Building a Better Legal Profession :: The Old Blog

“Less Money, Fewer Hours,” Say Many Summer Associates by refirm2007
December 4, 2007, 7:27 pm
Filed under: Job Search Tools

The American Lawyer has just published the results of its annual summer associate survey.  Overall, the piece argues that summers have a better experience (training, mentorship, etc) at medium-size firms:

Students craved juicy assignments, friendly offices and lots of attention, and the firms that best satisfied these needs tended to be medium-size shops with relatively small summer programs.

But the buzz around BBLP was about the survey’s work/life balance findings.  Time and time again, we at BBLP hear that over-worked associates have too much money and no time to spend it.  They frequently tell us they would happily trade money for more personal time.

Firms, take note: even in the midst of all the wining and dining, the “less money, fewer hours” message has filtered down to summer associates.  According to AmLaw,

Others suggested they would gladly trade some of the riches for less time at the office. “Give people an option of opting out of the salary increase in return for less billable hours,” advised a clerk at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. “Stop raising salaries, it is just going to hit us in hours in the end,” grumbled a summer associate at Hogan & Hartson.

Indeed, interns got a taste of how arduous law firm life can be. On average, they worked 44 hours per week. An Orrick summer grimly remembered “watching the sun go down and come back up and not even realizing the time had passed as I worked all night to finish a memo.” At LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, a clerk recalled “sending an e-mail to an associate past 1 a.m. and getting a reply in less than two minutes. Scary.”

For most respondents, long hours weren’t appealing. When asked to identify factors influencing whether they would accept a full-time job offer, students cited “work/life balance” 54 percent of the time. No other factor was chosen more often. 

Students heading to big firms next summer increasingly want something different.  It’s not about finding the most prestigious place with the highest salary.  Work/life balance is a big issue for our generation, and will continue to be as we become associates and partners in large law firms.

Finally — for those students wondering how to have the best big firm summer possible — if last year is any guide, summers have the best time when they found great training and had good work to do.

Firms that did well in the survey, whether large or small, focused on training and mentoring and pushed partners to involve summers in exciting projects.  . . . One of the few big programs at the top of the chart, Philadelphia’s Morgan, Lewis & Bockius maintained its strong ranking — fourth this year, seventh last year — by making sure that its 120 clerks had plenty of real work.

You can view the entire article and rankings here.


Our Professional Obligations by refirm2007
December 4, 2007, 6:50 pm
Filed under: Law reform

Judge Baer (SDNY) is NOT happy. Last Friday he released an opinion containing some strong words for the legal profession (HT: WSJ):

The legal profession has seen a transformation wherein the naked competition and singular economic focus of the marketplace have begun to infiltrate the practice of the law, subordinating high standards of service, collegiality, and professionalism as a result.

The next 125 pages are spent detailing the misbehavior of a couple of attorneys practicing before him. But Baer’s not done with the rest of us:

The fact that partners are at times made and retained for their rainmaking skills and not for their legal skill, that the number of billable hours is not only the alpha and omega of bonuses but that these hours – or at least the ones that count – often exclude pro bono hours, or that who gets credit for originating a piece of business can throw a firm into turmoil and prompt internecine struggles, or that the bottom line has eclipsed most everything else for which the practice of law stands or stood to the extent that the practice of law is now frequently described as a business rather than a profession.

No one’s confused into thinking that there was some ‘golden age’ of practice, where law was exclusively a profession. Law has always been both a profession and a business, and will continue to be. But Judge Baer’s not alone in thinking that we’ve moved too far away from the roots our professional obligations to clients and the community.

In this particular case, it seems clear that the client isn’t getting anywhere by hiring lawyers that make Judge Baer this mad. You don’t hire a firm thinking, “I want the Judge to write a 129 page opinion disciplining my attorney. That’s the best way to victory.” So put this case aside for a second.

Judge Baer’s opinion provides a good opportunity to step back and evaluate your own work for a second. It’s a chance to make sure we’re really living up to our professional obligations of service to others.

– Do we really have the same interests as our clients? It should depend on how each side measures success, yes. But for many attorneys at large firms, the need to achieve high billables — using this number as the measure of our professional success — means tracking something fundamentally contrary to client outcomes. Is there a better way to do this?

