When I was a kid I remember playing a game called “King of the Mountain.” Its sort of a medieval type of game. As so aptly described in Wikipedia, the game involves “children attempting to occupy the highest point on a raised platform or hill, while resisting attempts by other children to knock them off and replace them.” Picture medieval soldiers trying to scale the walls of a castle with men on the wall throwing rocks and hot tar trying to stop them. In this game, the success of the winner depends on knocking down the other players.
I sort of thought we had developed more as a society since the Dark Ages. I certainly thought that entering a profession as prestigious as the legal profession would ensure that I spent my career surrounded by professionals in the quest for liberty, justice and fairness for all. I was wrong. Way wrong. I joined a grown-up version of King of the Mountain.
Do you know what kind of salary a law school graduate makes? It all depends, on whether they are part of the “King” or the “Mountain.” According to AmLaw 100, a yearly battle of King of the Mountain between the largest law firms in the country, DLA is the new King of the Mountain (overtaking last year’s king, Baker & McKenzie) with annual revenue of over $2.4 billion dollars. (No, that’s not a typo – billion, not million). DLA has 4,036 lawyers, so when you do the math, that’s $604,683 in revenue per lawyer. Of the top 15 ranked law firms on the criteria of profits per partner, the top 15 ranked law firm partners received between $2.7M and just shy of $5M – per partner. How to they rack up such huge profits year after year? Okay, if you have over 4,000 workaholic lawyers churning out billable hours at obscene hourly rates, that helps. But that’s not all that helps. These large law firms also employ (and I’m using that term loosely), serfs.
This morning I was reading the all too familiar story of a former contract attorney who worked, via a temporary employment agency that specializes in legal work, for $33/hr (trying to pay off a likely $100-$150K student loan) in a room off a parking garage with no heat, no windows, no bathroom, no insurance, no paid holidays or vacations, no connection to the plush offices in the neighboring highrise building other than the case she is working on, a class action suit in which the highrise lawyers are bound to reap large financial rewards, while the contract lawyers working in the dungeon below will be shuffled out the door without even a thank you to be herded into the next dungeon for another law firm. The Kings in their highrise law firms are millionaires sitting on a Mountain of contract attorneys.
Is it just me that thinks this is a French Revolution situation in the making?