Latham & Watkins

People are talking about an interesting Slate article entitled “Leaving Big Law Behind: The many frustrations that cause well-paid lawyers to hang out their own shingles.” It’s currently the most-read piece on the site. But it’s actually quite similar, even down to some of the sources, to an article that appeared a few days earlier in Crain’s New York Business:

A lawyer’s hourly billing rate used to be a badge of pride — the higher the number, the more valuable (and supposedly brilliant) the lawyer. But over the past 18 months, a strange phenomenon has been sweeping the legal arena: Partners at major law firms are quitting because they want to be able to charge less for their services.

This is, of course, not a new development. Kash and I wrote about it in a December 2009 cover story for Washingtonian magazine, in which we interviewed a former member of the $1,000-an-hour club who left a large law firm and started his own shop so he could offer clients better value. But all the recent coverage — in Crain’s, Slate, and elsewhere — suggests that the trend is picking up steam.

Which kinds of lawyers are leaving Biglaw to hang up their own shingles? Why are they doing it? And how’s it going for them?

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When we filed our last column, we were full of anticipation over Chelsea Clinton’s then-upcoming wedding. And the New York Times did not let us down with its wall-to-wall coverage of the big day. In case you missed it, you can read the NYT on Chelsea’s dress, Chelsea’s wedding planner, the secrecy, the confidentiality agreements, the feeding frenzy, the frustration of the fashion media, the interfaith angle, the rabbi’s spiritual journey, and the reaction in the town of Rhinebeck. Oh, and there’s a slideshow.

And now, on to this week’s couples (we’re including one standout from mid-July that we’d missed):

1. Emma Mittelstaedt and James Burnham

2. Dace Caldwell and Roman Martinez

3. Anne Stephens and Preston Lloyd

Read all about these couples and their exploits, after the jump.

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This was a year of small summer classes. Fewer summer associates mean a greater likelihood that all will get offers… unless a law student does something egregious. (Good news for rising 2Ls: There are signs that next year’s classes will be larger.)

Latham & Watkins and Gibson Dunn had the biggest summer associate classes this year, with 110 law students each. We’re told that Latham gave offers to all of its summer associates. What about Gibson? Will it match Latham one for one? One commenter claims that 24 in the firm’s NYC office have already gotten offers. What about the rest?

We have heard 100% news from a few other brand-name firms. Some came with champagne, others with firm-wide emails…

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Partners are on the move, and this time it’s major. Latham & Watkins is losing some serious firepower from its banking group, with the windfall going to Milbank. Am Law Daily reports:

Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy made a rare venture into the U.S. lateral market Tuesday, announcing that it had lured five Latham & Watkins finance partners, including the co-head of Latham’s banking practice group….

Milbank chair Mel Immergut said the Latham hires will have “an enormously positive impact” on his firm’s leveraged finance practice, while the chair of Latham’s New York office released a statement wishing the partners well and assuring everyone that Latham retains “a very deep bench of talent” in New York, the NYLJ reports.

When banking partners are making major lateral moves, it’s got to be a good sign for the legal economy.

While Milbank was relatively restrained in its public comments to Am Law, the internal Milbank memo obtained by Above the Law shows that the firm is eager to crow about its new talent…

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Last year, we covered a mistake made in a death penalty case by the white-shoe firm of Sullivan & Cromwell. It was a noteworthy development because of the rarity of the occurrence — S&C doesn’t often make mistakes, at least not ones as elementary as missing a deadline — and because of the stakes involved.

Well, the stakes are getting higher: S&C is now seeking SC review. The firm wants the Supreme Court to step in and essentially forgive the firm’s error in missing the deadline to file an appeal. Adam Liptak tells the tale, in the New York Times:

Sullivan & Cromwell is a law firm with glittering offices in a dozen cities around the world, and some of its partners charge more than $1,000 an hour. The firm’s paying clients, at least, demand impeccable work.