– Even in a time with steep competition and ever-increasing business pressure, are we still looking out for our community? Does our understanding of the law as a profession include service to something or someone greater than ourselves?

Wining & Dining by refirm2007
November 27, 2007, 8:05 pm
Filed under: Law reform

Last weekend’s “Dr. Drug Rep” article in the Times Magazine caught my eye. In it, a doctor explains how he was recruited to become a once-a-week salesman for a large pharmaceutical company (Wyeth), eventually going town to town to speak to other doctors about a particular anti-depressant for $500/hour.

We pick up the story after the author’s recruitment visit to New York. He’s just heard the firm’s pharmaceutical company’s pitch:

Was I swallowing the message whole? Certainly not. I knew that this was hardly impartial medical education, and that we were being fed a marketing line. But when you are treated like the anointed, wined and dined in Manhattan and placed among the leaders of the field, you inevitably put some of your critical faculties on hold. I was truly impressed with Effexor’s remission numbers, and like any physician, I was hopeful that something new and different had been introduced to my quiver of therapeutic options.

At the end of the last lecture, we were all handed envelopes as we left the conference room. Inside were checks for $750. It was time to enjoy ourselves in the city.

It’s an all-too familiar feeling. As we approach the end of recruiting season, we at BBLP wish you well in your decisions. And hope you don’t put “your critical faculties on hold.”

The Strange World of Law Firm Recruiting by refirm2007
November 13, 2007, 11:28 pm
Filed under: Law reform

Some thoughts on the incredible recruiting system employed by large law firms, by Irene Hahn, a student at Stanford Law School:

If you’re looking for evidence of the market power of law students, look no further than the nature of law firm recruiting. It’s a strange place, really.

In major U.S. markets, the median starting salary for associates at large firms is $145,000, and many firms begin at $160,000. Oftentimes that doesn’t include an annual bonus, which can be significant: as reported in the New York Times, Cravath recently announced that associates will receive a one-time bonus of between $10,000 and $50,000 on top of the starting salary of $160,000. This bonus has since been matched by other firms.

For all that cash, you’d think that the selection process would be grueling, subjecting would-be associates to tough questions evaluating their analytical skills and motivations. But the reality? Not nearly as grueling as you’d expect, as a recent article in the American Lawyer reported:

It’s a scary prospect, meeting with partners at a big firm about a job. But, as one law student who landed a summer position at Latham & Watkins quickly realized, the pre-interview jitters were the hardest part. “I don’t think through the entire interview process I got one difficult question,” he says. In fact, the partners he met weren’t all that interested in his academic work or his future career: “Almost everyone I talked to did fantasy football and was really interested in talking about their inner-firm leagues,” he says. Partners might have been trying to make a connection with him by chatting about the trivial, but as the Latham summer puts it: “You don’t feel you are being seriously vetted for a position.”

Ask law firm recruits — particularly those from elite schools — about the recruiting experience, and the stories are fairly similar: Short interviews, shallow questions and a sheaf of boilerplate marketing materials. It’s not much better on the other side of the equation. To find qualified candidates, firms respond to cattle calls at top law schools. There, partners meet 20 students a day for 20 minutes at a time for several days in a row. On the basis of those meetings, students are called back for a series of 30-minute office interviews. If a student is from a good school, has an acceptable resume, and decent social skills, he or she is practically guaranteed an offer for a summer position within 24 hours of the office visit. And nine times out of 10, a summer job leads to an offer for a full-time associate position.

It’s a far cry from, say, an interview at a consulting firm or investment bank, where candidates are asked to perform case studies and explain how they have dealt with difficult situations in the past.

The reason for the ease of law firm interviews is simple: lots of spaces, not enough qualified candidates to fill them. Firms don’t want to antagonize a good candidate who might turn them down just because their interview was too hard. As reported in the article, demand for associates continues to rise-in the last decade, the number of associates increased 76 percent at the largest 250 law firms, while the number of law school graduates rose just 7 percent.

It’s not uncommon for students at the top law schools to get multiple offers. For instance, a summer associate with Covington & Burling said that “he gave all his interviewers an apparently believable reason for why he wanted to work at their firm, even though he really had no idea. He did 12 interviews and got 11 callbacks and ten offers.” It’s not so much a matter of whether you’ll get a job, but where you want to work.

