Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wolf Block is dead!!!

Well, one major Philadelphia legal institution for the past 106 years passed away. Wolf block voted to disband the other day. The reasons that have been put forward are: mergers and acquisitions, structured finance or real estate focused practice; the economic recession; the current credit crunch; and oh, the fact that the partners did not want to stand behind their own firm. One report I read indicated that a large part of this was that not very many of the partners wanted to personally ensure the line of credit that they needed to take out for operating expenses, and that they were upset that profits were down so the partners only made $321,000 on average in 2008 (Down from $400,000 in 2007).

Some Links:
Philly Inquirer--Wolf Block Lawyers Face Difficult Job-hunting Climate

Philly Daily News--Wolf Block Lawyers Left Only With Fond Memories

Legal Intelligencer--No Easy Answers in Wolf Block's Demise

Legal Intelligencer--Credit Woes, Failed Merger Bids Take Toll on Wolf Block

Wall Street Journal--Wolf Block to Dissolve Philadelphia Law Firm

Business Journal--Wolf Block law firm to dissolve

The thing is that I believe that many firms large and small do not get the concept that there needs to be at least a vague semblance of a pyramidal structure of leadership. The fact is that most firms, even those mega firms like Dechert are too top heavy. There are too many partners and equity partners and not enough accountability. When you have too many partners, you can not get them to all agree on anything, and in fact you are likely to have many of them making more conservative moves without their names on the door or their own personal money invested. The partners will rarely put themselves out of work, and you can be sure that all of the partners from this dissolution will end up somewhere else. The young attorneys will be scrambling, and I wouldn't be surprised to see some of them on contract jobs in the future.

As far as why you should be concerned. While I have not heard of Wolf Block hiring any contractors in the last five years (so we are not really losing a contract employer), as I just mentioned, there are that many other lawyers out there looking for work. Will they deign to do contract work? In this economy, probably. Will they be able to find associate or partner positions? It sounds like many are already lining up these positions, but of course that means any contractor looking for an associate position is going to find it that much harder to find one. And with some firms already delaying first year start dates, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that offers are rescinded putting more recent grads in the desperate position of needing to work anywhere. Also, don't forget that many firms suffer from a top heavy management structure, and layoffs at major firms have been touching all levels. A dissolution could happen to any firm in the near future, even Pepper Hamilton, Morgan Lewis, or Dechert. So even those of you who have been contracting at those places for years, are not necessarily safe (and certainly less safe than the associates or partners).

For those of you who would use this to point out that contracting is just as secure as any other job out there, think again. If you are an associate somewhere, even if all you have ever done is Document Review work, you are perceived to have a skill set, as a contractor you are not. As an associate, even in situations like this you are entitled to certain benefits, or portions thereof, as a contractor you are entitled to nothing. As a contractor, you will likely be the first one out on the street, and the last one to be hired by a new firm. There is more job security as a full-time employee, and a recognized skill set that comes along with the position which makes you more mobile when it comes to looking for new employment.

Contract attorneys actually do have a skill set, but you wouldn't know it from the way firms treat applicants for full-time positions that have primarily contract experience, nor from the way that they treat contractors on document reviews for the firms (firms tend to treat contractors as idiots who barely graduated high school, and believe that anyone can do the work, though the last associate that I saw code a document screwed it up and crashed the system). The real question is how to make that skill set known and transferable.

I digress though, what are your thoughts.

As far as those of you asking about additional work, I have no updates other than to say it sounds like several contract firms are trolling for resumes. And I am sure for positions to post people in, but many of them do not have positions ready immediately.

Feel free to comment.

Black Sheep

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

So much for a regular posting schedule!

Sorry everyone. Market has been slow, and other interests have gotten in the way of my posting and I have to say that at times the conversation has degenerated at times more than I would like to see. I have many ideas, but not as much time right now. Maybe it is that second job I had to take. As I have always said, the Black Sheep is all of you contractors who are the Black Sheep of the legal industry (whether you believe it or not).

