Perks

A couple of weeks ago, as Obamacare was just stumbling out of the gate, we asked our readers to tell us about the state of their own health insurance plans through their firms. Since the Recession, we have heard anecdotal evidence that some firms have been using health care cost clawbacks as a stealth expense-cutting tactic and de facto pay cut. We wondered how widespread a phenomenon this practice had become. Well, perhaps that’s a bit disingenuous. We had a strong feeling that, in this time of layoffs and all the rest of the Biglaw belt-tightening measures, that no category of expenses would be immune. And our survey results resoundingly confirm those suspicions: 89% of you tell us that your health insurance premiums have gone up since you started work at your firm.

A relevant tip showed up in the ATL inbox this week. An attorney at a prominent (V25) law firm sent us a memo outlining new changes to the firm’s health plan. Here’s an excerpt: “The deductible for the CIGNA PPO plan will change from $250 single/$750 family to $500 single/$1,000 family. Also, the PPO prescription copays [will all increase]. These changes bring our PPO plan design in line with market
practice for large law firms
(emphasis added)”…

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With the continuing partial government shutdown and the shaky rollout of Obamacare, the issue of health insurance has never been such a central and divisive topic in the national conversation. Surely there are thousands of unemployed or temping JDs who are entering the brave new world of insurance exchanges and its attendant “hiccups.” In a development that perhaps should alarm the lowest-paid support staffers at law firms, some corporations appear poised to drop “bare bones” health-care benefits altogether for low-wage employees in favor of directing such employees to the new state exchanges.

Of course, for the lawyers at firms, such developments concerning the exchanges are essentially an abstract issue. That is not to say that attorney benefits packages are not subject to “new normal” economic pressures, or that the ultimate effect of the Affordable Care Act on private health insurance packages is unknowable. As noted here way back in 2009, some firms have added health care cost clawbacks to their expense-cutting repertoire of layoffs and pay cuts. Many associates have found themselves, post-Recession, with higher premiums and deductibles and thus, a de facto salary cut. Comparing salaries and bonuses across law firms overlooks the element of health insurance costs, about which there is no equivalent transparency. Undoubtedly there are significant variations across firms in this area, and some firms that appear to pay “market” aren’t quite doing so in light of their requiring a larger fraction of health care premiums. These variations inevitably distort direct comparisons.

We’d like to bring some transparency to this topic — but we need your help….

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Look, it’s a tough economy, you take your good news where you can get it.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report called “The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.” What a great euphemism for the “Workplace Death Files.”

It turns out the most dangerous jobs really are logging and fishing. Transportation accidents also account for the highest rate of fatal at-work accidents. That means that reality shows like Ax Men, Deadliest Catch, and Ice Road Truckers are actually about pussies who don’t do their jobs in a very hard-core way, otherwise there would be at least one on-screen death per season.

Lawyers have the safest jobs, according to this report. So I guess we’re not counting “suicide” as a workplace accident….

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It doesn’t have to be this way.

If someone asks you whether they should go to law school, here is a very safe response: “Sure, provided that you get into a top law school and can go for free.” Even the biggest critics of legal education would admit that, assuming you want to be a lawyer, going for free to an elite law school is not a bad idea. See, e.g., Professor Paul Campos, Don’t Go To Law School (Unless) (affiliate link).

How can this be achieved? It’s not impossible. As we’ve mentioned before, more than 10 percent of law students graduate with zero debt, and another 5 percent or so graduate with less than $20,000 in student loans. Some of these students receive generous scholarships from their schools; others have savings or come from well-to-do families.

But there are other options. For example, does your employer offer tuition reimbursement?

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This strikes me as the kind of situation in which a guy can’t bother to actually be a partner to his wife, so he buys her an expensive bauble and expects her to shut up about it.

A Harvard Law professor is asking whether or not female associates would welcome their law firms covering the price to have their eggs frozen for later use. Egg freezing is expensive, and many insurance plans don’t cover it. So law firms could incentivize female associates to devote themselves fully to their careers during their best child-producing years, without those associates “losing” their ability to have a family later on.

Yeah, as if it’s significantly easier to raise a family when you are a partner…

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In the world of sports, the figure of coach has taken on near-mythological status. Some coaches — such as the late Joe Paterno, before his fall from grace — are treated like gods, due to their legendary leadership and inspiration abilities.

