Law blog roundup: To catch a thief

Enjoy today’s sunshine while you can… looks like Maryland’s going to have a doozy of a weather week. And, if you’re technologically inclined, head outside and catch up on these legal links.

  • Washington Post columnist Marc Fisher had the name, address and photo of the guy who burgled his home, after the guy posted pictures of himself on Fisher’s son’s Facebook page, wearing Fisher’s new winter coat, natch. It took police a lot longer to nab the guy, because, in the their words, burglaries just aren’t taken seriously. Even more surprising to Fisher was that it’s rare for thieves to do serious time.
  • The first FOIA suit seeking photos of Osama bin Laden after his capture and death has been filed.]
  • Catching up with Hogan Lovells one year after the merger that created the super-sized firm.
  • Your case will be heard in The Daily Record Courtroom #2. Not likely.
  • On the job bullying.
  • The former management company of reality TV star Bethenny Frankel (left) wants the $12 million it says she owes the company for helping her develop her Skinnygirl Cocktail brand, which she just sold for a cool $120 million.
  • Do the hopes and dreams of non-legal majors come down to this reality in today’s job market?

How law firms here fared in the Vault rankings

The Vault rankings of law firm prestige are out. The Vault rankings are based on surveys filled out by 15,000 law firm associates who rate firms on perceived status. No matter how you feel about rankings, these are an interesting read because they include some of the associates’ comments about the firms.

No firm based in Baltimore made the list, but several large firms with a major presence here did. Here’s are their rankings and a sampling what Vault and associates said about them.

  • Hogan & Hartson (the survey was done before Hogan merged with the British firm Lovells earlier this year) ranked 28 this year, down from 25 last year. Vault comments, “As one would expect of the largest and oldest BigLaw firm with roots in Washington, D.C., Hogan & Hartson’s Beltway influence runs deep” and notes that Chief Justice John Roberts is a Hogan alum. Associates called the firm “lifestyle-friendly” but also “legends in their own minds” and criticized Hogan for “stealth layoffs.”
  • DLA Piper ranked 53, down from 44 last year. Vault comments, “Some love it, some dislike it, but generally associates agree that recent salary cuts have lowered morale.” Associates said things like “competitive and diverse,” “amazing pro bono opportunities” and, somewhat bewilderingly, “extra large pizza with no toppings.” Associates also said the firm is too big. One senior associate told Vault, “Within 12 months, I have gone from my friends saying “wow” when I tell them I work at DLA Piper, to them snickering and asking me why I haven’t left yet.”
  • McGuireWoods‘ ranking is unchanged from last year, at 82. Vault says, “McGuire attorneys enjoy the rewards of working at a big-market firm in small-market settings, entering friendly offices in the morning and heading home to their families at night.” Associates made comments like, “good firm; good people,” “old school, boring,” “less pressure than many other similar-sized firms” and “favoritism toward anointed associates.”
  • Venable comes in at 83, up from 85 last year. Vault comments, “Venable LLP is a mid-Atlantic force that, until the capital markets meltdown, had defined itself by aggressive expansion.” Associates said, “very nice mid-Atlantic practice,” “quirky,” “strong pro bono commitment” and “bonus and compensation system allows firm to rationalize less-than-market salaries for certain associates.” There’s also a comment from a Baltimore corporate associate: “In Baltimore, we do fairly sophisticated work. It’s not Wall Street, but the projects are interesting and challenging. My practice group covers a lot of people and a lot of different sub-specialties, so it can be hard to find your place when you start. It is difficult to see what the future of the group is. While it’s not written anywhere, if you bill 2000 hours people are pleased.”

Hogan has a tough week

Hogan & Hartson has not been having a good week.

Last Friday, word got out that the firm had shown 30 senior associates the door. (I’ve made three calls to the firm since then to find out whether anyone in the Baltimore office was affected, but I haven’t heard back. Take from that what you will.)

Then yesterday, Above the Law posted a Hogan memo announcing that the current summer associates who get job offers in the Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia offices will come on board in the fall of 2011, not 2010. No word yet on Baltimore. (See above re: me not getting called back.) Hogan is not alone on this move, by the way.

It could be worse. This firm has canceled its on-campus recruiting for the fall and its 2010 summer associate program.

Hogan knocks back associate billables

Just a couple of years ago, big-firm associates would have rejoiced at the news of a cut in their minimum billable hour requirement. In my reporting on the business of law beat, I got the impression that some of them would gladly have accepted a slight pay decrease in exchange for the chance to bill “only,” say, 1,800 hours.

I doubt the Hogan & Hartson associates who just got their billable requirements knocked back are doing much celebrating.

Here’s the way Hogan usually works: the firm has two associate billable hour tracks, one at 1,950 and the other at 1,800. Associates had their choice, though I imagine those who wanted to make partner would feel bound to bill the higher amount. As of fall 2008, Hogan was paying first-year associates $160,000 at the 1,950-hour level and $137,500 at 1,800 hours.

Above the Law reported that Hogan is now actually bumping some associates down to 1,800 based on their low billables over the last five months. (Those low billables, of course, would be a result of the decreased amount of work the associates get now that, you know, the sky is falling.) Associates who started at the firm in 2008 and just got knocked back to 1,800 hours will now make $145,000. Those who chose the 1,800-hour track will still make $137,500.
“At first blush, you might say, well, that seems unfair,” Hogan chairman Warren Gorrell told me this morning. But, he said, the firm saw no reason to give those who chose the lower track a raise in this economic climate. Gorrell said that lawyers who bill above 1,800 will get a prorated increase in pay.

It’s one thing for an associate to get to choose how many hours to bill, confident that if she wanted at some point to move up from 1,800 to 1,950, the work would be there. It’s another for an associate to get involuntarily bumped down because there’s not enough work to go around. No, I’m thinking no one’s pleased here.

Really, though, Hogan is basically doing what other firms have done in cutting or freezing associate salaries, just in a more targeted way. Most associates at those firms surely have less work these days, too. Hogan is just making an explicit connection: less work equals less money.

On a related note, Hogan is laying off 93 staffers, but Gorrell said the firm will not disclose which offices were affected.