So how do you choose between firms? For many students, the choice is an arbitrary one:

Students … have problems vetting firms. They aren’t helped much by firm marketing materials, which often say the same thing and make firms indistinguishable from each other. “They all tell you they have great clients, and they work hard but [have] a very collegial atmosphere,” says [a] Stanford student. “It’s the same discourse over and over again.”

The nature of the recruiting process makes it tough to assess how happy you’re going to be at any one firm. Associates leave law firms at astonishingly high rates-40% leave by the end of their third year, 62% by the end of their fourth. Some of the reasons have to do with quality of life issues or disillusionment with the work itself; others have to do with despair at the low possibility of advancement, which can be far worse for women and minorities. In all these cases, it’s a no-brainer that some way of distinguishing between firms might have been helpful when you were trying to decide where to go.

Our hope is that rankings such as the ones put out by BBLP will help make students more informed consumers about the professional choices you are about to make. We have the right to choose law firms on the basis of more than just first impressions of the office or the quality of the restaurant the recruiters take you to, which are bad criteria anyway for making a decision that will shape the next several years of your life.

Look at their diversity statistics. Look at their pro bono record. Look at how many women actually make partner. By choosing the firms who have something more to offer its young associates, we can get the firms who aren’t doing as good a job to change their practices.

The bottom line: the firms need us more than we need them. Don’t be afraid to be selective.

Correction: Greater Asian Representation at Gordon & Rees by refirm2007
November 5, 2007, 12:27 am
Filed under: Law reform

In our report on diversity in large Northern California firms, we mistakenly under-reported the number of Asian-American attorneys at Gordon & Rees. As the corrected numbers show, as of February 1, 2007, 9.3% of the firm’s partners and 24.5% of the firm’s associates in San Francisco are Asian. When compared to all large law firms in Northern California, the revised numbers place Gordon & Rees in the second quintile for Asian-American representation. We have also revised our ‘Diversity Report Card’ to reflect the higher rating.

This was a significant mistake on our part and we are deeply sorry for the error. We would like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to Gordon & Rees. The mistake was corrected within 48 hours of notification.

Since we’re big on transparency, we should also take this moment to say more about our process. We have a relatively slow, labor-intensive data collection process that results in some amount of human error. We have calculated an extremely low error rate, but it is still non-zero. We encourage law firms to write us with corrections and are committed to resolving them immediately.

wikipedia by andrewbruck
November 3, 2007, 8:33 am
Filed under: Law reform

we’ve officially arrived. we have our own wikipedia page.

check it out. add your own information.

Our Market-Based Approach by refirm2007
October 29, 2007, 9:51 am
Filed under: Law reform

Some thoughts on our approach by Matt Steilen, a third-year law student at Stanford:

To understand Law Students Building a Better Legal Profession you have to appreciate that its approach to changing private practice is based in the market for legal services. While its members are advocates for change in the sense that they aim to improve conditions for associates at leading law firms, they are not advocates in another sense. The idea is not simply to ask of firms that they change, but to choose to work at firms that are changing and have changed. In other words, students are not the advocates. The market is.

Law students at the nation’s top schools are valuable assets for firms. Ask managing partners what their top priorities are for ensuring the continued success of the firm, and almost all will tell you that recruitment of the very best young associates is absolutely critical. Top schools are producing far fewer graduates than firms need to fill their ranks. This is why large firms have massive budgets for finding, wooing, hiring and retaining law students. And this is why it will matter to firms if some of their best candidates decline offers out of concern about the environment they are about to enter.

In this sense, Law Students Building a Better Legal Profession is not about “whining.” It is not about complaining that the life of a lawyer is hard. The life of a lawyer is hard, and the group’s members and leaders acknowledge that. Instead, Law Students Building a Better Legal Profession seeks to enable students who have reasonable concerns about their careers to make informed choices about the alternatives available in the market. And in so doing, the group aims to incentivize the managers of leading firms to make workable choices about billing, hiring, and community involvement. While we have done a considerable amount to educate ourselves about the business of law, managing partners are the experts. They have the tools to address why many young associates leave before they can produce value for the firm. They have the tools to improve conditions for associates. If they do so, they will be better able to recruit the associates they want.

