Money

Some large law firms, when announcing year-end associate bonuses, also announce base salaries for the new year. In Biglaw, the salary scale hasn’t budged since January 2007, when Simpson Thacher announced the $160K scale (providing for base salaries ranging from $160,000 for first-year associates to $280,000 for eighth-year associates).

You could view this as a compensation cut, since we have had some inflation (even if not high inflation) since 2007. According to the inflation calculator of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, $160,000 in 2013, the latest year available, had the same buying power as $142,407 in 2007. Of course, law school tuition has climbed quite a bit since 2007 — so even for the lucky souls who land Biglaw jobs, the value proposition of a law degree isn’t as appealing today as it was back in 2007. You’re paying more for a degree that gets you less.

What’s the solution? Work for a firm that will pay you more than $160,000 as a starting salary, of course! Let’s say hello to the newest member of the $160K-Plus Club….

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As more and more people discover that law school is not the “get rich quick” scheme that they once thought it was, applications continue to plummet. As of late January, law school applications were down 13.7 percent from where they were in 2013. The loss of student revenue is killing the bottom line at some law schools, and members of their administrations don’t like it one bit.

These ivory tower inhabitants seem terrified and are reacting accordingly, having been forced to deal with the dearth of applicants and enrollees in all sorts of ways. Some law schools are doing the right thing and lowering tuition in the hopes of luring students to their once hallowed halls.

Others are hacking and slashing away at their faculty and staff, just like law firms. First came news of the potential purge of junior faculty at Seton Hall (which was fortunately averted). Next came the staff massacre at McGeorge. Then Thomas Jefferson started handing out pink slips, and all hell broke loose.

Which law school is the latest to announce a possible pruning of its ranks? We’ll give you a hint. This law school is located in New York, a state with 15 law schools to choose from, several of which have been sued over their allegedly deceptive employment statistics…

(Please note the multiple UPDATES added to this post.)

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Tenured Faculty Cuts Are Coming To A New York Law School — But Which One? And When?”

Where The Wild Things Are (affiliate link)

Grover Cleveland’s excellent book of career advice for young lawyers has a delightful title: Swimming Lessons For Baby Sharks (affiliate link). It nicely captures the competitive nature of the legal profession today.

But the cutthroat competition isn’t for everyone. One high-powered lawyer, coming up on partnership at a top-tier law firm, decided he didn’t want to swim with grown-up sharks. He’d rather go swim with blue whales — quite literally. He’d rather be where the wild things are — and by “wild things,” we aren’t talking about cute drunken paralegals at a post-closing party.

Let’s look at this lawyer’s departure memo — great opening line, or greatest opening line? — and find out how he made enough money to break out of Biglaw’s golden handcuffs….

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Although Am Law and ATL covered the story first, the long spread in The New York Times alerted the whole world to the woes of Gregory Owens, a former Dewey partner who’s now a bankrupt non-equity partner at White & Case.

The legal blogosphere naturally lit up over this story, with Scott Greenfield dispensing his usual simple justice and the Volokh Conspirators (and their many commenters) debating Owens’ personal and professional worth.

But my emailbox filled up, too, with assorted reactions from people at all levels in the law. The most interesting rant — and the one I’m sharing with you today — came from a person who looks a lot like Owens; he or she is a non-equity partner at a Vault 50 firm who’s in his or her 50s. This person disagrees violently with the conventional wisdom about non-equity partners. My correspondent sings their praises and insists that both law firms and many law firm consultants terribly misjudge the value that non-equity partners provide to their firms. . . .

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Back in 2011, we complained about the complexity of Vinson & Elkins’s compensation system, which involved a deferred compensation arrangement. The next year, the firm fixed it.

Last year, when ATL readers rated Texas law firms, Vinson & Elkins came in #5 out of 6 firms in terms of associate satisfaction with compensation. But maybe the firm has fixed that as well?

Based on the reports we’ve heard so far, associates at V&E are in fact V.E. — “Very Elated” — about their bonuses….

(Please note the very important UPDATE added to the end of this post — and reflected in our tinkering with the title. Some people are less than thrilled….)

