Noam Scheiber

Summer is supposed to be relaxing. Biglaw partners are familiar with the concept of summer relaxation, primarily from hearing about other people relaxing. Sample July client exchange: “No rush on that project, we are heading up to the Cape for the weekend, and when we get back we are taking the kids for a week to Basque country for a wine and ham festival. Actually we might hit Marbella on the way back for the weekend. Tell the other side I’ll be available after Labor Day for a deposition. Let my secretary know if there are any emergencies. Thanks. I’ll buy a bottle of Priorat for us to share when we win this case.”

In Biglaw circles, this summer has been anything but relaxing. By now, everyone has an opinion on the New Republic article that announced to the literate masses the upcoming end of Biglaw. Hard-thinking Biglaw lawyers have already forming opinions on the various opinions circulating around the Biglaw water cooler. (We need an industry conference to hash all this out, maybe with some clients to give their input. The electronics companies have CES; we needs a massive industry event of our own.)

Back to the end of Biglaw. The media, consistent with our human tendency to draw generalizations based on examples that are outliers, is very skilled at highlighting human interest stories at the margins of an issue. So in the New Republic article, we were treated to a description of the impact of a Biglaw firm’s glories and travails on rainmakers (who, if London-based, apparently have the pull to get an audience with the royal baby’s nanny at minimum) and displaced associates — people on opposite poles of the Biglaw power spectrum. Interesting stories, and easy to write about.

Ultimately, however, we need to explore the purpose of the grand Biglaw experiment before we can proclaim whether it has succeeded or failed. And for that we have to look at how Biglaw has treated perhaps its most important, if much-maligned, constituency: the service partner….

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Is the slowdown in Biglaw that we’ve seen since the Great Recession a long-term trend or just a temporary blip? Only time will tell, but in the meantime, the debate rages on. (The latest salvo: New Republic editor Noam Scheiber’s response to critics of his controversial article, The Last Days of Big Law.)

Because of its power, prestige, and profitability, Biglaw gets a big proportion of the media coverage that’s aimed at law firms. But let’s not overlook small firms and solo practitioners, who make up about 70 percent of American lawyers in private practice.

One often hears stories about small firms, especially boutiques formed by ex-Biglaw attorneys, that are thriving. The tales are inspiring; the small-firm lawyers talk about how they enjoy their practice more, have greater autonomy, and make the same or even more money than they did back in Biglaw.

But such information is anecdotal. How are small law firms doing compared to bigger firms on a broader level? A new survey has some answers….

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* When it comes to the U.S. Congress — especially the current one, said to be the least productive and least popular in history — and federal lawmaking, “action isn’t the same as accomplishment.” [Boston Globe]

* The Department of Justice won’t seek the death penalty against Edward Snowden, but only because the crime he’s charged with doesn’t carry that kind of punishment as an option. But oh, Eric Holder can wish. [CNN]

* Sorry to burst your bubble, but Biglaw as we know it is on a respirator, so be prepared to recite its last rites. The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber responds to the critics of last week’s hard-hitting piece. [New Republic]

* The grass isn’t greener on the other side right now. Revenue per lawyer rose at Biglaw firms in 2012 (up 8.5 percent), but small firms struggled (with RPL down 8.1 percent). Ouch. [National Law Journal]

* Let me Google that for you: Hot new technology startups have been looking to lawyers who hail from the innovative internet company’s ranks when staffing their own legal departments. [The Recorder]

* If you’re wondering why more financial crimes haven’t been prosecuted since the Wall Street meltdown of 2008, it’s probably because they’re too just difficult for most juries to understand. Comforting. [NPR]

* In a recent interview having to do with all of the problems that law schools are currently facing, from shrinkage to joblessness, Professor Paul Campos sat down to politely say, “Told ya so.” [Denver Post]


Biglaw better call Saul!

It was an interesting week in the law. Our interest was captured by beefcake lawyers seeking work and allegations of defecating attorneys.

But, at the end of the day, the story that lorded over the legal week was Noam Scheiber’s piece in The New Republic about the decline of Biglaw. So let’s talk about why most lawyers drink themselves asleep in dark rooms and how attorneys are a lot like professional athletes.

