Prestige

Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time with us.

In our two most recent Flashback Friday posts, we looked at associate compensation in the 1990s. Today we’ll take a break from that topic and mix it up a bit. (We’ll return to cover associate comp in the remaining batch of legal markets at some point in the future.)

Last week we looked at associate pay in New York in the 1990s. Let’s stay in that city and that decade and examine another subject: NYC’s top law firms, circa 1991.

Some of these firms remain on top today. And some of them are six feet under….

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Ed. note: Please welcome Steve Dykstra, our newest columnist, who will be covering the Canadian legal market.

I am a Canadian-trained lawyer and legal recruiter. I recruit throughout North America so I really get to study the legal systems on both sides of the border. I thought it would be fun and interesting to highlight some of the differences between the American and Canadian systems — hence the column’s title, “The View From Up North”.

As this is my first column, I want to provide a bit of an overview. In coming weeks, I’ll focus more narrowly on specific topics.

Sound good?

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Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time with us.

Earlier this week, the good folks over at Vault released their annual list of the nation’s 100 most prestigious law firms. As we noted in our analysis of the list, the top 15 for this year don’t look very different from the top 15 from last year.

Wachtell Lipton topped the list for the 12th year in a row. But as Vault noted, Cravath isn’t far behind — and could retake the crown that it relinquished to Wachtell back in 2004.

Yes, that’s right — Wachtell hasn’t always been #1. On this “Flashback Friday,” let’s look back at the Vault rankings from 2008 and 1998 and see how things looked in the past….

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It pains me to say this, given my own predilection for prestige worship, but here’s a question: does prestige matter as much as it used to? In an era of greater access to information, a law firm’s overall prestige arguably matters less than it once did.

If a client is looking for an excellent firm in a particular practice area, it can now easily access information about which firms, and even which individual lawyers, excel in which niches. It no longer has to rely on a firm’s brand name as a proxy for a specific strength. And other factors matter to the public as well. Is a firm a good place to work? How stable is its partnership, in this era of increased lateral movement? Is the firm growing or declining?

But make no mistake: prestige is still hugely important. Which is why the Vault law firm rankings are so eagerly anticipated each year.

The latest rankings from Vault of the country’s 100 most prestigious law firms just came out. How do they look?

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If television producers put up this Craigslist ad because they were casting for a reality show about a bunch of lawyers living in a D.C. house, then this would make sense. Every week, two of the housemates have to argue why they should stay and another should go. People would watch it.

But this isn’t a television producer being polite, this is law graduates being real. A group of self-described, recent law school graduates are looking for another roommate who must also be a recent law grad — preferably one who is clerking or working for a Congressional committee.

It seems like instead of looking for a roommate on Craigslist, they should be using LinkedIn…

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I’ll have been here for six years this summer, and I still read most of the comments to most of my posts. I rarely respond, unless I’ve been drinking, which I do almost constantly, so you do the math. But it’s been years since I’ve directly addressed commenter concerns in an actual post.

In my post about the Ivy League law grad who is struggling to pass the bar and build a career, I expressed sympathy for the graduate’s plight. It was a sad story that was powerfully expressed and tugged at my nearly blocked heart.

But commenters claimed that my sympathetic response to the Ivy League grad was because the person went to top law schools. They argued that I would not be nearly as nice to a person who struggled in the same way after going to a non-elite school.

If I my channel my inner Nathan Jessup: YOU’RE GODDAMN RIGHT I WOULDN’T….

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In 1983, when I graduated from law school, essentially no one wanted in-house legal jobs, and people who worked in-house weren’t held in very high regard.

To the contrary: With few exceptions, in-house lawyers were viewed as failures. These were the folks who couldn’t succeed at real jobs. People went in-house because law firms wouldn’t have them; jobs with short hours, low pay, no challenging assignments, and no stress were the only available alternative.

That was not simply my narrow-minded perspective. It was the widely shared belief of generations of lawyers who came of age in the law before about 1990. I recently had a drink with the general counsel of a Fortune 250 company, and he (or she, but I’ll use the masculine) told me that he could never be a success in his father’s eyes: “My father was a partner at a major law firm. He was pleased with me when I clerked for a federal appellate judge, took a fancy government job, and later became a partner at a big firm. But then I went in-house, and he lost all respect for me. He wanted me to ‘succeed’ in the law — to try high-profile cases and argue important appeals. When I went in-house, he quickly decided that I was a failure, and there was never any chance that he’d change his mind.”

Although that’s a sad story, I’m pleased to report that, at least in the context of in-house legal jobs, Bob Dylan had it right: “The times they are a-changin’ . . .

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While prospective law students are making their final decisions on where to drop their deposits, some of them have much more than their future legal careers on their minds. Neatly tucked away in our top search terms today — just above people erroneously clicking through hoping to find pornography on a legal website — is perhaps one of the most absurd questions we’ve ever seen.

Screw career outcomes and starting salaries! Prospective law students want to know which prestigious law school will help them get the most tail. Keep reading, because we’ve got an answer for you…

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Ed note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Dave Hall, founder of Velocity Test Prep, and David Mainiero, Admissions Expert at InGenius Prep, examine major factors pre-law students should consider before selecting a law school

So, you rocked your college grades, steamrolled the LSAT, impressed/conned/bribed your professors into writing outstanding recommendation letters, crafted the perfect law school résumé, and rounded out all of that perfection with an ideal theme for your personal statement and supplementary essays. Now, the only thing left to do is pick your law school out of the pile of admissions offers flooding your mailbox. Good problem to have, but how do you choose?

This is a matter we’ve given some thought to, and we suggest that you may want to use these three factors to make your decision. (Now, these three factors assume that your goal is to get a reasonably high-paying Biglaw or “medium law” type job. If that’s not your goal, the second section of this article will be much more relevant to you.)

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center…

Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Bad Therapist: A Romance, is available on Amazon, as are his previous books, Way Worse Than Being A Dentist and Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy (affiliate links).

“I never thought I’d end up working as a contract attorney doing doc review in a windowless basement,” my client bemoaned. “But then I read that piece about the lawyer who’s working as a clerk at Walmart. At least I’ve still got it over him in terms of job prestige.”

Well, you know how obsessed lawyers are with job prestige.

There’s a phrase, “the Downward Drift,” that crops up in discussions of serious mental health diagnoses like schizophrenia, and/or chronic substance abuse. The idea is that you are afflicted with serious mental illness, or become addicted to a harmful substance, which in turn leads to a slow, inevitable slide downward in terms of social class. Before long, the wealthy, Upper East Side business executive suffering from schizophrenia and/or severe alcoholism finds himself jobless, friendless, and eventually even homeless, sleeping in shelters and begging for change.

Weirdly, the same phenomenon — the Downward Drift — affects people who acquire Juris Doctor degrees…

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