Washington D.C.

Earlier this year, K&L Gates generated some (generally positive) press by issuing an unusually detailed disclosure of its firm financials. The report reflected a reassuringly conservative financial position, with zero bank debt and limited retirement-plan obligations (a trouble spot for many other law firms).

It looks like K&L Gates is keeping to its conservatism. It’s trimming its headcount in D.C. and Seattle, presumably to reduce expenses….

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Washington, D.C. has the most densely concentrated population of lawyers in the nation. The capital has an astounding 1,356 percent more lawyers per capita than New York. One in 12 District residents is an attorney. The nation’s capital is home to just one-fifth of one percent of the national population but accounts for one in every 25 of its lawyers. Could there be some correlation between this total saturation of D.C. with J.D.s and the seeming contempt that the rest of the country holds for the place? Washington’s negative perception problem is such that Slate’s political gabfest felt compelled to devote this week’s podcast to explore the proposition “Washington Is Really Not That Bad.” Examples of this not-badness included the fact that people don’t have to bribe officials to get their social security benefits. So it was kind of a low bar.

In any event, D.C.’s lawyers work in myriad capacities in Congress, government regulatory agencies, non-profits, and lobbying firms. But obviously Washington is very much a Biglaw town as well. The frustration and malaise brought on by the sequester and partisan gridlock seem to be affecting the business of Biglaw. As Lat noted yesterday, large firms there are struggling: revenue, demand and productivity are all lagging at D.C.-based law firms when compared to firms nationwide. So this might not be the ideal time to check in on how lawyers at large D.C.-based firms perceive their professional experiences. But we’ll do it anyway.

Our ATL Insider Survey (13,500+ responses and counting) asks attorneys at firms to evaluate their employers in terms of compensation, hours, training, morale, and culture. After the jump, we’ll look at how firms in Washington stack up in these categories — and how they compare to the national averages…

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D.C. is dysfunctional, as pundits constantly complain about. Has the lack of productivity on Capitol Hill expanded to affect the private law firms of Washington?

Perhaps. According to Citi Private Bank’s recent survey of law firm performance, which showed that the first half of 2013 was bad for Biglaw nationally, D.C.-based law firms did even worse than their counterparts in other cities.

Let’s look at the numbers….

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Last Friday afternoon, we ran a fun little item: a celebrity sighting of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor at the grocery store. Judging from the strong traffic, you enjoyed the story.

So we’re happy to bring you some additional information. As it turns out, the owner of the grocery store in question is an attorney. She left a high-powered legal career to launch her business….

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We don’t do enough reporting about the struggles of contract attorneys. We should do more, because that’s where the jobs are. Biglaw firms have been able to keep traditional associate hiring down thanks to an explosion in the use of contract attorneys. Getting one of these hourly wage jobs actually represents success in a market saturated with underemployed attorneys.

Now I remember why I don’t do a lot of reporting on contract attorneys: acknowledging that these, and not high-paying traditional associate salaried positions, are the jobs coming back in the “recovery” is terribly, terribly sad.

This might come as a shock to you, but being a document monkey on an hourly wage is not all that it’s cracked up to be. These hard-working people generally want to work as much as possible (kind of the opposite of traditional associates) for obvious reasons. But they are often frustrated by all sorts of bureaucracy and poor treatment in their quest to wring some value out of their J.D. degrees.

We have some emails detailing the struggles of one group of contractors working on projects in D.C. Hopefully, this will inspire other contract attorneys to share their experiences with “the new normal”….

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One could argue that justices of the United States Supreme Court are underpaid. After all, their former law clerks get wooed with $300,000 signing bonuses upon leaving One First Street, which is more than what the justices earn in a year (as just noted by The Economist).

Despite being arguably underpaid, the justices still like to shop. In recent weeks, we’ve seen Justice Sotomayor checking out olive oil in Annapolis and Justice Kagan hitting the Apple store in Georgetown.

The court’s first woman member, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, has more time on her hands since retiring. Through an organization she founded called iCivics, she’s advocating for improved education about civics, a cause that’s near and dear to her heart.

Even though she’s supposedly “retired,” the super-energetic Justice O’Connor remains exceedingly busy, occupied by iCivics work, sitting by designation in circuit courts, and promoting her new book (affiliate link). But she still has some free time — including time to go to the grocery.

Let’s hear from a tipster, plus see some photos….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a new series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today’s post is written by Larry Latourette, Executive Director of the Partner Practice at Lateral Link.

Over the last several decades, corporations have increasingly realized that having a voice in Washington is imperative. Lobbying the federal government can yield lucrative returns; studies have estimated the ROI at more than 2,000 percent. Attending to Washington can also prevent or reduce the harmful impact of government lawsuits or investigations that can occur when D.C. is ignored (take, for example, the DOJ’s antitrust case against Microsoft before it had a meaningful voice in Washington). In response, companies have set up Washington offices and joined or augmented industry trade associations to represent their interests.

Following their clients, D.C. law firms in turn have significantly beefed up their lobbying efforts and personnel to meet these increased demands. Some firms, like Patton Boggs, Akin Gump, K&L Gates, and Holland & Knight, now have scores of lobbyists on the payroll that have made major and, until recently, growing contributions to the bottom line. It’s probably no accident that D.C. is one of the only jurisdictions allowing non-lawyers to be partners in law firms.

Recent congressional gridlock, however, has posed difficulties for law firms and policy shops that depend on the flow of legislation for their revenue….

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Working as a lawyer for the federal government can be a pretty sweet gig. The work is interesting, the hours are reasonable, and the pay is good (at least by public-sector standards).

But it appears that there are sweeter jobs — literally as well as figuratively. Earlier this month, we told you about Warren Brown, who left his position as a lawyer for the Department of Health and Human Services so he could launch CakeLove, the successful bakery chain.

Today we bring you the story of another lawyer for the federal government who is getting her just desserts. We hope you’ve eaten lunch already, because hearing about her crazily creative flavors of ice cream will make you hungry….

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What should unemployed law school graduates do when they can’t find work and can’t feed themselves? A certain great French princess — although not Marie Antoinette, FYI — might say, “Let them eat cake.”

But not everyone can afford cake. Debt-burdened young (and not-so-young) lawyers don’t want to spend dough; they want to make it.

Perhaps literally as well as figuratively. Do you have some talent in the kitchen? Here’s an inspiring story for you….

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We should have known that the Fisher opinion was going to be a letdown — a “great big dodge,” as my colleague Elie Mystal put it. Instead of readying herself for an historical moment, Justice Elena Kagan spent yesterday doing some window-shopping.

Where did she go, and what merchandise did she check out? Here’s an eyewitness report….

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