Wall Street Journal

Sad little law school grad.

* With 269 partners to go, Dewey need to start panicking yet? Twelve additional partners, including practice group leaders, have jumped ship, bringing the grand total of partner-level defectors to 31 since January. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Late-breaking news: law schools’ numbers still don’t add up. The New York Times has already said its piece on the problem with law schools, so the Wall Street Journal decided that it was time to chime in again. [Wall Street Journal]

* Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the man accused of going on an Afghan killing spree, will be represented by Ted Bundy’s lawyer. In the court of public opinion, that’s equivalent to pleading guilty. [Bloomberg]

* “I have had it with these motherf**king snakes breastfeeding women on this motherf**king plane!” A mother has settled a lawsuit with her airline over being kicked off a plane for nursing her child. [Businessweek]

* Here’s a fashion tip for law firm staff: you wear orange shirts in prison, not at the office. Think twice next time before you wear that color to work, because you might get fired like these folks in Florida. [Sun-Sentinel]

* Let’s face it, there is no escape from the law, not even in your free time (if that even exists). That being said, here’s a lawyerly crossword puzzle, inspired by Nina Totenberg’s reporting on legal affairs. Have fun! [NPR]

For years you had the haves and have-nots. What’s happening now, is the haves are not getting paid.

– a former Dewey & LeBoeuf partner, who spoke to the Wall Street Journal on the basis of anonymity, commenting on the firm’s alleged habit of issuing IOUs to partner-level attorneys due to lack of cash flow.

I am more depressed than usual. I blame Mystal and his expose on What You Can’t Do With a Law Degree. I know if given the chance, I could make the most divine half-caf-extra-whip-extra-hot-mocha. But, alas, I am destined to stay a lawyer.

That is little solace, of course, because it is hard to get a job, hard to keep a job, and in my experience, hard to stomach the job. And, according to that Wall Street Journal article that everyone posted as a Facebook status, law firms want to keep the number of associates low, work them like dogs, and pay them like, well, high-paid professionals. This means that recent graduates are still screwed, and I am having trouble taking off my sweatpants today.

Just when I thought all was lost, however, I found a positive story about law firms. And, of course, because that is how we roll, it involves a small firm….

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Meet the new Biglaw. Same as the old Biglaw.

As we mentioned in Morning Docket, the Wall Street Journal has a good article about how various recession-era cutbacks have become entrenched in Biglaw. If you have been paying attention or are a current law student, you know the issues: smaller entry-level classes, stagnant salaries, and a partnership track long enough to make a first-year Ph.D. student laugh.

Basically, if you were already a Biglaw partner when the recession hit, you are likely to say, “What recession?” Your profits per partner have probably gone up, despite the general economy’s woes. Other industries use economic downturns to retool their business models and develop new ways to compete. Not Biglaw. It appears that Biglaw has used the recession to fire a bunch of people, exclude new partners, and keep associate salaries and bonuses at recessionary levels. They haven’t developed a new business model; they’ve just found a way to reduce the costs of the old business model.

Biglaw partner: It’s great work if you can get it. The WSJ even found one partner who was so busy loving himself and his life that he appears to be totally oblivious to the struggles of everybody else…

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According to the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.), small law firms have adopted the mantra: merge or die. Indeed, the number of law firm mergers is staggering. “At least 60 mergers occurred in the U.S. and abroad last year, the highest level since 2008 and a 54% jump from 2010, according to legal-industry consulting firm Altman Weil Inc. Industry experts expect the figure to rise this year.”

Why the up-tick in mergers? The economic downturn has caused a shift when it comes to legal service providers: it is a “seller’s market for the first time in 20 years.” In other words, law firms are not able to raise rates in order to increase profits. So, small firms turn to mergers as a way to increase their revenue and allow them to compete with all-purpose, larger firms. Randall H. Miller, who as managing partner at Denver-based Holme Roberts & Owen LLP helped engineer its acquisition by Bryan Cave, explained that “[l]ittle by little, our ability to service our clients’ needs ha[d] been limited by our smaller size,” which was why he pushed for the merger.

