Winston & Strawn

Here in New York, we’re not worried about hurricanes, we’re not worried about terrorists, we’re not worried about whether or not Derek Jeter “cheated” to get on base. We are worried about one thing: bedbugs.

Bed bugs are everywhere. Lat has this theory that we’ve reached bedbug epidemic stage and that everybody eventually will have them at same point. I’m retraining my Lhasa Apso to be a bed bug sniffing dog in hopes of making a little extra money. The threat of coming into contact with somebody who has been in contact with somebody who knows somebody who had bed bugs is real.

So you can imagine the horror felt by associates in the New York office of Winston & Strawn, when they received an early morning, pre-recorded phone message from the firm…

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We’re doing our annual march through the Vault prestige rankings, to give ATL readers the opportunity to have their say about perks and pitfalls at these firms. If your firm actually let you swap your Blackberry for your iPhone, brag here. Or if your firm has such a strong stench that it makes you nauseous, vent here.

We’ve been doing open threads in batches of ten, but now we’re going to pick up the pace. Here are the Vault #41 – 60. This is when the prestige list gets a little more geographically diverse, with firms based in Houston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Palo Alto and even Pittsburgh:

41. Winston & Strawn
42. Baker Botts
43. Jenner & Block
44. Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft
45. Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
46. Proskauer Rose
47 (tie). Dewey & LeBoeuf
47 (tie). King & Spalding
48. Goodwin Procter
49. Baker & McKenzie
50. Fulbright & Jaworski
51. Vinson & Elkins
52. McDermott Will & Emery
53. DLA Piper
54. Morgan Lewis & Bockius
55. Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
56. Bingham McCutchen LLP
57. Dechert LLP
58. Cooley LLP
59. K&L Gates LLP
60. Alston & Bird LLP

We took a spin through their Vault rankings and awarded superlatives, after the jump.

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It’s clear that Winston & Strawn isn’t happy about all the publicity it’s getting over Jonathan Bristol, the Winston partner — or former partner? — who has gotten entangled with Kenneth Starr

In case you haven’t been following the case of Kenneth Starr — not the one who brought us the delectable Starr Report, but the one who managed money for celebrity clients and now stands accused of a $30 million investment fraud — Jonathan Bristol did legal work for Starr. Bristol is referred to in the criminal complaint as “Associate-4″ — not as catchy as “Client No. 9,” but it’ll do.

Since the Starr story broke, Winston has refused to comment on the case or to clarify Bristol’s current status at the firm. On the latter subject, there are conflicting reports:

Bristol is a Winston & Strawn partner who arrived at the firm from the now-defunct Thelen. Bristol is not charged with any crime and faces no civil charges. But he appears to be gone from Winston, though firm higher-ups and a spokesman will not comment publicly on Bristol’s status. Two sources familiar with the matter say Bristol is indeed gone from Winston, though one source close to the case insists that Winston did not terminate Bristol.

Regardless of whether he’s still connected to the firm, Jonathan Bristol is definitely gone from the Winston website. As in really, truly gone.

Last week, Winston removed Bristol’s bio from the firm website. But that’s not all. Winston went to the trouble of taking the November 2008 press release touting Jonathan Bristol’s arrival at the firm (along with several other Thelen lawyers), revising it to omit any mention of Bristol, and then putting it back on the firm website….

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Last week, we took a peek inside the black box of compensation at Winston & Strawn. We also discussed stealth layoffs at the firm.

We felt our report was fairly hard-hitting. But one Winston source thinks we didn’t go far enough:

In my humble opinion, you weren’t sufficiently critical of Winston. The real message here is that many associates, including those who make their hours, are getting little to no raise because the firm is re-drawing the rules after-the-fact to ensure that it only has to pay out what it wants, and making partner is basically impossible here from now on.

Morale is shockingly low. The firm’s closest competitors like Sidley and Mayer Brown do not appear to be acting nearly as devious (though I am sure they have their bad behaviors too).

Meanwhile, some incoming associates at Winston seem anxious about their fates — and how they’re going to make ends meet while waiting to start at the firm….

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Life outside of lockstep is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get. A lockstep system for compensating and promoting associates has its drawbacks, to be sure. But at least it offers the virtues of transparency and predictability.

