January 29, 2008
Bad Grades? Don't Despair
Below is a great write up on how to react to and respond to 'bad' grades. This article is a must read. It's not so much a feel-good article but rather a call to action. Don't fall into the trap of being paralyzed by 'bad' grades. There is plenty you can do!
I'd like to thank Carolyn Spencer who graciously shared this article with the rest of us!
Bad Grades? Don't Despair
Linda E. Laufer
New York Law Journal
Q: I attend a top-tier school, and my first-year grades were bad. I was able to get some legal experience this summer, but I have avoided all job searches for next summer because of my grades. What should I do?
A: Dear Ostrich:
Get your head out of the sand and start to develop a strategy. Your inquiry focuses on only your grades. You give no indication of the type of firm or practice in which you have an interest, or the nature of the legal experience that you obtained during the summer. Nevertheless, since this is the season for large law firm recruitment and you "have avoided all job searches," it appears that you had an interest in pursuing positions with those firms. Reading further into your inquiry, one can surmise that either you were so disappointed with your academic performance that you removed yourself from the fall recruitment process without considering whether any firms would look beyond your grades, or you performed so poorly that you did not meet the qualifications required by any of the large firms, even for candidates from a "top tier school."
The first step is to examine your grades issue. How "bad" were they? Were they "bad" on an objective scale, or just worse than you expected? Do they preclude you from all large firms, or just the firms on which you had your heart set? What caused your grades to suffer? What are you doing to improve your grades? Did you obtain a good grade in any course?
Once you have answered those questions, then you can determine how to discuss your grades in an interview, with firms of any size. The key is to stay away from defensiveness or excuse-making, and to find something positive to say. Many students find that their grades improve during their second and third years, after they have a better understanding of how to approach legal issues and law school exams. They also have an opportunity to pursue courses in areas of particular interest. Sometimes students perform better in clinical courses where they can apply their legal skills to practical problems, or research and writing courses where they have more time to consider a legal issue and fashion a response.
Next, determine the type of employer that will be the best fit for you. Consider the size of the firm. If you prefer large firms, evaluate whether your grades preclude you from all of them. In the event that they are not of interest or are out of the question, focus on medium-sized or smaller firms. Determine the practice areas that interest you.
The timing for applying to medium-sized and smaller firms is later, usually in the spring when they have a better idea of their hiring needs and budgets for the summer. There are advantages to conducting your job search in the spring. You may be able to improve your grades this semester. Then, you can point to an uptrend. If your coursework is in practice areas that you wish to pursue at those firms, you demonstrate an interest that corresponds to the firms' practice.
In addition, you have a few months in which to research firms and perhaps contact graduates of your law school who work there. Networking is an effective way to break into a firm. You must remain positive about your law school experience, including your grades. For all you know, some of the alumni may have had a similar slow start in law school, with a less than stellar first year transcript. They may be able to overlook poor grades, but not a negative attitude.
When talking to alumni, and other contacts, you must never ask for a job. If they do not have an available position, they are likely to feel uncomfortable about referring you to other contacts. They may be unwilling to subject their network to the same discomfort.
In addition, a conversation has nowhere to go once someone says "no" to a request for a job. It becomes worse if you ask a follow-up question of whether the contact knows of anyone who is looking. Then, the contact has to say "no" again. At that point, the conversation is at a dead end.
As you network, remember that you are looking for AIR -- advice, information and referrals -- to breathe life into your job search. You are engaged in informational interviews, not job interviews. Occasionally, an informational interview can turn into a job interview, but do not expect it and do not regard it as a failure if it does not happen. An informational interview is a success if you obtain at least one referral to a new contact.
Another strategy is targeted mailings to firms in which you have an interest. You can write to the recruitment coordinator, if the firm has one, or the hiring partner, or a graduate of your law school, or an attorney with whom you have something else in common. Follow up with a telephone call.
As the spring progresses, many law schools receive job postings from law firms. At times, these listings appear quite late in the season.
Consult the counselors in your law school's career services office. They can probably offer specific suggestions to help you deal with these issues. They may also be aware of certain law firms that hire 2Ls from your law school, regardless of grades.
There are many successful attorneys who had poor grades and developed excellent practical skills. Your first step is to look up, wipe the sand from your eyes, and see what opportunities are available to you.
Linda E. Laufer
Linda E. Laufer is a former practicing attorney and a career consultant.
January 22, 2008
Everyone's a Winner at These Five Law Firms
From the legal blog Abovethelaw.com, http://www.abovethelaw.com/2008/01/everyones_a_winner_at_these_fi_1.php#more a post on five law firms that made it into Fortune magazine's annual list of the 100 Best Companies to work for:
19. Arnold & Porter: "Staffers get 12 weeks paid maternity leave and profit sharing of 7.5% of salary. The less you make, the less you pay for health-insurance premiums."