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‘So it’s decided – we’ll be Cravath, Swaine, Moore, & Doritos.’

All those professional responsibility lectures, and bar prep, and boring CLEs that I attended after becoming a lawyer, and all the boring CLEs I dutifully watched on the Internet after I escaped the probationary period, consistently preached the evils of non-lawyer ownership of law firms.

It raises ethical concerns! It dilutes what it means to be a lawyer! This is a profession, not a business! All the usual complaints from a profession convinced that it’s made up of beautiful and unique snowflakes with unimpeachable judgment.

But with the rest of the world embracing new structures to permit non-lawyer ownership — and empirical evidence suggesting that those models raise fewer ethical concerns than the alternative — some argue that the U.S. firm model stifles innovation and cripples international competitiveness.

But the better question is, “Don’t non-lawyers own law firms already?” And to the extent the answer is “of course,” shouldn’t the profession be bending over backwards to approve ownership models that better serve the firms and their clients than the status quo?

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Years ago, back when I was in Biglaw, I had an unpleasant interaction with Kasowitz Benson. I will spare you the details — they involved who would pay the costs for photocopying certain documents (in the ancient days before e-discovery) — but the Kasowitz lawyer made a promise that she did not honor. I thought to myself, “Watch out when dealing with Kasowitz Benson.”

That’s probably wise advice — not just for folks litigating with Kasowitz, but also for people applying to work there. Last year, we covered KBTF’s exploding offers during fall recruiting and cold offers to summer associates — practices that are frowned upon, to put it mildly.

And now we have new allegations of shadiness at Kasowitz, this time coming from people already working at the firm as full-time associates. They involve the hot-button subject of associate bonuses….

(Please note the multiple UPDATES at the end of this post.)

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* Attorney General Eric Holder has until tomorrow to decide whether the government will seek the death penalty in the case against Dzhokhar Tsaernaev. Screw his fan clubs, he deserves it. [Associated Press]

* “Those who know me know I don’t like to lose.” Good thing he didn’t. Leo Strine was unanimously confirmed as Chief Justice of Delaware’s Supreme Court. We can’t wait to see what he’ll bring to his new bench. [Reuters]

* “[N]ominal relief does not necessarily a nominal victory make.” Any day that a lawyer can secure a $1 award for his client and a $34,772 award of fees for himself is a very successful day as a lawyer. [New York Law Journal]

* The mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey, was sued, and she’s blaming Chris Christie and his allies for the whole thing. When the governor found out, he had just finished bringing about world peace. [Star-Ledger]

* Kansas Law will offer in-state tuition to people near Kansas City, Missouri. It must be hurting to fill its seats to make such an offer just because the city name has Kansas in it. [Kansas City Business Journal]

* George Zimmerman’s estranged wife, Shellie, is well on her way to getting a default judgment of divorce. She may be down one dog in her life, but she still wants custody of their two pets. [Orlando Sentinel]

345 West 13th Street

Meet Michael Graffagna, who’s one impressive MoFo… partner. The Harvard Law School graduate, admitted to practice in New York, California, and Japan, heads up the project finance practice at Morrison & Foerster.

Graffagna is now resident in the firm’s Tokyo office. So he and his wife, Midori Graffagna, recently sold their Manhattan pied-à-terre. And oh what a pied-à-terre it was — larger than most Manhattanites’ primary residences.

How large are we talking? How much did the Graffagnas get for it? And which celebrity lives upstairs?

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It will likely warm the cockles of many a Biglaw heart to hear that a bunch plaintiffs’ attorneys got smacked around by a federal court for trying to steal funds from Uncle Sam. They may beat your clients — and deservedly so, since your clients were totally poisoning people — but at least they won’t be getting away with their fat paychecks. Bask in that satisfaction as you go back to your less lucrative life.

If you want to know exactly how these lawyers did it (so you know what not to do, of course), then read on.

Or if you just want to point and laugh at the irony of public interest plaintiffs’ attorneys getting tagged for failing to pay their fair share to the public coffers, you can read on for that too….

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