Thinking Like a Lawyer - Above the Law

What’s Up With The Philadelphia Market?

Joe and Elie have only ever worked in New York law firms, so they’re taking some time to focus on the ins and outs of legal markets around the country. First up is Philadelphia, New York’s kid brother, to find out exactly what goes on in this city that — for some firms — is paying New York-level salaries.

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Above the Law – Thinking Like a Lawyer

What’s Up With The Philadelphia Market?

10/24/2016

Intro: Welcome to ‘Thinking Like a Lawyer’ with your hosts Elie Mystal and Joe Patrice, talking about legal news and top culture all while thinking like a lawyer, here on Legal Talk Network.

Joe Patrice: Welcome back to another edition of ‘Thinking Like a Lawyer’. I am Joe Patrice from ‘Above the Law’, and with me, my usual co-host, Elie Mystal.

Elie Mystal: I don’t even want to vote anymore, I just want to stop.

Joe Patrice: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know why you would think that this has been ratings gold for us this election, I mean, there’s legal issues all over the place, ‘The New York Times’ is fighting back against a threatened lawsuit. This is great stuff.

Elie Mystal: Yeah, it’s great for business but from a sole, for this — I mean, I can’t — I’m literally at a point where I can’t have the news on when my children are in the room. It’s like I’m watching ‘Game of Thrones’ only all the time now.

Joe Patrice: I mean, yeah, it is interesting. You’ve got kind of – yeah, I could see that.

Elie Mystal: Also because like I don’t know how you guys do it at home. Like, when I’m watching TV at home, I am trying to work and Trump comes on, I literally start cursing at the screen, and then so, just the other day, Trump is on, I’m trying to work, I am minding my own business, I need to turn him off and I turn around and I say, “Shut up. You orange [bad word].”

Joe Patrice: Wow!

Elie Mystal: And my kid from three rooms away says to his little brother, “Daddy does not like oranges.” I’m like, oh my god, like I just — this is my life now. This is America’s life now.

Joe Patrice: Yeah, maybe, yeah, I mean, this doesn’t bother me particularly but I’m watching sports and stuff, so it doesn’t really come up.

Elie Mystal: Well, that’s closer to where I want to grind my gears today because I don’t want to talk, I don’t want to love your election right now.

Joe Patrice: All right, so what is the trademark to grinding of gears?

Elie Mystal: So last night PlayStation released another gadget that I can neither afford nor figure out how to use that’s going to once again re-tangle and re-complicate my video gaming life. PlayStation released PlayStation VR, it’s a Virtual Reality headset, you’re supposed to wear and that’s the thing. I have realized that – see, I am part of the first generation of people who played video games.

Joe Patrice: Right.

Elie Mystal: And it was always my thought that the games would age with me, that they would — there would always be like the new tech for the young kids, but the games will kind of geriatric themselves with me. But that’s really not happening, instead, they are still just trying to get the new next hot thing for the younger generation and screwing up my gaming experience by forcing me to figure out how to do — like there was the whole motion sensor thing which I am too old to like —

Joe Patrice: Yeah, actually they are pretty self-explanatory, all of these things.

Elie Mystal: I am not saying that they are confusing. I am saying that they’re impossible.

Joe Patrice: Yeah, no. They are not actually impossible.

Elie Mystal: You don’t even have a PlayStation, how do you know?

Joe Patrice: I mean, I don’t have the new one yet, that’s true, I am still operating on the 3.

Elie Mystal: It’s a new one, the four-year-old. I guess, it’s not three-year-old.

Joe Patrice: Yeah, it’s two I think, but yeah, I am still operating on the PlayStation 3. I mean, now that they don’t make new NCAA football games, I don’t know why, I would need a new system.

Elie Mystal: I don’t need Virtual Reality. I need my controller and my television. I need games that still be made.

Joe Patrice: Based on what you are saying. You’re having enough trouble with real reality. You don’t want to complicate it too much more.

Elie Mystal: Don’t you know it?

Joe Practice: Yeah – well, so today’s episode we decided to start doing something slightly different and it was spawned by the fact that we’re going to Philadelphia in a couple of weeks.

Elie Mystal: Yeah.

Joe Patrice: Yeah. Elie and I are going down to Philadelphia on October 27th to 28th to host the Above the Law Academy for Private Practice, which is kind of a show that we do for small and solo practitioners, giving them CLE and speeches about like how to maximize their practice.

