General Counsel

The legal profession has changed greatly over the almost seven years since the launch of Above the Law. Do these changes amount to a paradigm shift? Or are they just a temporary blip that will eventually be reversed?

Professor David Wilkins, Director of the Program on the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School, is one of the most astute and well-informed observers of law as both a profession and an industry. In his recent keynote at the NALP annual education conference, Professor Wilkins considered these questions, and also shared his predictions about the future of the legal profession….

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Just outside the window: marble statues of Roman goddesses.

Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful Swedish woman. She came to the United States and studied at an elite college and top law school. After graduation, she went to work at Davis Polk — which is where all the beautiful people work.

While at Davis Polk, this blonde beauty met her Prince Charming — an older, extremely successful M&A partner. They got married at a Caribbean resort, and their wedding made the pages of the New York Times (of course). A few years later, she left the firm to become the general counsel to a global investment bank. Unlike many other power couples, they remain married to this day.

Fairy tales can come true. Let’s learn about a remarkable couple, then ogle their castle in the clouds….

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Last week’s column was not intended for a particular group, other than those who enter the world of Biglaw and then wonder what has become of their work/life balance. Some accused me of whining. If that is how you comprehended my message, it speaks to a lack of either comprehension on your part, or writing talent on my part. I was not complaining, I was preaching — or trying to preach. I receive so many letters from young (inexperienced) attorneys and law students asking me about the mythical work/life balance that I took the opportunity to blow off some steam in an attempt to speak truth. I feel that I may not have been thorough, and want to further elucidate (bloviate).

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* Earlier this week, after some political wrangling, Senator Chuck Grassley proposed the Court Efficiency Act in the hope of paring down the D.C. Circuit. But really, come on, what are the odds of that happening… again? [National Law Journal]

* Biglaw partners, rejoice, for it seems that your legal secretaries will be unable to sue you for defamation over emails written to your wives. Spousal privilege, baby! (N.B. This doesn’t apply to your girlfriends.) [New York Law Journal]

* Which law schools placed the highest percentage of grads in federal clerkships? This info comes from the rankings guru himself. We may have more on this later. [Morse Code / U.S. News & World Report]

* The Rutgers basketball scandal claimed another scalp yesterday after the school’s former general counsel resigned. Rutgers Law dean John Farmer will be stepping in for a brief assist. [Star-Ledger]

* So, do you remember that environmental report Steven Donziger allegedly had made up in the Chevron case? Yeah, the consulting firm just disavowed all of the evidence in the report. Oops! [Businessweek]

* Say so long to your retirement money, sweetie: Junie Hoang, the actress who sued IMDb for revealing the fact that she was over the hill, received a less than favorable jury verdict. [Houston Chronicle]

If you’re a former Supreme Court clerk, the legal world is your oyster. In the words of one observer, “Supreme Court clerkships have become the Willy Wonka golden tickets of the legal profession. So many top-shelf opportunities within the law, such as tenure-track professorships and jobs in the SG’s office, [are] reserved for members of the Elect.”

If you work at a hedge fund, maybe after a stint at Goldman Sachs or a similarly elite investment bank, you’re the Wall Street version of a SCOTUS clerk — at the top of the field, but with way more money. There aren’t many Lawyerly Lairs out there that cost $60 million (the cost of hedge fund magnate Steve Cohen’s new Hamptons house).

What could lure four high-powered lawyers and hedge-fund types, including two former clerks to the all-powerful Justice Anthony Kennedy, to leave their current perches? How about the chance to earn the kind of money that would make a Supreme Court clerkship bonus look like a diner waitress’s tip?

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Unlike the latest Harmony Korine movie, filled with neon bikinis, former Disney princesses. and James Franco in bad dreads, my Spring Break consists of hanging with my kids while my wife works 24/7 on a grant application. We don’t make annual pilgrimages to Turks and Caicos; we make bi-weekly trips to Wegmans. But you know what? I signed on for this, and no amount of island sand can replace the sound of my younger boy reading a bedtime story to his little sister for the first time last night.

I read with interest the compensation package for the anonymous in-houser that Lat posted yesterday. In the comments, I pointed out that the package wasn’t outrageous or impossible, just that it was (way) outside of the norm. And that is okay. I chose this life and I am happy to say that it has been a soft landing for me. I have a good job, in a real estate market that is hard to beat — anywhere.

Lat is correct that Susan, Mark and I need to be circumspect about compensation; it would not do for our employers to see a pay scale pasted on these pages. So what can I say about my comp?

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As regular readers of Above the Law know, we offer a wealth of content for in-house counsel. We have three in-house lawyers at major corporations who write columns for us — Mark Herrmann, Susan Moon, and David Mowry — and we supplement their coverage with additional in-house posts by our other writers.

One subject that our columnists tend to shy away from, for understandable reasons, is that of in-house compensation. They’ve written in general terms about comp issues, but they haven’t, say, divulged hard numbers about how much they earn.

But one of our in-house readers reached out to us and did exactly that. Let’s find out how much this person makes. The claim: in-house lawyers are better paid than you might expect….

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Today, the National Law Journal released its list of the 100 most influential lawyers in America. The NLJ releases a similar list once every few years, and each time, the nation’s top lawyers — some from Biglaw, some from legal academia, some from the in-house world, and some from the trial and appellate bars — celebrate their success in creating real change in the industry. That said, the people named to this list are relatively well-known to the general Above the Law readership, but they won’t exactly be household names to laypeople.

Which legal eagles soared into the NLJ’s list this time around? Well, the NLJ selected their influential lawyers based on their political clout, legal results, media penetration, business credibility, and thought leadership. We’ve whittled the impressive list of 100 down to our own top 10.

So who made our cut?

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Aside from the daily challenges associated with sustaining or exceeding gross revenue year after year, Biglaw partners are probably most worried about their firm’s brand. After all, a brand is something that will keep clients coming back, and usher in new and exciting business opportunities.

But with so many firms to choose from, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly which one is on top when it comes to being the most well-known of the bunch, regardless of what their Am Law or Vault 100 ranks might tell you. What matters most is obviously what the clients think.

Of course, there’s now a ranking to determine which firm has the strongest brand in the business….

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Let me regale you with two recent examples of lawyers disclosing client confidences. There’s a lesson tucked into each.

First: An acquaintance sent me the résumé of, and asked me to speak to, a young lawyer. The idea was to give some general career advice, rather than necessarily to hire the person.

I’m a pushover, so I agreed to have a cup of coffee with the relatively new lawyer. Over coffee, he (or she, but I’ll use the masculine) explained that what he liked least about the job he’d just left (which was identified on his résumé) was being asked to do unethical things. My curiosity piqued, I asked for an example. He explained that he’d been asked to draft a contract that committed his employer to violating the law as part of the contractual relationship. (Think along the lines of, “We will ship the illegal weapons to you in New York.”) My young acquaintance said that he’d gone to the general counsel, who had instructed him to draft whatever contract the business wanted. The earnest young lawyer had solved the ethical problem by drafting a contract that, when read carefully, would prohibit the illegal conduct. (Think: “Under no circumstance will any weapons of any type be shipped pursuant to this contract.”)

I’m afraid I won’t be recommending this person for any jobs. . . .

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