Yet, small firm to large firm mergers are not the answer for all small firms. The article featured several potential problems….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Size Matters: Should I Get a ‘Merge or Die’ T-Shirt?”

Clarence Thomas set the table for the tea party by making originalism fashionable again.

Berkeley Law professor John Yoo, in an interesting Wall Street Journal piece discussing how his former boss, Justice Clarence Thomas, has defended the Constitution and embraced originalism during his twenty years on the high court.

There are 64 open jobs in occupational therapy for every 100 working in the field, the [SimplyHired.com] site’s data show. Yet online job listings for these positions get 50 times fewer clicks than the hardest-to-place industry — the legal field. Meanwhile, unemployed lawyers now find themselves in the country’s most cutthroat race for a job, with less than one opening for every 100 working attorneys.

— from a recent Wall Street Journal article, Where the Jobs Are.

When I graduated from law school, I decided that I would take a job at a large law firm because it would maximize my chances of going in-house. I had no idea what either job would entail, but it seemed like a sensible plan. And, even without knowing what it would be like to be a litigation associate in Biglaw, I suspected it would be bad enough that an exit strategy would be necessary.

A few years later, I switched my exit strategy and went to a small firm. I decided that I could not wait for three to five more years to get the skills required to go in-house. So, I went to a small firm to get “hands on experience” and position myself for my new exit strategy: a federal government job. Then, hiring for federal jobs froze, and the few openings were impossible to get unless you had the exact experience required and could figure out your grade level. Consequently, I am currently reformulating my exit strategy. I am contemplating running for president or becoming a certified yoga instructor.

I have yet to meet a lawyer who did not plan or fantasize about his or her exit strategy from law firm associate, be it Biglaw or small. I blame it on the nightmare that is billing hours — even if the requirement might be less at some places. The most common exit strategies are (1) in-house and (2) fitness professional.

Is it possible, however, for a small-firm associate to go in-house, or is the small-firm associate required to follow my path and find a new exit strategy?

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I always assumed that my youth (or quasi-youth) would guarantee me superstar status in connection with social media. I am not sure why I thought this, because my first foray into Facebook was a bit of a disaster. I was quite late to the party, joining years after I realized that everyone was doing it. To compensate, I went on a mad dash to accumulate as many friends as possible. I sent out friend requests to people that I had barely known, mistreated, been mistreated by and would not acknowledge if I saw them on the street. I would also accept anyone’s friend request. I recall that about a month after I joined, a man with no common friends sent me a request. His name was “Summertime,” he had no last name, and his picture was him without a shirt and holding what appeared to be an ax. I gladly accepted his request. Looking back, I shudder to think what a social media expert would have concluded was my personal brand based on viewing my profile.

Years later, when I became @ValerieLKatz, I forgot my Facebook failure and assumed that I would be a Twitter phenomenon. I believed, as with Facebook, that the only thing that mattered was to have a lot of tweeps.

So how do you get the tweeps, I wondered?

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I’ve always wondered what kind of salary contract lawyers make these days. Okay, not really, I kind of already know, because a lot of my friends are contract lawyers. But for those of you who aren’t familiar with the wonderful world of contract lawyering, the Wall Street Journal had an interesting article yesterday, by Vanessa O’Connell, on the trials and tribulations of these lawyers-for-hire.

The Journal editors decided to give the piece a cutesy title by using a play on words: “Lawyers settle… for temp jobs.” Lawyers are supposed to be settling cases, and now they’re settling for temporary jobs. Oh, that’s so very witty.

What the WSJ folks might not have realized is that when you’re an unemployed new lawyer in this kind of economy, or even if you’re an older one, you don’t really have the option of “settling.” It’s depressing, but you kind of just accept the fact that this is the hand that you’ve been dealt.

But maybe there is a bright side to this situation after all. Maybe these contract attorneys are making serious bank in these temporary positions….

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