Earlier this week, we covered the arguably amorphous definition of “merit” at WilmerHale, one of several leading law firms to abandon lockstep. Today we turn our attention to Winston & Strawn, another prominent firm that has moved to a more “merit-based” system of compensation.

Back in February, we described Winston’s compensation scheme not as a box of chocolates — that would be sweet and delicious! — but as a black box. Among associates, nobody really knows what anyone else is making. As stated in the firm memo, “Individual associate salaries will be determined on a case by case basis based on seniority, performance and productivity factors and will be communicated separately to each associate.”

We now have a better sense of what’s going on at Winston, thanks to the recent release of individualized salary info (and some comparing of notes among Winston associates). And not everyone is happy….

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And additional info on stealth layoffs.

‘Think,’ one of the pieces on display at Agora Gallery.

This past weekend, two of your ATL editors paid a visit to Agora Gallery in Chelsea. We wanted to see for ourselves the LEGO brick sculptures of Nathan Sawaya, the lawyer turned LEGO artist.

As explained in our profile of Sawaya, the NYU Law grad left Winston & Strawn for a $30,000-a-year job as a builder at LEGOLAND. Several years later, Sawaya is now a world-renowned LEGO artist, whose works sell for thousands of dollars.

So, what did we get to set our eyes on? And how did we like it?

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Nathan Sawaya went to the trouble of getting a law degree, but now he’s making a living with a skill he mastered in kindergarten.

Instead of building cases these days, Sawaya is building large-scale sculptures out of LEGOs. He’s been a LEGO fanatic since he got his first set at 5 years old. He told Image Magazine that while at NYU Law, rather than using his law school desk for studying, he used it for building a LEGO replica of Greenwich Village.

Despite spending his law school days playing with blocks, he managed to score an offer from Winston & Strawn.

Six years ago, though, he won a contest at Toys R’ Us and left the firm to take a $30,000 job as a builder at LEGOland. That batsh*t crazy decision has actually turned out well for Sawaya, 36, if you consider being a world-renowned LEGO artist to be a good thing.

New Yorkers can now check out his work at Agora Gallery in Chelsea. “Brick by Brick: The Lego Brick Sculpture of Nathan Sawaya” opens today.

What might you see beyond a man-size Blackberry (with a built-in flat screen TV)? Here are some examples of Sawaya’s “art”:

Winston Strawn LLP logo Above the Law blog.jpgFriday brought good news and bad news for Winston & Strawn associates.

The good news is that the double salary freeze, which has apparently resulted in first- through third-year associates at Winston all earning $160,000, may be thawing. Managing partner Thomas Fitzgerald sent a memo — this time to its intended recipients — indicating that raises are on the way.

The bad news is that Winston associates don’t know how much of a raise they’ll be getting — and the most they can hope for is a salary that matches the market. The memorandum contains the standard $160K salary scale — 160-170-185-210-230-250-265-280 — but states that “[s]alary levels in each associate class will range up to the maximum base compensation levels set forth” in the memo (emphases added).

The Winston associates we’ve heard from are upset. They’re unhappy not just about the move away from lockstep, but over the firm’s failure to set forth in detail how salaries will be determined. Most of the other firms that have abandoned lockstep have set forth elaborate systems for evaluating associates to determine their compensation and advancement. The Winston memo simply states: “Individual associate salaries will be determined on a case by case basis based on seniority, performance and productivity factors and will be communicated separately to each associate.”

This is a “black box” approach to compensation. It’s used by other big firms — e.g., Jones Day — but it’s a significant departure from Winston’s historical practice. It’s not what Winston associates signed up for when they joined the firm.

But then again, thanks to the Great Recession, lots of Biglaw associates aren’t getting what they expected when they joined their firms. And if associates aren’t happy, with compensation or any other aspect of their employment, their firms will tell them: you’re free to leave. In the words of an unemployed woman quoted in this weekend’s New York Times, “There are no bad jobs now. Any job is a good job.”

There’s a little more bad news about Winston associate salaries. Find out what it is, and read the full Winston & Strawn memo, after the jump.

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