Greedy Associates - The FindLaw Legal Lifestyle and Career Blog

April 2009 Archives

Last week the Am Law Daily had the story of one Loren Friedman, busted for altering his law school transcript in order to nail down a summer associate offer from Sidley Austin.  At the time, the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission seemed satisfied with a three-year suspension as a penalty.

But the Chicago Tribune reported this week that the commission's counsel was not satisfied with that punishment, and planned to appeal it to a review board, hoping to have Friedman permanently disbarred.

Friedman may or may not care about this development, as he has apparently moved on from law to business, being currently enrolled in the MBA program at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  (This completes a professional-school trifecta for Friedman, as he had previously managed to fail out of UIUC's medical school before deciding to give law a shot.)
You can read all about the legal aspects of Tuesday's big SCOTUS decision on "fleeting expletives" at FindLaw's CourtSide (lawyer-y take) and Law and Daily Life (consumer-friendly version, complete with quotes from Cher and Bono).  But Greedy Associates is more interested in Justice Antonin Scalia's out-of-left-field (and probably just plain wrong) take on whether rural or urban Americans do more cussin':

We doubt, to begin with, that small-town broadcasters run a heightened risk of liability for indecent utterances. In programming that they originate, their down-home local guests probably employ vulgarity less than big-city folks; and small-town stations generally cannot afford or cannot attract foul-mouthed glitteratae from Hollywood.
Leaving aside for a moment Scalia's quaint notion that small-town America somehow remains blissfully free of s-words and f-bombs: glitteratae?  Really?

Lawyers love their Latin.  From arguendo to nolo contendere, from pro se to in re to per curiam, you just can't get between the legal system and a good turn of Latin phrase.  It's perhaps the most visible way in which lawyers work to distinguish themselves from the non-lawyering public (classics majors not included; we distinguish ourselves from them by comparing paychecks).  Impress your friends, confound your pro se opponents: throw in an ab initio here, a res ipsa loquitor there, and remind everyone that you're an initiate, armed with the secret linguistic knowledge that will dominate the argument and win the case.

But glitteratae?
This week's Greedy Links has the usual career advice of questionable utility; the standard article to induce panic in employment-deprived law students; and, inevitably, one teeny-tiny rankings-related link.  Also, the "greedy" label is applied to an actual attorney by a real court, and we all come to an understanding that there will be no math.

Today's featured answer comes from the FindLaw Answers Family Law board, where user DroppedOnMyHead wants to know if there is anything she can do to avenge herself upon her erstwhile fiance, like sue him for breach of a promise to marry:

I know that suits of this nature have generally fallen out of favor and off the books of many states, as simply calling off an engagement/wedding is no longer the social reputation breaker it once was - but how about when serious financial detriment has been caused to the woman by a man's repeated promises to support, be there to assist in all ways,  and to take care of the woman? When he insists that the woman must put herself in his hands - sell her home, move, give up her job to be with him, etc. - does a woman have any legal recourse in most/any states anymore?

This time, regular Family Law contributor Ted_From_Texas suggested that if anything can help, it'll be contract law:
Having linked to multiple prior stories on the upcoming release of the U.S. News Law School rankings, we are pretty much obligated to do a quick Greedy Links update highlighting the inevitable leak of the rankings, which will be officially released later this week:

And with the official release just days away, let's hope we can leave it at that.  Another year, another minor shuffling of places, another small outcry against the arbitrary and capricious nature of the rankings, and we can all move on.
The work-life balance question is nothing new to dedicated associates who want to excel in their careers while also occasionally enjoying the fruits of a satisfying social, intellectual, and personal life. It may not surprise you, though, to learn that at the top of the profession, there's ample time to pursue non-legal interests, like the question of who really wrote Shakespeare's plays.

This is according to today's Wall Street Journal, which reports on Justice John Paul Stevens's refusal to apply stare decisis to a question considered settled by mainstream academics everywhere. Stevens is apparently an advocate of overturning the "Stratfordian" consensus that Shakespeare was written by, you know, William Shakespeare, in favor of a dissenting theory that the works were in fact authored by one Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. Stevens has been working on this proposition, and attempting to build a working majority of fellow justices, since the 1980s.
Let's wind down the week in Greedy-land with some links.  Career advice, Skadden keeps finding its way into the news, law professors in the spotlight (OK, on cable), and law student news everywhere you look, just ahead.

