Is there really blood in the water around the billable hour? Or are we simply hearing an updated version of a familiar refrain? This morning the Wall Street Journal took another look at killing the billable hour (subscription):
People who follow the world of law firms know, among so much else, two things: 1) that billing-by-the-hour has long been the way law firms get paid and 2) companies have over the years had only limited success in getting firms to agree to do it any other way.
That’s changing. In a big way. Companies are starting to ditch the hourly structure — which critics complain offers law firms an incentive to rack up bigger bills — in favor of flat-fee contracts and other types of arrangements.
Of course, we’ve heard all that before. Heralding the death of the billable hour is much like predicting the end of the world: eventually somebody is going to be right.
Has anything fundamentally changed this time around to make the billable hour more susceptible to death? Here’s the best argument.
Today there were white powder scares at some venerable institutions. The Wall Street Journal editors were targeted this morning, as were professors at Harvard Law School. Many tipsters believe that Professor Alan Dershowitz was targeted.
HLS just sent around this message reassuring students:
Dear members of the HLS Community,
Earlier today, a letter delivered to an office on the Fifth floor of Hauser Hall was opened by a faculty assistant and was found to contain some white powder. The university police and the Cambridge police department were notified and responded to the scene immediately, along with the Cambridge Fire Department and the university’s Environmental Health & Safety team.
There is no indication of adverse effects to any of the people who were in the vicinity of the letter when it was opened. Samples have been taken for laboratory testing by the investigating authorities.
While testing has yet to be completed, the authorities have concluded and informed the law school, based on the investigation thus far, that they do not believe that an evacuation of Hauser Hall is warranted. Nevertheless, because the investigation is ongoing, caution and prudence require that the fifth floor of the building remain off limits until the investigators have cleared the scene. Moreover, in order to minimize the possibility of interference with the investigators and responders, the law school administration is asking that anyone intending to study or conduct
business in Hauser not do so until further notice informing the community that the building can once again be accessed freely.
Any students and staff presently in Hauser should feel free to leave if they so choose. Classes scheduled in Hauser later today or this evening, are being rescheduled, and any affected individuals or groups should contact the office of the Registrar for further information regarding new locations for those activities.
We will continue to update the community as we learn more.
I know Professor Dershowitz a little. Intimidating this man is not an option. In fact, Dersh is more likely to defend these powder sending yahoos and use the case as an educational opportunity for his students than he is to lose sleep over this nonsense.
Last week, we attended and reported on a talk at UVA Law School by Dahlia Lithwick, who discussed covering the Supreme Court. Now we bring you coverage of another interesting event, featuring more navel-gazing by legal journalists:
Reporting the Law: A Year-End Review New York Law School
Moderator: Brian Lehrer, The Brian Lehrer Show, WNYC
Panelists: Emily Bazelon, senior editor, Slate; Dirk Olin, editor, Judicial Reports.com; Dan Slater, lead writer, WSJ Law Blog; Candace Trunzo, editor in chief, Star magazine.
The two lawyers on the panel, Bazelon and Slater, are pretty young things — and were smartly dressed for the occasion. Bazelon, whose features are reminiscent of Christy Turlington’s, wore a white v-neck blouse and well-tailored brown sweater. Slater, baby-faced yet lantern-jawed, wore a gray suit with a blue windowpane pattern, a blue patterned shirt, and a dark navy tie with pink stars (très preppy).
Oh, sorry — we got distracted by the superficial. We have more substantive comments as well.
If you’re interested in the legal media, you can read about the panel discussion after the jump.
Time is running out on this month’s ATL Lawyer of the Year and Second Favorite Blog After ATL polls, both sponsored by ATL and Lateral Link.
So far, we’re up to just over 2,600 votes for Lawyer of the Year, and Wall Street Journal pick Loyola 2L is still going strong. Meanwhile, Barack Obama has a roughly 2.5 to 1 lead over Hillary Clinton, and Alberto Gonzales is stamping out civil rights stomping on music rights attorney Ray Beckerman . . . but pretty much nobody else.
On the blogging front, the Wall Street Journal remains the blog to beat, while Above The Law is still in second place and Volokh Conspiracy is on track for third, having opened up a hefty lead over Patently-O and SCOTUSblog. Write-in candidate Ms. JD has overpowered Overlawyered, and Likelihood of Confusion has turned the tables on Professor Bainbridge and is now closing in on Skadden Insider.