As to current updates on the market, one of the posters in the last string I think did a pretty good job at summing things up. Anonymous at 7:51 AM Feb. 19 said...

Here's what I can come up with based on people I've talked to and this site and others:

Dechert (staffed by Hudson): Vioxx/Vytorin, they just had their four-year anniversary, and it doesn't seem to be shutting down anytime soon. There are rumors of them moving it across the street from 2 Logan to the Bell-Atlantic Tower. Last I heard, they started at $27 an hour (with time and a half for OT) but had a freeze on raises (people who have been there more than 18 months get $35 an hour. Supposedly, they just hired 12 to 15 people and even added a few staff attorneys. I’ve also heard there are ongoing, smaller projects at Cira Center.

Pepper Hamilton (direct hire, or staffed by HIRECounsel, or staffed by Special Counsel): Zyprexa, Avandia, don't know what the Special Counsel thing is. I've heard direct hires are for either Zyprexa or Avandia and pay $38, but the unlucky HIRECounsel folk are hired exclusively for Zyprexa and are paid $30. So why does ANYONE go there through HC? Because not everyone knows about the direct-hire route, which isn't advertised. I doubt they'll be doing any hiring anytime soon with the Zyprexa settlement and the 200 hours a month/ 10 hours a day cap on hours.

Stradley (staffed by JuriStaff & Special Counsel): Avandia. Pays $35/hour, down from the $40/hour it used to be with Oxford Legal and Special Counsel. Limited hours, are they currently hiring? Who knows how much longer it has to go? After all, with Zyprexa settling maybe Pepper Hamilton will take back the Avandia work.

McCarter English (staffed by Hudson): Seroquel. I don't know what that pays but that project only has a small skeleton crew working on it, and it's unlikely there will be any new hires for the duration of the project.

Morgan Lewis (Providus): Some non-pharmaceutical thing. Pays a nice $35+OT, but I don't know if they'll be doing anymore hiring for the duration of the project. Work seems to be slow to the point of being almost nonexistent at Morgan’s regular review space in the basement adjacent to Suburban Station.

Montgomery McCracken (HIRECounsel). Pharmaceutical case. Pays $30/hour straight time. Smaller project. Just hired people and probably won’t be adding.

Then there's always work at the plaintiff's firm Barroway in Radnor (staffed by HIRECounsel) for a yucky $28/hour, where they reportedly have cameras on the contract attorneys. If you live in the suburbs you won't have to pay Philly wage tax, but so what, it's $28/hour in oppressive working conditions.

JuriStaff recently was looking for people for a short-term (one to two month project), but it was a plaintiffs firm, the hours were extremely limited, you were required to take an hour unpaid break, and there even was a set start time for your workday.

JuriStaff and Special Counsel also have a pharmaceutical review at Reed Smith. It pays $35 an hour. You can pretty much work as much as you want, but it pays straight time. However, this project probably will be wrapping up soon.

There's also that $35/hour HIRECounsel gig in Blue Bell as someone else mentioned. Also for whatever it's worth, HIRECounsel and Special Counsel had a flurry of ads in January. I don't know what else they have besides the aforementioned jobs. Kelly Legal also posted a couple of ads for Center City gigs. I know that they do some work for Dechert.

There also are ongoing jobs down in Wilmington, but they tend to pay $30 or so, and who really wants to work in Wilmington?

Does anyone know if there any jobs at Ballard Spahr, Blank Rome or other firms going on right now? If so, who staffs them, what do they pay, and how long are they slated to last? This blog really could be a resource to take power away from the parasites such as Denise Asnes and Julie Dailey. We should be sharing information. Despite what the firms and agencies might tell you, you can share information about what firm you are working at, what you are being paid and what the work conditions are like.

I have not heard about any recent jobs at Blank Rome, Ballard Spahr, Duane Morris or Cozen O'Connor. In fact the last time I heard of Cozen hiring contractors was about 5 years ago. I have heard many reasons that this firm does not hire contractors anymore despite their litigation heavy clientele, but I do not actually know if any is true.

