Infinite vacation time sounds great until you place yourself inside the passive-aggressive crucible of a law firm. Management is probably genuinely trying to give associates more flexibility with their vacations but ultimately freaking out their lawyers in the process. Meanwhile, summer associates are heading to work and very worried about the level of mentoring they’re going to get in a remote work environment. And we check in on a judge at the center of an epic set of allegations.
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Joe Patrice: Good day.
Kathryn Rubino: Hello.
Joe Patrice: And welcome to another — yep, you see, almost thought I was going to get away with that.
Kathryn Rubino: You’re not going to ever get away with anything. Just accept that now and then you can move forward appropriately.
Joe Patrice: Anyway so welcome to Thinking Like a Lawyer. I’m Joe Patrice from Above Law, that’s Kathryn Rubino we’re here to talk again with some of the biggest stories from the legal universe over the last week or at least the big stories that we find funny/disturbing enough to devote some time to. How are you?
Kathryn Rubino: I’m doing pretty good.
Joe Patrice: Excellent.
Kathryn Rubino: We’re rapidly approaching the unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day is coming up, do you have any big holiday weekend plans?
Joe Patrice: Not particularly, you know.
Kathryn Rubino: No barbecues, no nothing?
Joe Patrice: I mean yeah I’ll do barbecue-things I suppose.
Kathryn Rubino: Yeah well I mean it’s kind of excited you know, because of the vaccine and roll out etc. I feel like this is like the start of our vaccine summer which is only going to be fun I’m convinced.
Joe Patrice: Yeah I mean I think that’s true I think there have been historical comparisons to the roaring 20s, so I’m looking forward to how that’s going to play out.
Kathryn Rubino: I’m completely ready for all of this nonsense. I’m going to be taking my fair share of long weekends and enjoying every second of them.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, well so I guess with all that said, let’s hear from some sponsors and then we can go into talking about the news of the week which I think a lot of it is going to have to do with summer too. So you know, you went to law school.
Kathryn Rubino: I did.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, and you went — why’d you go?
Kathryn Rubino: To be a lawyer.
Joe Patrice: You went to be a lawyer not an accountant.
Kathryn Rubino: Yeah well that is typically what happens.
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So what’s up with summer? Everybody’s happy about summer and vacations and all that, right?
Kathryn Rubino: Well not quite.
Joe Patrice: Oh really who isn’t?
Kathryn Rubino: Yeah so we’ve heard some rumblings for a while that a couple of firms are changing their vacation policies and going from four weeks of vacation which I think is still probably the most typical amount of vacation that law firms give out for associates to making it a flexible no limit on your vacation days.
Joe Patrice: Okay that sounds tentatively good.
Kathryn Rubino: Does it? See that’s — and that’s I think it’s really a matter of perception from the tipsters that above the law has access to folks seem really annoyed about these changes, saying that it seems like it is an attempt to limit the amount of vacation time that folks take, I think that one of the memos that Shearman Sterling sent around said that they were encouraging folks to take at least one week vacation throughout the course of the year and tipsters seem to like well of course we normally take a lot more than that because you know, we had four weeks of vacation and you know, it reminds me of there’s a viral tweet going around not about the legal industry but I annoyed my boss today how? By taking the vacation time that my boss gave me.
Joe Patrice: Well I mean as we’ve heard about these limitless vacation policies before and there is obviously a bit of a societal pressure that people feel that limitless really doesn’t mean limitless and they think that it’s more of a signal that they’re not going to use it. On the other hand with four weeks it was rare that people used it all just the vagaries of how to be a lawyer means you’re probably not going to get to use all four weeks as much as you’d like you know, and some people thinking they’re getting ahead choose to use nothing so a firm saying please use at least one is a good sign yeah.
Kathryn Rubino: I mean I don’t know firms should be clear that folks need vacations, associates navy vacations, council needs vacations, everyone needs a vacation at times and people should be encouraged to take those but at the same time firms are increasingly making all their bonuses and these special bonuses linked to the number of hours you can bill, right and if you’re taking four weeks — if you’re taking a month off throughout the course of a year your chances of hitting 2,100 hours are less.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Kathryn Rubino: Right like you’re less likely to hit that that target. So some bonuses are being target you know, where only you’re only getting the top bonuses if you hit something like 24 and this is obviously bunches of different firms but you know, the industry as a whole is moving towards targeted billing rates in order to get bonuses and you don’t feel like you can do that if you’re not going to be considered in good standing because you haven’t hit this billable hour requirement because you haven’t billed 2,400 hours this year.
