We don’t do enough reporting about the struggles of contract attorneys. We should do more, because that’s where the jobs are. Biglaw firms have been able to keep traditional associate hiring down thanks to an explosion in the use of contract attorneys. Getting one of these hourly wage jobs actually represents success in a market saturated with underemployed attorneys.
Now I remember why I don’t do a lot of reporting on contract attorneys: acknowledging that these, and not high-paying traditional associate salaried positions, are the jobs coming back in the “recovery” is terribly, terribly sad.
This might come as a shock to you, but being a document monkey on an hourly wage is not all that it’s cracked up to be. These hard-working people generally want to work as much as possible (kind of the opposite of traditional associates) for obvious reasons. But they are often frustrated by all sorts of bureaucracy and poor treatment in their quest to wring some value out of their J.D. degrees.
We have some emails detailing the struggles of one group of contractors working on projects in D.C. Hopefully, this will inspire other contract attorneys to share their experiences with “the new normal”….
When my late grandmother heard I was going to law school, she recommended that I go into matrimonial law. It was her view that in a divorce, the real winner isn’t the husband, or the wife, but their attorneys: “The couple ends up with nothing, the lawyers end up with everything!”
That’s not exactly true. My grandmother — who worked as a doctor and not a lawyer, in a country that doesn’t have divorce — was hardly an expert on family law.
But there’s no denying that some divorces are very expensive for the couples — and very lucrative for the lawyers. One Biglaw partner and his (soon to be former) wife have racked up seven figures in legal bills. And they’re not even done yet….
[W]ith self-biting candor, I must acknowledge an undeniably deeper flaw in my scholarship. My goal was to capture the minds, if not hearts, of real world decision-makers in my field…. This proved, alas, to be the deepest debacle of my life as a professor. My labor law articles sank like whale excrement in the seas of jurisprudence, and the most I’ve ever mustered is a solitary citation by a state court judge.
This weekend, I had the unenviable task of going on Fox News and “defending” Detroit. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be defending: poor city government, white flight, crumbling infrastructure… the best thing anybody can say about Detroit right now is that Miguel Cabrera is still sober. My solution was to sell Detroit to Canada. Our neighbors to the north seem to do a better job of providing civic services in a business-friendly environment without the kind of gridlock and recriminations that dominate every “solution” ever offered to Detroit’s long-standing problems.
Understand, this is a city that can’t even file for bankruptcy without getting dragged into legal quicksand. Former Jones Day partner Kevyn Orr was named Detroit’s emergency financial manager just four months ago. Evidently, it doesn’t take long to look at Detroit’s books and cry uncle, but now a judge is trying to block Orr and the city from restoring financial sense.
Don’t worry, as usual there will be people making money in Detroit. It just won’t be the people who actually live there…
Despite the problems and challenges facing large law firms, making partner at a Biglaw firm remains a big deal. As an old friend told me a few years ago, comparing his pre- and post-partnership existences, “My life has been transformed. I feel like I’ve been let into a special club. Overnight, the same people treat me in completely different ways.”
My friend isn’t the only partner who feels like he got kissed by a princess and turned from a frog into a prince. Others recognize the transformative power of making partner as well. In the words of our very own Anonymous Partner, “You now occupy a new professional status, and the nature of making partner is such that no matter how badly you screw up the rest of your life, you have accomplished something very rare. It is a life milestone, on par with getting married or winning the lottery in terms of its immediate alteration of your identity.”
Comparing making partner to winning the lottery is apt: many lottery winners don’t live happily ever after (as brilliantly captured by this Onion article, Powerball Winners Already Divorced, Bankrupt). A fascinating new piece in The New Republic goes behind the scenes at one major law firm and shows that being a Biglaw partner in the twenty-first century isn’t all peaches and cream. In fact, aspects of being a partner sound as appealing as rotten fruit (and this isn’t just sour grapes)….
As if the Rodney Dangerfields of the professional world weren’t reviled enough, Americans have stepped forward to slap lawyers in the face yet again. Please, take your law degree and wipe your ass with it, because in the court of public opinion, you’ve contributed nothing to society…
This means that if I picked my outside counsel randomly, I’d be disappointed 19 times out of 20. I don’t like those odds, so I don’t pick outside counsel randomly.
And if I picked my outside counsel based on which outside lawyers told me that they personally think they’re great, I’d still be disappointed 19 times out of 20. I still don’t like those odds.
I don’t know if other inside counsel view things the same way I do. But, if they do, it makes business development awfully tricky. If there’s nothing you can say or do to cause me to hire you, what forms of business development might work?
Overcapacity. The Biglaw word du jour. Too many lawyers working in Biglaw to meet demand. Or is it too many lawyers in Biglaw to foist on that subset of clients still willing to pay those rates that guarantee profits-per-partner increases? Either way, the word is out. Biglaw is suffering from overcapacity. Something must be done.
Some firms will undoubtedly send out the message that every single one of their lawyers is in great demand. Debate among yourselves whether or not these firms are “stealth layoff” candidates.
Other firms have already taken action (e.g., Weil Gotshal) — sweeping, public action. Hopefully they did not enjoy what they were “forced” to do too much. The first cut is the hardest, as they say, and who can say that one of these firms won’t decide to wield the layoff katana like a sake-infused samurai?
Some say that San Diego has the best weather in the continental United States. But it seems that the climate there might be less than hospitable for large law firms.
Last year, Baker & McKenzie closed its office in San Diego, finding the metropolis didn’t live up to its nickname of “America’s finest city.” And now we have news of another Biglaw firm shutting down its S.D. outpost.
It’s not on the scale of the massive Weil layoffs, but the closing could cause a significant number of lawyers and staff to lose their jobs. Here are the details….
Alas, the nickname is less funny in the wake of yesterday’s big layoff news. The firm announced it will be cutting 60 associates and 110 staffers from the payroll. Despite the generous six-month severance for associates, some probably feel like their legal careers have been mangled. The firm also plans to reduce the compensation of about 10 percent of its partners (roughly 30 out of 300, some income and some equity partners).
Let’s take a closer look at the layoffs and try to make sense of them….
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Things have changed recently in Korea – a few of our US and UK client firms are looking, very selectively, for a lateral US associate hire. Until just recently, there was not much hiring like this going on in Korea, since US and UK firms started opening offices there. We have already placed two US associates in Korea in the past month at top firms. Most of the hiring partners we work with in Korea do not actively work with other recruiters.
If you are a Korean fluent US associate in London, New York or another major US market, 2nd to 6th year, at a top 20 firm, with cap markets or M&A focus (or mix), or project finance background, and you are interested in lateraling to Korea to a top US or UK firm, please feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Our head of Asia, Evan Jowers, was just in Korea recently, and Evan and Robert Kinney will be in Korea in a few weeks. We are in the process of helping several firms open new offices in Korea (a number of which are interviewing our partner level candidates) and also helping existing offices there fill openings.
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