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FROM THE JOB FRONT

FROM THE JOB FRONT is EmplawyerNet's monthly newsletter covering the latest developments in the area of legal employment -- and a few other things. FROM THE JOB FRONT is published as a service of EmplawyerNet, the online interactive legal employment network.

MARCH 2000

NEWS FROM THE JOB FRONT

Clients Starting to See Impact of Associate Salary Wars

Firms Replacing Billables With Equity

Court Says 20 Hour Days are Part of the Job for Attorneys

ABA Still Deciding on Multidisciplinary Practices

OTHER FEATURES
Job Tips: Judicial Clerkships

Legal Trivia

Quote, UnQuote

One More Thing Before You Go


CLIENTS STARTING TO SEE IMPACT OF ASSOCIATE SALARY WARS

Unless you've left the legal profession over the last couple of months, you know that associate salaries have been skyrocketing. Now it's time to figure out who is going to pay the price. Some clients of California firms who were among the earliest to raise salaries have sent notice to clients that hourly billing rates will increase. And at a time when law firms are so busy that clients often have to compete for attention, some clients see themselves left with little choice but to pay the higher fees. Other firms are expected to try to absorb the higher costs of associates by lowering partnership draws. Some expect that this will encourage partners to move to other firms, the most desirable of which are Silicon Valley firms that take equity interests in exchange for the work they do for their dotcom clients. Another interesting possible scenario is that higher hourly billing rates will encourage more companies to hire in-house counsel. Completing the circle, such slots are likely to be filled with law firm associates who the higher law firm salaries were designed to keep on board.

FIRMS REPLACING BILLABLES WITH EQUITY

It used to be that law firms representing startups worked under the hope that their clients would someday grow into successful ventures that could afford to pay the firm its hourly rates. Now, more firms are looking for a piece of their clients. For those who have successfully used it, equity returns are exceeding hourly-based compensation. When Palo Alto's Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati first used the approach ten years ago, there was a question of whether it was within the code of ethics. Now, it is so commonplace that some firms are reportedly considering raising their hourly billing rates to encourage clients to turn over an equity interest.

American Lawyer Media

COURT SAYS 20 HOUR DAYS ARE PART OF THE JOB FOR ATTORNEYS

A federal judge has ruled that trial lawyers must be able to put in twenty-hour days and, if they are unable to do so for health reasons, they are eligible to claim a disability. The decision grew out of a case where a New York law firm denied full disability benefits to an associate with high blood pressure. The associate's blood pressure rose significantly during trail preparation. The firm was ordered to pay the lawyer $6,250 a month until she turns 66 or until her hypertension is cured plus back payments and attorney fees. The judge said the disability plan administrator erred in denying the lawyer's claim and by stating that working up to 20 hours a day is "not considered 'normal' for trial attorneys." The judge concluded that "A trial attorney, especially an associate in a litigation firm, must be available for long hours to meet the demands of trial." He went on to say that the lawyer could not simply leave the office and go home after an eight hour day.

Cal Law

ABA STILL DECIDING ON MULTIDISCIPLINARY PRACTICES

The American Bar Association's midyear meeting produced no decisions or even clear indications on the subject of multidisciplinary practices. The ABA's special commission on the subject had a daylong meeting on the topic of relaxing ethical rules to permit lawyers to share fees with nonlawyers. The issue has become hotter in recent months as more accounting firms move to provide their clients with full service, including legal counsel. It is expected that, on a smaller scale, banks, financial services providers and even insurance companies will also be developing multidisciplinary practices that include lawyers. While insiders report that the ABA commission is leaning toward more relaxed rules, state bars are less open to the idea. It is expected that at least some states will aggressively enforce rules that separate lawyers from other professionals.

JOB TIPS: JUDICIAL CLERKSHIPS

Should you spend a year or two clerking for a judge after law school? That depends entirely upon what you expect to get out of a clerkship.

A clerkship may make you more appealing to some firms. Indeed, it is common to give associates who have clerked "credit" for the year or two of their clerkships. Usually, this means an adjustment of compensation, so if you join a firm after a one-year clerkship, you will often be compensated as a second-year associate.

Promises may also be made that time spent clerking "counts for partnership," but remember that a law firm will make you a partner only when it is good and ready. Enforcing that type of promise may prove problematic. In the short term, your time spent clerking may set you back a bit on the path to partnership; over the longer term, the experience may well make you a better lawyer.

As a practical matter, a clerkship will probably not improve your job prospects. Typically, judges seek clerks with very strong academic credentials. These are the same people who have little trouble in collecting offers from law firms. So don't view clerking as an activity that will dramatically improve your marketability. If you have qualified for a clerkship, your marketability is just fine.

Clerking for a trial judge provides an introduction to litigation that you can never get in your law school's trial practice course. You see how the process works, what makes a lawyer effective and what mistakes to avoid. Appellate clerkships are somewhat more limited, isolated and cerebral in character, but they can do much to hone your analytical skills and introduce you to the appellate process.

Much of how you feel about a clerkship will depend upon the qualities of your judge. Some judges will discuss cases extensively with their clerks, and take an interest in your career. Others are more aloof. What type of judge you are in for can be fairly easily discovered by checking with former clerks. To the degree you have choices, great care should be put into selecting your judge.

If possible, don't decline to clerk simply because you can't wait to get your career rolling with a law firm. You will have the rest of your life to work in a law firm. The first year or so out of law school can be a good time to broaden your experiences.

LEGAL TRIVIA

What was famed football coach Vince Lombardi doing immediately prior to taking his first coaching job?

(Answer at the end of the newsletter)

QUOTE

"Would you rather sleep or win?"

    -- Trial lawyer David Boies who represents the US government in the Microsoft antitrust case, speaking to a junior lawyer

UNQUOTE

ONE MORE THING BEFORE YOU GO...

A California District Court of Appeals has declined to overrule a homicide verdict where one of the jurors was found to be romantically interested in the prosecutor. It seems that while the case was being tried, the juror in question inquired whether the lawyer was married and available. "Juror No. 12" also slipped the prosecutor a note that included her phone number. The appellate court found that while the juror's actions did technically constitute misconduct, they did not appear to prejudice her deliberations. In reaching its decision, the court referred to a case in which a trial court permitted an attorney to exclude all female potential jurors because "opposing counsel was so handsome the women would be swayed." The appellate court said it did not want to follow that case because attractive attorneys do not necessarily render jurors unable to serve.

  • Trivia Answer: He was attending Fordham law school where he dropped out after one year of study.


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