You know, particularly when things and again, different firms calculate this differently but not everyone counts pro bono hours at a one-to-one ratio with client billable time. Not everyone counts other sort of firm directed hours whether it be for diversity efforts, some places do count it, some places don’t. But you know, all this means that if you’re at a place that doesn’t count all of the hours that you spend on work towards your bonus hours, you’re not going to be able to take four weeks of vacation, no matter whether you get four weeks or you get unlimited vacation, that’s just the truth of it.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, one of the better policies that a firm I worked at was they went towards a model of not letting you roll over your vacation which generally the first firm I worked for you know, did allow you to roll over a certain amount of the time if you didn’t use it, at least into the middle of the next year I eventually worked at a place that took the policy of paying out for unused vacation which on the one hand it does set up yet another incentive for not using your vacation on the other hand though it was a nice way of kind of compensating out the — if you missed out on your vacation because of some amount of work, you did get some more and that operated as in conjunction with a bonus policy that was not contingent on ours, so you always got that bonus and if you did do the extra thing where you worked an inordinate number of hours and missed your vacation you got money for that as opposed to the bonus being keep from that.
Kathryn Rubino: Right, and that feels better also because I feel like getting paid out for a unused vacation days also makes it seem like those are real vacation days, right, like you are meant to use those days and if you don’t, the firm is paying you for them right so it makes it seem like that’s like firms I’ve worked for I had four week vacations, I never — I don’t even know if they let you roll them over or not because I never took them all you know, because I took a week between Christmas and New Year’s most of the time and then it was just days here and there depending you know, on what was going on but I never even thought about it or worried about it because I never hit and was never close to doing it and even when if I did take a random Friday off the chances were I worked tons of hours Monday through Thursday in order to be able to kind of get everything accomplished so that no one would bother to be on a Friday, right. So you’re already billing like 50-60 hours all in the course of four days and who the hell cares at that point.
Joe Patrice: Yeah so there’s the concern that this limitless vacation policy is tied to the move or remote work where instead of having set vacation days, everyone’s just kind of like we don’t know where you are or whatever but just get things done.
Kathryn Rubino: So the memo that we’ve seen a copy of does not specifically link it to remote work but just an effort to provide more flexibility in general although obviously that’s become the buzzword that everyone cares about as we return to a post-pandemic world so unclear I guess but probably related to the fact that you know, we are coming back to a hybrid world I guess of you know, where some stuff is in person but not it doesn’t have to be because we’ve kind of proven that we can do things remotely but I do think that that kind of concern that people won’t be able to take real vacations is a problem and I think that — I mean listen at the heart of all this is the billable hour which is frankly an antiquated way to keep track of time and bill for lawyers work but that is the most dominant form of billing that we have in the legal industry.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, so what’s the most epic law firm vacation you ever heard of like were people out for months on end? I mean it strikes me as though other than maternity leave which is a whole separate discussion not really vacation but other than that I don’t remember a time when anybody was gone for an extended period you know.
Kathryn Rubino: No I definitely think that particularly in the earlier stages of my legal career, there were lots of folks getting married and I think no one took less than three weeks for that whole thing because it was like a week of preparation you know, before and then a lot of people went immediately to a honeymoon or whatever but it definitely kind of reinforced — well that’s an acceptable time to use a big chunk I think that’s actually proves the problem right, because when you get married you know, which obviously has a lot of societal issues wrapped up with it but that was seen at least the places where I worked has a completely acceptable way to use your vacation time and of course and you should because it’s a major life event. Take whatever time you feel is necessary but that seemed to be the only time where it was okay, you know, no one was taking like two weeks to go I don’t know, backpacking across Europe just because it was only — if it was tied to this once in you know, theoretically once in a lifetime event that it was considered socially acceptable within kind of the atmosphere of big law.
Joe Patrice: Here’s somebody went on I knew somebody went on Safari once that was the most — that was the only time I could think of somebody taking multiple weeks in succession but yeah, more or less I never saw somebody gone for more than a week which you know, good or bad is certainly — I mean the way in which I see most law firm vacations operating.
