What’s happening to the compensation of top partners at one major firm.
What kind of world are we living in? As we mentioned yesterday, a law school just announced that it’s lowering tuition — a shocking move, given that law schools almost always increase tuition by a few percentage points per year.
And now we get this news: a major law firm is cutting — yes, cutting — pay for top partners. This is a big surprise too, given that the powerful trend in the industry has been in favor of a growing divergence in pay between the highest- and lowest-earning partners. According to one recent study, “the spread in compensation between the highest- and lowest-paid partners in law firms has increased to 6-to-1 or 7-to-1 from the previous count of 4-to-1 or 5-to-1.”
So which firm is making this move, and what’s motivating it?
Going to law school is a smart choice for many people. It’s not a smart choice for all people or probably even the majority of people who end up going, and it’s not a decision to be entered into lightly. But if you want to be a practicing lawyer, based on an informed view of what lawyers actually do, and if you’ve concluded that law school is right for you, after a rigorous process of psychological and financial self-examination, then by all means, matriculate.
(We are not uniformly anti-law-school here at Above the Law. I’ve written many times in defense of going to law school, provided you’ve done your research. See, e.g., here, here, here, and all of these law school success stories. And Elie’s on vacation this week, hahaha….)
The question then becomes where you should go to law school. It’s a timely topic, since now is the time of year when prospective law students or “0Ls” must decide where to put down their deposits. So help a brother out and offer some advice on the following situation….
* The National Labor Relations Board, now with fewer recess appointments! Partners from Arent Fox and Morgan Lewis were nominated to fill seats necessary for the board’s quorum. [National Law Journal]
* Shearman & Sterling seems to be bucking the Biglaw system. The firm is cutting pay for high earners and increasing it for lower-ranking attorneys. We’ll probably have more on this later today. [Reuters]
* Dentons (formerly known as SNR Denton) recently poached a six-partner team led by Stephen Hill from Husch Blackwell to bolster its white collar practice. Welkom too teh furm, guise! [Am Law Daily]
* “It is technically more legal to screw a walrus than to get gay married.” You know you live in a very sad place when not only do article headlines like this exist, but they’re also CORRECT. [Death and Taxes]
* An American Eagle pilot is facing attempted drunk flying charges. Yes, that’s a thing, but come on now, anyone who’s seen the movie Flight knows you can fly a plane while you’re wasted. [Bloomberg]
* Lindsay Lohan blew off a deposition in Los Angeles yesterday. Cut the girl some slack; she had to appear on the Late Show with David Letterman, which was way more important. [Contra Costa Times]
If you follow the world of large law firms, then you are probably familiar with the incisive and candid commentary of Steven J. Harper. Over at his blog, The Belly of the Beast, Harper offers excellent insights into the world of Biglaw.
Harper knows so much about that world because he spent his entire legal career in it. He joined Kirkland & Ellis after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1979. He practiced litigation at the firm for about 30 years, until his retirement in 2008, at the early age of 54 (which you can afford to do when you’re an equity partner at a firm as lucrative as K&E).
In addition to blogging, Harper has written four books. I spoke last week with Harper about his latest book, The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis (affiliate link), and about his views on the worlds of Biglaw and legal education….
If you’re a former Supreme Court clerk, the legal world is your oyster. In the words of one observer, “Supreme Court clerkships have become the Willy Wonka golden tickets of the legal profession. So many top-shelf opportunities within the law, such as tenure-track professorships and jobs in the SG’s office, [are] reserved for members of the Elect.”
If you work at a hedge fund, maybe after a stint at Goldman Sachs or a similarly elite investment bank, you’re the Wall Street version of a SCOTUS clerk — at the top of the field, but with way more money. There aren’t many Lawyerly Lairs out there that cost $60 million (the cost of hedge fund magnate Steve Cohen’s new Hamptons house).
What could lure four high-powered lawyers and hedge-fund types, including two former clerks to the all-powerful Justice Anthony Kennedy, to leave their current perches? How about the chance to earn the kind of money that would make a Supreme Court clerkship bonus look like a diner waitress’s tip?
Now that my wife and I have a baby, people keep telling us that we shouldn’t just find a bigger rental, we should buy something and put down roots. My wife, politely, laughs and says, “We’re thinking about it.” I angrily roll my eyes and say, “Why don’t you think about going and f**king yourself.”
