Houston

Working at a major law firm can be great — it’s profitable, it’s prestigious, and for some people, it’s fun. But it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

Some people view working in Biglaw like eating a bucket of cockroaches. Some people would rather be farming.

And still others would rather get paid to drink beer — which brings us to today’s departure memo, from an associate who left a leading law firm to work in a brewery. No, seriously….

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True story: I didn’t leave Schulte to start ReplyAll, I left Schulte to work in the Houston office of BakerHostetler. As the father of three (two and a half at the time) kids living in a cramped apartment, moving to Houston was a no-brainer. The salary was the same, but the cost of living was a fraction of what it was in New York. But, after accepting the offer and traveling to Houston to find a house, I got this sick feeling in my stomach. During nights and weekends of the summer before I left Biglaw, my friend Ari Gold and I had been working on this little idea for a new kind of online conversation. Moving to Houston and starting another legal job would mean giving up on this idea, and I didn’t want to be sitting in a law firm seven years later wondering “what if?”

Calling Sameer Mohan, the partner at Baker who had recruited me, and telling him that I would not be accepting the offer was unquestionably the most difficult decision of my life, and I would by lying if I said I haven’t had my fair share of second thoughts. It’s not just the cash (although you know, the cash wouldn’t hurt). Despite the long hours, Houston firms (particularly Baker) value family and work/life balance in a way that I never saw at firms in New York (not just Schulte), or what I heard from friends who were working in other big markets like San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles. And because David Lat will be speaking in Houston next week, and since we at ReplyAll love to kiss the ass of pander to support and promote our partners, I thought it would be fun to invite Sameer himself for a conversation about the pros and cons of working in the Houston market.

As always, the conversation develops live, so check back over the next few days as the conversation unfolds….

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* Dean Chemerinsky lays out how the Supreme Court is protecting local corruption. It’s what the Framers would have intended. [New York Times]

* In response to the latest article from Professor Michael Krauss, a former student suggests that maybe the so-called “justice gap” is a good thing. It kind of comes down to how much you believe in the efficiency value of the “American Rule.” [That's My Argument]

* The eternal question for female lawyers: do you dye your hair or embrace the gray? [Gray Hair]

* Boston’s drivers suck. [The Faculty Lounge]

* A well-written tribute to a Nashville civil rights lawyer. [Nashville Scene]

* This seems like a place to remind people that David’s going to Houston next month. [Above the Law]

* Here’s a new game to check out. It’s a twisted dirty word game called F**ktionary (affiliate link), so obviously it was made by a lawyer. It’s kind of like Cards Against Humanity meets Scattergories, which is just as fun as it sounds. The promo is after the jump….

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As we’ve been covering in these pages, the Houston legal market is quite hot. So I’ve decided to pay a visit myself.

On the evening of September 15, I’ll be headlining an event in Houston sponsored by the Houston Urban Debate League (HUDL). In case you’re not familiar with it, HUDL is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that’s dedicated to re-introducing academic debate to under-served and at-risk students in Houston-area high schools.

You can purchase tickets via the link below. It’s a fundraiser for HUDL, so proceeds will be going to a worthy cause. I look forward to seeing you there!

UPDATE (9/6/2014, 1:45 p.m.): I’ll be having a conversation with Justice Don Willett of the Texas Supreme Court. He’s brilliant and hilarious; for proof, follow him on Twitter.

A Night with David Lat, founder of Above the Law [Houston Urban Debate League]

Not since its pursuit was enshrined in the Declaration of Independence has “happiness” had a bigger cultural moment than now, and not just because of that “room without a roof” earworm. There is a new and rapidly growing science of happiness, a mash-up of economics and psychology sometimes called “hedonics,” which tells us that money can buy happiness, but only to a point. Meanwhile, in corporate America, we witness the emergence of a new C-suite character, the Chief Happiness Officer, who is responsible for employee contentment. Sort of like an HR director, but smiling and magical.

Recently, the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research released a paper, “Unhappy Cities,” reporting the findings of a major survey asking respondents about their satisfaction with life. The authors, academics from Harvard and the University of British Columbia, found that there are persistent differences in self-reported subjective well-being across U.S. cities and, unsurprisingly, residents of declining cities are less happy than other Americans. (Interestingly, the authors suggest that these unhappy, declining cities were also unhappy during their more prosperous pasts.)

