Depressing stuff

[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.

– Professor John W. Teeter Jr. of St. Mary’s University School of Law, in a law review article entitled Perils and Pontifications: Reflections on the Failures and Joys of a Law Teacher (via TaxProf Blog).

(Read on for more commentary from the brutally honest Professor Teeter….)

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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…

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A great cover — click to enlarge.

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)….

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“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

– William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part 2

Society has hated lawyers since the dawn of time. The law is a profession that often gets little respect, in part because the bad tends to overshadow the good. After all, you’re far more likely to hear about the lawyer who allegedly masturbated on a coworker’s dress or the lawyer who billed a client for sex or the lawyer who drunkenly tossed her panties at the police than the lawyer who zealously represented a client.

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…

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Nothing you can say or do can cause me to retain you.

That’s terribly disheartening for folks who believe that business development should work, but it’s awfully close to being true.

Why is there nothing you can say that will cause me to hire you?

Because long experience (and the rules of arithmetic) have taught me that the average lawyer is average. So about 68 percent of all lawyers are within one standard deviation from the mean, and about 95 percent are within two standard deviations. And that’s roughly the mark that I’m aiming for when I hire outside counsel: Good lawyers. Really good lawyers. Maybe two standard deviations from the mean.

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?

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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?

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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….

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One of the more amusing law firm nicknames belongs to Weil Gotshal & Manges. As we noted a few years ago, some refer to the firm as “We’ll Getcha & Mangle Ya.”

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….

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Why don’t your CSO officers look like this?

The official NALP numbers are out for the class of 2012, and they stink. We’ve known for a while that they were going to stink, but the final numbers stink slightly more than we thought they were going to stink.

While we had been hoping that entry-level hiring would be slightly up for the class of 2012 over the class of 2011, it’s actually slightly down. The overall employment rate for new law school graduates fell to 84.7%. It’s the fifth consecutive year that figure has fallen. The last time the numbers were this low was in the aftermath of the 1990-1991 recession. Things stink.

You don’t have to tell the class of 2012 that their hiring stinks; they’ve been living in it for over a year now. And you don’t have to tell the class of 2013 that their prospects aren’t much better; they’re out of school now, they know. Rising 3Ls in the class of 2014 might be deluding themselves that everything is going to be sunshine and roses for their class, but if they aren’t busy securing jobs this summer, they’ll learn what bitterness and failure taste like soon enough.

In fact, the only people who seem to need to be told that hiring is REALLY, REALLY BAD are American law schools, who continue to make statements and push programs as if getting a job in this market happens in a classroom instead of on a telephone or at a networking event…

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The Big Peach turns sour for one leading law firm.

It seems that “Hotlanta” was less than sizzling for one major law firm. A Biglaw shop has decided to beat a retreat from Atlanta, shuttering its money-losing operation down in the ATL.

What prompted this firm to hop on the midnight train from Georgia? And how many people will be affected by the office closing?

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