Munger Tolles & Olson

Philip Seymour Hoffman

* From Big Government to Biglaw: Our congratulations go out to Benjamin Horwich, most recently of the Office of the Solicitor General at the U.S. Department of Justice, as he joins Munger Tolles & Olson as counsel. Nice work. [Munger Tolles & Olson]

* The number of law school applicants took a nose dive for the fourth year in a row, this time by 8 percent, summarily crushing the hopes and dreams of law deans praying for a change of their otherwise most dismal fortunes. [National Law Journal]

* Considering the latest slump in applicants, whether a law school evaluates your average LSAT score or highest LSAT score matters little. Admissions officers will jump for joy that you have a pulse. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

* “You don’t have to convict on every count to have a win.” Azamat Tazhayakov, friend of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was convicted of obstruction and conspiracy to obstruct justice. [Bloomberg]

* Per documents filed by a lawyer appointed to represent Philip Seymour Hoffman’s children, the actor didn’t set aside money for them because he didn’t want them to become “trust fund kids.” [New York Post]

Earlier this month, we launched the ATL Law Firm Reputation Survey, asking those of you working in Biglaw to rate your peers and competitors. (Take five minutes and take our survey here.)

For our purposes, we split “reputation” into two distinct aspects: 1) the reputed strength and quality of a firm’s practice, and 2) the perceived desirability of the firm as a potential employer. For some, these factors will be functionally equivalent. For others, these are less overlapping considerations.

To date, we’ve received not quite a thousand survey responses and today we share some preliminary findings. What are you telling us thus far about which firms have the strongest practices? Which firms are some of the most coveted Biglaw employers in major markets?

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Dr. Dre

* As you may have heard, Apple is buying Beats Electronics for $3 billion. Apple is being represented by Weil, but don’t worry, no one forgot about Dre — he’s got Munger Tolles and Skadden Arps on his side. [Am Law Daily]

* Haynes and Boone will have a new managing partner as of January 1, 2015, and to make sure he fulfills the good old Texas stereotype of things being bigger, he wants to grow the hell out of the firm’s Houston office. [Dallas Business Journal]

* Stephanie Avakian, a WilmerHale partner in the New York office, was tapped by the Securities and Exchange Commission to become its deputy director of enforcement. Yay! [DealBook / New York Times]

* “We can’t turn law schools into graduate school for the study of law,” says a law prof who thinks legal education is straying from being professional education. Aww, write a paper about it. [Harvard Crimson]

* A Los Angeles couple has been accused in the hit-and-run death of Judge Dean Pregerson’s son. The judge isn’t “looking for blood,” but some jail time would probably help. [L.A. Now / Los Angeles Times]

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]

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