Biglaw, In-House Counsel, Partner Issues

A Jaunt Through Chambers

No, not that kind of chambers.

I’m in-house, so Chambers & Partners — one of the outfits that rates lawyers and law firms — sent me a free copy of their 2014 guide.

If you’re profiled in that book, you get to write your own (very short) bio. You get something like 50 words to convince the world to hire you. So what did one person, from the distinguished firm of Bigg & Mediocre, write? I’ll slightly alter the bio, to disguise the guilty, but you’ll get my point:

Charles Darnay has argued more appeals in the Second Circuit than any other lawyer at Bigg & Mediocre.”

This guy isn’t competing for business with other law firms; he’s trying to steal business from his own partners! His pitch is not: “I’m better than other lawyers in the world.” Instead, it’s: “I may not be better than most lawyers in the world, but at least I’m better than any of the other clowns you’ll find here at B&M.”

Very nice. But that’s not the best of it; Chambers conceals many secrets . . .

Okay, I made it through the “jump” — the “click to continue reading” icon — in a few short paragraphs that didn’t bore you to tears, and that enticed you to click and keep reading.

Now that David Lat got credit for that page view, I can retreat a couple of steps.

I don’t study Chambers. And I’ve never gone to Chambers to pick outside counsel.

But I appeared in the book when I was in private practice, and I was generally aware of how my firm, and other firms in the practice area in which I was competing for business, were doing. So, when this year’s edition appeared on my desk, I spent about two minutes checking who was up and who was down among people and firms that once mattered to me.

I happened to notice the one Bigg & Mediocre bio that I featured before the “jump,” so I shared it with you.

Here’s a second thing I noticed. Five years ago, one firm had a pretty good practice in one particular field. Back then, that firm’s entry for Chambers named a half dozen people, including some partners in their 40’s and early 50’s.

When the partner leading that practice moved on, the firm chose an odd replacement — an okay lawyer, but a breathtakingly self-promoting guy. I wondered at the time what would happen to the practice under this person’s leadership.

Chambers has now given me an answer (or, at least, as much of an answer as I’ll ever have).

This year’s Chambers entry for that practice no longer names a half dozen people; now it identifies just two. The names of all of the folks in their 40’s and early 50’s have vanished, and Chambers profiles only the practice leader himself (now of retirement age) and one other person (also nearing retirement).

What did the practice leader achieve?

I don’t know how he did attracting business; perhaps the practice was profitable under his leadership. But this guy plainly mortgaged the future; he somehow forced into obscurity the entire next generation of this practice. When he and his peer retire shortly, who will be leading the charge?

A practice leader has two main obligations: keep the lawyers in the practice busy, and build the practice so that it will be stronger when the leader leaves than it was when he arrived.

I have no idea how the guy I’m writing about did on the first score, but it looks as though he failed pretty miserably on the second.

Here’s my question: Do you suppose he paid a price for that ineptitude?

I personally doubt it. Practice leaders often serve on the committees that run the joints. So long as practices are staying reasonably busy, no one’s assessing (as corporations do for their in-house law departments) how leaders are doing on other metrics, such as succession planning. I bet this practice leader was richly rewarded for his service, praised for whatever business he generated, and never once criticized for having hurt the firm.

Is there any chance that I’m wrong?

Mark Herrmann is the Chief Counsel – Litigation and Global Chief Compliance Officer at Aon, the world’s leading provider of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human capital and management consulting. He is the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law and Inside Straight: Advice About Lawyering, In-House And Out, That Only The Internet Could Provide (affiliate links). You can reach him by email at

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