Depressing Things

Yes, today is one of those days: a day with multiple law firm layoff stories to report (not to mention rescinded offers).

This morning we brought you news of 20 support staffers losing their jobs and 10 offers getting rescinded. Now we share with you the story of a firm cutting almost 40 people.

Which firm just joined the nationwide layoff club?

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If you recall, back in the darkest days of the recession, we covered the topic of rescinded offers quite frequently. Now that the legal profession is in a slow recovery, it’s a rare occurrence.

But not today.

We’ve got news of a Biglaw firm that recently decided to axe half of its incoming associate class, just weeks before graduation. Lovely.

Which firm is making its would-be associates scramble for new jobs? Could it be yours?

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Ed. note: Please welcome Shannon Achimalbe to Above the Law. She’ll be writing about her journey from a solo practice to a larger law firm.

Some time ago, I met with a consultant to discuss how I could improve and expand my solo practice. I told him my future goals: to be recognized as an expert in my areas of practice, make lots of money, and have free time for my personal life. He said I could accomplish these goals, but it would depend on how much time and effort I put in. He then told me that I would need to “invest” money in marketing, blogging, networking events, and joining various organizations. I would also need to make plans to upgrade my office and get a staff. Finally, he told me to pick a religion, because I’d be praying often.

But when I looked at the projected costs to accomplish my goals along with the non-guarantee of success, I hesitated. A flurry of questions went through my head: Who do I need to connect with and hire? What niches are marketable and enjoyable? When would I start to see a return on my investment? Where are my potential clients?  How many more networking events do I have to attend? Why am I doing this? Am I going to enjoy doing this? When I found myself asking that last question, I knew it was time to look at other options…

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The Associated Press reports today that the indebtedness of over 37 million American graduates now tops $1 trillion. That’s more than the total American debt load from credit cards. It’s more than the debt load associated with car purchases. And somewhere there is probably some politician touting how college is now “affordable” for every child.

And, as usual, the plight of law students in debt is a great case study in how debt is crippling a generation’s ability to generate wealth…

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Yesterday, we brought our readers some “startling” statistics about law student debt levels. It seems that average indebtedness for law graduates increased by more than $50,000 between 2004 and 2012, with a typical law student saddled by about $140,000 in loans.

In fairness, those statistics probably weren’t all that startling to our readers — many of them are heavily indebted themselves. In fact, we know that many of them are carrying debt loads that surpass even that six-figure number.

Which law school graduates have the most debt of all? U.S. News has a ranking for that…

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Some of the study’s more eye-popping statistics pertained to law school students, whose job prospects are famously declining. The level of indebtedness for this group rose by more than $50,000 from 200[4] to 2012, with the typical law student now owing $140,000, the study found — a jump that’s unprecedented in any other field, including medicine.

Molly Hensley-Clancy of BuzzFeed, discussing a recent report by the New America Foundation about the student debt crisis.

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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