Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bringing Laterals Onboard

Bringing Laterals Onboard

Bruce MacEwen has a lengthy post about how law firms are bringing laterals into the fold.   Notably, different firms look for different characteristics when bringing in laterals.  Some firms look at capability, rather than clients or book of business, at the recruitment stage.  Others look for laterals with complementary business that can help jump-start a practice area.  One firm, Orrick, uses a "fishbowl approach:"

The fishbowl takes place near the end of recruitment. According to partner Peter Bicks, who heads recruiting efforts in New York, what comes before it is exhaustive. After initial interviews with a lateral candidate, several partners prepare a memo of at least five single-spaced pages, which is shown to both the candidate and to all Orrick partners. The memo covers the candidate's personal background, client relationships, compensation and billings history, and time spent on nonclient matters. It also includes proposed compensation at Orrick and two to three years of economic projections.

From Macewen's perspective, firm culture is most important.  He writes:

Laterals need to be a fit, or their half-life will be nasty, expensive, and short. Invest your own time and that of your most senior colleagues, and indeed, invest the time of everyone who will "touch or concern" the new arrivals.

As with everything else, when it comes to laterals, ultimately, it's all about building and establishing personal relationships.

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Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 8, 2008 at 01:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

More Fights About Pro Bono Fees

If you're a fan of the tree falling in the forest genre of riddles, consider this one: If a law firm seeks recovery of fees at its standard rates for a case that it originally accepted on a pro bono basis, does the work still count as pro bono?  That's a question that I've twice posted about, here and  here.  And as this National Law Journal story reports, it's a question that crops up with increasing frequency as more large firms seek large fees for pro bono work. 

As the NLJ article describes, Seattle-based law firm Davis Wright Tremaine filed a petition to recover nearly $1.8 million in attorneys fees for representing the plaintiffs in PICs v. Seattle School District.  The plaintiffs successfully challenged the constitutionality of the Seattle Public Schools' (SPS) policy of using race to determine which school students could attend.  The SPS opposes Davis Wright Tremaine's request, arguing that seeking payment is "disingenuous" because the firm held itself out as representing the clients pro bono.  However, Davis Wright defends its position, asserting that its clients asked the firm to pursue recovery of fees, which is a well-established civil rights remedy.

There is precedent for a large fee award, however. Last year, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom received $1 million in fees in a pro bono suit on behalf of workers who sued a restaurant for failing to pay their tips.  The firm recovered $700,000 for the workers in addition to the $1 million fee award.  Skadden did not keep the fees, but donated the money to nonprofit groups.  Daniel Hochheiser, who represented the restaurant criticized the court's judgment, asserting that:

you also had a large law firm telling everybody that they're doing the case pro bono...
The general understanding of pro bono is that you're volunteering your time and effort without compensation, or without expectation of compensation."

Firms have frequently sought fees for pro bono cases.  But the difference now is that large firm billing rates have skyrocketed.  As such, the amounts sought in pro bono matters today are much greater than they were in the past.  Moreover, with so many more young lawyers desperate for hands-on experience, my own guess is that many pro bono cases are now more heavily staffed by less experienced attorneys, who run up more hours.

I don't have a problem with firms that handle cases pro bono and recover fees that are then donated to a pro bono organization.  Since the firms aren't obtaining a financial benefit, then their work is still fairly characterized as pro bono

At the same time, even if firms perform work pro bono, that shouldn't give them carte blanche for an exhorbitant fee request.  Courts need to closely scrutinize the bills submitted by firms for pro bono work -- particularly because the client isn't paying the bill.  In ordinary situations where a client pays a lawyer, the client's budget limits the size of the bill.  When clients pay, firms can't overstaff or pursue every single deposition or defense because the clients won't always authorize those expenditures.  By contrast, where a firm uses a pro bono matter as training and the client doesn't pay, a bill can easily get out of hand and well exceed what a reasonable client would have paid for the same service.   In awarding fees for pro bono work, the court needs to keep in mind what a reasonable client would have paid for comparable service, and not what a large firm, working on a "sky's the limit" budget ultimately asks for in its fee petition.

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Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 8, 2008 at 12:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Last of the LegalTech Blog Posts

LegalTech New York '08 concluded yesterday, but the blogger dispatches keep coming.  Arnie Herz of Legal Sanity describes his experience at LegalTech in this post, which opens with these remarks:

I'm no Luddite. Some have even suggested that I've hot glued my Blackberry to my hand. Still, I'd be stretching it more than a bit if I called myself a techie. It's my general belief that people should connect more with one another and less with their gadgets.  Nonetheless, yesterday, I found myself happily taking in the sights and sounds of LegalTech New York. Although there was a free breakfast offer, I was actually drawn there to share the company of fellow law.com bloggers, including Carolyn Elefant, Rees Morrison, Robert Ambrogi, Monica Bay.

