Sullivan & Cromwell

This coming Friday, it is the inalienable right of all Americans to sleep off their hangovers, or riot at Walmart, or do anything at all rather than work for The Man. But Biglaw is a different country. As illustrated by Elie’s decision matrix, the “choice” of whether to work on this sacred day is, for the denizens of the law firm world, fraught with other pressures and expectations. We all know that Biglaw careers demand a Faustian bargain: in return for their fat paychecks (and bonuses?), lawyers are expected to work grueling, unpredictable hours. This time of year, that reality is brought into sharp relief: the “holiday season,” with those “family obligations” and so forth, is something that occurs elsewhere.

But law firm billable expectations are not homogeneous. There are significant differences across practice areas, seniority levels, and, of course, individual firms. So how do the various practices, employment statuses, and firms stack up?

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In the ultimate expression of #richpeopleproblems, a recently retired Biglaw partner just figured out that $19.5 million is missing. Technically, the money was allegedly slowly stolen by the partner’s spouse over years of financial mismanagement, but the point remains that a partner couldn’t be bothered to keep track of almost $20 million and is now running to court to complain that downright neglect should be rewarded.

Look, it sucks when people take advantage of you, but when a lawyer whose expertise is finance complains that money comes up missing, it’s hard to have much sympathy.

They say lawyers make the worst businesspeople. I guess they’re right…

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* Harry Belafonte is suing MLK’s kids to establish ownership of a few documents. Why won’t the King kids jump in de line? [CNN]

* Bad news for Charleston Law: South Carolina has decided to pass on taking over the school. To InfiLaw and Beyond! [The State]

* Sometimes advertising creates some strange bedfellows. This story brought to you by the U.S. News rankings. [PrawfsBlawg]

* School sends in a fake masked gunman to scare kids as part of a lesson. This will end well. [Jezebel]

* Maryland’s Attorney General is a terrible backseat driver. Do with that information what you will. [Lowering the Bar]

* Sullivan & Cromwell is bringing in Jeffrey Wall, an assistant to the Solicitor General, to be co-head of its appellate practice. [Blog of the Legal Times]

* Some advice that you wish someone imparted back in the day. [Legal Cheek]

* The government shutdown wasn’t as much about tearing down government as it was about creating a paradoxical dictatorship of freedom. Time to brush up on your Carl Schmitt, y’all. [Concurring Opinions]

* The legal issues involved in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The traffic laws governing flying cars not included. [The Legal Geeks]

Novus Law School’s epitaph?

Ed. note: In honor of Columbus Day (and Canadian Thanksgiving), Above the Law will be on a reduced publication schedule today. We will be back in full force tomorrow.

* Justice stops for no one, not even a broken Congress. With the end of days approaching quickly for federal courts in terms of funding (or the lack thereof), many judges are lashing out and declaring all their employees essential. [National Law Journal]

* Legal expenses can be especially “painful,” even for the biggest of banks, but sadist firms like Sullivan & Cromwell, Paul Weiss, and WilmerHale are really getting their rocks off on Jamie Dimon’s suffering. [DealBook / New York Times]

* DLA Piper’s future’s so bright it’s got to wear shades — and appoint a new co-managing partner in New York City, its largest office. Congratulations to Richard Hans, you’ve co-made it! [New York Law Journal]

* “It’s not just about me.” Jim Tanner, a Williams & Connolly partner who represents Jeremy Lin, is leaving the firm to start his own sports management business, and he’s taking people with him. [Bloomberg]

* “I have no apologies to make about anything I did.” Steven Donziger of Chevron/Ecuador infamy will be defending himself in court this week in what’s being called a legal cage match. [Wall Street Journal]

* “Touro is asking a judge to declare the school a diploma mill.” Irony alert: Touro wants Novus University Law School, a school supposedly conferring “worthless law degrees,” to be stopped. [New York Post]

* If you think SCOTUS abused its discretion in the early abortion cases, you’re going to love this book (affiliate link), a “cautionary tale” about consequences of decisions like Roe v. Wade. [Wall Street Journal]

For all the talk of layoffs and worries over an unstable legal economy, Biglaw just keeps getting bigger. Today, the American Lawyer magazine announced its Global 100, a ranking of the world’s 100 largest law firms in terms of total revenue. The view from the top is simple: as we learned from the 2013 Am Law 100, slow and steady does win the race, because Biglaw is at the biggest it’s been in years, and partners’ profits are headed up, up, up.

Now that we’re on the long road to recovery following the recession and collapse of the U.S. financial markets, there are some lessons to be learned from the past five years. Some firms were able to cash in modestly on their success, while other firms buckled under the pressure and were forced to close their doors for good. The game of musical chairs in the top 10 of the Global 100 reflects this economic uncertainty.