We’ll post the final results on Thursday.
But while you’re voting for the champions above, are you also voting with your feet at work? In last month’s ATL / Lateral Linkjob survey about 20% of you responded that you were considering leaving your current firms once you received your bonus. But that was before many of you knew what your bonuses were going to be.
So last week, we asked you whether your job searches were indeed underway. Find out if the answers changed after the jump.
[M]ost of the laid-off lawyers worked in Cadwalader’s New York headquarters though the firm’s Charlotte, N.C., office was also affected. All were in the firm’s global finance and capital markets practices. Almost all of the affected lawyers were associates, said [management committee member Gregory] Markel, though he said one or two counsel may also have been let go.
[Per Markel:] “We concluded that this was not a three-month phenomenon or even a six-month phenomenon.”
Mr. Markel also said the firm was confident there would be no more layoffs in the future. After yesterday’s action, the firm will still have around 260 lawyers in the two affected practices.
A number of law firms active in the area have already announced cutbacks. Clifford Chance terminated a six-lawyer group in November. Thacher Proffitt & Wood and McKee Nelson both have offered buyouts to large numbers of associates working in the area.
“We were very careful about this, and we waited to see if there were any signs of the economy turning around” before letting lawyers go, says Cadwalader partner Gregory Markel, chairman of the firm’s litigation department. “We didn’t see any evidence of this turning around.”
Cadwalader is one of the most prominent law firms to recently announce layoffs, which could trigger a chain reaction among other firms; capital markets and real-estate practices are down at many firms.
It is still relatively rare for large law firms to engage in mass staff reductions. For one, many large law firms boast specialties, such as litigation and bankruptcy, that typically pick up during down economies.
3. From an observant tipster not at CWT (and presumably happy about it):
“CWT apparently doesn’t update its lateral recruiting page very often, as it currently claims to be looking for structured finance and capital markets attorneys in several offices. See here.”
4. From a source at the firm, an interesting theory about how the news was disseminated, including a possible explanation for why it wasn’t announced announced internally first:
[A] partner in Corporate leaked all this information about the Capital Markets situation to a bunch of associates. Some of it was false, some true. [Management was] really upset with him because they wanted this information to come in an official announcement or meeting, not in rumors flying around.
I’m thinking they accelerated the press announcement because the information started leaking to outside sources, rather than staying inside. I still definitely think that they could have released it internally first, but there may have been other circumstances that I don’t know about. I am not sure if the press release and the corporate partner things are related, but it seems like they would not have released it so abruptly if it didn’t happen. Whenever something major happens, it is usually disclosed internally first.
Reactions were varied to Amir Efrati’s controversial, widely read, front-page Wall Street Journal story about the job prospects for graduates of non-elite law schools. Some students and alumni of non-top-tier law schools hailed the piece for revealing some dirty secrets about American legal education. But not everyone was so pleased.
From a tipster at Brooklyn Law School:
I thought you would be interested in hearing about a BLS Career Services breakfast held this morning. Apparently the director of Career Services at BLS, Joan King, was asked about her reaction to the WSJ article. (Note: this breakfast is an annual event, and was not held as a reaction to the article).
Ms. King said she was contacted in the research-gathering stage by the WSJ author, who interviewed her about the job market for BLS students. She believes that there were some omissions in the article, and that the writer had an agenda: to prove his hypothesis, without highlighting some additional facts.
Amir Efrati, if you see Joan King in a dark alley, turn the other way — and RUN. If you mess with a girl from Brooklyn, you WILL regret it.
And there’s more. Check it out, after the jump.
But it was much more fun to speculate that he was pulling a Judith Miller, hiding out because of his role in Brokeback Lawfirm.
As it turns out, there’s pretty much no doubt that Aaron Charney leaked the Goldman Sachs / Sullivan & Cromwell reviews to Peter Lattman and the Wall Street Journal (as if there was much doubt before). The newly available S&C motion to dismiss states, on page 8, that at the February 1 TRO hearing before Justice Charles Ramos, “Charney admitted that he had the stolen documents described in the Wall Street Journal.” Unless someone else stole the documents, and Charney just happened to stumble upon them and pick them up, his confession to possessing the stolen documents is tantamount to an admission that he stole the documents.