Law Students Building a Better Legal Profession understands that law is a demanding profession. It is this, in part, that has attracted many of us to the field. But this is not the only demand we recognize. We choose not to simply set aside the demands of other aspects of our lives. We choose not to work in environments that lack diversity, openness, and a commitment to professionalism and respect. These are reasonable choices. And when they are made on the basis of accurate information, they make an advocate of the market.

Which firms get an F for diversity? by andrewbruck
October 29, 2007, 9:28 am
Filed under: Law reform

Find out here, thanks to Diversity, Inc.:

Stanford law students are fed up with the lack of diversity within the legal profession. What are they doing about it? Does affirmative action work at law firms? Read this to find out.

Diversity, Inc., a magazine and website which covers issues involving race and employment just sent out an e-mail to all of their subscribers encouraging them to check us out. Wonderful!

Googlers: Looking for our new site? by andrewbruck
October 29, 2007, 9:17 am
Filed under: Law reform

Over the weekend, we moved our rankings to a new and vastly improved website, which is housed at Since the site is brand new, there aren’t enough incoming links to it for the website to show up when you type the name of our organization into Google. If you were searching for us online, you probably ended up here instead. Anyway, click on the link above to see all of information. Thanks!

Cited in the Associated Press by andrewbruck
October 28, 2007, 7:18 pm
Filed under: Blogroll

Well, we’re quickly becoming the industry standard for ranking law firms by demographic diversity. We were cited in today’s Associated Press article on the lack of black lawyers appearing before the Supreme Court:

Coming soon to the Supreme Court: a rare appearance by a black lawyer. More than a year has passed since a black lawyer in private practice stood at the lectern in the elegant courtroom and spoke the traditional opening line, “Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the court.”

…Several factors account for the dearth of minorities at the court: continuing problems in recruiting and retaining blacks and other minorities at the top law firms; the rise of a small group of lawyers who focus on Supreme Court cases; the decline in civil rights cases that make it to the high court; and the court’s dwindling caseload.

“It breaks my heart. It’s the minority pipeline, the dwindling caseload, all of these things,” Days told The Associated Press.

Days said he, too, has trouble attracting black lawyers to his firm. He recounted how he lost out to a philanthropic foundation over the services of a former clerk for a Supreme Court justice.

Two recent studies point up the trends. Of 46 Washington law offices with more than 100 attorneys, 28 reported that less than 3 percent of their partners are black. Seven firms had no black partners, according to a report by Building a Better Legal Profession, a group of law students who compiled data provided by the firms.

Morrison & Foerster’s Washington office, where Days works, has just two black partners, although that placed the firm fourth in the Washington rankings at 5.6 percent. Blacks are better represented among associates at these firms.

When reporters need information about diversity at firms, they turn to us. We’re glad to be providing a useful service.

Michigan Lawyers & Part-Time Practice by refirm2007
October 28, 2007, 6:23 pm
Filed under: Law reform

Interesting, potentially controversial new findings out from Ken Dau-Schmidt et al. about part-time lawyers.

In a nutshell, we find that childcare responsibilities drive much of the differences in income and promotion experienced by men and women lawyers, and that men who miss paid work to do childcare experience the same disadvantages as women who miss paid work to do childcare. We also find that both more men and more women lawyers are missing paid work to do childcare, that they are taking longer absences from paid work to do childcare, and they are working less hours after they return to their careers.

Some of our less systematic, but more curious findings are that: in part male lawyers earn more than women lawyers because they are more interested in income than the woman lawyers; women who have kids but who do not miss paid work to do childcare are more likely to be in private practice and be a partner than women without kids, even though women without kids work more hours; and women who miss paid work to do childcare have significantly higher LSAT’s and GPA’s than women who don’t miss paid work to do childcare.

The study uses the Michigan Law alumni survey, which according to the authors is “one of the richest and largest data sets available on lawyers over much of the period that encompassed women’s move into the legal profession.”

Two Firms Come Forward: “Mistakes Were Made” by refirm2007
October 28, 2007, 6:13 pm
Filed under: Job Search Tools

As a result of our project, several firms have decided to double-check their NALP reporting.  It turns out that a couple did not accurately report their statistics.  Sidley’s New York office, for example, sent us the following email:

In perusing your very detailed and comprehensive rankings, I became aware of an error on our part that was carried through to our rankings. In our New York office as of Feb. 1 2007, we had six (6) openly LGBT associates who for some reason were not reported on our NALP form. Needless to say, they are very distressed at this omission, and the additional consequence of seeing their office receive an “F” in ranking the number of lgbt associates.

