Money

Corporate Counsel just released its annual list of the law firms that Fortune 500 companies utilize as outside counsel (as noted in Morning Docket). Not surprisingly, the nation’s biggest corporations turn to some of the biggest names in Biglaw for legal services.

But as we noted last year, the most-mentioned firms aren’t necessarily the most prestigious or the most profitable. The rankings prioritize quantity, and they’re dominated by firms that excel in a particular practice area. See if you can guess which one….

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Bruce Stachenfeld

This is a continuation of the article I published in ATL two weeks ago. My previous article gave my view that the profitability metric of “Profits Per Partner” becomes in effect a master (rather than a servant) and is destructive and a root cause of some serious problems for Biglaw. In this article, I put forth a different way of doing business.

A long time ago, we at Duval & Stachenfeld decided that we would not make partnership decisions in our law firm based on a “numbers game.” Instead, we would look at the quality of the associates, and if they were qualified, we would make them partners irrespective of the effect that had on our firm economics. We have stuck to that view rigorously.

Over time we came to some realizations:

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While it’s true that things have been spiraling downwards for law schools since the Great Recession, it wasn’t until 2011 that things really got out of hand. That was when the very first class action lawsuit about deceptive employment statistics was filed against the Thomas Jefferson School of Law. Little did we know that it would prove to be a harbinger of doom for the school.

About a year ago, we brought our readers the sad news that TJSL had conducted faculty and staff layoffs in an effort to free up funds. Not only had it suffered a blow to its enrollment, but it was also struggling to pay off the $133 million debt it accumulated after opening its new campus building in 2011.

To make matters infinitely worse, in December 2013, Standard and Poor’s released news that it had downgraded the credit ratings of a slew of stand-alone law schools. TJSL was one of the downtrodden schools whose credit standing was downgraded to B+, junk bond status with a negative outlook.

Now, we’ve got news that could have disastrous effects for the law school. It seems that TJSL has defaulted on its bonds, and it may be unable to remain in operation due to its financial predicament…

Please note the UPDATE at the end of this post.

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She doesn’t needed to be educated about rap music.

* “Operas can get pretty gory. I should have put that in my brief.” In the upcoming Supreme Court term, it looks like law clerks will have to educate their justices about the intricacies of rap music’s sometimes violent lyrics. [National Law Journal]

* The pay gap between equity and non-equity Biglaw partners is growing wider and wider. According to recent survey, on average, equity partners are bringing home $633K more than non-equity partners each year. [Am Law Daily]

* Hackers are targeting Biglaw firms to acquire their clients’ important secrets. Unfortunately, no one is brave enough to step up to the plate and say their firm’s been hit — admitting that “could be an extinction-level event.” [Tribune-Review]

* Which Biglaw firms had the most satisfied summer associates this year? There was a big rankings shake-up at the top of the list this time around, and we’ll have more on this later today. [Am Law Daily]

* In the wake of the Ray Rice scandal, Adrian Peterson screwed up many of your fantasy football teams after he was indicted for hurting his child “with criminal negligence.” He’s now out on $15,000 bail. [CNN]

She bet her future on this law school… and lost.

Law schools across the country are falling from grace now that the new normal has taken hold. Students are increasingly less and less interested in going to law school. From joblessness to insurmountable debt, there are just too many risks now associated with the J.D. degree to make it worth their while.

Many law schools are doing everything they can to entice new students to attend, and some of their disaster-avoidance plans — like initiating freezes and cuts to their egregiously high tuition rates — have been quite popular. Other law schools are trying to control costs by offering faculty and staff buyouts or conducting layoffs. Some law schools, however, are trying to pass the buck to their students.

Which top 100 law school is planning back-to-back tuition hikes and asking for state assistance to account for its enrollment woes?

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Welcome to working in South Carolina!

Stop it South Carolina. Okay, not like everyone in South Carolina, but based on the tips we keep on getting it appears to be one of the worst markets for contract attorneys. This is not the first time the Palmetto State has been featured as one of the worst jobs, and I fear it won’t be the last. Once there are a few bad jobs (particularly as “bad” relates to wages) in a regional market it can trigger an avalanche effect and even staffing agencies and vendors that used to consistently offer projects above the market rate start to heed the downward market pressure.

And I know exactly how it happens…

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Professors Tim Wu and Zephyr Teachout

* Sweet billable hours: Congrats to Proskauer Rose on its efforts to keep the Buffalo Bills in Buffalo, New York. It’s the largest deal for the sale of an NFL team in history. [Am Law Daily]

* Your firm brings in billions in verdicts, but that’s not prestigious enough. It needs to be on the inaugural list of America’s Elite Trial Lawyers. See if yours made the cut. [National Law Journal]

* The best way to dodge traps in the LSAT analytical reasoning section is to display your analytical reasoning capabilities by not taking the LSAT in the first place during a time when law schools are in turmoil. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

* Law professors Zephyr Teachout (Fordham) and Tim Wu (Columbia) were defeated in the Democratic primary election for New York governor and lieutenant governor, but they lost well. [New York Daily News]

* The world wants to know if Ray Rice can be prosecuted for domestic violence, even though he’s enrolled in a pre-trial intervention program. Like the answer to all legal questions, it depends. [WSJ Law Blog]

To ask the students to, on top of [paying for law school], do an internship and not get paid for it, I think that’s just ludicrous. The ABA should do better.

– Monalisa Dugué, a student at Valparaiso University Law School, commenting on the fact that the American Bar Association prohibits law students from receiving monetary compensation for academic credit-bearing internships and externships. Dugué, a mother of two, was forced to leave an internship this summer because working for free “became too expensive” — her financial situation eventually became so dire that she “couldn’t even afford to put food in the refrigerator.”

(The ABA had the chance to revise its rule barring pay for academic credit-bearing internships and externships this summer, but law students’ hopes were quickly dashed. Better luck next time, struggling students.)

Most standard law practice management programs counsel against discounts. When given up front, they accustom clients to bargain rates, and if applied at the end of the project, they show a willingness to settle for less than what’s owed, thus setting in motion a tradition of haggling for future cases.  And now, a recent study suggests that there’s a correlation between discounts and collections problems, thus further reinforcing that discounting fees is a bad idea.

But Devil’s Advocate John Toothman, a lawyer who’s built a career on legal fee management, is appalled by advisors who diss discounts. At his blog, Civilian’s Guide to Lawyers, Toothman argues that the reason that many firms wind up giving discounts to begin with is because they never offered clients an estimate of the likely fee to begin with:

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Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time with us.

We’ve been enjoying the occasional trip back in time to look at Biglaw in ages past. In prior Flashback Friday posts, we’ve covered such topics as the most prestigious law firms in 1998 and billable hours in the 1990s.

And, of course, we have covered compensation. We’ve done two posts so far looking at associate comp in the 1990s, in New York and in other cities — Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and Los Angeles.

Today we’ll close out the series with an overview of associate pay in the remaining markets of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco/Palo Alto, and Washington, D.C….

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