Biglaw lawyer taking questions

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Renzo
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby Renzo » Sun Jul 03, 2011 3:19 pm

quakeroats wrote:
3rdYrLitigator wrote:
Probably the majority. The firm counsels out the lowest performers, but it doesn't end up being a ton of people. Most people are leaving for other reasons.


What do you mean by counsels out? Gives them a bad performance review and let's the associate connect the dots? Tells them they aren't cutting it and should resign? Tells them they're fired? Offers them an Of Counsel slot?


From just 2 posts above yours:

3rdYrLitigator wrote:
From what I understand it's generally a conversation like "you should be looking at other opportunities." I think the general understanding is you get 6 months and then they'll just fire you. I don't think they say that outright. I don't think they'll just say you have 2 weeks, unless it's a mass layoff deal or you are really a bad associate at least not at my firm.

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thesealocust
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby thesealocust » Sun Jul 03, 2011 3:43 pm

I've most often heard it euphemistically referred to as something to the effect of a "so where do you see your career going from here? Is there anything I - or the firm - can do to help you?" talk from a partner.

schooner
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby schooner » Sun Jul 03, 2011 4:01 pm

What do you think about your firm's billing rate (for associates, partners, top rainmakers, etc)? Honestly speaking, do you think the rate charged is "fair"?

What do you think about this article: Big Law's $1,000-Plus an Hour Club - Are any of them in your firm?

About the lawyers in your firm who command the most spectacular rates - do you think they're genuinely the best in your firm? What makes them so special/skilled? (Do you think it's innate talent?) Are they all from T3, T6, etc?

Anonymous User
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Jul 03, 2011 4:11 pm

schooner wrote:What do you think about your firm's billing rate (for associates, partners, top rainmakers, etc)? Honestly speaking, do you think the rate charged is "fair"?

What do you think about this article: Big Law's $1,000-Plus an Hour Club - Are any of them in your firm?

About the lawyers in your firm who command the most spectacular rates - do you think they're genuinely the best in your firm? What makes them so special/skilled? (Do you think it's innate talent?) Are they all from T3, T6, etc?


It's not as rare as that article makes it seem. I've seen rates pushing $1,500 / hour for partners with more esoteric specialties at my top-tier NYC firm.

It has nothing to do with what law school they came from.

(obviously not OP)

seriouslyinformative
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby seriouslyinformative » Sun Jul 03, 2011 4:15 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
schooner wrote:What do you think about your firm's billing rate (for associates, partners, top rainmakers, etc)? Honestly speaking, do you think the rate charged is "fair"?

What do you think about this article: Big Law's $1,000-Plus an Hour Club - Are any of them in your firm?

About the lawyers in your firm who command the most spectacular rates - do you think they're genuinely the best in your firm? What makes them so special/skilled? (Do you think it's innate talent?) Are they all from T3, T6, etc?


It's not as rare as that article makes it seem. I've seen rates pushing $1,500 / hour for partners with more esoteric specialties at my top-tier NYC firm.

It has nothing to do with what law school they came from.

(obviously not OP)


And the question of fairness obviously doesn't enter the equation. These lawyers are priced at what they believe the the market is willing to pay them.

3rdYrLitigator
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby 3rdYrLitigator » Sun Jul 03, 2011 4:33 pm

schooner wrote:What do you think about your firm's billing rate (for associates, partners, top rainmakers, etc)? Honestly speaking, do you think the rate charged is "fair"?

What do you think about this article: Big Law's $1,000-Plus an Hour Club - Are any of them in your firm?

About the lawyers in your firm who command the most spectacular rates - do you think they're genuinely the best in your firm? What makes them so special/skilled? (Do you think it's innate talent?) Are they all from T3, T6, etc?


I didn't read the article or check which firms are on that list, but I'd be surprised if there weren't any of the partners at my firm on that list.

I think the only way people can charge a lot by the hour is if people are willing to pay for it. I think the top billers are genuinely the best at something, either they're experts in their area, or they have great personal relationships and can make people believe they're worth it. I don't think their skill is innate talent alone, I think it's talent, hard work, and a ton of luck. I believe many of the top partners are from top schools, but have never did any sort of analysis of it.