Kathryn Rubino: I mean I can very distinctly remember taking — I don’t even think it was a full week I think it was like two days from one week and one from the following week and I went to Disney World and I remember taking a conference call from Tom Sawyer Island in Disney World and I remember having being on mute and you know, I don’t know how familiar you are with Disney World but there’s — the Disney World railroad goes around and that the whistle goes off you know, whatever and I remember like talking as it was going off and I was like what’s going on and I was like sorry I’m in the middle of Disney World and the client was horrified that I was on vacation and taking a call but I was like bosses weren’t right, but the client I was like oh no, it’s not a big deal, I’m just — I couldn’t eat, for those who aren’t familiar Tom Sawyer Island tends to be relatively — you can usually find a quiet corner there mostly to take calls and I mean it wasn’t like I was presenting something I was mostly just listening but.
Joe Patrice: Yeah the irony of how people don’t do a law firm vacations as like three or four weeks in a row is that it’s just as difficult to take a two-day vacation as it is to take a four-week one because the whole problem is those first couple days and of the handoff, once you’ve been gone for a few days everything kind of works out.
Kathryn Rubino: See I’m not sure that that’s true because if you’re just going for two days the chances are is you’re not handing stuff off, right.
Joe Patrice: I see I disagree.
Kathryn Rubino: I’m checking my email enough that if something urgent happens I can think, that’s what I did, that’s why I was taking a call from Tom Sawyer Island, right, it was because there was nobody I was handing anything off to, I was just —
Joe Patrice: Well that’s kind of the point is that things are going to come up because you haven’t specifically trained somebody to cover you and once you do that, once you take that step of having actual coverage for things there might be a day or two of overlap to make sure everything gets right and then you actually are free for a while.
Kathryn Rubino: That’s what I’m saying that’s true of the difference between a one-week vacation and a four-week vacation but not necessarily for taking two days off versus a four-week vacation because as soon as off, there’s nobody stepping in, I’m just dealing with it.
Joe Patrice: Yes I think that’s the point I’m making —
Kathryn Rubino: Right but in four weeks you have to have somebody trained.
Joe Patrice: Right yes that’s very much the point that I’m making yeah.
Kathryn Rubino: I don’t think it is, right.
Joe Patrice: Interesting, interesting.
Kathryn Rubino: God bless.
Joe Patrice: Yeah, so let’s hear from the folks at Lexicon and be right back to keep the convo going go.
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Joe Patrice: All right so summer is here as we’ve discussed and that means summer associates the annual tradition of law students usually between their second and third year working at law firms where hopefully they will get a job full-time. The Law360 has put out a study of survey results having talked to a lot of summer associates beginning this summer of 2021 year and some interesting findings.
Kathryn Rubino: Oh yeah like what?
Joe Patrice: So I think that like the top line finding that I think a lot of people are interested in is what firms do people want to go to and it seems I actually thought the most interesting part of those results they just asked associates who are your top three firms and catalog them and the most mentions were Latham and Kirkland suggesting that there are a lot of people chasing money which is great.
Kathryn Rubino: Well yeah I mean those are the two firms that logged over four billion in gross revenue last year, so there’s only two of them and those are the two.
Joe Patrice: Scanning finished third which was kind of you know, that you know, old standby there. I was interested that four and five were Gibson and Cooley, some west coast based firms suggesting that there might be some people who are very interested in that sort of a vibe in particular with Cooley kind of underscored that even if you aren’t the biggest mover on bonuses, being the first mover on bonuses puts you on people’s radar.
Kathryn Rubino: Yeah.
Joe Patrice: I mean I think everybody knows all law students know who Cooley LLP is because of the work they did over the last several months being you know —
Kathryn Rubino: A market leader.
Joe Patrice: Leaders within the market yeah.
Kathryn Rubino: Okay, yeah we’ve had this conversation.
Joe Patrice: But there were also some interesting COVID related revelations the fear that everybody had. The number one fear going into the summer associate historically you would assume is that you aren’t going to get an offer, right?
Kathryn Rubino: Yes.
Joe Patrice: That usually would be that finishes number two by a long way.
Kathryn Rubino: Getting COVID I guess is number one now?
Joe Patrice: No, that you might not have good training or mentorship because of remote work.
Kathryn Rubino: Yeah.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Kathryn Rubino: That seems like very diligent thing to become right about like nerds like guess what even if you’re not being trained over the summer, no one actually expects you to retain that much actual information between your 2l summer and when you start after your 3L year right? You could have basically have to be retrained on everything who knows what systems will have changed whatever, you may or may not even be in the same location in two and a half years, right? The most important thing is that you’re seen as a responsible potentially responsible team member in the future.
Joe Patrice: Yeah and like it was very interesting I thought that the — it dovetails with another answer which is that the plurality of folks said they want to — if given the opportunity they would want to work in the office under these conditions.
