Partner Issues

As 2013 draws to a close, let’s look back at the 10 biggest stories in the legal profession over the past year. This is an annual tradition here at Above the Law, which we’ve done in 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009. We’ll fire up the old Google Analytics machine to get data on our most popular posts, based on pageviews, and share the results with you.

Before turning to specific stories, let’s look at the top general discussion topics here at ATL. For 2013, our most trafficked category page was Biglaw, which bumped Law Schools out of the top spot — a spot that Law Schools held from 2010 through 2012. Now that the word is out about the perils of getting a law degree, leading to plummeting applications, perhaps it’s time to move on from the “don’t go to law school” narrative.

After Biglaw and Law Schools, our third most-popular category page was, as usual, Bonuses. This wasn’t a terribly exciting year for bonuses — there were no spring bonuses, and Cravath and its many followers paid out the same bonuses as last year — but people still want to know the score.

Our fourth most-popular category page was small law firms. Small firms, including boutiques, are an area of increasing focus and readership for us — and also where many of the job opportunities are these days.

Moving on from the topic pages, what were the 10 most popular individual posts at Above the Law in 2013?

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As discussed last week, I agreed to answer some questions from Professor Bill Henderson of Indiana University’s Maurer School of law in exchange for his kind agreement to be interviewed (parts 1 and 2 of that interview available here and here) for this column. This week, I conclude our exchange by answering his final three questions. In so doing, another year of writing for ATL will come to a close, and I wanted to take the opportunity to thank everyone who interacts with this column, whether as reader, commenter, interview subject, or editor. May 2014 be a year of success, health, and growth for us all.

BH: You have chided your fellow lawyers to give back to the next generation of lawyers. I certainly agree. However, between moral exhortation to do the right thing, or changing incentives within law firms, where should we focus our efforts?

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Megyn Kelly

* Watch out, Biglaw, the tax man is coming for you. If this bill goes through, it could put a hurting on partners’ pocketbooks at law firms with more than $10 million in gross receipts. [Blog of Legal Times]

* International firms are just discovering Africa, and are moving quickly to set up shops there. Before opening up your firm, take a quick lesson from DLA Piper: Africa is a continent, not a country. [Am Law Daily]

* Juan Monteverde, one of our Lawyer of the Year nominees, received a very public spanking from Chancellor Leo Strine of the Delaware Court of Chancery over outsized attorneys’ fees in a “dubious” shareholder suit. Ouch, that’s really gotta sting. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* Oh mon dieu, BU Law set up an exchange program between a law school and a foreign management school. Students might not get jobs out of it, but at least they’ll get to go to Paris. [National Law Journal]

* Politico has put together a fun little list of the ten journalists to watch in 2014, and a few lawyers made the cut, including Glenn Greenwald, Ronan Farrow, and Megyn Kelly. Congratulations, everyone! [Politico]

The year is quickly drawing to a close, but we have unfinished business to conduct here at Above the Law. We still have to crown our Lawyer of the Year for 2013.

Thank you to everyone who responded to our call for nominations, in the comments or via email. We’ve narrowed down the nominees to a field of ten. As in past years, the contenders run the gamut from distinguished to despicable.

And the nominees are…

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Earlier this year, partner bonuses at Hogan Lovells generated some controversy across the pond. Certain partners in London questioned the process by which payments were determined and wondered whether partners in management received too much relative to rank-and-file partners. Squabbles over partner pay are something the firm’s incoming CEO, D.C.-based Stephen Immelt, can look forward to addressing when he takes over next summer.

Let’s now turn from partner pay in London to associate pay in New York. The NYC office of Ho-Love recently showed its associates some love, in the form of year-end bonuses. Were they as controversial as the London partner payouts?

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Ed. note: Please welcome our newest columnist, Gaston Kroub of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique here in New York. He’s writing about leaving a Biglaw partnership to start his own firm.

For some reason, while in Biglaw I always seemed to find myself working late in the office on Christmas Eve. Whether it was getting deposition notices out, or making sure that a brief would be ready for filing right after the turn of the year, there were always more billable hours to crank out (even in those years when I had already made it into the next bonus category as an associate, and was not one of those people volunteering for an end-of-year document review in order to make my hours). Particularly as an associate, the end-of-year was usually a peaceful time, as partners left for their year-end vacations, and normally compressed litigation schedules slackened a bit.

In many ways, Christmas Eve was always one of the most peaceful days of the year in Biglaw. For starters, many of the attorneys and a good percentage of the staff were usually out. And those who showed up for work started to trickle out immediately after lunchtime, with a mass exodus around the time of office closing, usually around 3 p.m. I always enjoyed the four or five hours afterwards immensely, where the normal hustle and bustle of the office got replaced by a more serene atmosphere. I was never one to stay in the office unnecessarily, so when I would finish whatever needed to get done, I too would leave. But there was usually at least one project that needed seeing through, and Christmas Eve afforded the luxury of focusing on getting one thing wrapped up without the usual workplace distractions….

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Seasons Greetings! We at Above the Law wish you all the best.

See how easy that was? Sure you can get fancy, like our Holiday Card Contest finalists, but sometimes the simplest solutions are the best.

What you don’t want to do is get yourself in so deep you end up telling cringe-inducing anecdotes that subtly remind your staff that they are all your little Bob Cratchits….

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The elite California law firm of Irell & Manella is a top firm for diversity. It’s a top firm for associate satisfaction. And, on a related note to associate satisfaction, it’s a top firm for bonuses.

Year-end bonuses at Irell & Manella for associates who meet their hours typically beat the New York market by a healthy amount. In recent years, they’ve been as high as twice the Cravath scale.

Alas, that’s not the case this year. But the Irell bonuses are still nothing to scoff at….

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For the past two weeks, readers of this column have benefited from the insights of Professor William (Bill) Henderson of Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law regarding the current state of Biglaw. When Professor Henderson kindly acceded to being interviewed, he made a request that was both unexpected and welcome: he asked that I commit to answering a number of his questions in return.

I agreed and am pleased to present our exchange. I found his questions probing, and I have tried to answer them from a broad perspective, despite the fact that they call for some personal viewpoints that are by their nature unique to my outlook and experiences. I have answered the questions in the order presented, and have not altered them in any way. Now, I get my turn in the interviewee’s chair….

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I like to say we traded in an old Camry for a new Mercedes, and the Mercedes is cheaper.

Paul Thompson, partner-in-charge of McDermott Will & Emery’s office in Washington, D.C., joking about the firm’s new office space. MWE’s D.C. office recently downsized from 189,000 to 165,000 square feet in real estate.

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