DLA Piper is the new top dog in terms of total revenue. Which firms are the leaders of the pack in other metrics, such as profits per partner and attorney headcount?

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Sorry, SCOTUS.

* A study revealed that almost half of all links in online Supreme Court opinions are dead, but at least internet pranksters like this guy have been given a chance in the spotlight. [New York Times]

* CHECK YOU [BLACKBERRIES] OFTEN, because firms like Shearman & Sterling, McCarthy Tétrault, Skadden Arps, and Torys will advise on the ancient technology’s private sale. [Am Law Daily]

* We hope this IPO isn’t imported from Detroit. Chrysler filed a prospectus with the SEC yesterday with the help of attorneys from Sullivan & Cromwell and Cravath. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Paul Bergrin, more commonly known as the “Baddest Lawyer in the History of Jersey,” was handed a life sentence yesterday. At least he’ll have street cred with his gen pop friends. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* If you’re still thinking of applying to law school now, you must be the kind of person who needs advice on how to go to college and fill out applications, all at the same time. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

As was vividly demonstrated by our recent infographic, Biglaw’s summer associate classes have undergone a major and seemingly permanent contraction. For the most part, large — arguably bloated — summer associate classes are a thing of the past. Among the Am Law 50, only eight firms are bucking this downward trend, with actual increases in the size of their summer classes since 2007. These firms are a collection of Wall Street’s oldest and most elite white shoe mainstays: Sullivan & Cromwell, Cravath, Davis Polk, and their ilk. On average, these firms were founded 112 years ago (i.e., during the McKinley Administration). The outlier here is the relative upstart litigation powerhouse Quinn Emanuel, founded only back in 1987.

Besides the durability and strength that comes with such a refined pedigree, what other trends are apparent in this great downsizing of Biglaw’s summer associate classes?

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HI-YA! CIVIL RIGHTS CHOP!

* Chief Justice John Roberts appointed Second Circuit Judge José A. Cabranes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review. Roberts must be happy; few will criticize a moderate. [Washington Post]

* The Department of Justice plans to hire Leslie Caldwell, Morgan Lewis partner and ex-Enron prosecutor, to fill Lanny Breuer’s shoes. Way to leak the news while she’s on vacation. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Tell us again how sequestration isn’t having an impact on the judiciary. Private federal indigent defense attorneys are going to see their already modest rates slashed due to budget cuts. [National Law Journal]

* Sixteen lawyers will receive the New York Law Journal’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and a list like this obviously wouldn’t be complete without the names of some of Biglaw’s best and brightest. Congrats, Rodge! [New York Law Journal]

* Thomas D. Raffaele, the judge who was karate chopped in the throat by a police officer last summer, is now suing over his crushed larynx and similarly squashed constitutional rights. [Courthouse News Service]

* Future gunners, unite! If you’re set on becoming a lawyer, there are things you can do to prepare your law school application, even as a college freshman. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News & World Report]

* Here’s something to aspire to for the ongoing law school lawsuits: Career Education Corp., a system of for-profit colleges, will pay $10 million to settle a dispute over its inflated job statistics. [Wall Street Journal]

* Penn State University is starting to issue settlement offers to young men who claim they were sexually abused at the hands of Jerry Sandusky, the school’s former assistant football coach. [Legal Intelligencer]

There hasn’t been much major good news on the associate compensation front over the past few years — since, say, January 2007. But recent weeks have brought pockets of minor good news for limited constituencies. Green shoots, anyone?

In Miami, Greenberg Traurig raised starting salaries by 16 percent, from $125,000 to $145,000. In New York, Sullivan & Cromwell and Skadden Arps started offering $300,000 signing bonuses to Supreme Court clerks.

And now $300K bonuses for SCOTUS clerks have spread, to other law firms in other cities. Consider this the new going rate for top-shelf talent….

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A $500,000 associate? (Click to enlarge.)

Base salaries for Biglaw associates haven’t budged since January 2007, when Simpson Thacher led the charge to $160k. Year-end bonuses have remained fairly static since 2007 as well, the year of Cravath’s special bonuses. The 2012 bonuses represented an improvement over the 2011 bonuses, but only if you ignored the 2011 phenomenon of spring bonuses. On the whole, associate compensation is treading water.

But for Supreme Court clerks, aka “The Elect,” compensation continues to climb. In 2011, the signing bonus for outgoing SCOTUS clerks started to move from $250K to $280K. In 2012, the increase solidified, with $280K becoming the new going rate (and $285K becoming the above-market rate).

Now, just a year later, some firms are offering SCOTUS clerkship bonuses in excess of $280K or $285K. How much are they paying, and which offices of which firms are leading the market higher? The answer might surprise you….

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