Sidley has revised its NALP form and is committed to better reporting on its February 1, 2008 NALP survey.

Patton Boggs in DC found that it too had made an error, this time in pro bono participation figures.  The firm’s initial NALP response had its pro bono participation figures among the lowest in the country — suggesting that only 2% of the firm’s partners contributed to pro bono.

Fortunately, this was a mistake, and Patton now reports that 53.8% of partners and 85.2% of associates do pro bono work.  According to Mary Kimber, the firm’s Chief Marketing Officer:

It is my understanding that the confusion arose over the way the question was posited. The numbers that were in the NALP survey (and in error) were actually the percentage of pro bono hours worked vs. billable hours worked, rather than the percentage of participation. I hope that this clears up any misunderstanding and errors in the NALP survey and on the blog. Patton Boggs is proud of its commitment to pro bono and we appreciate you reporting on the correction of the NALP survey results.

To the best of our knowledge, no other firm made this kind of interpretative error.

A major goal of building a better legal profession is to encourage firms to prioritize full and accurate reporting on NALP forms.  We’re glad that these firms have renewed their commitments to such reporting, and look forward to publishing their updated numbers in our 2008 rankings.

Suspect Rankings, continued by refirm2007
October 25, 2007, 10:41 pm
Filed under: Job Search Tools

Our post on Multicultural Law mag struck a chord — is this just the tip of the iceberg?  Said PT-Law Mom,

It’s these types of misrepresentations that also make it hard for women to choose a law firm.  The rankings in Working Mother magazine (Best Places to Work) seem suspect.  I have several friends at Pillsbury Winthrop who have found that the much-touted “part-time program” ends up being more of a “work full-time hours for less pay to meet client demands”.  Pillsbury (and other firms) buy huge ads in Working Mother and, amazingly enough, they appear year after year.  Worth looking at, I’d say.


More on this soon.

Correction by refirm2007
October 25, 2007, 10:28 pm
Filed under: Blogroll

Since we’re big on transparency, we also need to acknowledge places where we’ve gone wrong. And in an early draft of our rankings, our female partnership numbers for Northern California were incorrect.

Specifically, although we assigned Howard Rice their correct ranking (#2 in the Bay), the firm’s female partnership rate should have read 28.6%.  In our first draft of the online rankings, the Bay Area female partnership numbers were listed with data points from another market.  We corrected the mistake the evening of October 10, 2007, but were not able to make the change in time for an article in The Recorder.

We regret the error, have notified the paper, and apologized to Howard Rice.

How NOT to sell a firm diversity program by refirm2007
October 23, 2007, 1:47 pm
Filed under: Job Search Tools, Law reform

The legal employment market suffers from imperfect information. Law students considering large law firms don’t have enough information about their future employers. And much of what they DO have is of very low quality. Firms exploit this lack of accurate information to sell their diversity and work/life programs with questionable claims.

One way Building a Better Legal Profession tries to combat this problem is with a ‘Most Transparent’ and ‘Least Transparent’ chart, which looks at how New York firms performed on billable hour and pro bono reporting. But here’s a case study on how NOT to sell your diversity program, courtesy of Fish & Richardson:

Earlier this month, Fish & Richardson had the following claim posted on its website: “Multicultural Law ranked us in the top one-third of their 2007 ‘Top 100 Law Firms for Diversity’ list.” The claim was the very first bullet point of achievement on Fish’s “Diversity” page — a place where law students and clients considering the firm would inevitably look to see success in attracting and retaining talent from diverse backgrounds.

We at b.b.l.p. looked up Multicultural Law‘s website, and found that Fish & Richardson was indeed ranked number 33. That’s good. We also saw that the list was sorted in alphabetical order. . . . That’s bad.

Fish & Richardson was ranked 33 because their name starts with the letter F, not because it was more diverse than firms 34-100. Akerman Senterfitt shouldn’t be #1 just because it starts with the letter A, and Fish shouldn’t be #33 just because it’s earlier in the alphabet than Winston & Strawn.

