their own navels.

Going to law school should be an intermediate step in a long-term plan, not the first step in a “changing your life” plan you’ve concocted because 2013 sucked and you don’t know what else to do with yourself. If you find yourself considering law school because your life looks like this guy’s, who’s jobless and living in his mom’s basement, STOP. BACK AWAY FROM THE LEDGE, have some Cold Duck tonight, and know that the blues will pass and that there are better ways to spend $150,000….

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Meet Ludo. A graduate of a top-50 law school now living in Chicago, Ludo was no-offered after his stint as a summer associate in Biglaw. Unable to to find employment with this black mark on his record, Ludo was forced to take a job in retail, losing his last shred of dignity in the process. But Ludo’s job selling cologne hasn’t completely taken him off the legal market. As Ludo shares on his blog, his coworkers pepper him with questions about “peoples law” (in other words, the stuff you don’t learn in law school or practice at Biglaw) — like how to beat a traffic ticket, or whether a hospital can turn an uninsured patient away at an emergency room. But instead of offering up answers, Ludo simply shrugs off questions, explaining that “he didn’t learn anything practical in law school.”

Meanwhile, eight hundred miles east of the Chicago department store where Ludo works, meet Lou Cambria. Lou’s a Philadelphia solo who typically represents small-business clients and individuals who need help writing wills. But on weekends, you won’t find Lou in the office….

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