A wise man once said: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
I think of this whenever there are claims of attorneys royally screwing up e-discovery. It’s easy to indulge in some schadenfreude and say, “What suckers!” But truthfully, many firms — even the big, prestigious ones — are more vulnerable than they’d like to admit.
This month, McDermott Will & Emery ended up in the bright, unpleasant spotlight, because a former client sued the firm for malpractice.
Why, you might ask? The firm allegedly botched a client’s e-discovery.
Keep reading to see how the Am Law 100 firm became the e-discovery dunce du jour….
I’ve always wondered what kind of salary contract lawyers make these days. Okay, not really, I kind of already know, because a lot of my friends are contract lawyers. But for those of you who aren’t familiar with the wonderful world of contract lawyering, the Wall Street Journal had an interesting article yesterday, by Vanessa O’Connell, on the trials and tribulations of these lawyers-for-hire.
The Journal editors decided to give the piece a cutesy title by using a play on words: “Lawyers settle… for temp jobs.” Lawyers are supposed to be settling cases, and now they’re settling for temporary jobs. Oh, that’s so very witty.
What the WSJ folks might not have realized is that when you’re an unemployed new lawyer in this kind of economy, or even if you’re an older one, you don’t really have the option of “settling.” It’s depressing, but you kind of just accept the fact that this is the hand that you’ve been dealt.
But maybe there is a bright side to this situation after all. Maybe these contract attorneys are making serious bank in these temporary positions….
My client’s concise estimate of her second year at a big law firm:
For months, the “career” consisted of one-third idleness, one-third word-processing, and one-third pointless research. That morphed over time into “managing” doc review, which morphed into doing doc review, which translated into odious hours staring at odious documents on a computer and clicking “responsive/relevant” or “privileged” or some euphemism for “embarrassing.” According to rumors at her firm, there’s juicy stuff squirreled away in electronic nooks and crannies – most notoriously, emails from execs’ hiring hookers. To date, my client’s experience of “doing doc review” has matched the edge-of-your-seat excitement of watching drywall compound discharge moisture.
“There are days I want to scream, ‘Who are we fooling?!’” she remonstrated. (Granted, there wasn’t much use remonstrating with me, since I’m her therapist. Sometimes you just need to remonstrate – to demonstrate you can remonstrate.) “This isn’t a career – it isn’t even a job. It’s a joke. Every day I think about quitting.”
The normally tepid e-discovery world felt a little extra heat of competition yesterday. Recommind, one of the larger e-discovery vendors, announced Wednesday that it was issued a patent on predictive coding (which Gabe Acevedo, writing in these pages, named the Big Legal Technology Buzzword of 2011).
In a nutshell, predictive coding is a relatively new technology that allows large chunks of document review to be automated, a.k.a. done mostly by computers, with less need for human management.
Some of Recommind’s competitors were not happy about the news. See how they responded (grumpily), and check out what Recommind’s General Counsel had to say about what this means for everyone who uses e-discovery products….
I recently heard a panel of judges speak about e-discovery issues. Their opinions on several subjects varied, but on one subject they agreed unanimously: Clawback provisions under Federal Rule of Evidence 502 are valuable tools in most significant litigation, but they remain rarely used.
This piqued my interest, so I asked several in-house litigators (not necessarily at the place where I work) whether they routinely seek FRE 502 clawback provisions in their cases. The in-house lawyers do not. And I asked whether outside counsel routinely recommend seeking those provisions. Not surprisingly (because the in-house folks aren’t using them), outside counsel do not.
The judges think clawback provisions are a good idea; in most situations, it strikes me that the judges are right. So what are FRE 502 clawback provisions, and why are inside and outside counsel routinely missing this trick?
If you read a lot of e-discovery articles — and I know y’all do — you know that judges are quickly losing any patience for attorneys who don’t have their act together during e-discovery (or even regular old discovery).
I know that nothing about the process is simple or easy. I know e-discovery is expensive and time-consuming and involves complex computer programs that most people don’t understand. But seriously, everyone needs to hurry up and figure this stuff out.
Otherwise you might end up like the attorneys for the city of Washington, D.C., who got benchslapped so hard on Monday that they won’t be able to see straight for a week.
Read on to learn about what Chief Judge Royce Lamberth (D.D.C.) described as a discovery abuse “so extreme as to be literally unheard of”….
Litigators at large law firms spend an inordinate (and depressing) amount of time on discovery disputes. They bombard poor magistrate judges with motions to compel. They bicker over deposition timing and location. They compile massive privilege logs. They file letter briefs with the court, explaining their entitlement to certain documents that opposing counsel is withholding, without justification.
Partners who work on such matters often say to their associates, “Find me a case in which a judge sanctioned a party for failure to comply with discovery obligations — preferably a case in which the non-compliance is exactly what opposing counsel is doing here, and ideally featuring soaring rhetoric about the importance of following discovery rules.” The associate spends several hours on Westlaw or Lexis, then returns empty-handed; there was nothing quite on-point. There was certainly no soaring rhetoric.