So there are unhappy cities; there are also unhappy (and relatively happier) law schools. When ATL’s own Staci Zaretsky learned that Springfield, Massachusetts — home of her alma mater, the Western New England University School of Law — made the list of unhappiest cities, it came as no surprise: “It’s hard to tell where the local misery ends and that of the law school begins.” Prompted by Staci’s observation, we wondered whether unhappy cities make for unhappy local law students. Or is the law school experience so intense and self-contained that one’s surroundings have little impact? What are law students in the happiest (and unhappiest) cities in the country telling us about their own personal satisfaction?

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The average high temperature for Houston in July is a scorching 94 degrees. It’s one hot legal market.

Figuratively as well as literally. Back in April, for example, we talked about Kirkland & Ellis opening a Houston office — and prying away partners with $5 million pay packages. You don’t need to be a high-powered partner to get in on the fun; even junior to midlevel associates are getting offered signing bonuses when they lateral.

And this hot market is only getting hotter. Who’s the latest major law firm to land in Space City?

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Earlier this week, several prominent LGBT advocacy groups announced that they would no longer support the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination ACT, known as ENDA. If the U.S. House of Representatives passes ENDA, it would create legal safeguards in the workplace for gay, lesbian, and transgendered employees. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund led the move, with the American Civil Liberties Union, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Transgender Law Center later joining NGLTF’s initial statement. The groups fear that the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Hobby Lobby signals a move toward expansive religious exemptions. Consequently, the groups will now focus their efforts on securing rights for the LGBT community like those provided by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

A few months ago, I wrote about ENDA and why conservative Republicans in the House ought to pass the bill. I pointed to a novel D.C. district court ruling allowing a gay man to move forward with his Title VII employment discrimination claim, based on his status as a homosexual male. I described the differences between Title VII’s religious exemptions for employers and the much broader exemptions provided by ENDA. In my earlier piece, I wrote, “Republican Congress members should think twice about refusing to enact legislation that would provide ENDA’s key protection of religious freedom. If they fail to do so, and the push to expand the scope of Title VII in the courts continues, no such protection will exist.”

Instead of prioritizing religious freedom, social conservatives in Congress have held fast to a strident moral opposition to LGBT rights. Instead of pressing for new, democratically enacted statutory rights, many advocates of LGBT equality will increasingly double-down on judicial re-interpretation of Title VII and the Equal Protection Clause. As each side digs in, the other side digs in deeper. Workable compromises seem fewer….

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The Houston legal market is hot — and a lot of the heat is being generated by Kirkland & Ellis. As we reported last month, K&E recently launched a Houston office with talent poached from a rival.

Kirkland hired Andrew Calder away from Simpson Thacher, for a reported $5 million a year for the next three-plus years. We’ve heard that these figures are a bit high — that he’s hitting the $5 million mark in his first year, thanks to a signing bonus, but not guaranteed at that level for the subsequent years — but there’s no denying that he’s being paid very, very well.

And there’s no denying that K&E will pay what it takes to break into the Houston market. Who’s the latest up-and-coming young partner to get invited into the Kirkland club?

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As the old saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. The exceedingly prestigious and profitable Kirkland & Ellis, which has seen some partner defections in the past few months, seems to be taking that lesson to heart.

Kirkland recently launched in the hot legal market of Houston — by poaching a promising young partner from a competitor. Which super-elite firm did K&E just raid for talent?

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Earlier this week, Weil Gotshal reaffirmed its commitment to the Texas legal market. That commitment had been called into question by a spate of partner departures in recent weeks.

It’s worth noting, though, that Weil’s statement focused mainly on Dallas, which is Weil’s largest outpost in Texas. The statement was issued to the Dallas Business Review by Glenn West, Weil’s Dallas managing partner, so the Dallas focus is understandable. But it’s also fair to say that while Weil appears committed to Dallas, its commitment to Houston is weaker.

Indeed, after Houston managing partner John Strasburger recently departed, taking three other partners with him, some of our sources are wondering: Will the Weil office in Houston endure? And if not, who wants to swoop in and fill that gap?

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