Ah, the billable hour. It is the bane of many attorneys’ existence, and almost anyone who has spent time within a law firm has their own story about… ethical lapses surrounding billing. Maybe it’s something seemingly small or benign like always rounding up when tracking working time or billing through bathroom breaks (or Farmville breaks) because, hey, your brain was still thinking about the issue. Or maybe it’s billing the exact number of hours a partner believes a task should take, no matter how quickly you are actually able to charge through it.
The perverse incentives created by billing by the hour (especially when the attorneys involved have billable requirements for either their job security or their expected bonus) for legal work has been well tread, but sometimes a document review attorney has a really clever excuse….
Often times, lawyers get a reputation as Luddites. Refusing to be up to date with the latest technology, it takes only the smallest set back to have attorneys running back to old fashioned ways. So, I am sure many readers, even those of you not currently taking the bar exam, probably had a visceral reaction when you heard about the extensive tech issues surrounding the July 2014 exam. Lat even called it “the most serious bar disaster I’ve ever covered in the eight years since I started Above the Law.”
Unsurprisingly, if you followed the news on Twitter, there was also a fair amount of schadenfreude from more, ahem, established lawyers crowing about how the low-tech experience of their day was obviously superior. Elie even got into the mix.
Ok old people. Let's not all make fun of the "kids" with their "fancy computing machines" all at once. Let's go one at a time. #examsoft
* NO, NO, NO, NOTORIOUS! Previously unpublished documents from the Clinton White House have been released, and it looks like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was criticized for her “laconic” nature. Not cool, Bill. [Legal Times]
* Document review jobs aren’t going anywhere, folks. Exhibit A: Winston & Strawn’s e-discovery practice is bringing in the big bucks, earning the firm more than $20 million in revenue last year. [Capital Business / Washington Post]
* More lawyers are being treated for substance abuse for drugs and alcohol than ever before. In fact, a founding partner of Farella Braun + Martel, one of California’s largest firms, was once a “functioning alcoholic.” [Am Law Daily]
* A Florida jury apparently set on “sending a message” to tobacco companies awarded $23.6 billion in punitive damages to a chain smoker’s widow against RJ Reynolds. That was a costly message. [Reuters]
* June 2014 marked the fewest people who sat for the LSAT in 14 years, but it may get even lower if a new ABA proposal which would allow the test to be waived for 10% of students passes. [Central Florida Future]
We’ve spent a fair amount of time in these pages decrying the low wages that contract attorneys are being offered. And the reasons for this go deeper than just some intrinsic belief that attorneys deserve to make more than minimum wage or the somewhat selfish desire to pay more than the minimum amount due on your student loans (or any of your other financial obligations).
Accepting low-paying jobs, and doing a decent (read: non-malpractice) job, has the effect of driving down the overall market rate. Once one major staffing agency or vendor starts offering below-market rates, others start dipping their toe into the cheaper waters and before you know it, the market standard has changed . . . and not in a way that helps contract attorneys. This reality has even gotten some begging their compatriots not to take below the market rate and even floating the idea of a contract attorney union.
So aside from the obvious, and all too common, scenario where you are trying to stave off financial ruin, is it ever okay to take a job that pays significantly below the market rate?
Like one of probably hundreds of associates of a certain vintage, I spent a fair number of billable hours sifting through thousands of documents (often copies of copies of copies of the same document) relating to the Enron fraud. LJM1 and LJM2, Raptor I, II, III, and IV, etc.
I don’t recall discovering anything that many others hadn’t already noticed, but as I found to be true in other document reviews, there were plenty of personal emails sprinkled amongst the “wheat” that offered some respite from the boredom of the review task. That, plus the fact that essentially limitless low-stress billable hours are great for hitting bonus targets, were for me pretty much the only redeeming features of the document review exercise….
Litigators can fall victim to their own imaginations. It’s really built into the system when they’re encouraged to write their exhaustive wishlists during discovery and fill their own dreams with visions of terabytes of entirely incriminating evidence. When discovery inevitably fails to live up to those dreams, litigators have to make a decision between accepting disappointment or accusing the other side of wrongdoing for failing to fulfill those sugarplum visions. Litigators are basically Captain Hindsight, constantly shocked — SHOCKED — that no one understood years ago how important something would be to a case today.
Kirkland & Ellis chose the latter, writing counsel for a non-party — yes, a non-party — suggesting that he was withholding evidence because he hadn’t kept every single email they thought he might have from four years — yep, four years — earlier.
And then this guy’s lawyer went brutally funny on them….
* This failed firm’s drama is the Biglaw gift that keeps on giving: Dewey & LeBoeuf’s bankruptcy trustee filed an amended complaint against Steve DiCarmine and Joel Sanders seeking the return of more than $21.8 million. [WSJ Law Blog]
* Norton Rose Fulbright elected someone who “love, love, love[s] the law firm” as U.S. managing partner, and she’s the first woman to ever serve as U.S. chair of its management committee. We love, love, love this news! [National Law Journal]
* According to a California judge, tenure laws are unconstitutional and are depriving students of the high quality of education they deserve. The end is nigh, law professors. Enjoy it while it lasts. [New York Times]
* Not all states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, but it’d be a lot cooler if they did. The tide is turning across the United States, and we’ll soon see which states’ drug laws go up in smoke. [Slate]
* “Document review attorneys are in demand now but the demand will gradually decrease.” Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the one job you were able to get soon won’t need or want you. [InsideCounsel]
Sometimes I wonder if I have been giving the document review world a bad reputation, or at least a one-sided one. Sure, I have written about the gloom and desperation of document review, but, in reality e-discovery is more complex than that. Full-time work isn’t the chimera it once seemed, there is a growing market for full-time employment in the document review space, whether it’s working at a law firm as a discovery attorney, working for a vendor as a project manager or doing any one of the multitude of jobs rolled into the title of “staff attorney.”
The opportunities are definitely out there, the question is, should you take the job?
I often feel like the old guy at the end of the bar regaling his whiskey glass with tales of the old days. But the reality is the business of document review is changing fast. The first step was taking the reviews that used to be done by associates for hundreds of dollars an hour and making them the near exclusive purview of contract attorneys. Even then you’d see contract attorneys under the same roof as the associates and there was a sense of hands-on monitoring as the attorneys working on the case would have interactions with the poor plebes reviewing their documents. But those days are waning.
Much like InfiLaw’s takeover of law schools, big business is taking over doc review….
The painting was a reproduction of a photograph taken of Mr. Freeman by photographer Scott Gries in 2009. I know this because I found the original with a simple Google image search, right-clicked on the image, went to Properties and went over to the Details tab and saw that data embedded in the photo:
Also, the description in the YouTube video says so.
If you are like the 95% of people who don’t click on videos you see linked in articles, allow me to summarize for you….
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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For most attorneys, time spent managing the books is a necessary evil at best. Yet it is undeniably a crucial aspect of running a successful practice. With that in mind, we invite you to view or download a free webinar by Above the Law and our friends at Clio to learn how to better manage your finances.
Take this opportunity to learn what it takes to streamline your accounting and get the most out of your time. The webinar agenda:
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