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.


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.

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.

Rankings Released! by refirm2007
October 10, 2007, 1:09 pm
Filed under: Job Search Tools, Law reform

Today we released a series of reports ranking firms on diversity, pro bono participation, and billable hours in six major markets. You can find our rankings and charts for the New York, DC, Boston, Chicago, Northern California, and Southern California markets here.

And press releases:

New York

Washington, D.C.

Northern California

Southern California


Boston (coming soon)

Dear Stanford Law Students: by refirm2007
September 30, 2007, 10:24 pm
Filed under: Job Search Tools, Law reform

Welcome. Thanks for taking the time to check out our website.

Building a Better Legal Profession seeks to harness the market power of law students to encourage reform at large private law firms. We think the current model at large firms — one based on high salaries, but higher billable hour expectations — isn’t just bad for young lawyers, it’s bad for the profession.

Billable hours keep going up. Which makes it harder to do pro bono. Harder to live your own life outside of the office. And harder to have a family. Firms lose some of their best young lawyers — female AND male associates — when they fail to accommodate their employees’ need to balance work and family. That hurts their bottom line.

But firms won’t change on their own.

That’s where we come in. Law students are in a special position. We are in high demand. We can afford to be a little choosy about where we work after graduation. By opting for firms with more realistic billable hour requirements, higher pro bono participation rates, and higher retention rates for women and other minority lawyers, not only will we have a better employment experience, we will also send a powerful message to all firms that these metrics matter.

The information we posted all around school (about billable hours, pro bono participation, transparency, and diversity) is one way to show major distinctions between law firms. All of this information is publicly available, but, before this project, no one had ever bothered to display it in a useful format. You can use your market power to exploit these distinctions. You’re a valuable commodity, for better or for worse.

We’re not alone in believing that the billable hour could use some rethinking. See our posts below for articles about billables, their effect on a balanced work and life, and a few law firms that are doing things differently.

Want to hear more? Join our organization by emailing us at refirmation (at) We can use your help in expanding this to more markets (including the Bay Area, yes) and to cover additional metrics you’d find useful.

Student Resource: the Project for Attorney Retention by refirm2007
April 2, 2007, 8:26 pm
Filed under: Job Search Tools

Our friends at the Project for Attorney Retention have a new “Law School Project,” which promises to be another helpful tool for students interested in finding the right firm for them. The Law School Project is:

designed to help legal employers respond effectively to the desire of many law students for legal jobs that offer both the opportunity to practice law at the highest level and the opportunity for work/life balance.

In their posting, PAR also links to two other resources:

1.  How to Find a Job that Allows for Work/Life Balance (pdf); &

2.  Mythbusters (pdf), which provides hard data to bust nine key myths about work/life balance in the legal profession.

    PAR has produced a number of resources that could prove useful in the job search. Be on the lookout for some of their most helpful ones in our own Pre-Interviewing Packet, scheduled to hit law schools this summer before on-campus interviews.