Edit: I should say that it seems that many of the most expensive partners are from top schools, but so are most of the partners in general.

schooner
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby schooner » Sun Jul 03, 2011 4:51 pm

3rdYrLitigator wrote:
schooner wrote:What do you think about your firm's billing rate (for associates, partners, top rainmakers, etc)? Honestly speaking, do you think the rate charged is "fair"?

What do you think about this article: Big Law's $1,000-Plus an Hour Club - Are any of them in your firm?

About the lawyers in your firm who command the most spectacular rates - do you think they're genuinely the best in your firm? What makes them so special/skilled? (Do you think it's innate talent?) Are they all from T3, T6, etc?


I didn't read the article or check which firms are on that list, but I'd be surprised if there weren't any of the partners at my firm on that list.

I think the only way people can charge a lot by the hour is if people are willing to pay for it. I think the top billers are genuinely the best at something, either they're experts in their area, or they have great personal relationships and can make people believe they're worth it. I don't think their skill is innate talent alone, I think it's talent, hard work, and a ton of luck. I believe many of the top partners are from top schools, but have never did any sort of analysis of it.

Edit: I should say that it seems that many of the most expensive partners are from top schools, but so are most of the partners in general.


So I assume each lawyer's billing rate is open knowledge within the firm? (That is, if someone was curious, he could quietly look up the info somewhere.) For the lawyers at the same level (i.e., the partners), are the ones with the lowest rates looked down upon?

Edited to correct a stupid typo

Anonymous User
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Jul 03, 2011 5:07 pm

schooner wrote:So I assume each lawyer's billing rate is open knowledge within the firm? (That is, if someone was curious, he could quietly look up the info somewhere.) For the lawyers at the same level (i.e., the partners), are the ones with the lowest rates looked down upon?

Edited to correct a stupid typo


It's relatively accurate that you can figure it out. Billing systems and engagement letters are relatively transparent to employees at most firms. I've always known my personal billing rate + that of the people I'm working at.

At most firms, billing rate has at least some element of 'lock step' to it - it just goes up as you age. That's universally true for associates. To that end, it doesn't really present an opportunity for a pissing contest. Exigencies can influence it more than skill / talent. Bankruptcy lawyers know their fee schedule is likely to become part of the public record. Tax lawyers and derivatives experts know that their extreme specialization can command higher rates, often because fewer hours are necessary to grind at an issue. M&A lawyers take fees equal to a percentage of a deal or get hired on retainer to make sure they can't be used against the client in the event of a hostile bid, which is totally outside of the hourly bidding paradigm.

Your billing rate isn't like your LSAT score, shoe size, or bank account. It's more like your age at most firms. The article is somewhat sensationalist, as I have already noted.

3rdYrLitigator
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby 3rdYrLitigator » Sun Jul 03, 2011 5:08 pm

schooner wrote:
3rdYrLitigator wrote:
schooner wrote:What do you think about your firm's billing rate (for associates, partners, top rainmakers, etc)? Honestly speaking, do you think the rate charged is "fair"?

What do you think about this article: Big Law's $1,000-Plus an Hour Club - Are any of them in your firm?

About the lawyers in your firm who command the most spectacular rates - do you think they're genuinely the best in your firm? What makes them so special/skilled? (Do you think it's innate talent?) Are they all from T3, T6, etc?


I didn't read the article or check which firms are on that list, but I'd be surprised if there weren't any of the partners at my firm on that list.


I think the only way people can charge a lot by the hour is if people are willing to pay for it. I think the top billers are genuinely the best at something, either they're experts in their area, or they have great personal relationships and can make people believe they're worth it. I don't think their skill is innate talent alone, I think it's talent, hard work, and a ton of luck. I believe many of the top partners are from top schools, but have never did any sort of analysis of it.

Edit: I should say that it seems that many of the most expensive partners are from top schools, but so are most of the partners in general.