Actually, a correction: 18 weeks (as of January 1, 2008).
31. Alston & Bird: "Both the legal and nonlegal staff get super benefits, including 90 days of paid maternity leave, coverage of fertility treatments, and concierge services."
Concierge services? Fabulous. Atlantans, stop yer whining!
41. Bingham McCutchen: "They're proud of their elite grads: 72 from nearby Harvard Law, 24 from Yale, and 20 from Stanford. They all start at $160,000 a year."
55. Perkins Coie: "They value fun at this law firm. At 2007's Lawyerpalooza battle of the bands, the Perkins Coie rock & rollers brought down the house (and took home the top prize)."
See also Nixon Peabody: "Fun is not prohibited here." Speaking of which...
66. Nixon Peabody: "The law firm excels on policies for GLBT employees (a 100% rating from the Human Rights Campaign); it targets 3% of billable hours annually for pro bono work."
Please send us any theme songs that are composed to commemorate these honors. Thank you.
100 Best Companies To Work For (2008) [Fortune]
Earlier: Bingham McCutchen: Land of the Amazons?
January 18, 2008
Summer Associate Forecast Brighter in '08
Taken from Law.com http://www.law.com/jsp/llf/PubArticleLLF.jsp?id=1200594603897
Summer Associate Forecast Brighter in '08
January 18, 2008
Jennifer Nejad, a second-year at Boalt Hall School of Law, worried that her status as a transfer student might affect her desirability in the eyes of summer employers.
But as it turned out, she found the fall recruiting season was a cinch. After 11 initial interviews led to about eight callbacks, Nejad followed up with four firms and received three offers. She'll be spending this summer at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, earning $3,077 per week.
She says her friends reported similar stories. "Almost everyone I talked to was pleased with how things worked out," said Nejad, a transplant from Hastings College of the Law.
Her experience reflects the conclusion of another robust summer hiring season, which apparently wasn't affected much by the darkening economic outlook, the turmoil in credit markets nor a slowdown in M&A activity.
Seven Am Law 100 and 200 firms interviewed for this story report that larger economic forces played little role in their summer program plans. The majority said their summer programs will be slightly bigger than last year.
Morrison & Foerster Chairman Keith Wetmore says that firms, particularly those that sport a well-diversified practice, are much better equipped to handle isolated downturns than they were two decades ago.
"Generally, we haven't seen a recession that hit diversified firms significantly since the early 1990s," he said. The dot-com bubble burst hit technology-oriented firms hard in the early part of the decade, he said, and some New York securities firms are being buffeted by the credit storm. But for many other firms, 2007 was a good year, and firm leaders say they expect 2008 to bring more of the same.
Summer programs are a valuable recruiting tool that can influence students' perception of a firm, said Peter Ocko, a recruiter with Major, Lindsey & Africa in Los Angeles. "If anybody publicly slashes its summer associate group, it's like putting up a stop sign, 'Not welcome,'" Ocko said.
While general hiring hasn't slowed down, he added, even big firms that are doing well are hiring laterals in a more targeted fashion, not creating positions for every great candidate that crosses their threshold.
Both MoFo and Orrick wrapped up 2007 with 16 percent increases in gross revenues. Both firms are also reporting bigger summer programs.
At Orrick, last year's summer class totaled 93. This year, the firm has already hired 97 second-years and still expects to add 10 to 15 more first-years, said West Coast hiring partner James Kramer.
The Summer Forecast
Compare the size of the 2007 and '08 summer classes of more than half a dozen Am Law 100 and 200 firms (.pdf).
"The economic factors played a role in the sense that we paused and took a hard look at where we expect the firm to be in two years," Kramer said. "And we're comfortable with where the firm is going, and because of what we learned we decided to hire more people."
"We want to make an offer to every single summer associate that joins us," he added.
MoFo bumped its number of summers to 134, up from last year's 108. And the increase is spread over both coasts. The firm's San Francisco office is bringing 42 students aboard, up from 24 last year, while the New York office is hiring 27, up from last year's 14.
Reed Smith's hiring co-chair, Morgan Tovey, said he expected tougher competition for students this year, but his firm ended up increasing its summer class slightly, from 77 total last year to 69 so far this year, with 12 more slots budgeted for first-years. First-year hiring will be completed by March.
"Back in the fall we expected that the competition would be stiffer," Tovey said. "We extended fewer offers and got a better yield."
By contrast, Heller Ehrman was the only one in a random sampling of seven firms to significantly slash its summer program. Only 50 summers will work at Heller this year, down nearly 50 percent from last year's 97. But the firm is also boosting summer pay from $2,800 to $3,100 in most offices across the country.