We called Fish & Richardson to inquire, and the firm was so embarrassed it changed its website to remove the “top one-third” designation. (Too late: we still got the screen shot.) Although even now I really question why the firm continues to list being on the Top 100 as an achievement, since a) there’s no description of how the list was compiled, see below, and b) Fish doesn’t really need some dubious rankings to show their achievements: based on our rankings, the firm actually does quite well on several diversity indicators in the Boston region.

But this is the problem – law students don’t have easily-accessible, high-quality information to make employment decisions with. Our rankings help remedy that situation. Using our reports, law students can now identify firms taking the lead on important issues, and by doing so, can send a message to large firms to improve their own organizations.

One more thing: Fish & Richardson shouldn’t make such claims, but Multicultural Law magazine may be the real culprit. The purpose of the magazine is “to serve as a vehicle for law firms to promote their diversity message.” Um … does that mean firms pay for the opportunity to be on a “Top 100 Firms for Diversity” list? If Building a Better Legal Profession bought an ad, could we be ranked #4 on the rankings, since our name starts with the letter B?

Our repeated phone messages to the magazine seeking comment were not returned. But you can check out their rankings here. Ask yourself: What data are they based upon? How did firms get themselves on the list? How did they decide that the firms should be ranked in alphabetical order?

And for you enterprising readers, which other firms tout this ranking as an achievement? Drop us an email if you come across something.

what’s going on with the Chicago links? by refirm2007
October 19, 2007, 5:31 pm
Filed under: Blogroll

A helpful reader has written in to say that a couple of the Chicago rankings aren’t working right now.  While the eight rankings for african-american, hispanic, asian, and lgbt attorneys are correct, the three rankings of women attorneys incorrectly go to our Boston lists.

We are working on this and expect to have it fixed in the next few days.  We’re checking all of the other rankings too, and should have any remaining bugs resolved soon.

Thanks to this reader and others for your comments and suggestions.

our fast growing blog by andrewbruck
October 17, 2007, 4:44 pm
Filed under: Blogroll

well, it’s been a crazy couple of days. we’ve had about 30,000 views since our press conference last wednesday. it also turns out that we’re one of wordpress’s most trafficked blogs:

october 11 — top 15 growing blogs
october 12 — top 100 blogs
october 13 — top 100 blogs

thanks to everyone for their continued support!

Coverage in the American Bar Ass’n Journal by andrewbruck
October 14, 2007, 11:33 am
Filed under: Law reform, media

A supporter just forwarded us an article from the ABA Journal. It’s a great example of the press we’ve been getting. We particularly like the quote from our co-founder, Andrew Canter.

Coalition Seeks to Change Big Law Firms, by Martha Neill

Although they haven’t yet graduated from law school, some students are already disillusioned about practicing law at the nation’s major law firms. Worried about tales of long days, unrewarding work and a lack of diversity that prompts many to seek work elsewhere after a few years, they have formed a coalition to promote change.

“What we hear over and over again is that all the law firms are the same,” Andrew Canter, 24, a third-year student at Stanford Law School, tells Legal Times in an article reprinted in New York Lawyer (reg. req.). “They look the same, they make the same glossy brochures, they put on the same receptions and the same fly-back weekends and everything. So we’re trying to do whatever we can to distinguish between them and encourage improvement.”

Others who agree have formed a coalition called Law Students Building a Better Legal Profession, the article explains. Originally made up of Stanford students, it now includes a national membership of students from elite law schools. The group also has a blawg featuring an illustration of grass roots.

Read the full thing here. And congrats to Andrew for the great coverage. (He’s traveling the country giving presentations on our work to various legal academic conferences. We wish him the best of luck!)

building a better legal profession on facebook by andrewbruck
October 13, 2007, 4:07 pm
Filed under: Law reform

one of our supporters started a facebook group to promote our organization. looks like the group’s spreading quickly through cyberspace, picking up members at harvard, yale, stanford, nyu, georgetown, university of toronto, boalt, duke, and columbia law schools. fantastic! more proof that this is a nationwide effort to reform large private law firms.

join us on facebook here!


25,000! by andrewbruck
October 13, 2007, 4:00 pm
Filed under: Law reform

we’re now at 25,000 views since our wednesday press conference. we’ve heard from partners & associates at big firms that our website has really been making the rounds since we went public four days ago. thanks to everyone for spreading the word!