Kathryn Rubino: Yeah.
Joe Patrice: It was very close, it was like off the top of my head I think it was like 48% wanted to be in the office, 45% said they’d rather not be and then —
Kathryn Rubino: So 50-50 basis.
Joe Patrice: Yeah more or less yeah, it was real close. Interesting, it does seem to be tracking the same sort of people who were saying they really want to have good mentorship opportunities and being there and what I thought about was as we’ve been reporting a lot on law firms transitioning to leverage their remote work infrastructure and to perhaps cut down on office space and so on that these summers all want to get into the office where none of the full-time employees are going to be, which it’s going to be a thing going forward as we try to reform the way in which we train because I think this is going to become a long-term development of people working more and more of their days away from a desk and how we then train new people from this remote world is going to be an issue.
Kathryn Rubino: Yeah I mean I think that that is also a concern that is being echoed in leadership of firms, right? They say yes I completely understand that senior folks at the firm are very capable of doing their job no matter where they’re located. The concern is the next generation, right and especially at a place like — and it’s I think a distinctly big law problem as opposed to other industries right because not every industry is based on that kind of burn and churn mentality, right? Like every year big law has another giant class of newbies because they are expecting that they are going to lose that amount of people throughout the course — at least that amount of people throughout the course of the year plus there are laterals, right? So there’s a constant you know, churning of associates at big law that they always have to be worried about training the next generation particularly because the law schools don’t do a great job about teaching you how to be a lawyer, teach you an okay job about having passed the bar exam but that’s you know, not the same.
Joe Patrice: Yeah and the people who perform a lot of the most important mentorship work are going to be the sort of early mid-levels who are likely to be some of the primary folks working remotely when they get an opportunity to so it’s going to be a long-term process of transitioning how we train and I think that’s going to — the survey suggests that’s going to come up quite a bit. One big takeaway from the — well my big take away from it was they had a few excerpts of comments that people had about the whole survey and one person said that — one firm did that impressed them a great deal was that they made you take a personality test which suggested that they really cared about cultural fit. I thought that sounded like a —
Kathryn Rubino: Terrifying yeah.
Joe Patrice: Hey I mean cultural fit is important I don’t know, so you need a test for it.
Kathryn Rubino: It’s more I don’t know standardized than being like your dad went to my country club so you’re obviously the right cultural fit for this firm which is not unheard of.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Kathryn Rubino: But I think the other thing which may be interesting I know as we’re kind of going back to the — back to work, back to the office.
One thing is firms keep on saying is this flexibility question right which obviously dovetails with our earlier conversation about vacation time but I do wonder as much as flexibility is important whether there will become a time like listen you can spend as many days home a week as you need but we need to know which days you will be here right? So that they know that Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays so and so is in the office and somebody else is in the office these days so that when junior associates have questions or need in-person kind of mentoring or you know, direction they have points of contact depending on the day of the week or time of day or whatever it is that there are folks available in the office that may be something that we see as this becomes more standardized as —
Joe Patrice: Yeah I think this hoteling concept that a lot of firms are going to start adopting.
Kathryn Rubino: Can you talk a little bit about what that is because it’s not intuitive I don’t think.
Joe Patrice: Yeah well I mean it’s that offices become a little bit more like hotels as in you don’t have a dedicated set of square footage that is yours, there is an associate office that is set up, it has monitors and all the things you might need you pop in, you plug your laptop into it and you’re good to go in that office for that day and then you leave and then you’re you know, maybe the next time you come in you’re in a different office. Mobilizing the office space around the idea that people are coming and going that’s the hoteling concept and you know, we already talked about this a little bit with the Boies Schiller offices which had adopted a model where there were fewer individualized spaces and more work rooms, conference rooms of all different sizes, meeting rooms of all different sizes, little areas to take private phone calls and so on based around the idea that no one necessarily is hanging out just in one place within the office and that a lot of times basically to the extent you ever coming into an office it’s for the purpose of collaboration so why not build the office around the idea that hey the trial team for x case is in this conference room and that’s where you go if you have to do something and if you need to take a break and take a phone call you go into a booth that does that, if you need to do you know, work on a different matter there’s a room for that, if there’s a teleconference you need to go to there’s a room for that, but the idea that office space be utilized like that and to the extent there are dedicated offices they’d be rotational based on people being there on a certain day and checking in and saying hey this is my day give me a place and they send you to the third floor or whatever and you go there, that’s that concept and I think it’s — I mean, office space is expensive —
Kathryn Rubino: It is especially in New York, right?
