: The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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WSJ: Law Firms Curtail Associate Programs As Economy Slows

Well this is not good news for many of my compadres – from the Wall Street Journal, Law Firms Curtail Associate Programs As Economy Slows

This time last year, salaried lawyers at many of nation’s largest firms had just scored a pay bump, as business was blazing and firms were scrambling to keep talent. Now, due largely to a slowdown in work relating to mortgages, real estate, mergers and private equity, some firms are rescinding offers to incoming associates and summer associates, asking first-year lawyers to start several months later and shortening their summer programs to save money.

Law firms are businesses. Associates should be asking themselves what they are worth and why, and, particularly now, if there aren’t perhaps ways they could increase their value somehow.

Associates are key revenue generators for law firms. Firms generally charge clients an hourly rate for associates’ work, and the more work firms can assign to associates, the more they can earn. But associates are expensive as well, especially now, after firms jumped to match each other’s raises for them when times were good.

The salary for many entry-level lawyers at large firms in big cities is currently $160,000 per year. Summer associates — typically law students between their second and third years of law school hoping for offers of full-time employment after graduation — often get paid by the week at a rate pegged to the first-year associate salary. In many offices, summer associates in 2008 will bring home $3,100 weekly. So shaving weeks of employment can mean real savings for a law firm.

Make rain boys and girls, make rain.

“I come to work and expect 12-hour days and it’s just not happening,” said one junior associate at New York’s Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. “People have encouraged me to take on pro-bono work, and I have, but there are days when I don’t have enough to do from 10:30 to 6.”

“I’m not exactly complaining,” said the associate. “I’m going to the gym a lot, but frankly, I’m a little bored.”

Sounds like you’re about to be a little downsized, that could be exciting.

Texas Man Successfully Asserts Necessity Defense in Medical Marijuana Possession Case

From Reason Magazine, via Boing Boing, comes the interesting news that…

Tim Stevens, a 53-year-old Amarillo man who smokes marijuana to relieve the cyclical vomiting syndrome associated with HIV infection, used a necessity defense to win an acquittal on a possession charge.

A little Ragazzo-esque voice in Bennett’s head demands “What’s your authority for that?” to which he answers – Texas Penal Code Section 9.22.

Rankings Twist Law School Financial Aid Choices

Margot Adler at Public Radio’s Justice Talking takes a look at the ugly side of the economics of higher education in College Admissions: A Game of Privilege?

This part of the discussion with education researcher and policymaker Ross Weiner and public universities representative Peter McPherson highlights a particularly pertinent issue in law school settings.

Anyone paying attention to the law school rankings game can recognize the not so invisible hand of the rankings behind this statement from Ross Davies:

One of the things that we can look at is how colleges and universities use their own financial resources either to broaden access or to serve other purposes. And what we’ve seen is a huge shift away from providing institutional financial aid to the financially neediest students and more towards giving larger financial rewards to students who could afford to go to college whether they got a financial award or not. But these public universities, in order to move up in the ratings and the rankings systems, are actually buying up students who have done better previously. And it’s a real problem because we’ve got to figure out how to reward and incentivize these public institutions to serve these students who are going to struggle academically and financially. The country needs for these students to be more successful. And right now all the signals and all the status are towards universities and colleges becoming more elite, and not serving struggling students.

There is a clear incentive to “buy” high performing students in order to increase the illusion of selectivity. This incentive in turn puts pressure on admissions offices to make choices based on numbers that it might otherwise make on less quantifiable grounds and also applies pressure to increase tuition to fund the arms race. In this context, the recent moves by wealthier universities to reach into their endowments looks less like philanthropy and more like the erection of barriers to entry.

When the rankings start to reflect not the value the institution can impart on a student by virtue of its education but rather the status the school can achieve by leveraging its endowment to pad its LSAT stats, then it’s time for a MoneyLaw revolution.

Lise Olsen delves into story behind Judge Kent’s reprimand and transfer

Houston Chronicle investigative reporter Lise Olsen, who made a name for herself reporting on the case of Ruben Cantu, has turned her sights on Federal District Judge Sam Kent in an in-depth article – How far did this federal judge go?

The reprimand issued by the 5th Circuit judicial council which placed Kent on paid leave and transferred him from Galveston to Houston was serious enough to pique speculation but left the details up to the legal community’s very capable imagination. Olsen reveals serious allegations indeed, centering on sexual harassment of court employees.

Houston Hospitals embroiled in suit over Anti-Competitive Practices

The now defunct Houston Town & Country Hospital has hired noted Houston Trial Attorney Rusty Hardin to sue the large non-profit Memorial Hermann Healthcare System for interfering with its ability to work with insurers, driving it out of business.

For news coverage see Houston Chronicle: Hospital lawsuits attract big legal talent, ABC 13: Two Houston hospitals duke it out in court, Isiah Carey’s Insite: IT’S GOING TO BE AN UGLY BATTLE: HOSPITAL VERSUS HOSPITAL WITH RUSTY HARDIN THROWN INTO THE MIX!

According to the Chronicle

Hardin obtained an internal AETNA Insurance e-mail which he says supports his clients’ claims. The email states quote: “If AETNA contracts with Town and Country, Memorial Hermann will demand a 25% rate increase.” Later it says, “This is an extremely hot issue with Memorial Hermann management…”

Memorial Hermann filed suit in federal court in response and has asked the judge “to find it is free to enter into exclusive or semi-exclusive contracts with insurers, even if they would preclude the smaller, privately owned hospital from contracting with those health insurers.”

On a somewhat sinister note, it was Memorial Hermann that acquired Town and Country after it closed. Houston Business Journal: Town & Country Hospital shuts doors, lays off employees.

Hardin, who made his bones as a Harris County Prosecutor for 15 years, never strays far from the limelight. His exploits have been well chronicled here and here.

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