Midsize firms

We tend to think of the biggest Biglaw firms as “sweatshops,” while we view small firms, midsize or regional firms, or even Am Law 200 firms as “lifestyle” shops. The thought is that the big bad firms that service Wall Street clients will grind you up and spit you out, while somewhat smaller firms will allow you to have a normal life as you pursue your career.

It’s a great story, but it’s not necessarily a true one. Sometimes working at a smaller firm or a regional firm just means the same work with more pressure and less pay. Attorneys at such firms, whether partners or associates, don’t always have the kind of resources that Biglaw attorneys enjoy. There aren’t multiple layers of staffing available to double- or triple-check every document. It’s a lot of stress.

And stress can be just as deleterious to your health when working at a regional firm as it is when you work for a truly huge firm. This week, we’ve been fielding a bunch of reports about an associate who passed away at home after working what some tipsters report as maniac hours at his regional law firm the week before.

It’s a sad story, one that some accuse the law firm of trying to cover up, but it’s another opportunity for us to remind readers to take care of themselves even when work seems overwhelming…

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uncle sam

...to take a survey

Later this year, Above the Law will be launching a new, expanded Career Center. The new Career Center will be a resource for students and lawyers at all stages of their careers, and in all areas of legal practice (i.e., not just Biglaw). But we can be sure that news and insight into life at firms and schools will continue to be ATL’s bread and butter. With that in mind, today we open up the ATL School & Firm Insider Survey.

I assume a common reaction will be, “What with — among others — Vault, Chambers, U.S. News, and Am Law, why the hell do we need yet another employer/school survey?” Fair enough. And yes, all of the existing surveys have their merits. All of them produce useful content for students and potential laterals.

We do believe, however, that when it comes to information, the more the merrier. Moreover, the ATL survey is distinctive in some fundamental ways, and we’re going to justify its existence….

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Greg Kelly

On January 26, we mentioned in Non-Sequiturs that Greg Kelly, the son of Ray Kelly, New York City’s police commissioner, had been accused of rape. Today, we have news that the popular television host has been cleared — he won’t even face charges.

When word of the rape accusation first hit the presses, all we knew was that it had allegedly taken place at a “lower Manhattan law firm.” Tipsters and commenters alike began to speculate about where the alleged rape could have happened. Which firm? Who was the accuser? Did they do it in a partner’s office?

Well, now we know the name of the accuser (and what she looks like), and the name of the “downtown law firm” where the alleged rape occurred.

Which downtown law firm could it be? Sullivan & Cromwell? Cleary Gottlieb? Milbank?

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Back in August, the law firms of Faegre & Benson and Baker & Daniels confirmed that they were engaged in merger talks. Today the firms announced that their partnerships have voted in favor of the combination.

The merger will take effect on January 1, 2012, and the new entity will be known as Faegre Baker Daniels. The website will be located at faegrebd.com (which right now is occupied by a GoDaddy.com placeholder page).

What will the new firm look like?

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On a nice, lazy, summer Friday, it’s good to know that rudeness still exists this world.

Today’s example of questionable behavior comes from a midsized Midwestern law firm. Yeah, apparently Midwestern manners don’t extend to how you treat people while you are rejecting them. This firm decided to use its rejection letters as an opportunity to market its new iPhone/iPad application.

It’s an app for people looking for work, of course…

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I’ve only been on one “retreat” of any kind. It was with my church. My parents paid for it because anytime you can pay the Catholic Church to take your kids into the woods and tell them about God’s plan, it’s something you have to do.

Of course, going to a voluntary retreat sponsored by a religious organization is one thing. Going on a mandatory retreat ordered by your employer is quite another. Traditionally, if your employer is going to make you go on one of these things, then the employer is going to cover the hotel and airfare of the employees. That’s just how corporate America works.

Even Heller Ehrman paid lavishly for its last firm retreat. That would be its last firm retreat before dissolution.

I bring this up because associates at one midsize firm seem to be getting the short end of the stick. Their firm is apparently forcing them to attend a two-night retreat, but the firm is only paying for a one-night stay in their hotel rooms….

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Benesch Apportunity

Law firm marketing and technology don’t always go well together. When firms try to go high-tech, the results are often mortifyingly cheesy.

To avoid humiliation, many law firms — often culturally conservative, risk-averse institutions — play it safe. But caution can also result in some of the worst law-firm websites, ones that get compared to “a seventh-grade history project” or “[s]imply a brochure placed online.”

Sometimes, however, a law firm gets tech right. Check out the new iPhone / iPad app developed by the Benesch law firm, the subject of a nice write-up in the Cleveland Plain Dealer (via Morning Docket).

What does the app, called “Benesch Apportunity,” actually do? And might other law firms want to implement similar apps?

Let’s learn more….

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Tomorrow, March 15, the end will finally come for Howrey. Later this month, the law firm of David J. Stern, formerly known as Florida’s foreclosure king, will shut its doors.

This week, we’ve got another sizable law firm announcing its dissolution. Obviously not everybody is catching on to this economic recovery. While some firms are doling out the green, in the form of spring bonuses, other firms are handing out pink slips.

Today’s law firm obituary also comes from South Florida. Yes, we know, shocking that Florida is still suffering the effects of the recession. But there are another 280 people down there who will soon need to find new jobs….

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What’s going on with clerkship bonuses? The last time we really checked was over a year ago. We might do a follow-up; if you have tips — not questions or requests for advice, but hard information about clerkship bonus amounts — please email us (subject line: “Clerkship Bonuses”).

In our last look at the subject, in February 2010, the going rate seemed to be $50,000. You can look back at our prior post for the names of at least 11 firms paying $50K clerkship bonuses. (If any of that info needs to be updated, in either direction, please let us know.)

We can confirm that at least one firm is paying a clerkship bonus in excess of $50,000: BuckleySandler, a young, highly-regarded firm that focuses on banking and financial-services law. We’ve written quite a bit about the firm before; it started with a bang, when Skadden partners Andrew Sandler and Benjamin Klubes left the megafirm to set up their own shop.

Let’s learn a little more about BuckleySandler, and check out the memo announcing the $60K clerkship bonus (along with other compensation-related information)….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of Size Matters, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

It is no secret that I do not like my small firm. But I do know people who have found happiness and professional fulfillment by working at small law firms. And, since Biglaw probably can’t hire all of you, what other choice do you have?

One positive feature of practicing in a small law firm is that is enables an attorney to take a wide variety of unique cases and to specialize in interesting areas of the law. Indeed, one small-firm lawyer is gaining huge notoriety with the Super Bowl XLV ticket class action on behalf of ticket holders who were denied seats at the game. The suit is being brought by Michael J. Avenatti, a Los Angeles based attorney and founding partner of Eagan Avenatti LLP — a firm of less than twenty attorneys, per Martindale-Hubbell. Per USA Today, Avenatti estimates that the class will reach 1000 fans and seeks $5 million in damages. Biglaw would likely scoff at such a case, but perhaps Mr. Avenatti will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Let’s look at a few other examples of niche practices….

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