Biglaw partners may not be having coke-fueled orgies on piles of cash any more, but partners are still doing well compared to mere mortals.
In fact, the biggest rainmakers are doing really really well compared to many of their colleagues. According to Steven Harper, the Northwestern professor and author of The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis (affiliate link), the highest-paid Biglaw partners used to make three times more than their run-of-the-mill colleagues. Today, rainmakers can pull down ten times more.
* This IRS scandal is really like a Republican’s wet dream. Obama needs to start firing people. [Washington Post]
* The Department of Justice also looks pretty shady. See, it’s not the “size” of government we should worry about. It’s the power of government that leads to problems. Obama needs to start firing people! [Associated Press]
* Maybe the DOJ needs some compliance officers to tell them how to use the phone? [Corporate Counsel]
But some are pushing back against the gloom and doom and projecting a bright future ahead. The new hope for Professor Bradley T. Borden is third-party litigation financing (“TPLF”), dropping millions into lawsuits in exchange for a hefty cut at the end so they can party like a champ(erty).
Litigation finance is drawing considerable talent and will certainly change the way law firms and clients do business. But it’s no pathway to rekindle the pre-recession boom.
I’m not reviewing the book, but instead using it as a jumping-off point to discuss a tangent. Harper explains in his book two things that every sentient lawyer has noticed over the past several years: (1) students are graduating from law school buried under a mountain of debt, and many of those students can’t find jobs, and (2) many law firms have lost sight of the law’s noble history as a learned profession and are now obsessed with maximizing their profits per partner in the coming year.
Harper’s right about these things, of course, and this isn’t exactly late-breaking news to anyone who’s been following either Above the Law or Harper’s blog, The Belly of the Beast, for the last few years. Harper’s book advances the discussion, however, by exploring these issues in more detail than others have. He also proposes possible solutions to these problems, including “allowing the federal government to recover [law school loan] guarantees from a law school (and its university) whenever a student loan became the principal contributor to an alumnus’s later bankruptcy.” (Page 159.) Or encouraging law firms to release their “Working Culture Index,” which would show the percentage of lawyers billing more than 2000, 2100, 2200, 2300, 2400, and 2500 in the previous year (perhaps with separate totals being released for partners and associates). (Page 173.)
These ideas are well worth discussing, and I’m glad that Harper has taken the time to analyze these things. But I have another topic to highlight, which is an odd tangent to Harper’s two issues . . . .
If you follow the world of large law firms, then you are probably familiar with the incisive and candid commentary of Steven J. Harper. Over at his blog, The Belly of the Beast, Harper offers excellent insights into the world of Biglaw.
Harper knows so much about that world because he spent his entire legal career in it. He joined Kirkland & Ellis after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1979. He practiced litigation at the firm for about 30 years, until his retirement in 2008, at the early age of 54 (which you can afford to do when you’re an equity partner at a firm as lucrative as K&E).
In addition to blogging, Harper has written four books. I spoke last week with Harper about his latest book, The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis (affiliate link), and about his views on the worlds of Biglaw and legal education….
* To those of you who celebrate it, Happy Easter! Welcome the holiday by voting in the ABA Journal’s fifth annual “Peeps in Law” contest. [ABA Journal]
* If law firm brackets aren’t your thing, check out Professor Kyle Graham’s brackets for (1) law school classes and (2) law blogs. I’m thankful for ATL’s #1 seed but terrified by who we’re up against (because they’ve ripped me a new one before). [noncuratlex]
* Sorry, Judge Steiner, you wuz robbed; you should have been our Judge of the Day. It’s tough to top “allegations of a sexual quid pro quo with a female lawyer and the eye-opening confiscation of carpet from [chambers] for forensic analysis.” [OC Weekly]
As some of you may have heard, U.S. News & World Report, which used to be a magazine found in dentists’ offices, released its annual law school rankings last week. This event sparked even more than the usual amount of angst and hysteria among law deans and students. Well, then again, this is already the 9th post on ATL concerning this set of rankings, so maybe we’re not helping. Some deans’ heads have rolled already, and angry student petitions are calling for more blood. (Do these reactions among law students run one way though? The anger sparked by a drop in rankings does not necessarily mean an inverse spike in happiness when a school climbs up, as this great pairing of gifs from someone at Chicago Law illustrates.)
Anyway, much of the heightened attention is due to the revisions U.S. News made to their rankings methodology, which now applies different weights to different employment outcomes, giving full weight only to full-time jobs where “bar passage is required or a J.D. gives them an advantage.” Whatever that last bit means. And they won’t tell us exactly how “part-time” and other categories of employment outcomes factor in. But it is at least an acknowledgement on their part of the perception that, as Staci said yesterday, “all anyone cares about are employment statistics.” (We’ll get back to whether that’s strictly true.) Then again, if employment outcomes make up only 14% of your ranking formula for a professional school, you’re doing it wrong. What would a better, more relevant rankings methodology even look like?
Lawyers are supposed to read. The best lawyers are usually the most voracious readers. One of the tragic consequences of life as an associate is the loss of time for leisure reading. Except for that hard-earned four-day vacation around Thanksgiving time. Or that quick beach jaunt in late August when you realize that not only are all the partners gone for their yearly family vacations, they are not even bothering to answer emails or calls. So you may as well take a long weekend yourself. Pretend you have a life. Endure your friends talking about how their corporate “Summer Fridays” are already tired out, and how they long to get back to a regular schedule after Labor Day. Admit it — you are not doing any serious reading on the beach, or in the airport, or sitting on someone’s pool deck with a homemade margarita. More likely, your brain is fried, and the appropriate level of reading material for you at that stage is a “men’s periodical” or some celebrity rag.
Partners have it a little better. The intellectual ones rekindle their loves for serious fiction, or Ulysses Grant biographies, or even high-priced gardening books so they can converse semi-intelligently with their illiterate (but highly skilled and inexpensive) landscaper. Other partners read junk, or choose not to read at all, only buying glossy magazines for the pictures of high-priced items they are thrilled they can now afford. Or for the cocktail recipes, now that the liquor on their “drink rack” is of better quality, all while their need for a nightly drink or two or three goes up. Leisure reading, or not, however you like.
But there is another kind of Biglaw reading. The type that all partners really should engage in. Daily if possible. It is accessible. Via browser. That’s right — legal blogs. Biglaw partners (and ambitious associates) need to be on top of what is going on in our industry. You know, the one that is changing rapidly. Where there is a battle for survival going on, even between firms that would normally be considered extremely successful, and that in and of themselves are many times larger and more successful than at any point in their own histories. Information is power on this battlefield. Get reading. Some suggestions….
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