You see, we are both law school graduates who debt-financed our educations and now live in New York. Property ownership is not something that will happen for us… unless we just want to give up and move to an oil-soaked subdivision in Arkansas.
But I am not alone. A law professor has crunched some quick numbers and determined that at least half of the class of 2011 wouldn’t be able to own a home….
Unlike the latest Harmony Korine movie, filled with neon bikinis, former Disney princesses. and James Franco in bad dreads, my Spring Break consists of hanging with my kids while my wife works 24/7 on a grant application. We don’t make annual pilgrimages to Turks and Caicos; we make bi-weekly trips to Wegmans. But you know what? I signed on for this, and no amount of island sand can replace the sound of my younger boy reading a bedtime story to his little sister for the first time last night.
I read with interest the compensation package for the anonymous in-houser that Lat posted yesterday. In the comments, I pointed out that the package wasn’t outrageous or impossible, just that it was (way) outside of the norm. And that is okay. I chose this life and I am happy to say that it has been a soft landing for me. I have a good job, in a real estate market that is hard to beat — anywhere.
Lat is correct that Susan, Mark and I need to be circumspect about compensation; it would not do for our employers to see a pay scale pasted on these pages. So what can I say about my comp?
As regular readers of Above the Law know, we offer a wealth of content for in-house counsel. We have three in-house lawyers at major corporations who write columns for us — Mark Herrmann, Susan Moon, and David Mowry — and we supplement their coverage with additional in-house posts by our other writers.
One subject that our columnists tend to shy away from, for understandable reasons, is that of in-house compensation. They’ve written in generalterms about comp issues, but they haven’t, say, divulged hard numbers about how much they earn.
But one of our in-house readers reached out to us and did exactly that. Let’s find out how much this person makes. The claim: in-house lawyers are better paid than you might expect….
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Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
Deal flow has clearly picked recently up for most US associates, counsels and partners in Hong Kong/China and Singapore. We are on the phone with a lot of these folks on a daily basis, many of whom we have known for years. Further, the head of our Asia team, Evan Jowers, and Kinney’s founder and president, Robert Kinney, frequently meet in person with leading US partners in Asia to assess their needs and keep on top of the inside scoop at as many firms as possible. The need for legal recruiting help in Asia from experienced recruiters appears to be live and well. In March, Evan and Robert were in Beijing at such meetings, in April, Evan was in Hong Kong, and for half of June Evan will be in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Thus its pretty easy for us to tell when there has been an across-the-market pick up in capital markets and corporate work.
On an average day in Asia when Evan and Robert visit firms, they typically have 5 to 9 meetings a day, mostly with US partners in the market. The reason they have these meetings is not simply because Kinney makes a lot of US attorney placements in Asia and that a particular firm may have openings; instead these are just visits with friends. After years of working together as business partners, the folks at Kinney are actually these peoples’ friends. The firms Kinney work closely with in Asia (which is just about every law firm – call us if you want to know the one firm in the world we will never place anyone with again, ever, and why) look forward to the visits, or at least act like they do. After seven years in the market, many of the client partners are former associate candidates. Also, these US partners see Kinney as a very good source of market information as well, because they know how deep their contacts are in the market and how frequently they are speaking to counterparts at peer firms.
In a land that is right here and in a time that is right now, a technology has arisen so powerful that it can replace basic human document review. Is it time to bow down before our new robot overlords?
First, here’s a little story about me: my life in the legal world began as a paralegal. My first case was a GIANT patent infringement case that was already six years old and had involved as many as five companies, multiple US courts, the ITC and an international standards committee. I knew nothing about any of this.
On my first day, my supervisor (a paralegal with at least eight other cases driving her crazy) sat me down in front of a Concordance database with a 100,000+ patents and patent file histories. “Code these,” she said. I learned that “coding”, for the purposes of this exercise, meant manually typing the inventor’s name, the title of the patent, the assignee, the file date, and other objective data for each document. I worked on that project – and only that project – for at least the first six months of my job. After a week or so, time began to blur.
What I know, in retrospect and with absolutely certainty, is that as time began to blur, so did my judgment. So did my attention to detail. If you could tell me that I did not make at least one mistake a day – one inconsistent spelling, one reversed day and month, one incorrectly spaced title – I frankly would need to see your evidence. I would not believe it. The human mind is trainable but it is not a machine.
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