So I assume each lawyer's billing rate is open knowledge within the firm? (That is, if someone was curious, he could quietly look up the info somewhere.) For the lawyers at the same level (i.e., the partners), are the ones with the lowest rates looked down upon?

Edited to correct a stupid typo


I don't know if that's true at all firms, at mine yes. I don't know what partners think about each other's billing rates, but it's not like all partners are equal. There's a seniority system in the partnership, and a pure billing rate isn't the only measure of a partner's worth.

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quakeroats
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby quakeroats » Sun Jul 03, 2011 5:34 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
At most firms, billing rate has at least some element of 'lock step' to it - it just goes up as you age. That's universally true for associates. To that end, it doesn't really present an opportunity for a pissing contest. Exigencies can influence it more than skill / talent. Bankruptcy lawyers know their fee schedule is likely to become part of the public record. Tax lawyers and derivatives experts know that their extreme specialization can command higher rates, often because fewer hours are necessary to grind at an issue. M&A lawyers take fees equal to a percentage of a deal or get hired on retainer to make sure they can't be used against the client in the event of a hostile bid, which is totally outside of the hourly bidding paradigm.


Do disparities in profitability across practice areas have any effects you've noticed?

Anonymous User
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Jul 03, 2011 5:37 pm

quakeroats wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
At most firms, billing rate has at least some element of 'lock step' to it - it just goes up as you age. That's universally true for associates. To that end, it doesn't really present an opportunity for a pissing contest. Exigencies can influence it more than skill / talent. Bankruptcy lawyers know their fee schedule is likely to become part of the public record. Tax lawyers and derivatives experts know that their extreme specialization can command higher rates, often because fewer hours are necessary to grind at an issue. M&A lawyers take fees equal to a percentage of a deal or get hired on retainer to make sure they can't be used against the client in the event of a hostile bid, which is totally outside of the hourly bidding paradigm.


Do disparities in profitability across practice areas have any effects you've noticed?


(quoted anon) depends on the firm. Huge effect at an eat what you kill firm, because it can cause major friction. Whose client is it anyway games, etc. At (the few remaining) firms with lockstep compensation for partners it can be a non-issue, though there's always the risk that a partner will leave lockstep and join a firm like Cadwalader where they will be given more $$$ and a Flotilla made out of wrecked associates to command.

formerbiglawpartner
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby formerbiglawpartner » Sun Jul 03, 2011 5:44 pm

I'll jump in here with a short answer: of course, particularly from an associate's standpoint. The more profitable a section, the more likely associates in that section will be retained and some eventually promoted to partner. Also, the partners within that practice area will be better compensated. For example, every full practice firm has a trusts and estates section or a family law section, but those partners typically can't expect the same level of compensation as M&A lawyers or litigators within the same firm. Partnership compensation is in no way lockstep.

Anonymous User
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Jul 03, 2011 6:14 pm

formerbiglawpartner wrote: Partnership compensation is in no way lockstep.


This is probably true at a majority of law firms, but there are still at least a handful with true lockstep partnership compensation. It seems to be especially prevalent at prestigious / white shoe NYC firms, where the culture / prestige / club mentality keeps partners in place as much as the pay check.

I know for a certainty that it's true at Cravath and Davis Polk. I believe it is true at at least a few others.

schooner
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby schooner » Sun Jul 03, 2011 6:16 pm

Anonymous User wrote:Huge effect at an eat what you kill firm, because it can cause major friction. Whose client is it anyway games, etc.


Very interesting. What are the other sources of major drama/friction/gossip at your firm? Do you guys track abovethelaw.com?

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BruceWayne
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby BruceWayne » Sun Jul 03, 2011 6:20 pm

3rdYrLitigator wrote:
schooner wrote:This is an interesting thread. Thank you for offering your time and advice.

You wrote earlier that associates at all levels are asked to leave your firm all the time. When that happens, are they just summarily fired and forced to leave ("you've been laid off and have to leave in two weeks") or do they discreetly get an indefinite amount of time to look for another job first? Any adjustments to that process during this economy? Do you know where these dismissed associates at your firm usually ended up?


