Munger Tolles & Olson

Ed. note: Please welcome Above the Law’s new poet-in-residence, Qui Tam.

Qui Tam. Short for a Latin phrase that means, more or less, self-righteously suing alongside the King, and keeping a little on the side for yourself. More commonly known today as a whistleblower action, where a private individual with knowledge of fraud gets sheltered by the feds and a nice cut of the penalties imposed for said fraud. So basically the same idea in Latin and common parlance.

For purposes of this column — which will be a collection of observational “poems,” chronicling experiences the writer may or may not have had during a pretty vanilla T1 law school and corporate legal career — what I am going for is the “whistleblower” allusion (quite self-flattering, not to mention self-righteous). Oh, and the pretentious use of Latin is designed to create a sense of sophistication where one probably doesn’t exist (sorry Bryan Garner, but it is true).

I now present to you my first poem:

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Can you name this man? He’s Obama’s Kenyan uncle. Who are we kidding, better question: Can you point to Kenya on a map?

* Alabama fan allegedly shot despicable front runners who liked the Tide and the Heat for not being distressed enough after Alabama’s loss. When reached for comment, LeBron tightened his Yankee cap and yelled Roll War Eagle Tide. [USA Today]

* A couple of Illinois lawyers got disbarred for beginning inappropriate sexual relationships. One began an affair with a teen he’d prosecuted. It’s good to see people still look up to Dan Fielding. [Legal Profession Blog]

* Obama’s Kenyan Uncle will not be deported. We need him to stay and do a job no American wants to do.. fix Healthcare.gov. [Associated Press]

* Kaplan has agreed to make a number of changes to increase access for disabled students in a settlement arising from the request of a deaf student to get a sign language interpreter. Now figuring out the bar exam will be… slightly easier. [Daily Business Review]

* White males successfully argue that they shouldn’t even have to listen to a black woman talk about race, even if she’s their professor in “communications.” [Raw Story]

* Munger Tolles brings back the former ambassador to Australia as a partner. “That’s not a cognizable claim. This is a cognizable claim.” [Law 360 (sub. req.)]

* David and Elie appeared on CNBC’s Power Lunch today to talk about bonuses that they’re not getting. Video embedded after the jump…

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In an era when “disruption” is celebrated, the world of large law firms is one of the last redoubts of conventional wisdom. For a uniquely rule- and precedent-bound profession, this makes sense. Biglaw’s conventional wisdom has the added virtue of being reliable. For example, we can count on Cravath taking the lead — at least chronologically — on bonuses, and for DLA Piper to have the most random Third developing-world offices.

Another reflection of conventional wisdom is the way in which Biglaw lends itself to — and revels in — superlatives and rankings. There tends to be a generally acknowledged and perennially dominant player (or a few) in most practice areas: Wachtell Lipton for M&A, Weil Gotshal for Chapter 11 work, Patton Boggs for lobbying, and so forth. There’s no doubt that many worthy firms get overlooked.

Last year we took a look at which firms’ practice groups were considered “underrated” by peers in the field. Among the notable 2012 nominees: Cahill for corporate law, Arnold & Porter in litigation, and Proskauer for its bankruptcy and tax practices.

We wondered whether the same practice groups were still considered by practitioners to be unfairly underrated. Or are there other firms deserving more recognition?

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Certain firms are, in my opinion, routinely underrated in the Vault 100 rankings of law firm prestige. One of them is Williams & Connolly, currently #16, which strikes me as a top 10 firm. Another is Munger Tolles & Olson, which is all the way down at #34.

Munger is an amazing firm. Its attorneys work on major matters, including great pro bono cases, and its lawyers boast incredible pedigrees, with more Supreme Court clerks than you can shake a gavel at (wooed by $300,000 signing bonuses). At the same time, MTO gets top scores for diversity. These commitments to diversity and pro bono helped propel Munger to the #1 spot in the American Lawyer’s A-List rankings, which measure overall firm fabulosity (based on revenue per lawyer, pro bono work, attorney diversity, and associate satisfaction).

In light of all this, I’m still wondering why Munger doesn’t fare better in the Vault rankings (for whatever the Vault rankings are worth, and you’re free to argue about that). Perhaps MTO is hurt by its relatively small size and tight geographic focus, with offices in just two cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Or perhaps prestige is tied partly to partner profit, and Munger doesn’t hunger enough for money.

How much do MTO partners earn? Financial disclosures for two younger Munger partners, both nominated to the Ninth Circuit, shed a little light on this question….

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There hasn’t been much major good news on the associate compensation front over the past few years — since, say, January 2007. But recent weeks have brought pockets of minor good news for limited constituencies. Green shoots, anyone?

In Miami, Greenberg Traurig raised starting salaries by 16 percent, from $125,000 to $145,000. In New York, Sullivan & Cromwell and Skadden Arps started offering $300,000 signing bonuses to Supreme Court clerks.

And now $300K bonuses for SCOTUS clerks have spread, to other law firms in other cities. Consider this the new going rate for top-shelf talent….

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We’ve just entered August, so you know what that means: the start of on-campus interviewing season. If you’re a law student researching firms or a lawyer involved in your firm’s recruiting efforts, check out Above the Law’s law firm directory, where law firms get letter grades in different categories. Law firms might look alike on the surface, but there are very real differences between them, as our grading system reflects.

