Midsize firms

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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Last week I had dinner with a friend who used to work at a large law firm and now has a non-legal career. I asked her what, if anything, she missed about life in Biglaw.

“Just one thing: the paycheck,” she said. “I miss being able to go crazy in the shoe department of Bloomingdale’s.”

It’s a common sentiment among people who leave jobs at large law firms (in terms of missing the paycheck; not sure about the shoes). Most people who leave large law firms, with the notable exception of finance folks, end up with lower incomes in their new lines of work. But many refugees of Biglaw report higher job satisfaction, as well as overall happiness.

An article in yesterday’s New York Times touched upon the trade-off between money and job satisfaction — and revealed a “magic number” of sorts, namely, the income level at which additional income does not bring you additional happiness….

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The Am Law MidLevel survey, released earlier this week, revealed what many already knew: the people who were able to hang onto their jobs during the recession are really unhappy.

Times are tough for the survivors, and today we have more evidence. An employee in the Dallas office of Sedgwick sent an open letter to the office managing partner, Alan Vickery, and others in management. The letter expresses massive disappointment with what has happened at the firm since the economy went south. It’s a familiar and sad story about those who are “lucky” enough to still have a legal job…

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Though there are signs that things are looking up for the legal market next year, the economy remains troubled. This week the recession claimed 18 at intellectual-property boutique Brinks Hofer.

We spoke with firm president Gary Ropski, who confirmed that seven attorneys, one patent agent, and ten staff were laid off this week. [FN1] Most of these layoffs took place in the firm’s main Chicago office. The firm spoke individually with every person let go, and had a firm-wide conference call yesterday to discuss the layoffs.

“It’s the toughest part of my job,” said Ropski. This was less than 5% of the total workforce of the firm, which has 400 employees nationally.

There’s been much talk in the legal sector about problems for IP boutiques as bigger firms encroach on their turf. Earlier this year, IP firm Darby & Darby dissolved. We asked Ropski whether he was worried about the outlook for IP boutiques in today’s economy….

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Have you fallen off the Biglaw bandwagon and can’t get up? Were you lucky enough to hang onto your Biglaw job and are just now realizing that the blessing was actually a horrible curse on your lifestyle? Well, then maybe you’re in the mood to downsize to a midsized law firm, but you just don’t know where to look.

If so, the National Law Journal has you covered. It’s hard to distinguish one midsized law firm from another, but the NLJ has compiled a list of the twenty “hottest” midsized law firms.

Don’t everybody send your résumés all at once…

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Over the weekend, the New York Times took employers to task for taking advantage of university kids eager to get work experience. Unpaid internships abound, and the recession has made it easier for corporate employers to cry poor, and bring on free labor.

However, there are strict federal guidelines [PDF] around unpaid internships, and many are breaking the law by giving their eager little beavers noneducational menial work. The folks at the Labor Department are on to this devious scheme:

Convinced that many unpaid internships violate minimum wage laws, officials in Oregon, California and other states have begun investigations and fined employers. Last year, M. Patricia Smith, then New York’s labor commissioner, ordered investigations into several firms’ internships. Now, as the federal Labor Department’s top law enforcement official, she and the wage and hour division are stepping up enforcement nationwide.

While most of the abusive internships are in the exciting worlds of fashion, film, media, and music, there was at least one poor NYU student suckered into cleaning out bathrooms for free at a law firm…

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