Transactional practice

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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Caveat: I did not write the following dialogue. It is from the “comments” section of one of my columns where I mentioned I’d be writing about HIPAA and GLBA. Unfortunately, I cannot attribute the comments to the persons who wrote them, as they are anonymous; however they are quite apropos of today’s subject:

1) “I wish vendors would get it into their heads that indemnity for being sued on a confidentiality basis doesn’t cut it for financial institutions and other customers/clients that have affirmative obligations without being sued in the event of a breach of confidentiality.”

2) “I wish financial institution customers would get it into their heads that the ‘customer information’ they’re obligated to protect is not the sort of thing they would ever disclose to the vast majority of their vendors, and stop using their ‘affirmative obligations’ as a tool to cram unnecessarily restrictive confidentiality terms down the throats of vendors.”

Perfect. Those two comments capture the schism between vendors and customers when dealing with private financial or personal confidential information….

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Ed. note: Welcome to the inaugural installment of House Rules, a column for in-house lawyers by our newest writer, David Mowry. David’s column will appear on Wednesdays.

“I am going in-house.”

When I first said these words to my former law firm colleagues, they connoted a sea change in my career: a coveted position with a prestigious international corporation, no more billable hours, and no more partner pressure.

I am fortunate to practice with smart, engaging, and truly collegial and competent lawyers. And no more billable hours — I do wake up happy every day.

Of course, all good stories must have a conflict; mine was that I was taking a job as a transactional lawyer. I had always viewed transactional work as the “dark side,” and outside of my comfort zone of years in litigation. The more I thought about the transition, however, the more I realized how my perspective as a litigator would serve me well as a contract negotiator….

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