And, since we’re going to be in Philadelphia, it struck us, we should know a little bit more about the Philadelphia legal market. So we thought we have a recurring guest on the show who actually knows something about it.

So we brought back Steven Silver who you may remember from some of our sports theme shows because he is at The Legal Blitz, which is a blog that also writes and contributes to ‘Above the Law’ for us. So welcome back to the show, Steven.

Steven Silver: Hey, thanks for having me.

Elie Mystal: Steven also has a real practice once you talk about that because since it’s naturally the point of this podcast. I want you to talk about what you do for money?

Steven Silver: Then I can talk about on air at least. At first I got to remind you, Elie, that Nintendo is coming out with a console, preloaded with like 30 of the best old games.

Joe Practice: Yeah.

Elie Mystal: That’s right.

Steven Silver: So, you’ve got to get that. It’ll be like 99 bucks.

Elie Mystal: Like the mini NES, you’re totally right. That’s what I’m talking about.

(00:04:57)

Steven Silver: Yes, I will be getting that. So I am in Philadelphia at a small firm, it’s called McBreen & Kopko, and I have summered at larger firms. I was at a different firm for a year and then came here; I have been here two-and-a-half years now, and sort of have a little of my own practice I have built up doing sports and a little bit of gaming law. I also went to Temple Law, so three years of law school in Philadelphia. So I think I have a little bit of a pulse at least on everything that’s going on in the city.

Elie Mystal: So if I call a person from Philadelphia, if I call a lawyer from Philadelphia and I say, “You are working in a secondary market”, will that person stab me, is that an okay thing to say, or is that frowned upon in that establishment?

Steven Silver: I don’t even think that’s true. I mean, to be honest with you it depends what industry you are in. If you are doing defense work, toxic tort, sort of mass products liability, all those cases are here. I mean, a lot of the multi-district litigations, those are in Philadelphia, because every plaintiff wants to be in Philadelphia. So to me, that’s number one here.

If you say secondary market, in terms of, let’s say, corporate work, M&A, some of that transactional work that the large New York firms are doing, I think you would hear from associates, at least, here, because they are making about the same money and living in a much cheaper city.

Joe Patrice: Well, that’s very true and we will hit on that, but I wanted to go back to something you said about every plaintiff wants to be in Philadelphia, what is it about Philadelphia that makes it so plaintiff-friendly?

Steven Silver: Well, there’s a couple of things and it’s probably changed a little bit over time, but Philadelphia juries still give out some of the highest verdicts in the nation. I think that’s a demographics thing. This is a city that has entrenched poverty, unlike other major cities, but also a pretty wealthy class, and so you are going to get juries that are majority-minority who are looking to stick it to large companies or insurance companies, and there are some big verdicts.

There is also, as much as I like to complain about the courts and the judges here, they do move cases quickly, and so you know if you are in Philadelphia you are going to get a resolution pretty swiftly; depends on the track, but at least within two years. If you have a lower level case it could be under a year, and that’s going to move.

And then same with the multi-district litigation, those judges stick to deadlines and you know it’s going to be efficient, whereas if you are across the river here in New Jersey, it can be a little bit unpredictable.

Elie Mystal: If you are filing a civil suit in New Jersey I might as well bequeath that suit to my son as opposed to I am not going to see it happen in my lifetime.

Steven Silver: Yeah, and the other problem is, at least here, so if you are in the Court of Common Pleas, which would be the trial level, state level court here in Philadelphia, you will get a trial pool, so you could be called to trial anytime that month, but you are going to get called.

In New Jersey, you get a listing date and it could be six-nine months from that date before you actually get there. And it’s a nightmare to make sure that you are ready and your witnesses are ready, because you don’t know exactly when you are going to get to go. So I think that’s why a lot of plaintiffs want to be here, and it cuts both ways.

Look, I think the rules are somewhat a little bit looser in terms of discovery. You are going to get — plaintiffs are going to get a lot broader access, so it’s a liberal court. This is a one-party town and the judges are elected, so it’s very plaintiff-friendly in that sense.

Elie Mystal: How easy is it to carpetbag Philly? I mean, you were talking about your experience; you went to law school in the area. New York, it’s easy as pie to carpetbag. I mean, it doesn’t matter where you went to school, it doesn’t matter who you know, as long as you come here and look the part, you are going to be accepted into the legal community here. What would you say about Philly?

