Very few people work in Biglaw for the thrill of being surrounded by lawyers. Nor are Biglaw refugees heard lamenting, on the odd chance they are lamenting leaving Biglaw at all, the fact that they are no longer surrounded by fellow attorneys. What do they miss, if anything? The money.
Biglaw refugees are not the only ones stirred by the thought of Biglaw’s outsized profits. Those profits are the nectar that draws the droves of worker-bee law students into the welcoming embrace of law schools. And the gruel that sustains the overworked bodies and minds of Biglaw’s associates and junior partners as they slave in the mineshafts hoping for their day in the sun. Biglaw’s millions are also the elixir that lubricates the arthritic joints of senior partners who insist on staying in their positions of power well past the expiration dates that their forebears adhered to. More than ever, it is about the money….
We enjoy giving our readers the occasional peek behind the Biglaw curtain. Last month, for example, we shared with you the internal interview manual that Sullivan & Cromwell provides to its attorneys who conduct on-campus interviews at law schools.
Today, in a similar spirit, we take an inside look at the annual review process for attorneys at Skadden Arps. We’re into the fourth quarter of 2011, so these reviews are not far away.
In this special report, we’ll provide general observations on the Skadden review process, highlight noteworthy comments from leaked attorney evaluations, and show you a few reviews in their entirety (redacted to remove lawyer and client names). This information should interest Biglaw associates who want to know what partners look for junior lawyers, and it should also appeal to partners at other firms who want ideas on how to structure annual reviews.
If you’re interested in learning more about performance reviews at one of the world’s biggest and best law firms, please keep reading….
Embarcadero Center (at right): Skadden's soon-to-be-former S.F. home.
Late last week, word started to leak out that Skadden Arps plans to close its San Francisco office, by the end of June 2011. A meeting was held on Friday where the closure was announced to the office. The S.F. office is essentially being folded into the firm’s Silicon Valley outpost.
Some of the initial reactions expressed concern. “Unclear with respect to job security,” said one source. “My cynical side wonders if this isn’t layoffs in disguise,” said another.
But further examination of the situation suggests that this is, as some might say, no big deal….
Bonuses have just been announced at Skadden. The following memo went out earlier today to all Skadden partners, from executive partner Eric Friedman:
To All Partners:
The attached memo announcing a year end discretionary bonus will be sent to associates in North America on a class by class basis today. Bonuses will range from $7,500 to $35,000 and will be issued in mid-December. While the same bonus schedule will be applied in all offices, communication to our international offices is being handled on an office by office basis. Counsel bonuses will be announced next week.
Bonuses are announced by class, but the range of $7,500 to $35,000 strongly suggests that Skadden is simply matching the Cravath bonus scale for 2010.
The form memo to associates that just went out, plus confirmations of bonus amounts for specific class years, after the jump.
We call it Skaddenfreude: taking pleasure in the misfortune of others who work at large law firms. Today’s tale of Skaddenfreude involves a contract attorney working a project in the Chicago office of Kirkland & Ellis.
Nixon Peabody was awinner in Signature Flight Support Corp. v. Landow Aviation, a dispute between two aviation companies at the Washington Dulles airport. Nixon landed a victory for Signature Flight, and filed a motion for Landow to pay attorneys’ fees in the case.
Landow thought Nixon’s fees were sky-high and opposed the motion, resulting in a review of Nixon’s bills by Judge James Cacheris (E.D. Va.). Judge Cacheris buzzed Nixon’s bills. From the National Law Journal:
U.S. District Judge James Cacheris of the Eastern District of Virginia determined that Nixon Peabody’s $1.57 million in fees was too high and slashed about $440,000 off that amount, awarding $1.13 million….
In his July 30 decision, Cacheris found that the number of hours Nixon Peabody expended on the case demonstrated a “lack of billing judgment exercised by plaintiff’s counsel” and “overall excessiveness of plaintiff’s fee request.”
Less than half a million slashed? Pocket change — though that was on top of $205,102.50 that Nixon says it had already excluded from the bill.
Reading the opinion offers lots of fun Skaddenfreude, perhaps particularly for attorneys laid off by Nixon Peabody early last year. Partner Louis Dolan got knocked by the court for spending hundreds of billable hours at the end of 2008 doing work better suited for a junior associate…
We’ve since learned from tipsters that Victoria is a Brooklyn Law School grad. Her results came in on episode 4 of the show. The show’s lead Carrie Bradshaw-inspired character real person is Shallon, who narrates at the beginning of the episode: “Victoria is about to find out the results of her bar exam and that could totally shift the course of her whole life.”
Consider life shifted. The second time was not the charm for Victoria. So what do you do if you find out that you failed the bar exam on national television?
Earlier this week, we published a Lawyerly Lairs post about a graduating 3L named Jimmy. According to the blog Urban Turf, “Jimmy” is a 27-year-old law student with a job in D.C. Biglaw lined up, starting at $160,000. If that’s not enough to make you hate Jimmy, he also has a credit score of 781, $140,000 in the bank for a down payment on his first home, and no student loan debt.
Jimmy triggered envy, player-hating, and other strong reactions in the comments:
“F**k Jimmy. I graduated with 3.3 and couldn’t fund a job with a Biglaw firm in DC. Hence I make $75K, have $90K in student loans, $5K on credit cards and $0 for a down payment. Again, F**k Jimmy.”
“I’m sure there are several women here who are also thinking ‘Fuck Jimmy.’”
