In-House Interrogatory

Asked: Our weekly question to the In-House community

In-house legal departments are getting fed up with paying outside counsel for soft costs like food and photocopying fees, The Wall Street Journal reported this week.

In-house counsel are pushing back against law firms charging them for legal research, photocopying and word processing costs according to a study cited in the article.

Companies’ legal departments argue that these costs are included in law firm overhead and therefore should not be charged to them.

So, here’s our question for you:

Should companies be charged for soft costs like catered lunches and photocopying by outside counsel?

Leave a comment below or email me.

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Special Tuesday law blog round-up

Welcome back from the long weekend. Since we didn’t have a Monday workday this week, here’s your special Tuesday edition of the law blog round-up:

  • On his Art of Advocacy blog, Paul Mark Sandler reprints an article he and Judge Lynne Battaglia wrote about why Maryland needs mandatory continuing legal education. The state is totally out of step in its lack of a CLE requirement, the authors write.
  • Gross revenue takes a dive at Ballard Spahr, Saul Ewing and most of the other firms in AmLaw’s Second Hundred.
  • Lois FInkelstein at the Maryland Divorce Legal Crier continues her saga about hiring a lawyer, and I really want to believe that this is a work of fiction: “As I looked at the detail of this bill more carefully, I saw something that left me flabbergasted. Alan had billed me a tenth of an hour for e-mailing me birthday wishes!”
  • Why your law firm’s website isn’t very good.
  • Use pink ink, bind your pages with a rubber band, use lots of foreign words, employ the phrase “in cahoots,” and other tips on writing a terrible brief. HT: Above the Law.

A big-law refugee returns to big law

We ran an item in our On the Move section yesterday on land use lawyer Erica Leatham moving from the small Rockville firm Meyers, Eisler & Leatham to the Bethesda office of Ballard Spahr. This caught my eye because I recalled that Leatham was featured a couple of years back in a Legal Times story about young female lawyers who were fed up with big law. Leatham talked about having left Holland & Knight to help start what was then Stark, Meyers, Eisler & Leatham because she was miserable with the pace at the large firm and felt it was very difficult to balance work and family there. She told the Legal Times reporter that she was working just as hard at Stark Meyers, but at least she could set her own schedule.

When I saw that Leatham had gone back to big law, I was curious to find out why, so I called her. She reiterated that life at a small firm was extremely busy. Instead of working exclusively on legal work, though, she had to take care of administrative tasks, too. What’s more, land use is not an area of the law well-suited to working in a small shop, she said. Leatham said she isn’t sure how her schedule and workload will work out at Ballard, but she can only hope that since her last stint at a big firm, she has become “more efficient and more practical about what I choose to do and not to do.”

She said there is “no good answer” to the problem of unrealistic work hours for ambitious attorneys who also want to have a family. “I thought maybe I’d found it,” she said.

Ballard cancels summer 2010 program

I spoke too soon.

In a post on Friday, I wrote that to the best of my knowledge, no firm with a big presence here had yet canceled its summer associate program for 2010.

Now Ballard Spahr, which has 40 lawyers in Baltimore and nine in Bethesda, has done just that. (The report first surfaced today on Above the Law.)

A Ballard spokeswoman e-mailed me the following statement:

“In view of our obligation to manage our firm in a responsible way, we have decided not to have a Summer Associates Program in 2010. We are very pleased to have a new class of associates that will join us in the fall of 2010 and will make offers to this year’s summer associates to start in 2011. It would be unfair to have a Summer Associates Program next year in light of the people to whom we have made commitments. If there are exceptional needs in a non-Philadelphia office, we will consider appropriate hires. This decision reflects what we believe is in the best interests of the firm.”

Firm postpones start dates for a year

Ballard Spahr is the latest firm to delay first-year associates’ start dates. The incoming class will now start in September of 2010. No, that’s not a typo. Yes, the associates will have to wait a whole year.

The firm will pay them each a $45,000 stipend “if they find legal work in the meantime that provides public service or enhances their professional development.”

Ballard Spahr is based in Philadelphia but has 49 lawyers in Maryland.

Another firm with a major Maryland presence, Venable, announced earlier this month that its own first-years would start in January 2010.

Ballard Spahr wins suit over disgruntled competitor

Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll (which, of course, has an office here in Charm City) emerged victorious this week from a lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania by a man who claimed the firm breached its financial duty to him.

Saul Epstein sought $17-30M in lost profits and punitive damages, after (he said) the firm shared his business plan with a competitor, who sought funding from the same source he did – Crusader Bank, a Ballard Spahr client. ABA Journal reports that Epstein claimed the law firm “sabotaged” his deal with the bank while promoting the competitor.

The Legal Intelligencer reports that a former Crusader executive testified the bank “never had any interest in doing business with Epstein.”  Ouch.


More on big-firm salaries

Some more news on the big-firm salary front: the largest of the truly Maryland-headquartered firms, Miles & Stockbridge, is up to $140,000. The increase, which is as of the new year, is a $15,000 bump from last year’s rate.

That puts Miles at the same salary level as Ballard Spahr’s Baltimore’s office. Both firms are $20,000 lower than the Charm City offices of Venable and DLA Piper, two firms born here but now playing with the big boys on a national level.

Miles chairman John Frisch says the raise doesn’t come with a billable-hour requirement hike. Miles remains at 1850, lower than Piper or Venable.

CARYN TAMBER, Legal Affairs Writer