Let’s say I am coming from — I don’t know, let’s say I am coming from Kansas, really good lawyer from Kansas, and I want to start up in Philly, like is that going to be significantly harder for me, is it going to be harder for me in Philly than it would be in DC?

Steven Silver: So that’s a fantastic question because I am not from Philadelphia; I mean, I am actually from probably the worst place to be coming here, because I am from Pittsburgh, so that’s the evil side of the state, and growing up I thought Philly was the evil side of the state.

So Philadelphians are very protective of their city, and part of that comes from your very first question, which is the chip on the shoulder about not being in New York and not being in DC and being sandwiched in the middle. So they are very, almost suspicious of, do you really want to work here, are you going to be at this firm long-term or is Philly just a stopping point, and so it is difficult to break in if you are not from here.

(00:10:03)

Also, at the firms, like most of the partners, the judges, either at the state or federal level went to law school here and most are from here, or at least have lived here a long time, so there are such strong connections in terms of having an in somewhere that’s based on where you went to high school, what town at the Jersey Shore you go to for the summers, what summer camp you went to. It’s a little bizarre in that it is a big city, but it’s really like you are moving to a small town in terms of those connections.

So it is difficult and you kind of have to convince people. I know when I was interviewing as to, yes, I am staying in Philadelphia, I want to be here, but if I went to high school and grew up here, it would have been significantly easier to get a job.

With that said, if you go to law school here, I think the connections are pretty strong, particularly like a school at Temple, where most of the big law firm partners and the judges in the city, they went to Temple. So those connections are really strong.

Joe Patrice: So what’s the — we talked about plaintiffs wanting to be there, is there a particular industry on the defense side that really rules the town. I mean, like banks rule New York, the government is ruling DC, is there an industry that’s Philly based that draws a lot of legal work?

Elie Mystal: Please say cheesesteaks. Please say cheesesteaks.

Steven Silver: I guess — well, hey, Aramark is here, I mean they make cheesesteak, probably not good ones.

Joe Patrice: Now let’s introduce our new sponsor Aramark.

Steven Silver: But, hey, like I said, I am looking at the Comcast Tower and they are building a second one of equal size. I mean, that’s huge business here and all of the surrounding businesses that go with that empire. But Philadelphia does have — they have their banking here, there’s a lot of insurance companies here, a lot of health insurers are here.

And I think a lot of Philly firms also touch down into Delaware in terms of corporate work; Wilmington, 12:14, and you do have a big sports industry here; most of the gaming work, that regulations, even though that’s a state level, most of that’s worked on here. So the Philly firms are going to deal with state issues in Harrisburg and the Atlantic City casinos, so that’s a big industry.

And then you have got, which people maybe don’t think of Philadelphia, but there’s energy work; in terms of oil, there is refineries around here and then the Marcellus Shale Drilling, more towards the middle of the state, that provides a lot of business.

Joe Patrice: I mean, yeah, it’s called Pennzoil for a reason, right, I guess.

Steven Silver: Right.

Joe Patrice: We kind of forget that Pennsylvania was where that kind of started.

Elie Mystal: I literally thought that was just the guy’s name.

Steven Silver: Yeah. I mean, I think people don’t think about it, but if you are going out towards the airport you will see the big what used to be Sunoco, and someone just bought them, but big oil refineries out there. So the energy has been a big, big expanding sector, and now you are starting to see more law firms transitioning to, how do we get involved in the startup scene, and the new tech companies that are coming out, because there’s a lot of money here, there’s a lot of venture capitalists who have built startups in here. So I think that’s going to be big in the future.

And then you are already seeing some firms’ position, particularly smaller firms that are well connected into Pennsylvania’s launching medical marijuana, and then I am sure it’s only a matter of time before the recreational level. So that’s an opportunity to get into a new industry too.

Joe Patrice: We actually at Above the Law, we have a columnist who writes every Monday on specifically cannabis legal issues, which we kind of laughed about it when it started, but there’s some serious legal issues and hurdles in that industry, and she does a good job of walking through all of the problems that come along with legalization.

Steven Silver: So there will be big firms I am sure at some point really getting involved, but now I have seen solos and small firms that are really, really in charge. They have done the homework. They have studied Colorado and they are the ones who are hosting the CLEs, writing the columns, and are going to get a lot of work when all of this launches.

