Biglaw, Money, Partner Issues, Partner Profits

The Two Faces of K&L Gates

The end of the year was a pretty interesting time for partners at K&L Gates. Our sources report that right before the close of the year, the partners received a blistering message from Peter Kalis, the managing partner of the firm. Just 24 hours later, K&L Gates partners received an email from Kalis that was full of appreciation for the firm’s great 2010.

The two emails aren’t exactly contradictory in substance. But when it comes to tone, let’s just remember that partners have bosses too…

Our source reports that the first Kalis email went out on December 30th, the day before the K&L Gates fiscal year closes. The subject of the email was “action required” and the tone was pretty aggressive. Our tipster tells us that the typos were in the original:

Let me be clear about a couple of things. First, partners and administrators at this law firm are expected to run through the tape at midnight on December 31. Many of you came from different cultures. I don’t care about your prior acculturation. We didn’t conscript you into service at this law firm. You came volunatrily. What we are you are as well.

And that brings me to my second point. We are a US-based global law firm. US law firms operate on a cash basis of accounting. Our fees must be collected by midnight within the fiscal year in which they are due. You don’t get to opt out of this feasture because it doesn’t appeal to you. Again, I couldn’t care less whether it appeals to you. It is who we are and therefore it is who you are. Get us paid by tomrrow.

Peter Kalis

You know, in substance, you kind of have to agree with Kalis. It’s not like the partners were surprised by K&L Gates’s collection policy. Get your money by the end of the fiscal year or it won’t be reflected in your 2010 realization.

And while the tone is, again, aggressive, Kalis doesn’t come off like Steven Pesner here. He’s not toying with other people’s careers or anything. He’s just telling his guys to quit their complaining and get with the program. It’s a bit much, but partners are big (and rich) boys (and girls). I assume they can take it.

Still, nobody likes to get chewed out. The very next day, Kalis sent around another email to the partnership, this time using a distinctly different tone:

2010 is the sixteenth consecutive year in which the firm’s revenues and profits per partner each has increased year-over-year. These are market benchmarks, and important ones. I know of no other major law firm that can make this claim, and for that you should be quite proud because those firm achievements belong to each of you. They represent your professional excellence, hard work and market acceptance viewed through the lens of the firm at large.

From another perspective, however, the benchmark that matters most is whether we’re achieving our full potential as a law firm. I truly believe that we’ve barely scratched the surface of our potential. It seems the more progress we make, the higher the bar is set. Maybe that’s the way it should be. Browning thought so: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

It can be said of law, I suppose, as Van Morrison said of music: “Music is spiritual. The music business is not.” This isn’t a spiritual moment for me, though it is a reflective one. You are a magnificent group of people as well as fine lawyers. What good fortune it is to be among you.

Thank you for all that you do for the firm and its clients.

I wish all of you a happy, prosperous and healthy 2011.

And, it always must be said, even — perhaps especially — when the moments are more reflective than exuberant …. Onward and Upward!


I don’t know how Kalis signed his first email, but I really hope he starts signing emails differently depending on his mood. When he’s screaming at his partners, telling them to go out and get him some money, he should sign “Mr. Kalis,” or maybe “Peter Callous.” But when he’s all full of happiness and love for his colleagues, he should go with “Petey,” or “The K-Man.” You know, something real friendly-like.

In any event, congratulations to the K&L Gates partnership. Maybe it wasn’t always pretty, but you’ve made your managing partner happy.

Keep it up in 2011 — or else.

(We did reach out to Kalis, who responded as follows: “Thank you for the inquiry, but I don’t have any comment.”)

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