Web Week 11-09-06

The Lawyer‘s Web Week is a weekly commentary on legal activity on the web. This includes an overview of the best of the week’s blogs. If you want to direct us to useful links, email webweek@ thelawyer.com.

Bill and bend

Holland & Knight’s (H&K) Chicago office has got itself into a bit of a pickle. blogs.wsj.com/law reported: “After Matthew Farmer, a 42-year old junior partner with the firm, suspected that his own hours on a trial for home builder Pinnacle Corp had been inflated by the partner in charge of billing, 62-year-old Edward Ryan, he blew the whistle on the firm.”

The firm has obviously denied any wrongdoing and said the bills were fair, but this provoked huge debate in the US legal fraternity. One posted: “This has always been fertile ground for scandal. Lawyers are judged not by the quality of their work, but by the number of hours they bill.”

‘GC’ said: “The focus on hours seems to have grown significantly in the past few years – in many cases largely crowding out other values such as good lawyering, client management, mentoring, etc. If the big firms don’t figure out a way to balance these factors more appropriately, we are going to see more and more cases like H&K – and the big clients will be whistleblowers too.”

‘Inside GC’ went further: “I have no problem if a law firm says to me: ‘We only worked 10 hours on your problem, but we saved you a million dollars, so our fee is going to be two times (or three times) our normal amount.’ But I have a very serious problem if a law firm says to me (through its bill) we worked so many hours on your problem and in fact did not work that many hours.”

Christopher Marston of Exemplar Law Partners stated firmly: “There are serious ethical concerns with billable hours, clients hate the model, lawyers hate counting their lives in 6-minute increments, and there really is no way for clients to know better if there is fraud.”

The lap of the clods

www.moretolaw.com picked up on the Law Society report on homophobia. “A quick telephone survey among the Moretolaw lawyers and our contacts revealed that not one of them had been to a lap-dancing club with colleagues,” it stated.

Well, that’s a bit odd. Webweek could certainly out a few City partners if it was so inclined.

“Rugby matches were an infrequent occurrence and drinking sessions were not in any way ‘macho’,” it continued.

While moretolaw may be living in cloud cuckoo land, it did ask the reasonable question: “So where are these ‘macho’, lap-dance loving firms? Given the continued high attrition rates across the City, they might do well to mention these attributes in their recruitment literature – there’s bound to be a demand for that sort of firm.”

Webweek thinks that there may not be a huge response, and while we would love to be of assistance, discretion seems the best course here.

Log on and catch up

The return of lawyers from their holidays made for a busy week on www.thelawyer .com, which broke 28 new stories this week.

The week kicked off with Fried Frank raiding Ashurst for the umpteenth time: “Fried Frank has made somewhat of a habit of recruiting from Ashurst to bolster its London presence since the two firms’ transatlantic merger talks disintergrated in 2003.

“The US firm has since hired a swathe of lawyers from its rival, including the hire of former Ashurst managing partner Justin Spendlove, now managing partner at Fried Frank, in 2004.

“Later that year, Fried Frank also poached a six-lawyer team from Ashurst in London, including capital markets partner Siân Withey.”

And Eversheds pulled the curtains on the week on the web with its long-awaited Chinese opening: “The news comes a year after Eversheds split up with its Malaysian ally KhattarWong after a disagreement over strategy on mainland China.”[Partner Andrew] Halper told The Lawyer that Eversheds maintains a referral relationship with KhattarWong.

“‘We had more ambitious growth and expansion plans than they did,’ Halper said. ‘The alliance was worth doing with them, and it was also the right decision to end it.'”