Transactional practice

Ed. note: This is the latest post by Above the Law’s guest conversationalist, Zach Abramowitz, of blogcasting platform ReplyAll. You can see some of his other conversations and musings here.

I never wanted to be a corporate lawyer. After three mind-numbing years of law school, I barely wanted to be a lawyer, but at least being a litigator seemed mildly bearable. So when I got the call two weeks before starting that I was getting placed in the firm’s M&A department, I didn’t know the first thing about due diligence. I had done zero corporate work during my summer internship, and I didn’t have any idea what corporate lawyers did on a daily basis. Smash cut to me sitting in a dimly lit office in December aimlessly plugging provisions into a chart while being mentally and verbally abused by the midlevel associate above me in the deal. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing or why any of this was important. Throughout my two years as an associate, I tried convincing myself that diligence was interesting — it was a way to learn about a company from the inside out.

Bulls#@%.

The real truth is that I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t give this work to a paralegal or, better yet, a robot. Both could have done my job better and cheaper. Well, wouldn’t you know it, savvy former Weil Gotshal associate Noah Waisberg has built DiligenceEngine, a piece of software that will find key provisions in documents for you, put them into charts, and save your clients time and money on due diligence. And if I know Biglaw partners, they LOVE to save their clients money and shave hours off the bill.

This week, I’ll speak with Noah about why diligence sucks, why human lawyers suck at it, and how he left law to make your life as a reviewing attorney easier and a little less miserable…

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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 six years. You can reach them by email: asia@kinneyrecruiting.com.

Our advice to any Mandarin speaking 2L summer associate who is interested in a future transfer or lateral US associate move to Hong Kong / China: It’s not just about corporate and other transactional practices any more. If you are more interested in litigation than transactional, don’t hesitate to choose litigation or a litigation-related practice area. There is a sharply growing need at top US firms in Hong Kong / China for laterals and transfers in US litigation (mostly FCPA / White Collar work), Anti-Trust, and Disputes / Arbitration. This is not just a trend, it’s a permanent change on the landscape. We find it exciting that Mandarin speaking JDs now have more options to choose from in positioning themselves for a future Hong Kong / China move. Feel free to contact us at asia@kinneyrecruiting.com if you are a summer associate interested in Asia and have any questions about choosing a practice. It can be one of the biggest decisions you make in your career and yet one usually made without much analysis. Also, feel free to contact us if you are an associate interested in joining an FCPA / White Collar practice or Disputes practice in Asia. We have made numerous such placements in the past few years and a number of our candidates are interviewing for FCPA / White Collar positions at present in Asia.

Check out this relevant recent Legal Week article by Elizabeth Broomhall, where Kinney Recruiting’s Evan Jowers is quoted several times: Courting Eastern promise – the drive by international firms to recruit more disputes lawyers in Asia.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

* If you want to become a Supreme Court justice, you can start by attending one of these three schools. The schools that produced the most justices are Harvard Law, Yale Law, and Columbia Law. [TIME]

* Many of the transactional practice areas that took a bruising during the height of the recession, like corporate work, M&A, real estate, and tax, seem to be coming back. Sorry litigators. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Following Oklahoma’s botched lethal injection, another death row inmate has been given a new lease on life — for the next six months — while an investigation is being carried out. [Associated Press]

* Members of the defense team for accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev not only want their client’s comments after arrest stricken from the record, but they also want the death penalty off the table. Good luck. [CNN]

* A lawyer was arrested after a school board meeting because he complained for too long about a graphic sex scene in a book his daughter was assigned to read for school. That’s typical. [New York Daily News]

Last week we took a look at how Biglaw’s litigation departments stack up against one another in terms of compensation, training, firm morale, hours, and culture.

Today, we turn toward the other major category of Biglaw practitioners: corporate/transactional attorneys. Unlike litigators, about whom the public at least has some notion, however distorted, of what they do, most people have no clue what corporate lawyers are up to. No young person daydreams about “facilitating a business transaction,” while there are some who aspire to argue in a courtroom. As noted last week, this litigation/corporate information imbalance is reinforced by the law school curriculum, which remains largely beholden to the case method of instruction.

When comparing the experiences of corporate lawyers versus litigators, there is a familiar litany of pro and cons:

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Cravath partners enjoy discounts at Subway, among other perquisites.

It’s rare for partners to leave Cravath, given the prestige, pay, and perks associated with partnership at the firm. And it’s especially rare for a Cravath partner to leave for a rival firm, as opposed to a Wall Street investment bank or major corporation.

Cravath has a very specific system for running itself, and that system has served Cravath very well over the years. As its competitors expend increasing amounts of effort to climb the prestige hierarchy and expand across the globe, Cravath remains at the top, serenely servicing its clients — and printing money for its partners. Part of the reason why Cravath so rarely loses partners to other firms is that it’s so profitable overall that even a partner being paid under Cravath’s lockstep system still does better than a “star” partner at many other firms.