In early Am Law 100 financial results published this month, Heller reported gross revenues of $491 million, down more than 3 percent from the previous year.
But David Sanders, Heller's chief human resources officer, said the decrease in summer hires is the result of rebalancing the proportion of first-year associates as opposed to judicial clerks and junior lateral hires.
A few years ago the firm had a large proportion of midlevel associates due to lateral hiring. The firm doubled the size of its summer program to fill out the early classes, Sanders said.
Now, he said, "We can go back to the norm that we have used in the past."
January 10, 2008
Cadwaladar to lay off 35 attorneys in the area of mortgage-backed securities
According to an article in today's New York Lawyer (by Anthony Lin, January 10, 2008) Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, a leading law firm in the area of mortgage-backed securities is laying off 35 lawyers.
A number of other law firms active in mortgage-backed securities work have announced layoffs in the recent past, according to the article: 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.
San Francisco Bay Area Law Firms
The article below, from the Recorder, found at http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1199931032887 discusses the financial state of Bay area firms.
San Francisco Bay Area Law Firms Float on Turbulent Waters
Niraj Chokshi and Zusha Elinson
A rough economy in late 2007 killed a lot of the M&A and corporate work that had powered 2006, but leading Bay Area firms say global presence and a balance of practices helped insulate them from the downturn.
Despite the subprime mortgage crisis and resulting credit crunch, most of the eight Bay Area law firms that have released financial data so far showed . solid increases in revenue and profitability in 2007, according to The Recorder's annual survey of California firm finances.
Two exceptions were Heller Ehrman, which saw revenues and profits per partner drop slightly, and Townsend and Townsend and Crew, whose 2006 numbers had been goosed by an exceptionally large contingency fee.
Leading the pack in revenue growth, Morrison & Foerster and Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe each posted 16 percent increases in revenue, to $772 million and $894 million, respectively.
Cooley Godward reported a 45 percent increase in revenue -- but that number is somewhat less jaw-dropping when considering that much of the increase is from its late 2006 merger with Kronish Lieb Weiner & Hellman.
Leaders at MoFo and Orrick credited their increases to international scope and diversity of core practice areas.
"[With] the international platform of the firm, we are now able to serve our clients around the world in a significantly more comprehensive way than we were just a few years ago," said Orrick Chairman Ralph Baxter Jr.
Orrick's ranks and revenue per lawyer grew by 8 percent each. RPL is now at $850,000, which Baxter predicted will continue to rise "year on year going forward."
Headcount at MoFo grew by 6 percent and was outpaced by RPL, which grew by 9 percent to $890,000.
Referring to 2006's 12 percent revenue jump, MoFo Chairman Keith Wetmore called 2007's across-the-board increases "more of the same."
"We saw lots of activity in our core litigation strengths," Wetmore said, pointing to major wins such as the November jury verdict in favor of JDS Uniphase Corp. in a securities fraud trial.
Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman saw a more modest 2 percent increase in revenue, to $590 million. Its gross had risen 1 percent the year before. In 2007 the firm lost 24 lawyers while RPL increased by 5 percent to $810,000.
Though the firm's gains weren't as large as other firms, Pillsbury Chairman James Rishwain Jr. was happy with the increase.
It was "on the path that we expected," he said.
Heller Ehrman was the hardest hit of the large San Francisco firms reporting so far, falling from $507 million to $491 million in revenue, a 3 percent drop. RPL fell by 5 percent to $800,000, canceling gains made in 2006.
Firm Chairman Matthew Larrabee blamed the losses on a series of large litigation cases that wrapped up early in the year.
"In the first quarter of 2007, in a period of about 45 days, we won or settled eight or nine very large litigation matters," he said.
He also blamed "an environment where litigation was down nationwide."
The nationwide decline, said Newport Beach-based legal consultant Peter Zeughauser, comes after years of above-average activity.
"It just so happens that it was extraordinarily busy for a good five years, and it's fallen off a little bit," he said.
That's not to say litigators everywhere were twiddling their thumbs.
"Litigation remained robust and ... in litigation shops or firms that had big litigation practices, generally, I think they had good years," he said, noting that "there were a few exceptions."
Heller also lost 25 equity partners, a 15 percent drop, while gaining 26 non-equity partners, a 30 percent increase.
Those changes, Larrabee said, are due to the firm adhering to The Recorder's survey definition of equity and non-equity partners -- something the firm hadn't done in the past.
"In the past we did not report everybody who fit The American Lawyer definition as a nonequity partner as nonequity," Larrabee said.
Regardless, the lower financial numbers won't drive lawyers away, Larrabee said.
"We have a very transparent organization. The partners are well aware of what happened this year and why," he said.
"Our partners have been very supportive."
