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.