From what I understand it's generally a conversation like "you should be looking at other opportunities." I think the general understanding is you get 6 months and then they'll just fire you. I don't think they say that outright. I don't think they'll just say you have 2 weeks, unless it's a mass layoff deal or you are really a bad associate at least not at my firm. There didn't seem to be any adjustment due to the economy, people still got about 6 months to look. Associates ended up at smaller firms, peer firms, government, or out of law entirely, it really varies.



Do they do this and then not give you any assistance in finding anything else (ie not giving good references when asked)?

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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Jul 03, 2011 6:23 pm

schooner wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:Huge effect at an eat what you kill firm, because it can cause major friction. Whose client is it anyway games, etc.


Very interesting. What are the other sources of major drama/friction/gossip at your firm? Do you guys track abovethelaw.com?


My firm has lockstep partnership compensation, so if there's drama I haven't seen any. The partners brag about how low drama it is - a client has an issue and we find a partner to do it. People freely move work around, consult one another without figuring out who gets the bill, etc.

On the flip side, my father was a partner at an eat what you kill big firm. He spoke of a "comp book" detailing how each partner's compensation was determined that every partner was entitled to see each year. It was also known that requesting to see it would invariably lead to decreased comp in following years. He was eventually pushed out of the firm because the area of the law he specialized in grew less lucrative over time (it happens - as an example, Dodd Frank is huge now and has a bright future while structuring mortgage backed securities blew up spectacularly a few years back in the crash). I'm not saying that wouldn't happen at a lock step firm, but it's the default presumption at an eat what you kill firm that once you stop killing, even if it's temporary or you could plausibly find other targets given the time, you stop eating.

schooner
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby schooner » Sun Jul 03, 2011 6:28 pm

Anonymous User wrote:He was eventually pushed out of the firm because the area of the law he specialized in grew less lucrative over time


What is your advice to current students and junior associates on how best to guard against this? I'd like to hear input on this from you, the OP, and any other lawyer in this thread.

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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Jul 03, 2011 6:31 pm

schooner wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:He was eventually pushed out of the firm because the area of the law he specialized in grew less lucrative over time


What is your advice to current students and junior associates on how best to guard against this? I'd like to hear input on this from you, the OP, and any other lawyer in this thread.


There's nothing you can do. It's life. He got another awesome job that he liked a lot and worked there happily until he retired.

If you want to be an M&A lawyer, and Congress decides to throw a wrench into the system and federalizes takeover law due to threats from China leaving deal volume slashed by 90%, you're going to stop being an M&A lawyer. No class, firm choice, personality quirk, insurance policy, or good luck charm will save you. But if you're a good lawyer, some one will be there to pay you for doing their lawyering in some context.

That particular example is hyperbolic, but the example of the recent mass layoffs shows it can be quite real. One day your securitization practice is booming, the next your securitization practice blows up the economy, the next you're fired.

So it goes.

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PKSebben
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby PKSebben » Sun Jul 03, 2011 6:36 pm

schooner wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:He was eventually pushed out of the firm because the area of the law he specialized in grew less lucrative over time


What is your advice to current students and junior associates on how best to guard against this? I'd like to hear input on this from you, the OP, and any other lawyer in this thread.


some of this is in your control, some of it isn't. Our firm has niches that are basically cart and buggy law and once these cases/deals are done, it's curtains for them. My plan is to grab enough generalist work for the first couple years and avoid getting staffed on those cases at any cost. I'm also actively trying to get work with as many good partners as I can. Although it's easier just taking your work from one dude, I'd like to get to know as many partners as I can and get them familiar with my work product, because who knows when a institutional client may bail, or the partner may bail. My end game is to try and do as much work under a partner that has a consistent stable of clients and isn't a complete nightmare to work for while doing one-offs for others.