So that’s why today’s news is so notable. A prominent young partner at Cravath has decided to leave Worldwide Plaza and take his talents across town.

Who is the partner in question, and where is he headed?

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‘Standing with your arms folded is underrated.’

Hot air balloons, Ice Cube, new socks, Ray Guy, Uzbek food, Kevin Bacon, plus-size models, Pittsburgh… what do the items on this random list have in common? In some nook or cranny of the internet, someone is making the claim that they are “underrated.”

Apparently also underrated? The corporate group at Cahill Gordon, according to the ATL audience. Cahill received the most mentions as having an “underrated” corporate group in our ATL Insider Survey. Biglaw has a fairly stable roster of alpha dogs in each practice category (Weil in bankruptcy, Wachtell in M&A, etc.), but we wondered which firms’ practice groups deserve more recognition. So, among other things, our survey asks attorneys to nominate firms with underrated (and overrated) practices within the respondent’s own practice specialty. Litigators nominate litigation departments, tax lawyers do the same for tax groups, and so on.

Read on and have a look at the top three underrated firms in each practice area:

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Hello readers! This post marks the one-year anniversary of my writing for Above The Law. **Hooray!** Whew, okay, now that all of that crazy excitement is over with, let’s move on.

Every once in a while, I meet people who ask whether there’s any value in doing a clerkship if they would eventually like to practice transactional law in-house. Like a dutiful little blogger, I consulted with several senior in-house attorneys on their thoughts about whether a clerkship is valuable for an in-house transactional practice.

The lawyers I consulted who hadn’t clerked generally saw little to no value in a clerkship with respect to an in-house transactional practice. Why spend an entire year of effort on something that’s not going to be directly applicable to your practice (and, by the way, pays diddlysquat), when you could be getting firsthand experience drafting contracts and working on deals on Day 1? Plus, it’s not like businesspeople have a clue what the difference is between a law clerk and, you know… a rock.

The attorneys who had clerked, on the other hand, saw many potential benefits….

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I was recently asked to write an article about the future of Biglaw. (That’s one of the benefits of writing this column: Writing yields more opportunities to write. Like first prize at the pie-eating contest.)

I naturally asked some Biglaw acquaintances what they saw in their firms’ futures, in an effort to generate some grist for the article’s mill. (Given that I occasionally write in unbelievably awkward, and arguably unintelligible, mixed metaphors — such as “grist for the article’s mill” — it’s a wonder that Lat even permits me to continue writing this column, let alone that others solicit me to write in other fora. But that’s neither here nor there.)

What do my Biglaw lunch dates (and others whom I pester) say about their futures? They say many things, but one common refrain about the future of Biglaw is “consolidation. Big law firms will continue to merge, and only the biggest will thrive.” When I ask why firms will feel compelled to grow, folks often say: “Clients insist on it. Clients want one-stop shopping.”

What clients? Any real ones, or just theoretical ones? I, at least, don’t insist on one-stop shopping. . . .

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Quick! I’m an in-house lawyer! How are my legal skills?

Admit it: You just thought to yourself, “So-so. The guy couldn’t hack it at a law firm and wanted a 9 to 5 lifestyle, so he took his mediocre skills and moved in-house. I’ll try not to be transparently condescending when I talk to him on the phone.”

I believed that, too, until I went in-house. (That was a joke. How do you put a smiley face on a blog post?)

A moment’s thought reveals that I’m a bundle of legal prejudices, and I suspected that others were, too. So I did a Rorschach test of some lawyer-friends. I named categories of lawyers, and I asked my friends to give their immediate reactions to those categories.

So what are our legal prejudices?

Quick! I’m a partner at a big firm! What do you think of me?

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A couple of decades ago, a friend was defending a case that involved a corporate entity named “LHIW, Inc.” The case seemed defensible for a while. Then, during a deposition, opposing counsel thought to ask a witness what the heck “LHIW, Inc.,” stood for.

Suffice it to say that it’s tough to defend a transaction that involves a shell company named “Let’s Hope It Works, Inc.”

Ten years ago, a company was spinning off the piece of its business that was saddled with product liability exposure. The transaction would create one new, clean company and one tainted company that would spend its days defending itself or paying claims over time. Did the internal corporate documents really have to refer to the two new entities as “GoodCo” and “CrapCo”?

Why did I flash back to those memories? Because I recently ran across a situation where someone cleverly named an investment vehicle “SNP, Inc.” That was fine and good until someone thought to ask what “SNP, Inc.,” stood for. Naturally: “Should Not Participate, Inc.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same. But I have a proposal on this front . . .

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