Visit the rest of Herz's posts to learn about some of the other highlights of the exhibit hall.

In the meantime, at the EDD Blog Online, Jeff Fehrman links to this story on one of the Tech Show e-discovery panels.  One panelist, Andrew Drake, senior counsel for discovery management at Nationwide, expressed disbelief that many in-house counsel did not yet realize that content stored in e-mail constitutes a record that must be preserved for, or produced in e-discovery.  Another panelist, Thomas Lidbury, a partner at Mayer Brown, found that most companies could not figure out how to deal with legal holds on documents, so they wind up retaining backup tapes longer than necessary.  The verdict: Most companies remain either clueless about, or resistant to implementation of an e-discovery compliant document preservation system.

Please let us know whether you enjoyed our live blogging of LegalTech and if you'd be interested in more live content in the future.

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Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 8, 2008 at 12:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

LTNY 2008: Google Goes to LegalTech, and LegalTech Goes Global

Thursday afternoon marks the end of LegalTech New York 2008, and also of Legal Blog Watch's special coverage of the show. We'll be back to our regularly-scheduled programming Friday, but there's one more LegalTech blogger we need to highlight before we go. Law Department Management's Rees Morrison has been covering the events at the Hilton, and picked up on a few interesting (non-swag related) sights on the show floor.

-- Google was there. The search giant was showing off its Postini software for pre-filtering e-mails, and Rees talked with them about using it in knowledge management efforts. Google acquired Postini last September, and Google's Patent search has been available for some time now. The search giant has done pretty well with its book project, if not without controversy. How long will it be before they get into the legal research space?

-- LegalTech is international. Rees spoke with a Brazilian matter management software company called Tedesco Tecnologia, which has law department clients in 32 countries, he says. We spoke with Glyn Williams, CEO of New Zealand-based Onstream Systems, who told us some of his biggest clients are in Brussels, using legal redaction software in European Union proceedings. It's not enough for vendors to think about clients the next state over anymore. Legal work is global, and its technology must be too.

That's it from LTNY 2008! If you made it to the show, we hope you survived. If you didn't, there's always LegalTech West Coast, coming up June 26-27 in Los Angeles.   

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Posted by John Bringardner on February 7, 2008 at 04:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

LTNY 2008: "EDD Uncertainty Looms Over LegalTech"

"EDD uncertainty looms over LegalTech," writes Law.com technology editor Sean Doherty.

It's no surprise that e-discovery continued to be front and center at LegalTech New York again this year. This persistent emphasis stems from the 2006 amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which bring uncertainty and unpredictability to e-discovery outcomes for corporations and law firms alike.

These same issues have been around since 2006 and before, but Legal Blog Watch's Bob Ambrogi explains in this videocast, "there's a lot of energy around e-discovery, and a lot of refinement of what's going on in e-discovery." Why now? It takes time for new rules to sink in, but well-publicized incidents like the Qualcomm debacle have made a real impact, as has the cost involved. Corporations have decided they don't want to pay inflated prices for their outside counsel to hire temp attorneys for e-discovery work. "'It's a profit opportunity for many firms," Robert Bjornsti, vice president at AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company, told a packed audience at LegalTech New York,' reports Karen Donovan on Portfolio.com.

The AXA executive's speech preached a "new paradigm" for using outside counsel, which he delicately suggested will "affect law firm profitability." Bjornsti told the crowd he wants to be free to hire smaller, cheaper law firms from, say, Peoria, Illinois, rather than be tied to the "marquee" firms in big cities. Marquee firms have the "scale" required for complicated discovery processes, that feature comes at an increasingly unpalatable price: as much as $1,200 an hour for senior partners. Bringing discovery in house opens the door to hiring less-expensive litigators, he said. At any rate, corporations are usually better equipped to handle massive amounts of data than law firms, because corporate IT departments "bigger than the entire law firm, very often," he said.

It's a point not lost on IT teams. InformationWeek's Information Management Blog visited LegalTech, and came back with this lesson: "If your IT department isn't pals with legal, now's the time to strike up a friendship." The goal is to help avoid legal headaches down the line, but the relationship can be a "friendship with benefits," IW says. "The money for e-discovery hardware and software often comes from legal budgets. And the policy and processes that define an e-discovery system can form the groundwork of an information lifecycle management (ILM) strategy—resulting in further efficiencies in storage management." 

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Posted by John Bringardner on February 7, 2008 at 03:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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