As far as the debate about Wealth vs. Hard Work, it is pointless for many of you to debate, and for those that are borderline in either or both categories, it will just depress you. Here is the thing in my opinion. There are many young attorneys who have gotten jobs on merit, in fact probably more than on wealth and connections alone. Partnership is another question. And it is an interesting one at this time in the practice of law as all size firms are getting very top heavy with partners (both equity and non-equity). And some of those partners are "Working Partners" while others are "Rain-making Partners." And if you are reading this Blog, the likelihood is that you will never be either unless you start your own firm or break off of a large firm with only a few partners. As far as pre-requisites for getting a big law job, all of the following things help:

Wealth and Fame
Connections to the "Right" people (including relations to partners or clients)
Hard work resulting in Top 10% of law school class
Top Schools for both Undergrad and Law School
Journal experience
Clerking for a High-Level Judge
Distinguishing Litigation Ability
Unique Talents
A Backstabbing Mentality
Willingness to Pledge your Allegiance to the Firm above anything else

Do you need all of these things? Certainly not, but if you have all of them you are likely shoe in for partner. Everyone has different paths to achieve success at large firms or small firms. I have met quite a few people who have been given jobs based on wealth alone (as I hear it about half of the Vioxx staff attorneys got their jobs through familial connections and probably will not be Associates any time soon) and many who have achieved due to hard work and good grades. The shame of this debate is that there are so many in document review who just want a shot at showing the large firms what they can do, while there are some in large firms that have got there with only apparent familial connections and are taking up space despite the fact that they do not really want to be there. Bottom line is you cannot change your past, only your future so find a way to achieve what you want. This may require changing your dream. My new one may be to become a manager at Best Buy as one commenter has suggested many times (at least I would get an employee discount on all of those electronics, of course I may be frisked upon leaving work, and will certainly have to frisk lower level employees if I recall the lawsuit that was going on there last year).

As far as the discussion about Document Review being filled with 3rd and 4th Tier graduates, this is certainly true, but it is also true that the 2nd Tier is well represented as well. In fact in this area there are many Temple and quite a few Villanova Grads that are contracting. Rutgers numbers have been growing up in NYC as well. These are all second tier schools, and if the numbers can be relied on they are in the top half of the second tier. And by the way these are not just bottom of the class grads either. I know one cum laude grad with journal experience from a second tier school who has been contracting for a couple of years.

AS far as news like the following, it is bad for us as contractors because many of these people will take desired jobs from us because they will be viewed as better qualified. This fact can be seen at Stradley Ronon where as a recent poster pointed out Staff Attorneys were demoted to contractors while released associates were rehired as Staff Attorneys:
Black Friday For Law Firm Staff and Attorneys....What About in-House?

Nationwide Layoff Watch: Dechert Lets Go 10 Staff Attorneys

Incidentally being a Staff Attorney might not be much better (especially at a large firm) as Tom the Temp and anonymous poster pointed out in the following post

Thursday, February 26, 2009--What Is A Staff Attorney?
"Yolanda Young will be happy to explain in detail. From her recent court pleading, I gather it is somewhat like a legal sharecropper. You have to 'work off the clock,' and probably get paid in script, only negotiable at the 'company store.' Also, the desks would be set up in 'converted filerooms,' which Yolanda speculates do not meet OSHA standards. Anyone that complains gets the tar and feathered, and then their bonus is pressed down to a measly $5,000."

-ABA Journal Commenter on...
High-Profile Ex-Staff Lawyer Sues Covington & Burling, Alleges Discrimination

Speaking of Tom the Temp. Congratulations are in order, he made the Blog 100 as one of the Best Career Blogs!

Some additional news on a variety of Legal Blog topics check out this site:

Want to add ot our knowledge about what contract Attorneys are and do, feel free to add to Wikipedia's definitions here:

Want to know how to become a contractor, check out E-how

Oh, by the way, some of you may have noticed that unlike last year, this year I did not do cheers and jeers for wishing our agencies and staff attorneys a Happy Valentines Day. That was not by design, if you want to send them in, feel free.

Have fun. And I welcome your comments.

The Black Sheep