This shouldn’t be surprising. Do you think successful lawyers give up the practice of law in order to keep dealing with discovery-related headaches, for a fraction of what they earned in the private sector? Of course not. Federal district judges prefer to write published opinions about Sexy Constitutional Issues, leaving their magistrates to oversee the discovery playpen. In the rare discovery-related cases that do go up on appeal, federal circuit judges affirm as quickly and summarily as possible, so they can get back to the fun stuff. [FN1]
If you’re a Biglaw litigator searching for a published opinion addressing discovery issues, well, today is your lucky day. Check out this great opinion, just handed down — not by a mere magistrate or district judge, but by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit….
In 1995, Betty Dukes took a job at a Wal-Mart near San Francisco, working as a cashier and greeter for $5 an hour. A “greeter” represents the face of the company as consumers walk through the door. Little did Dukes and Wal-Mart know that Dukes would ultimately become a face of Wal-Mart nationally, under much different circumstances.
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Wal-Mart v. Dukes. Dukes is now the lead plantiff in a gender bias suit that may become the largest class action in American history, with attorneys for Dukes seeking to represent a class of possibly 1.6 million women. SCOTUS will be determining if the plaintiff cases against Wal-Mart are sufficiently related for them to be certified as a class.
So what does this have to do with legal technology, which is what I cover for ATL? Everything. And no matter what the court decides, the legal and technological ramifications of this case do not bode well for the retail giant…
* Harvard Law School is always ready for its close-up: first The Paper Chase, then Legally Blonde, and now The Five Hundred. [Deadline.com]
* Are computers better than attorneys at document review? Maybe — but they’re definitely more attractive. [Constitutional Daily]
* Protip for litigators: “Pull Your Pants Up Before Going to Court.” [Gothamist]
* Elsewhere in fashion news, a Seventh Circuit panel (Posner, J.) holds that it’s constitutionally protected to wear a t-shirt that says “Be Happy Not Gay” to your high school. But it’s still really… gay. [WSJ Law Blog]
* Litigation to advance a worthy cause (although it seems odd, in a “cart before the horse” sort of way, to file the press releases before the actual lawsuit). [The Snitch / SF Weekly]
* Congratulations to Professor Brian Fitzpatrick of Vanderbilt Law on receiving the 2011 Paul M. Bator Award (won previously by a long list of blawg celebrities, including M. Todd Henderson, Orin Kerr, Jonathan Adler, Eugene Volokh, and Randy Barnett). [Federalist Society]
A college graduate without student loan debt is akin to reading a kind quote about Kim Kardashian in a tabloid—it’s rare.
In the past eight years, student loan debt has nearly tripled to a whopping $1.1 trillion, and in the past 10 years, the percentage of 25-year-olds with such debt has risen from 25% to 43%
It’s gotten so bad, in fact, that New York Fed economists warned last month that the burden of student debt could stilt consumer spending by twentysomethings, as well as further hamper the recovery of the housing market and economy.
To get a better idea of what massive student loan debt (we’re talking over $100,000 massive) looks like, we talked to an attorney who graduated with a large student loan debt. We also consulted LearnVest Planning Services CFP® Katie Brewer to see just how their repayment plans stack up.
S. Fischer, 36, Attorney Graduated: 2001
How Much I Borrowed: $100,000
What I Still Owe: $45,000
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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 six years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
Deal flow has clearly picked recently up for most US associates, counsels and partners in Hong Kong/China and Singapore. We are on the phone with a lot of these folks on a daily basis, many of whom we have known for years. Further, the head of our Asia team, Evan Jowers, and Kinney’s founder and president, Robert Kinney, frequently meet in person with leading US partners in Asia to assess their needs and keep on top of the inside scoop at as many firms as possible. The need for legal recruiting help in Asia from experienced recruiters appears to be live and well. In March, Evan and Robert were in Beijing at such meetings, in April, Evan was in Hong Kong, and for half of June Evan will be in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Thus its pretty easy for us to tell when there has been an across-the-market pick up in capital markets and corporate work.
On an average day in Asia when Evan and Robert visit firms, they typically have 5 to 9 meetings a day, mostly with US partners in the market. The reason they have these meetings is not simply because Kinney makes a lot of US attorney placements in Asia and that a particular firm may have openings; instead these are just visits with friends. After years of working together as business partners, the folks at Kinney are actually these peoples’ friends. The firms Kinney work closely with in Asia (which is just about every law firm – call us if you want to know the one firm in the world we will never place anyone with again, ever, and why) look forward to the visits, or at least act like they do. After seven years in the market, many of the client partners are former associate candidates. Also, these US partners see Kinney as a very good source of market information as well, because they know how deep their contacts are in the market and how frequently they are speaking to counterparts at peer firms.
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