Meanwhile, blogger Jane Genova expressed doubt that Jimmy exists. A newly minted law school graduate, with zero debt and (at least) $140K in the bank — is this like believing in Santa Claus?
Jimmy is certainly very fortunate. But is he so fortunate that he’s incredible? No. His financial state could be explained by any number of factors, alone or in combination, such as (1) generous parents or other relatives, (2) a past inheritance, (3) a successful first career before law school (e.g., in finance), or (4) a full-ride scholarship to law school.
In the comments to the Jimmy post, ATL readers started to anonymously share details about their personal finances and net worths. If you found this interesting, be sure to check out this article in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, entitled “Net-Worth Obsession.” It’s about people who obsessively track their net worths over time and compare themselves to others on this front, sometimes with the help of websites (such as NetWorthIQ, featured prominently in the article).
Are you a net-worth obsessive? Tell us your net worth (anonymously), learn the net worths of some of your fellow readers, and see how your net worth stacks up against that of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan — after the jump….
Both 2006 and 2007 were extraordinary years for our Firm. In 2006 we paid large year-end bonuses to our associates, and in 2007 we further supplemented those bonuses. As a result of the deterioration of the business environment, the Firm’s financial performance in 2008 will not be in line with those earlier years. While the Firm believes that we should pay year-end bonuses this year, in light of the current business climate we do not think it is appropriate to pay the full bonuses that were paid in 2006 and 2007 or the additional supplemental bonuses paid in 2007.
Just yesterday, Skadden announced that they would match the 2006/2007 bonuses less the “special” bonus paid in 2007. For Cravath to come in under that number is pretty surprising. The official Cravath bonus structure for 2008 is as follows:
Class of 2008 — $17,500 (pro-rated)
Class of 2007 — $17,500
Class of 2006 — $20,000
Class of 2005 — $22,500
Class of 2004 — $25,000
Class of 2003 — $27,500
Class of 2002 — $30,000
Class of 2001 — $30,000
Suddenly, the question is no longer “Is Skadden the ceiling?” Instead, we must ponder “Is Cravath the floor?”
Done being angry? Okay. Now prepared to get very, very frightened:
Given the uncertainty of the economy and the business climate going forward, we will not be able to address the issue of whether there will be any year-end bonuses in 2009 until this time next year. However, associates should be prepared for the likelihood that the economy and the Firm’s financial performance next year will not show a significant improvement over this year and they may receive significantly reduced or no year-end bonuses next year.
Update (6:22 PM): Of all the tips that have crashed ATL’s inbox in the last 45 minutes, this one best captures the raging rage people are feeling:
WTF does Cravath think it’s doing? They’re basically threatening no bonus for NEXT YEAR? They’re not being Nostradamus, they’re trying to force people out. Cravath associates will get that memo, collect their garbage 2008 [bonus] and lateral the hell out before they get screwed again.
Why not just conduct stealth layoffs? Forced attrition is the same thing. Go home, Cravath. You’re embarrassing yourself.
If I recall correctly, Sullivan & Cromwell sent out a memo in December or January saying that even though they paid the “special bonuses” in December, they still intended to pay additional profit-sharing bonuses in February. [February is over] and as far as I know, not a word from S&C. Can you guys please make a big deal over this?
The tipster’s memory is slightly off. From chairman H. Rodgin Cohen’s earlier bonus memo:
[T]he Firm will pay senior associates compensation in addition to salary and bonus through our new Senior Associate Supplemental Bonus Plan (“the Plan”). We have decided to accelerate payments under this new Plan to result in the following [market-matching bonuses] being paid on December 14 to our senior associates, with final supplemental payments to be made in the Spring of ’08.
We are now officially into spring 2008. So ATL hereby “make[s] a big deal over this.” Has S&C paid the supplemental bonuses to its senior associates? If so, can someone please give us the skinny?
Second, here’s an interesting rumor of a partner departure from S&C, from a different tipster….
If you are considering a virtual law practice, you know that many of today’s solo firms started that way. But why are established, multi-attorney law firms going virtual?
Many small firms are successfully moving part—or even all—of their practice to a virtual setting. This even includes multi-jurisdictional practice spanning several states and practice areas, although solo and small partnerships are still the largest adopters of virtual law.
Can you do the same? The new article Mobile in Practice, Virtual by Design from author Jared Correia, Esq., explores how mobile technology bring real-life benefits to a small law firm. Read this new article—the next in Thomson Reuters’ Independent Thinking series for small firms—to explore how a mobile practice:
Reduces malpractice risk
Enables you to gather the best attorneys to fit the firm, regardless of each person’s geographic location
Leverages mobile devices and cloud technology to enable on-the-spot client and prospect communication
Transitioning in-house is something many (if not most) firm lawyers find themselves considering at some point. For many, it’s the first step in their career that isn’t simply a function of picking the best option available based on a ranking system.
Unknown territory feels high-risk, and can have the effect of steering many of us towards the well-greased channels into large, established companies.
For those who may be open to something more entrepreneurial, there is far less information available. No recruiter is calling every week with offers and details.
In sponsorship with Betterment, ATL and David Lat will moderate a panel about life in-house and we’ll hear from GCs at Birchbox, Gawker Media, Squarespace, Bonobos, and Betterment. Drinks, snacks, networking, and a great time guaranteed. Invite your colleagues, but RSVP fast, as space is limited.
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.