Varied and probably useless career advice:
Skadden tries out its new and highly public HR strategy:
File today's question under "Law and Public Perception."  Many posters on the Employment board in FindLaw Answers have similar questions about breaks, overtime, and limitations on work hours.  Misinformation concerning these topics is all too common and spreads easily in workplaces everywhere, leading to questions like this one:

I've heard that there is an employment law that states your employer cannot legally ask you to be to work the next morning any sooner than 12 hours from the time that you leave work.  As in, if I work until 9:30 pm one night, I shouldn't be asked to be to work the next morning any earlier than 9:30 am.  Is this true?

Employment lawyers: we need your help!  Click over to FindLaw Answers and offer up your lawyerly knowledge to cut through the confusion.
Lawyers do a lot of writing, and many, starting in their undergrad days, accumulate an assortment of writing guides to provide them with advice on proper grammar and good style.  Over time, guides specific to legal writing tend to dominate the lawyer-writer's reference shelf, but the starting point for many people who are getting serious about writing well is William Strunk and E.B. White's The Elements of Style.  Fifty years old this month, the little book has long been praised as a concise and elegant guide to the rules of grammar and to achieving clear writing.

Not by everyone, though.  In the Chronicle of Higher Education this month, Geoffrey K. Pullum of the University of Edinburgh unloads with both barrels on "grammatical incompetents" Strunk and White for what he alleges are the book's numerous failures to correctly state the rules of grammar.  He goes further to claim that Elements itself contains many examples of the authors blatantly violating many of their own rules.  Coming in for particular criticism is the book's treatment of the passive voice, which according to Pullum, Strunk and White neither understood nor properly articulated rules for.

It all may seem arcane and boring to some, but anyone who's read an open comment thread on, well, any blog ever is aware that the Internet has a healthy population of grammar police, who will no doubt enjoy the debate.  As will lawyers.  Lawyers love grammar because grammar is just like law: technical, complex, full of exceptions, and always susceptible to interpretation.  Let the arguments begin.
This week's hard-to-miss legal career discussion topic: Skadden's sabbatical program for its associates, which was highlighted yesterday in this New York Times piece.

According to the article, nearly ten percent of Skadden's 1300 associates have expressed interest in being paid one-third of their usual salary in exchange for disappearing for a year.  What they do with their time, says the Times, is up to them: although many are seeking the chance to do pro bono legal work, "the lawyers could . . . spend the year catching up on every episode of Top Chef that they missed during the boom years, or traveling around the world, 'all of which is O.K. by us,' said Matthew Mallow, a partner at the firm."

And with assurances from Skadden that even should it end up having to conduct layoffs in the next year, associates will actually be immune from termination during their sabbaticals, it's perhaps no wonder that so many overworked associates would welcome the chance to step off the big firm treadmill and take a deep breath.

So what drew readers' attention to this piece, and sent it to the top of the Times's "Most E-Mailed" list?  The mention of the $80,000 "reduced" salary the firm will pay the sixth-year featured in the piece.
OK, there is some doom and gloom this week.  A lot, even.  It's currently unavoidable.  Everywhere you look, someone else is writing a eulogy to the profession.  And there were some good ones this week.  The common thread: if you're thinking about law school, what more, exactly, do we have to say to convince you to run screaming in the other direction?  As for current attorneys, well, apparently you're stuck here, and there's nothing more we can do for you.  Make the best of it.

It's not bad news for everyone, though.  Read on to see how some get promoted, some go public-sector, and a few just enjoy the severance.  Plus, law school rankings season is almost upon us!
It's time once again to put those Greedy smarts to use.  FindLaw Answers users have questions, and they need (free) answers.  Today, we bring you a pair of entries in the ongoing Landlord-Tenant Wars.  There's never a shortage of crazy-landlord/crazy-tenant stories on Answers, and today we look at an issue that, in the experiences of some tenants, rockets right up the Creepy Scale: when can (or should) a landlord just stroll on in?

First, we have the landlords.  Have sympathy for us, they say.  Landlording is a thankless business.  We are suffering in the down economy.  Mortgage, taxes, and maintenance are heavy expenses, and our property values are through the floor.  On top of all that, there are the daily confrontations with the intricacies of landlord-tenant law; for, instance, asks amysanchez7, what do I do when Johnny Law wants access to my tenant's space?

When should a landlord give police access to a tenants apartment or dwelling place? If there is no search warrant, and no imminent danger is present, should the landlord give access to a unit?  If access is determined as unreasonable search and seizure and a violation of the 4th Amendment, can I be sued?

Yes, it's tough out there for landlords.  But tenants get no peace either.  Read on for the other side of this story.
BigLaw associates (and the students who aspire to be them) do not need any more depressing news these days.  We know this.  But it's hard to ignore suggestions that recent drops in salaries offered to incoming first years at a few firms may become a cascade of plunging compensation, with some predicting starting salaries at large firms could flirt with five figures.