For example, law firms diverge when it comes to diversity. While every firm gives lip service to diversity, some firms have the goods to back up their claims, while others do not.

Let’s check out the latest diversity rankings, from two different news outlets, to see which firms are truly diverse….

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Law school’s epitaph?

* Hiring a Supreme Court clerk might not be worth a $500,000 gamble for some Biglaw firms. Some will take that sweet sign-on bonus and remove their golden handcuffs before a year is out. [Capital Comment / Washingtonian]

* Akin Gump partner and D.C. Circuit nominee Patricia Millett won approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee by a margin of 10-8 along party lines, and now her nomination will head to the full Senate for a vote. [Huffington Post]

* President Obama nominated Michelle Friedland and John Owens, two young Munger Tolles & Olson partners, for seats on the Ninth Circuit. If confirmed, that’ll make three partners from the same firm on the bench. [The Recorder]

* Sorry, law firms, but it’s no longer cool to inflate hourly billing rates for contract attorneys when you pay them substantially less. You can thank Ted Frank for this judicial revelation. [WSJ Law Blog]

* The ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education thinks that just about everything having to do with law schools is “deeply flawed” and needs “serious re-engineering.” How comforting. [ABA Journal]

* Law School Transparency is willing to assist schools with the reporting of their ABA post-graduation job placement statistics, for a price. How much is integrity worth these days? [National Law Journal]

* For $25K, Casey Anthony’s bankruptcy trustee won’t make her sell the worldwide rights to her story — like her theory of the crime she was acquitted of, it “exists solely within [her] mind.” [Sun-Sentinel]

Every year, the American Lawyer trots out its rankings at about the same time — first the highly influential Am Law 100 and Am Law 200, which are then followed up by the A-List. Think of this ranking as the legal professions’s Westminster: everyone is yipping excitedly over the possibility of being named “best in show” at this Biglaw beauty contest.

The A-List differs from the Am Law 100 and 200 rankings in that there’s only one financial metric here (revenue per lawyer). The other factors involved are pro bono work, attorney diversity, and perhaps most importantly, associate satisfaction. In years past, associate satisfaction has represented only 16 percent of a firm’s total A-List score, but taking a nosedive or making significant gains in this area can turn it into a game changer.

So, which 20 firms made the grade this year? Let’s find out…

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As we mentioned in Morning Docket, the American Lawyer recently released its Am Law 200 law firm rankings — a list that’s still closely watched, but not quite as prestigious as being a ranked member of the influential Am Law 100. Sorry, but being a part of the “Second Hundred” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

While the Am Law 100 celebrated a year of “slow growth” in 2012, it looks like the Am Law 200 will be known for its “bets on bulk.” When all of the big boys were busy playing it safe, perhaps out of fear of becoming the next Dewey, firms in the Second Hundred were gobbling up talent like there was no tomorrow.

Of course, as could’ve been expected, this kind of aggressive hiring had some pretty major effects on firms’ financial performance. So how did the Am Law 200 stack up? Let’s find out…

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‘They stole [accreditation] from us. Sneaky little ABA. Wicked, tricksy, false!’ — FAMU Law

Ed. note: Due to the Presidents’ Day holiday, we will be on a reduced publication schedule today. We will be back in full swing tomorrow. We hope you enjoy your day off (or feel free to lament your lack thereof in the comments).

* “[T]hey don’t want to hear nothing.” Vedel Browne, the man accused of robbing Stephen Breyer at machete-point while the justice was vacationing in his home in the Caribbean, now claims that he’s innocent, mon. [St. Kitts-Nevis Observer]

* You know what, the farmer in the Super Bowl commercial probably didn’t have to deal with bullsh*t like Monsanto’s seed patents, but today’s farmers do, and they’ll argue their case before the Supreme Court this week. [New York Times]

* “I’m a betting man. And I would bet and give odds that Sullivan & Cromwell has never said that publicly.” Who dares question S&C’s stance in the hot mess that is Herbalife? None other than Carl Icahn. [Am Law Daily]

* Here’s an important Biglaw math lesson that’s been provided to us via California-based firms like Irell & Manella, Munger Tolles, and Orrick: a little revenue minus a lot of partners equals profitability. [Recorder]

* Amid a flurry of filings on Valentine’s Day, love must’ve been a battlefield for the embattled Dewey & LeBoeuf refugees who were in desperate search of their once promised 2011 bonuses. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* From the department of things that suck: having to defend your office’s alleged “underhanded tactics” in a $150 million wrongful conviction case while you’re trying to get re-elected as district attorney. [New York Times]

* We got bitches in the office lawyerin’ on, and they ain’t leavin’ till six in the mornin’ — unless they want to be fired. An ex-Travers Smith trainee claims she was canned for leaving the firm “early”… at 6:30 a.m. [Telegraph]

* If it weren’t for Cosmo, this woman wouldn’t have known her landlord was an alleged creeper. A Maryland lawyer now faces criminal charges for allegedly filming his female tenants in the nude. [Washington Post]

* “We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious!” The ABA officially put Florida A&M on notice that its law school accreditation may be in jeopardy if they don’t shape up in terms of bar passage. [Orlando Sentinel]

* What do you do the second you step off a cruise ship that’s been described as “a floating toilet, a floating petri dish, a floating hell”? You grab the very first lawyers you see, and sue! [Nation Now / Los Angeles Times]

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