Oh, and Justice Scalia called people Nazis, and the royal baby proved how awful punditry can be…

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* This afternoon, O.J. Simpson pleaded with the parole board in Nevada. For now, the Juice is still on ice. [USA Today]

* Four South Korean firms allegedly fixed the price of ramen noodles for over a decade. You mean that s**t can be cheaper? [Courthouse News Service]

* Do you want to make sure the NSA can’t read your email? Join the NSA! [Lowering the Bar]

* Eric Holder is going forward with efforts to halt the new Texas voting requirements pursuant to the bail-in procedure. But how will he ever prove a substantial history of constitutional violations in Texas? [The Volokh Conspiracy]

* The Ninth Circuit has affirmed Judge Dolly Gee’s earlier denial of Fox’s request for a preliminary injunction against Dish Network over its special, ad-skipping DVR. It’s a testament to how much power the networks have thrown around that this is treated like an amazing new technology — I bought an ad-skipping DVR from ReplayTV in 2001. [The Verge]

* Chicagoland preacher facing federal fraud charges announces: “Because of Judge Sharon Coleman’s continual mocking of God’s ecclesiastical order and the sanctity of family/marriage, the wrath of God almighty shall soon visit her home.” Federal authorities were not amused. [Chicago Tribune]

* A NJ state judge declares that Atlantic City casinos can control the weight of its waitresses. Because overweight waitresses are the reason no one goes to Atlantic City anymore. [My Fox NY]

* Noam Scheiber of The New Republic interviewed about his article The Last Days of Big Law, as discussed here. Video after the jump… [Bloomberg Law via YouTube]

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To accompany Noam Scheiber’s big article on Biglaw — which I discussed yesterday, and Anonymous Partner analyzed this morning — the New Republic asked six prominent observers of the legal profession (including yours truly) for their ideas on how to fix law school. For all of the blame that Biglaw gets for the profession’s problems, some of the difficulties can be traced back to the legal academy and how it teaches and trains lawyers (or fails to do so).

Let’s check out the various reform proposals. Which ones do you agree with?

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Before David emailed me late Sunday night alerting me to the New Republic article that is the topic of the day (as it should be), these were the lead paragraphs to my column this week:

“I used to run to work a lot. Not for exercise. And not because I was late. Because I was excited to get to the office. I don’t know if I was the only one in my group whose pace would quicken as they got closer to the office. I know mine did. Maybe that enthusiasm contributed to my making partner when many other talented attorneys went (sometimes willingly, most times not) in a different direction. I actually loved being a Biglaw lawyer. There were cases presenting problems to solve, and I was grateful for the opportunity to be a part of trying to accomplish that for high-end clients. More often than not, the days when I would be hustling to get to work would be good days. Purposeful days.”

“To be clear, I was never one of those people who was in the office at 6:30 a.m., pretending that I had gotten so much important work already done by the time everyone else rolled in. (As an aside, these types are usually insufferable or desperate, and thankfully no one is seriously suggesting that the solution to Biglaw’s problems is an earlier average start time.) As I got more senior, my typical start time got later. Mornings were the only time I could reliably spend with my kids, and as busy as things were, I could never be assured that I would not be handling more work after my wife went to bed. So I took advantage of the Biglaw perk that is the exclusive province of Biglaw ‘timekeepers’ (attorneys and paralegals usually) — the ability to show up at an hour that for most corporate employees is when the lunch pangs start kicking in….”

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A great cover — click to enlarge.

Despite the problems and challenges facing large law firms, making partner at a Biglaw firm remains a big deal. As an old friend told me a few years ago, comparing his pre- and post-partnership existences, “My life has been transformed. I feel like I’ve been let into a special club. Overnight, the same people treat me in completely different ways.”

My friend isn’t the only partner who feels like he got kissed by a princess and turned from a frog into a prince. Others recognize the transformative power of making partner as well. In the words of our very own Anonymous Partner, “You now occupy a new professional status, and the nature of making partner is such that no matter how badly you screw up the rest of your life, you have accomplished something very rare. It is a life milestone, on par with getting married or winning the lottery in terms of its immediate alteration of your identity.”

Comparing making partner to winning the lottery is apt: many lottery winners don’t live happily ever after (as brilliantly captured by this Onion article, Powerball Winners Already Divorced, Bankrupt). A fascinating new piece in The New Republic goes behind the scenes at one major law firm and shows that being a Biglaw partner in the twenty-first century isn’t all peaches and cream. In fact, aspects of being a partner sound as appealing as rotten fruit (and this isn’t just sour grapes)….

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