Ed. note: Law Shucks focuses on life in, and after, BigLaw, including by tracking layoffs, bonuses, and laterals. Above the Law is pleased to bring you this weekly column, which analyzes news at the world’s top law firms.
One of the many interesting features of BigLaw is the comings and goings of its denizens. Whether it’s looking for the bigger, better deal, jumping off a sinking ship, or departing for the greener pastures of inhouse or government life, every move has a story.
There has been plenty of speculation recently about which firm is wrapped up in an Inspector General investigation of the firm’s practice of hiring former SEC lawyers, who then turn around and advocate for clients at the agency they just left. The Senate Finance Committee is none too happy about the "revolving door," claiming that in at least one instance, the SEC was unduly lenient because of the firm’s close ties with the commission. Usually lateral hires aren’t contentious (examples like Jeremy Pitcock notwithstanding), so this could put a damper on hiring some of the most-coveted free agents.
So which law firm or lawyer(s) might be facing Senate scrutiny?
Here’s an educated guess about who one of lawyers at the center of the maelstrom might be.
A trend this year has been the large-scale poaching of teams. Most recently, it’s Pillsbury’s landing a finance and corporate team of as many as 20 lawyers from Nixon Peabody.
Another trend, which is even more closely tied to the current plight of the legal industry, is the rise of the boutique. BuckleySandler has been one such firm, luring a number of high-profile partners away from BigLaw, most recently two litigators from Mayer Brown.
Of course, the biggest firms of today all started small. Even mighty Skadden was formed by lawyers passed over at other firms.
Meanwhile, on the inhouse side, things are looking pretty good. A recent global survey by a UK recruiter indicates that inhouse counsel are secure in their jobs, happy with their employers, and not even complaining about comp or work/life balance. (And, again, if that’s a move you’re interested in, Jumping In(House) provides all the information you need to understand the transition from BigLaw to inhouse.
No matter where you are, Hiring Partner has good advice from the schoolyard once again for dealing with new hires.
Here are some of the other notable recent developments in BigLaw.
There’s one thing BigLaw has cornered the market on: documenting the biggest deals. Some of the billion-dollar-plus (or otherwise interesting) deals from the past week:
- Agricultal Bank of China IPO ($23 billion) – This will likely be the world’s largest IPO, although it’s already lost almost a quarter of the initial announced value. Davis Polk represents the issuer, Herbert Smith the underwriters.
- BTA Bank restructuring ($12 billion) – White & Case represents the Kazakh bank, Baker & McKenzie the creditors’ steering committee, Allen & Overy the credit agencies, and Dewey & LeBoeuf the bondholders.
- Resolution bid for AXA’s UK life insurance business ($4.1 billion) – Slaughter & May represents Resolution, Norton Rose AXA, and Linklaters the banks. Norton Rose and Slaughters also faced off earlier this year on AIG’s failed sale of its Asian operations to Slaughters’ client Prudential.
- Sale of Citibank autoloan business ($3.2 billion) – Davis Polk keeps chugging along with the post-TARP work, representing the bank, while Cravath represented purchaser Banco Santander.
A handful of lawsuits of particular interest to BigLaw were decided this week.
The first group were the "honest services" fraud cases, which significantly limited the reach of that crime. BigLaw white-collar practices have been ragingly busy for years since prosecutors slowly began expanding the range of activities they felt ran afoul of the law. This was good news for such high-fee clients as Enron’s Jeffrey Skilling and media baron Conrad Black.
Another nice stream of fees to BigLaw has come in defending "F-Cubed" cases. This was a great win for the American companies BigLaw has been defending, but it comes with a hidden price for BigLaw:
Sarah Cave, a partner at Hughes Hubbard, hailed the ruling. “The potential for liability for foreign companies under U.S. securities laws, and the corresponding costs of litigation, will decrease,” she said.
Read: lower law-firm revenues. It was a nice run while it lasted, but these claims never passed the straight-face test for us, sorry plaintiffs’ lawyers.
Finally, there was the Google/YouTube v. Viacom fight. While the lawyers involved had fine pedigrees, this case provided plenty of mudslinging between the parties. This was also one of the most interesting cases of the week because of the coverage it got from every corner of the internet. Of course, the legal outlets focused on the merits and the claims, but it was also covered by the technology sector (liked the result), entertainment (hated it, plan to appeal), and even downloaders (loved it).