Depressing Things

The federal government isn’t exactly in rapid growth mode right now (which may explain the pain of D.C. law firms). But if you’re interested in working for the government, some opportunities still remain.

Take the Honors Program of the U.S. Department of Justice. As noted on the program’s website, “[t]he Attorney General’s Honors Program is the largest and most prestigious federal entry-level attorney hiring program of its kind.”

If you’re a 3L or law clerk who’s interested in the Honors Program, you need to submit your application materials very soon — about a week from now. The Honors Program application deadline is SEPTEMBER 3, 2013 (and note that the Labor Day holiday falls during this period, which could affect your ability to obtain transcripts or contact references). For complete application information and the full hiring timeline, see the DOJ website.

We wish you good luck — because you’ll definitely need it….

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Contract attorney heaven.

Earlier this week, we took a look at a contract attorney project in D.C. that has been making the contractors sad. I mean more sad than normal.

We received a lot of actually interesting comments (!) in the thread after the story, as well as emails giving us more details about the project. It appears that the staffing firm, Compliance, has taken some steps to ameliorate the poor working conditions for the contract attorneys. It also looks like the working conditions could actually be improved if they dropped a Port-a-Potty in the middle of the conference room.

But it’s not all bad. Sometimes speaking out can lead to improved working conditions. Let’s take another look at how the other half lives, and you know, scare the bejesus out of 2Ls doing OCI right now who are really hoping to get jobs….

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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”….

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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….

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[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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