Elie Mystal: I feel like this is a good time for another ad plug.

Steven Silver: That was a natural transition for you, come on.

Elie Mystal: It was amazing.

Joe Patrice: Yeah. Well, I guess we will just say, again, we are going to be down there in Philadelphia, so if anyone from Philly is listening to this, you can come out and see us, because we will be at this event, which is at the Hotel Monaco.

(00:14:54)

Elie Mystal: Yes, we want you to come out and meet some of these people that Steve was just talking about, as this is a conference focused on building your small and solo practice.

To transition away for a sec, Steve, what’s the law school that rules the roost down there, is it Penn? In New York, you all know if you want to hit the New York market hard, you have got to go to Cardozo, there is just no substitute. It was a joke. But Penn, because of its Ivy League prestige seems like it would be the right answer, but I feel like on the ground I am not so sure.

Steven Silver: Yeah. Look, if you go to Penn; my wife graduated from Penn Law, you are not going to have trouble getting a job. But traditionally, Penn grads would leave. They would go to either federal clerkships or they would go to New York to work at large firms. And what I have seen since six years now, more and more Penn Law grads are staying, because they can be associates at Decker or Morgan, Lewis or big law firms and make equivalent salaries; in some cases making the exact same as in New York, and getting the same type of work, and it’s a much better quality of life.

So you are seeing Penn grads stay, but Temple, like I said, it’s an older law school, a bigger one and has really deep connections politically and with the judges, so that kind of sets you up in terms of, if you want to be a DA, public defender, you want a clerk, that’s a great avenue to go.

So those two are really at the top, and then you have got Rutgers and Weidner kind of down there, and then Drexel will be a pretty big force too, they just got paid ton of money to rename their law school from Tom Kline, and that’s from a plaintiffs firm, Kline & Specter, which is the former —

Elie Mystal: That’s the Specter Specter?

Joe Patrice: Yes, yes. So Kline & Specter is the top or at least top three plaintiffs firm in the city, and Tom Kline has more money than — I mean he just wrote a $50 million check. So they are building just a few blocks from my office a brand-new school. I mean, it’s an old bank, they renovated this bank building, and it’s going to be solely for trial advocacy, and that’s to directly compete with Temple, because that’s Temple’s calling card.

And so I think you are going to see a lot of graduates coming out of Drexel compete for those DA, public defender type jobs, and also go to plaintiffs firms and do trial work like that. So that’s opening, I want to say within a year, that new school, and they are really going to be competing.

Of course, Villanova; I mean Villanova is a very tight alumni community too, but I don’t think they are at the Temple level in terms of some of the more prestigious jobs.

Joe Patrice: So let’s talk about that money because I think you hit on an important point, which is that some of these — over the summer we had the mass associate salary-geddon, where everybody was handing out raises like candy, and it reached a point where a lot of these big Philly firms matched the New York salary, even though the cost of living is not the same as New York.

What affect has that kind of had on the community, you kind of already hinted at, you think more and more people are staying, but does it — does the fact that more and more people are staying in Philly, is that going to change the market in some long-term way?

Steven Silver: Long-term I am not sure. In terms of summer classes here it’s still relatively smaller. Will there just be less new hires and more of a lateral market, I don’t know. But the sense I get is, is that it just — it made the divide even deeper between I want to say defense associates, because Philadelphia has a lot of very good sort of regional firms. It could be in that 100-200 lawyer type rating for those offices throughout the region; they are not Decker.

And the associate salaries are nowhere near what those large firms are going to be. And then if you are at an even smaller firm it’s going to be even less. So I think you just see it becomes more competitive coming out of law school, because if you get one of those positions, you are just — you are even more set now.

And what I do think is more of the associate hires I see have clerkship experience, like in the circuit level, so I think that’s maybe attracting more federal clerks to come work in Philadelphia too.

Joe Patrice: Yeah. I mean, that’s one of the things that we started observing when the raises started hitting all of these, we won’t use the word secondary markets, but all of these markets that you wouldn’t expect and it does seem like something has got to give, because right now it seems as though if I had an opportunity to make that money at a place where I didn’t have the same cost of living, I don’t know why I wouldn’t.