Joe Patrice: Yeah it could be an interesting future anyway. Well that’s — look I mean that’s a thing that we might take away from the pandemic and changing how law firms operate on that front, I mean we had a pandemic as well as an economic downturn at the same time you know.
Kathryn Rubino: We did, we did, is there anything you want to say about that?
Joe Patrice: Yeah I was wondering how have law firms weathered previous economic downturns have come out stronger on the other side. LexisNexis interaction has released an in-depth global research report confronting the 2020 downturn, lessons learned during previous economic crisis. Download your free copy at interaction.com/likealawyer, to see tips, strategies, plans and statistics from leaders who have been through this before and how they’ve reached success again. Okay so lawyers behaving badly.
Kathryn Rubino: Yeah that’s another thing.
Joe Patrice: Yeah let’s talk about that go.
Kathryn Rubino: Yeah I recently had a story about an Alabama judge, Randy Jinks.
Joe Patrice: Okay.
Kathryn Rubino: The complaint against him contains over 100 allegations of judicial misconduct. That seems like a lot to me.
Joe Patrice: I mean you got to go hard. There’s no half measures here in the —
Kathryn Rubino: Yeah let’s be clear, he denies most of the allegations.
Joe Patrice: Most, not all. I mean a hundred, it is hard to say no to all 100. I don’t know if I can keep track of all hundred things I’ve done.
Kathryn Rubino: And it says that to the extent that they were — through his lawyer says that they were motivated by disgruntled employees or eavesdropping employees but —
Joe Patrice: Yeah well by the way it does matter how they became gruntled you know.
Kathryn Rubino: Fair, fair. But as some of the allegations are about temper tantrums, screaming, exchanges that he’s had with folks it doesn’t surprise me that things that he might have thought were private were heard widely.
Joe Patrice: Yeah.
Kathryn Rubino: Yeah there was apparently something like a sandwich incident where somebody had cleaned their refrigerator and some food that he had in the refrigerator was disposed of and he started screaming where’s my sandwich and yelling at folks about his missing sandwich, so that was that temper tantrum. There’s also allegations that he mouthed the n-word during some testimony or something then there was other allegations that he referred to court employees as the b-word or as a whore, really professional allegations here.
There’s also allegations that he made repeated fat phobic comments commenting on folks who were overweight to the extent that one of the employees felt that she had to schedule her lunch when he was out of the office so that he would never see her eat.
Joe Patrice: Wow.
Kathryn Rubino: Like just really potentially damaging stuff and it seems like this particular court employee was very psychologically damaged as a result of his repeated comments. He also has allegations that he made sexually inappropriate comments at work. His county issued phone was used to access websites that had scantily clad women on them, they were also photo saved of him in a tight fitting bathing suit according to the complaint.
Joe Patrice: This is why we make them wear ropes.
Kathryn Rubino: That is a reason I suppose and he apparently also shared or allegedly shared a striptease video as well with court employees.
Joe Patrice: I mean bring the whole office into it.
Kathryn Rubino: I mean these are just the highlights right, as I said there were 100 over 100 allegations in the 78-page complaint although you know, he denies the majority of those allegations it is quite the read.
Joe Patrice: Wow. So that’s a thing for everyone to look forward to, maybe someday we can rank them all from 1 to 100.
Kathryn Rubino: Or rank all of the judicial misconduct allegations across multiple judges that we’ve come across in the last 12 years or so.
Joe Patrice: So with that thanks for listening. You should be subscribed to the show that way you can give it rule that way you can get it on your device as it comes out. You should also even if you didn’t subscribe review it but you should subscribe first then review it especially give it some commentary because that goes further than just stars because it shows engagement and that’s what the tech overlords are looking for. You should be reading Above the Law as always follow us on social media. I’m @josephpatrice, she’s @kathryn1 which is that numeral at the end. You should be listening to The Jabot which is captures other show. You can catch me on the Legal Tech Journalists Roundtable on Fridays as well as a Legal Tech Trending News Clubhouse on Wednesdays. You should be listening to the other offerings of the Legal Talk Network.
Thanks to Nota powered by M&T Bank, Lexicon and LexisNexis interaction for sponsoring and with all of that said sorry I just — I knocked over my microphone but I caught it so.
Kathryn Rubino: Good job you are agile.
Joe Patrice: Yeah hopefully it didn’t make too much of a sound with all that said we’re done, yep, bye.