Prior reports indicated that LA's Allen Matkins had cut first-year salaries to $145,000, and McGuireWoods to $144,000.  WolfBlock of Philadelphia, before it dissolved, was among several firms that instituted pay cuts for associates, while others froze salaries as they reacted to the slowing economy.

Now the Legal Intelligencer reports that, in Philadelphia at least, firms might be frighteningly close to slashing incoming associates' pay levels, if just one of them would be brave enough to be the first.  One partner told the Intelligencer that he could see salaries drop to $100,000 "in a nanosecond," but that his firm wouldn't be the daring one that tried it first.
Next time you're grinding away in a windowless conference room, daydreaming about all the fascinating ways you could be using your J.D., take a moment to click over to Bitter Lawyer's interview with ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas.  It turns out that, in addition to starring as a player at Duke, going pro in Europe, coming back to Duke as an assistant coach, and taking on extensive radio and television duties at ESPN, Bilas has also found time to act in commercials and movies, start a charitable foundation, and, oh yeah, earn a law degree and go to work as a commercial litigator.  He is currently Of Counsel at Moore & Van Allen in North Carolina, practicing law "on the side" when his broadcasting job allows it.  A few highlights:
Perhaps you've already responded to our suggestion to banish workplace boredom by putting your Greedy smarts to use answering the queries of FindLaw Answers users.  If not, well, just look what you could have accomplished in a few spare non-billable minutes.  Recently on the Criminal Law board, user Thevirg wanted to know why the Fifth Amendment doesn't shield him from telling the IRS about illicit income:

Congress requires, via the IRS, that you report to the IRS any income from illegal activities, such as drug dealing. If you report the income, you reveal your illegal activities. If you do not report the income and the dealing is discovered, you can be charged with income tax evasion. Does this violate the Fifth Amendment? If not, why not?
Luckily for Thevirg, Answers regular Tax_Counsel was on hand and ready to expound on crime and taxes:
A column in last week's Washington Post jobs section (the longer, online-only version is here) continues to generate reactions from legal bloggers and commenters, who weigh in on the difficulties of hiring and retaining associates at smaller firms.

In the column, employment law and human-resources counselor Lily Garcia offered guidance to a "middle manager" at a small firm concerned about their high turnover rate for new associates.  The writer claimed that two out of every three new hires failed to last one year:

The pattern is always the same: The associate is hired on, struggles with his hours for the first few months, then over a few more months develops problems maintaining a responsible level of contact with clients, next they struggle with deadlines, and finally when the partners and I are at wits end the associate pretty much stops working, stops billing and becomes a professional liability.

Garcia's advice -- communicate clearly about job requirements, evaluate candidates' skills impassively, and be prepared to train and mentor -- might prove useful to a firm which, in Above the Law's succinct view, "has a terrible eye for talent."  At the ABA Journal, the story generated a flurry of comments, with some commenters heartily endorsing the ATL view that poor management is to blame; others, though, seized upon the notion that newly-minted lawyers, with their distinct lack of practical skills, could be the problem.

For those suddenly-terrified law students who until recently had expected to glide smoothly along the BigLaw track to a soft landing in the warm embrace and inflated salaries of associate life, the nonstop parade of bad news about law firm downsizing is particularly disconcerting.  Predictions of massive and fundamental change in the legal industry keep appearing, and always seem to boil down to some variation of fewer attorneys making less money.

(In case you missed it, the New York Times was at it again on Wednesday, suggesting among other things that starting salaries at top firms might drop all the way to $100,000 -- the horror.)

So, if everything has changed, where do you look now?  Here are four things to think about as you shift your focus.

Bored at work?  Put your Greedy smarts to use! Users of the FindLaw Answers message boards have questions, and they need (free) answers.  In today's featured question, one user suggests a creative way to raise cash in today's uncertain economy, while avoiding the pesky legal obstacles surrounding the sale of human organs:

The months-long downturn in the legal market has made associate and staff layoffs into near-daily news, with sources like Law Shucks estimating more than 7,500 jobs lost in the nation's largest firms.  It's clear that a lot of GAs are wondering where the axe might fall next, and what they will do if it falls on them.  Given the state of the economy and the legal profession, of course, clear answers to those questions are unlikely to present themselves.  However, sprinkled in among all the pink-slip stories and dire predictions have been a few efforts to provide context and direction, or, failing that, a little gallows humor.