Though most firms escaped the full wrath of the subprime crisis and credit crunch, the economy still held back growth.
Corporate and private equity trended downward, Zeughauser said.
"That's really what kept this year from being a great year."
He expects 2008 to be a lot like 2007.
"I think it's going to be a mixed year again. I think litigation is going to be strong," he said. "I think corporate is going to be weaker."
Employment powerhouse Littler Mendelson had a year of expansion that saw healthy growth in gross revenue -- up 28 percent to $307 million -- but losses in revenue per lawyer and profits per partner as headcount grew by half.
Managing partner Marko Mrkonich said that as employment law becomes increasingly specialized, his firm is looking for underserved corners of the country to set up new offices. In 2007, it opened offices in Portland, Ore.; Orlando; Cleveland; and New Haven, Conn., adding 220 lawyers in the process.
Mrkonich said that much of that growth also took a bite out of profitability. Profits per equity partner dropped by 10 percent, to about $420,000. Revenue per lawyer was down almost 15 percent, to $460,000.
Mrkonich said that the best-performing areas continue to be cross-border employment issues, payroll and traditional labor law, and class actions. "The total number of class actions being defended passed 300 pending matters at any one time in 2007, up from 250 a year ago," Mrkonich said.
The growth phase isn't over, either. He said he expects the firm to employ more than 700 lawyers by the end of this month.
The other two largest S.F.-based firms -- Thelen Reid Brown Raysman & Steiner and Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold -- did not provide financial data by the time of publication.
PEAKS IN THE VALLEY
Unlike the mixed results from San Francisco firms, some key Silicon Valley firms reported strong results for 2007.
Cooley Godward Kronish had a very strong year, boosting revenue by 45 percent to $485 million. While that outsized hike was thanks in large part to its merger with New York's Kronish Lieb, Cooley said that a strong year across all of its practices also boosted its 2007 results. That was evident in the healthy 10 percent bump in RPL.
"The Valley was extremely busy and I think the more pure tech firms weren't nicked as much by the subprime problems as other firms were," said Mark Pitchford, Cooley's COO. "In our space it was a really, really nice year."
Pitchford said IP and commercial litigation, as well as the firm's M&A practice, were particularly busy in 2007. Also, the firm's work for emerging companies rose on an increase in clean-tech activity, he said.
Profits per partner were up 42 percent at Cooley, hitting $1.42 million -- but that number was aided in part by a drop in equity partners and a huge increase in nonequity partners. The firm reported 6 nonequity partners in 2006 and 72 in 2007. The equity ranks went from 148 to 129.
Changes were made to the Cooley pay system in 2007 that caused a number of mostly junior partners to be reclassified as nonequity partners as defined in the Recorder survey, explained Joseph Conroy, Cooley CEO. The Recorder and American Lawyer magazine define a nonequity partner as a partner who receives more than half of his or her compensation from guaranteed salary rather than from profits.
Conroy said the change was made to better manage partner compensation as partners move up through the ranks. It also, he said, provided a more "apples to apples" comparison with PPP at other firms.
"That was not part of the motivation for the change," Conroy said. "That was part of the calculus of whether we would report these partners as nonequity partners."
Pitchford added that the change had nothing to do with the merger.
Fenwick & West boosted its top line nearly 10 percent to $183 million.
"Litigation was busy, corporate was busy, tax was busy and IP was busy," said Fenwick's Chairman Gordon Davidson.
Fenwick also raised its PPP nearly 8 percent, breaking the million-dollar mark for the first time in its history. The firm did drop four equity partner slots and gain six nonequity partners. Davidson said that's because new partners get a certain amount of compensation guaranteed for the first two years, a new practice at the firm.
"It was our strongest year ever, including the bubble," Davidson said.
What looks like a lousy year for one IP-heavy firm was just a numbers trick. After booking huge contingency fees in 2006, Townsend and Townsend and Crew showed a 15 percent decline in revenue to $145.5 million, with PPP nearly halved to $750,000.
Chairman James Gilliland Jr. predicted a year ago that 2007 wouldn't match the previous year, when the firm pulled in a $40 million award from a huge antitrust case against Microsoft. The firm also had landed a big contingency fee in 2005 from a patent suit for MicroUnity Inc. against Intel Corp.
"From our perspective 2007 was not a down year, it was a typical year," Gilliland said this week. "[2005 and 2006] were definitely aberrations and the partners knew that."
Before the two big years, the firm's PPP was at $550,000 while revenue stood at around $100 million.
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati said it would wait until the close of its fiscal year Jan. 31 to report results. But firm spokeswoman Courtney Dorman said it would be a record year for the firm.
Staff writer Petra Pasternak contributed to this story.
Editor's note: For related financial information, see The Recorder story "Quinn Partner Profits Clear $3 Million."