Cory R. Maples, a death row inmate in Alabama, must have been grateful when lawyers from the firm agreed to represent him without charge. But the assistance he got may turn out to be lethal.

Please note: that last sentence originally appeared in the august pages of the Times. Despite its tabloid tone — we can imagine an announcer for Inside Edition intoning darkly, “the assistance he got may turn out to be lethal” — it did not appear first in Above the Law. [FN1]

So how did S&C put a man’s life in jeopardy? Let’s descend into the mailroom at 125 Broad Street….

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Pop the Biglaw Bubbly

We feel like we’re taking magic Biglaw pills today and having hallucinatory flashbacks to 2006. The good news has been rolling in. Just today, we covered raises at Sheppard Mullin, and a 100% offer rate for D.C. summer associates at Latham & Watkins.

And over at Am Law Daily, Zach Lowe predicts good things for 2011. There will be more summer associate spots to go around next year, law school kiddies:

On-campus interviewing starts in two weeks at some schools, and early indications are that hiring at premier law firms will jump–in some cases by a lot–after plummeting this summer, according to sources at law schools and firms.

Cravath, Skadden, and Ropes & Gray, among others, plan to hire more warm bodies next summer than this one. This summer was dismal, after all, in terms of summer associate hiring, as demonstrated by these charts from the National Law Journal and Am Law Daily.

The upside of hiring fewer summer associates, though, is an increase in the likelihood of all of them getting hired. We’ve had more reports of 100% offer rates from a few firms today, along with fun ways of spreading the good news. Eyewitness accounts, after the jump.

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A week ago, we reported that Pepper Hamilton surprised its summer associates with 100% offers at a Friday lunch. Now this is a trend we hope catches on.

And maybe it will. Latham & Watkins surprised its D.C. summers during a rooftop extravaganza, yesterday. A tipster reports:

Last night (Thursday), Latham & Watkins’ D.C. office officially extended offers to 100% of its summer associates during an end-of-summer party on the rooftop of the Donovan House–one of the city’s swankiest spots. The offers came unexpectedly, as summers were under the impression that they would be waiting another week or so, until the conclusion of the programs at Latham’s other national offices, to hear about offers.

Well now, that should lighten the mood.

And Latham D.C. even provided a little extra incentive for summers who accepted their offers on the spot…

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As multiple tipsters have been telling us, Dave Gordon, managing partner of Latham & Watkins’s New York office is putting down the mantle of leadership. But Gordon will be staying at the firm, continuing his private practice.

James Brandt will be taking over at the Lipstick Building. And of course Robert Dell remains in place as the firm-wide managing partner.

Gordon attracted attention after Latham laid off 440 people a year and a half ago. First-year attorneys were caught up in the layoffs as well, especially in New York. And some of the departed associates left with bitter feelings towards the firm, and Gordon specifically.

But Kirk Davenport, a member of Latham’s executive committee, assured us that last year’s layoffs had nothing to do with Gordon’s new move…

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Start her up. People are always telling laid off or unemployed lawyer to “hang out a shingle” and start their own firm. They say this like it is comparatively easy for young lawyers to just go out there and drum up enough business to support themselves. It’s not, but some people are at least trying.

Today, the Washington Post profiles (gavel bang: ABA Journal) a group of lawyers that aren’t just trying to start their own firm, they’re also trying to kill the billable hour while they do it:

When clients call Washington attorney Sue Wang, the clock doesn’t start ticking.

Phone calls aren’t billed in six-minute intervals and each hour of work won’t cost several hundred dollars.

Wang and the four other lawyers in Clarity Law Group aim to reconfigure the billable-hour business model at law firms that she said tends to shut out small and start-up companies with shallow pockets.

Yeah, yeah, nobody likes the billable hour — Clarity Law Group purportedly has a “timeshare” business model. Does this mean that potential clients will get a free meal while the lawyers lock them in a room and try to sell themselves?

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It’s like Titanic, but with fewer survivors.

– Tagline for Lathamed: The Movie

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