What about in the world of Biglaw? Well, it’s catching on there too. An increasing number of law firms are making career coaches, including on-site coaches, available to their attorneys.

What’s behind this trend? And is it one worth celebrating? We share some survey results, as well as comments from a former associate who worked with a career coach….

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The law firm cafeteria is something of an anachronism. Having a large company mess hall where associates can grab a bite to eat without taking too much time to get lunch isn’t really necessary anymore. Nobody takes a “lunch hour” anymore. Associates can use Seamless and eat at their desks.

And we know partners aren’t eating in the firm cafeteria unless they are 80 years old and too busy to head to Peter Luger’s. No law firm cafeteria is nice enough to bring a client to; that’s why God created expense accounts.

But the cafeteria is still useful for secretaries and paralegals. At my old firm, the cafeteria was a great place to grab breakfast. At Debevoise, the cafeteria enjoys the best views of the block. We used to bring lawyers from Schulte Roth, which is housed on the lower floors at 919 Third Avenue, to show them our view (and to console them while they cried).

The point is, even as the Biglaw cafeteria has diminished relevance given our modern conveniences, you don’t want your firm perk to be disgusting. Last March, we learned that a number of Biglaw firms had received poor grades from the New York City Department of Health about the quality of their in-house cafeterias.

But it appears that Cravath’s food fortunes have significantly improved…

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* When Dewey tell the world that we’re dead, but not yet buried? The firm filed a notice with the New York State Department of Labor listing its closing date as yesterday. And what’s their reason for doing so? “Economic.” [Am Law Daily (sub. req.)]

* Dewey have anyone left in the Office of the Chairman? Apparently not: Charles Landgraf has moved on to greener pastures. There is no longer a captain at the wheel of the S.S. Dewey. [The Hill]

* “The continuing loss of revenue-generating partners and Dewey’s debt load has culminated in the imminent demise of Dewey.” Damn, the PBGC certainly doesn’t mince words. Meet the firm’s latest lawsuit. [Reuters]

* A judge reinstated Le-Nature’s $500M case against K&L Gates for failure to detect fraud. Hope the firm has a half-billion lying around — they haven’t been doing too well with the whole honesty thing lately. [Businessweek]

* You stay classy, DSK! Your aggravated pimp hand is strong! Dominique Strauss-Kahn filed a $1M countersuit against Nafissatou Diallo because she “ruined his life, personally and professionally.” [Wall Street Journal]

* Conspiring to price fix? There’s an app for that! A federal judge denied Apple’s and several book publishers’ motions to dismiss a consumer class-action lawsuit about e-book pricing. [Media Decoder / New York Times]

* Like FernGully in reverse? A judge refused to dismiss Chevron’s racketeering and fraud lawsuit against New York attorney Steven Donziger for his work done in Ecuador. [New York Law Journal]

* Thomas Jefferson Law will be the site of the next solo incubator. This is a great way to keep your grads from suing you (not to mention a great way to increase your employed-at-nine-months rate). [National Law Journal]

Billable-hour requirements are generally like the price of gas: they just keep going up. A law professor might compare it to a one-way ratchet. As law firms try to increase their profitability — by doing more work with less manpower, thanks to recessionary layoffs that haven’t been completely reversed — they ask more and more of their lawyers. Right?

Well, not necessarily. One Biglaw firm recently lowered its hours requirement — and instituted some other perks worth noting.

Might other firms follow suit? Perhaps yours?

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Partnership has its privileges. Partners at major law firms enjoy glittering prestige and eye-popping profits. The retirement benefits are amazing; some partners take home seven-figure checks for years after leaving their firms. All of this filthy lucre allows some partners to snag beautiful mates — sexy Russian spies, ex-girlfriends of Hollywood celebrities, and former models from Brazil.

The real estate isn’t bad either. Many Biglaw partners own million-dollar homes, which we lovingly cover in Lawyerly Lairs. And law firm offices are paragons of elegance and comfort — which they ought to be, considering how much time the partners spend in them. (In New York, I’m particularly fond of Proskauer’s premises and Davis Polk’s digs.)

Partners with sufficient seniority enjoy coveted corner offices. Right?

Not necessarily. That brings us to our latest Biglaw blind item….

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