Anonymous User
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Jul 03, 2011 6:37 pm

PKSebben wrote:
schooner wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:He was eventually pushed out of the firm because the area of the law he specialized in grew less lucrative over time


What is your advice to current students and junior associates on how best to guard against this? I'd like to hear input on this from you, the OP, and any other lawyer in this thread.


some of this is in your control, some of it isn't. Our firm has niches that are basically cart and buggy law and once these cases/deals are done, it's curtains for them. My plan is to grab enough generalist work for the first couple years and avoid getting staffed on those cases at any cost. I'm also actively trying to get work with as many good partners as I can. Although it's easier just taking your work from one dude, I'd like to get to know as many partners as I can and get them familiar with my work product, because who knows when a institutional client may bail, or the partner may bail. My end game is to try and do as much work under a partner that has a consistent stable of clients and isn't a complete nightmare to work for while doing one-offs for others.


(anon immediately above) this is probably a better answer than mine.

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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby Anonymous User » Sun Jul 03, 2011 6:47 pm

I've talked to a couple of associates in the year 2-3 range (when fatigue starts to set it) who have expressed that they would love to go into private practice for themselves, or work at a boutique firm.

Are these sentiments generally considered pipe dreams, or have you seen this kind of thing happen? If a junior associate isn't given the skill set or connections to start their own firm, or work boutique, what generally happens to all the dropouts at firms with high attrition rates?

formerbiglawpartner
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby formerbiglawpartner » Sun Jul 03, 2011 6:47 pm

Back to partnership compensation. My firm was lockstep for partners in the old days, but that is no longer the paradigm at the vast majority of firms. Having said that, there is definitely a sliding scale between "lockstep" and "eat what you kill." As for choosing the best practice area, I was truly fortunate to be at a firm that actually felt invested in its associates. My original area of expertise--incredibly lucrative to the firm in its day--went away with a stroke of a presidential pen. Rather than laying off all the attorneys in the section which sounds like the practice these days, everyone was able to transfer to another section with the support and good wishes of the firm. I went on to make partner in that second area. I would hope there are still firms out there like mine.

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beach_terror
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby beach_terror » Sun Jul 03, 2011 6:53 pm

Reposting this from another thread about hiring but it's still relevant:

Okay so most of the firms at our OCI are biglaw firms with huge litigation and business transaction departments. However, while that stuff mildly interests me, I really want to get into environmental law. Most of the firms have small departments (10-12 attorneys total) for that, would it be a good thing to bring up in the interview? I'm not sure how one goes about showing interest in a smaller niche practice within the firm - and whether that's even a good idea. Another obstacle with wanting this is that all of the people I make contact with in the interviews will be from the big 2 departments, so if I express interest in a different practice area they may not care or may not be able to give any input on that particular practice's needs.

Any input would be greatly appreciated!

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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby imchuckbass58 » Sun Jul 03, 2011 8:42 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
formerbiglawpartner wrote: Partnership compensation is in no way lockstep.


This is probably true at a majority of law firms, but there are still at least a handful with true lockstep partnership compensation. It seems to be especially prevalent at prestigious / white shoe NYC firms, where the culture / prestige / club mentality keeps partners in place as much as the pay check.

I know for a certainty that it's true at Cravath and Davis Polk. I believe it is true at at least a few others.


It's also true at Cleary, Debevoise, Covington, and STB.

Renzo
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Re: Biglaw lawyer taking questions

Postby Renzo » Sun Jul 03, 2011 9:42 pm

imchuckbass58 wrote:
Anonymous User wrote:
formerbiglawpartner wrote: Partnership compensation is in no way lockstep.


This is probably true at a majority of law firms, but there are still at least a handful with true lockstep partnership compensation. It seems to be especially prevalent at prestigious / white shoe NYC firms, where the culture / prestige / club mentality keeps partners in place as much as the pay check.

I know for a certainty that it's true at Cravath and Davis Polk. I believe it is true at at least a few others.


It's also true at Cleary, Debevoise, Covington, and STB.


I might be wrong, but I thought Cleary had a sort of modified lock-step, where there was variance between partners, but only within a limited acceptable range, so no partner was allowed to make many multiples of what others make.




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