Steven Silver: Yeah. I mean, particularly here, and I have told my friends who live in New York, who work at these big firms, well, why would you not come here, because you can still be in New York really quickly if you need to.

(00:20:00)

Elie Mystal: Hamilton tickets, that’s why you don’t come there.

Steven Silver: Well, and eventually I am sure it will be here, but how these firms are dealing with their billing is something I don’t know, but I don’t know how you can get away with billing the same rates if you are in Philadelphia.

Elie Mystal: Right, because that’s always the other edge of the sword. I mean, one of our kind of points about the salary raises as they went through is that, the problem from a market perspective is that there are firms that can kind of easily afford to make these raises, because they can easily afford to jack up their own rates, and there are firms that can’t. And it was kind of playing follow the leader you could argue, that’s one of the reasons that we got ourselves into the situation that we found ourselves in, in 2009-2010, and now it seems like that lesson has just been forgotten

Steven Silver: Yeah. I mean, I can only talk from personal experience and the people I know, but very few of the people I graduated law school with, so we are three years out now, have stayed at the firm they went to. I think it’s a high — it’s still a high spit out rate and even more if they are going to give raises, because they are going to expect more hours now.

Elie Mystal: They won’t give you that money for free.

Steven Silver: Well, of course.

Joe Practice: Yeah. So I guess the last thing to go through here really is give us kind of the elevator pitch for the Philadelphia market, like why should aspiring either law student or lateral associate, like in 20 seconds or less, like why choose Philadelphia if you are a lawyer.

Steven Silver: Oh, that’s tough. You are going to make me positive about the city now. I am kidding, as I have my Steelers helmet facing the window outside of the street right now.

But no, I mean, look, if you are — let’s keep it in two ways. If you are at a level where you can go work at one of the larger firms, it’s a no-brainer, because you can afford to buy a house, and a large house here in the city and walk anywhere you want to walk, have some of the world’s best restaurants and chefs, because they too can’t afford to go to New York. You have all of the same arts and feeder just on a little smaller scale. You have got all the pro sports teams and college sports teams here.

Plus, you want to be in DC or New York for the beach, you can get there very quickly. It’s just a more relaxed place to work. The hours are going to be slightly less, and I think it’s a still, like I said, it’s a big city, but still has a small town feel to it and so the practice is that way.

And then if you are at maybe a smaller firm level it’s going to be even a nicer place to practice, because you are going to get more experience faster. For whatever reason, when I am in court I see a lot of associates handling things, trying cases, and it just seems faster than when I talk to people in New York.

So if you want to be on your feet and you want to have a life outside of work too, and plus get to actually really play with your money here, this would be the place.

Joe Practice: Yeah. I mean, I take exception to the idea that the 76ers are a professional sports team, but I get everything else.

Steven Silver: Trust the process.

Joe Practice: There we go. Well, thank you for walking us through Philadelphia. Again, that’s Steven Silver, he works down there. He is The Legal Blitz, read his stuff on our site, on his site. And if you want to see us we are going to be down in Philly, as we have teased a couple of times, the 27th and 28th, mostly on the 28th, that’s our Academy for Private Practice for Smalls and Solos learning the products and the advice that they need to help maximize their practice.

If you want to register for that, I actually should tell people that, if you want to register for that, you can go to  HYPERLINK “http://www.events.abovethelaw.com/app/agenda/” events.abovethelaw.com/app/agenda/, then another slash, but I think your browser fills that in.

Elie Mystal: At this point if you go anywhere on Above the Law it’s pretty easy to find that.

Joe Practice: Yeah, there’s links everywhere at Above the Law, but go there, you can register there. If you are registering now, you can use a code for a discount, 10YRGIFT, will get you a discount, so do that. Come on out, see us, chat with us. We are going to record a live episode of Thinking Like a Lawyer there, so you can actually audibly heckle us as we say things. So it should be a good time. We like meeting people. It would be good if folks came out.

So yeah, with that said, I think review this podcast, give it stars on all the various rating agencies so it goes up the charts. Whenever you are stopped at a stoplight roll down your window and yell to people, you should be listening to Thinking Like a Lawyer, I think that helps.

Elie Mystal: That’s good. That’s good. Hide your wife, hide your kids.

Joe Practice: Yeah. So with that, thanks for listening. See some of you in Philadelphia. Everyone else, keep listening for the next place that we go when we learn a little bit more about a regional market.

[Music]

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