As for Peter Lattman and his story about the Microsoft antitrust case in Iowa — which is now “DOA,” as Lattman puts it, since the parties have settled — we do feel bad for Lattman.
The poor guy spent a week in “snowy, subzero Des Moines.” And he’s not even running for president. Microsoft Settles Iowa Antitrust Class-Action [WSJ Law Blog] Earlier: And Lindsay Lohan Really Was Suffering From ‘Exhaustion’ Brokeback Lawfirm: The S&C Motion to Dismiss
Here is the first set of our photographs from yesterday’s hearing in New York Supreme Court in the lawsuit(s) between Aaron Charney and Sullivan & Cromwell (litigation nickname still to be determined).
We’ve taken a page from the Lavi Soloway playbook: these photos are thumbnail images. If you click on the thumbail, you’ll be able to see a larger version of the picture, in all of its glory.
More photographs, after the jump.
The WSJ Law Blog has just posted a copy of the Sullivan & Cromwell v. Charney complaint. You can access it by clicking here (PDF). How exciting!
We’ll have some thoughts on it shortly. If you’ve already read the S&C Complaint, please opine in the comments.
Lavi Soloway’s already all over the story. As Soloway points out, Charney is now represented by counsel.
So if you play for Team Aaron — no, not in THAT sense (although there’s probably a lot of overlap) — you should feel a lot better. You no longer need to stay up at night, worrying about your boy proceeding pro se against a Biglaw behemoth.
P.S. The PDF of the S&C Complaint is a little blurry. But don’t look a gift horse in the mouth; you gotta love those MSM resources. Thanks, Wall Street Journal! Update: We’ve now had the chance to read the Complaint. Our thoughts on it appear here and here. S&C Strikes Back at Now-Former Associate [WSJ Law Blog via Lavi Soloway] Sullivan & Cromwell LLP v. Aaron Brett Charney (PDF)
Well before Charney v. Sullivan & Cromwell was ever filed, the venerable law firm was dealing with some serious issues. As aptly summarized by New York Magazine’s Intelligencer, “Sullivan & Cromwell lost about 30 percent of its associates in 2004 and 2005. It might take more than a raise to fix that.”
From a fascinating rather interesting Wall Street Journal article by Peter Lattman (which we meant to write about yesterday, before we got swamped by all the pay raise news):
Faced with a surge in turnover of its associates, the prestigious law firm Sullivan & Cromwell LLP has been putting on a charm offensive to hold onto junior lawyers.
The crash course in etiquette went into high gear at a partners meeting last February. To deal with low associate morale and high attrition, a confidential slide presentation reviewed by The Wall Street Journal urged partners to say things like “thank you” and “good work” to associates they supervise.
What else should partners do? “Return associates’ phone calls as quickly as you would a partner’s or client’s,” said one bullet. “Be sensitive to not canceling associates’ vacations,” said another.
Additional bullet-points made these helpful suggestions:
“Don’t tell gay associates that they like taking it up the ass (because they might be tops rather than bottoms).”
“Refrain from subjecting associates to profanity-laced tirades in which you tell them they should be fired.”
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: [email protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months (Robert Kinney and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong again March 15 to 23), and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.
Are you challenged by the costs and logistics of maintaining your office, distracting you from the practice of law?
Many small firms are successfully moving part—or even all—of their practice to a virtual setting. This even includes multi-jurisdictional practice spanning several states and practice areas, although solo and small partnerships are still the largest adopters of virtual law.
Can you do the same? The new article Mobile in Practice, Virtual by Design from author Jared Correia, Esq., explores how mobile technology bring real-life benefits to a small law firm. Read this new article—the next in Thomson Reuters’ Independent Thinking series for small firms—to explore how a mobile practice:
Everyone is talking about the importance of Social Media in Corporate America. But it is relatively safe to say that most law firms and lawyers are slightly behind the social curve. Most lawyers, at minimum, use LinkedIn, for networking. Some even use Twitter for pushing out short, pithy content, while many have Blogs, where they write their little hearts out. The adage “it is better to give than to receive” is not always true though in the world of Social. In the Social World – it is best to listen, give back and engage.
Social Media is a communications tool that can deeply educate you about the needs and wants of your clients and prospects when used in conjunction social media monitoring and sharing tools.
Take this quick quiz and see if you know how to use Social to help you engage more with your clients or to better service the ones you have.