Citigroup

A year ago, in writing about how major law firms performed in the first half of 2013, I wondered whether Biglaw might be the proverbial frog in boiling water. I now wonder whether the analogy might still hold, but in a good way: could we be witnessing a quiet boom for Biglaw, happening so gradually that we don’t even realize it’s here?

In the past few weeks, a slew of mega-mergers have made headlines — which will hopefully turn into contributions to law firm coffers. But even if you focus just on the first six months of 2014, excluding the busy months of July and August, there’s good news to report.

Our friends at Citi Private Bank, a leading law firm lender, just released their report on how Biglaw fared in the first half of 2014. What are the key findings?

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With this year more than halfway done, let’s look in the rear-view mirror and survey managing partners’ confidence in the legal industry during the second quarter of 2014. Wall Street investors seem generally optimistic, at least based on the state of the stock market (despite today’s turbulence). Are law firm leaders similarly hopeful?

Survey says — well, nothing terribly exciting, but let’s have a look anyway….

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Johnny Manziel (By: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports)

* Sad day for Jonathan Lee Riches. His lawsuit over Johnny Manziel’s penis has been thrown out of court. [Black Sports Online]

* Hot on the heels of yesterday’s item about SCOTUS porn parties, Professor Tribe guest blogs about his new book (affiliate link) and coercion, bribery, and influence. [The Volokh Conspiracy / Washington Post]

* Former Brooklyn DA and aspiring TV star Charles Hynes is staring down larceny accusations. [Gothamist]

* Texas basically assigns a cop to actively discourage investigate indigent parties seeking assigned counsel. [Socialist Gumshoe]

* The Supreme Court doesn’t like talking about patents — its opinions on the subject are getting shorter and shorter. [Patently-O]

* A lawyer is in hot water for allowing underaged drinking at a post prom party. The point was to keep the kids from driving. But no good deed goes unpunished. [Turn to 10]

* An interesting profile of one of my favorite professors, Ken Feinberg, labeling him “the lawyer who decides what a life is worth.” Yikes. [KDVR]

* The business strategy of just telling clients what they want to hear deflates. [Dealbreaker]

* Who says no one reads law reviews? The porn industry does and they really like this student Note. [XBiz]

* This is why we can’t have nice things. Second Circuit explains that if a revolving door agency of sycophants says it’s OK, it’s OK. Full opinion below…. [New York Times]

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Thumbs up, managing partners!

April Fools’ Day is a terrible day to be in this business. Every tip that comes in requires an extra layer of scrutiny because even longstanding, trusted sources are trying to troll. It’s really not all that funny to make up false but entirely believable stories and pass them off as real. That’s why the Daily Currant isn’t funny.

Which is why when Citi Private Bank issued its First Quarter report on the confidence of managing partners across the legal landscape and declared that managing partners have a rosy outlook, it earned a double take on this end. After all, wasn’t it just a few months ago that managing partners were telling the American Lawyer that it was all gloom and doom on the horizon?

So is this result real? It is, but the headline isn’t the end of the story….

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Good news: According to the Citi Private Bank Law Firm Group (and its partner, the Hildebrandt Institute), firms are looking at nice, steady profit growth in the coming year. It’s not super, but who can be choosy in the current market? And partially driving this growth is an expected uptick in demand, so that’s good.

Bad news: While the media latched on to the favorable demand projection, the report expects firms to be more profitable because they are finally taking Citi’s advice on how to become more profitable — and that doesn’t bode well for rank-and-file attorneys.

Let’s see what’s in store for 2014….

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Debrahlee Lorenzana

[S]he got nerve damage. What’s unusual about that? Sometimes they screw up.

Frank Panetta, lawyer for Debrahlee Lorenzana, issuing comment on the buxom beauty’s latest lawsuit against Quest Diagnostics. She’s now claiming that she suffered “serious and severe permanent injuries” after getting her blood drawn.

(You may remember Ms. Lorenzana from her lawsuit against Citigroup, in which she alleged that she was let go for being distractingly attractive.)

As noted in Morning Docket, Citi’s quarterly review of the financial landscape facing law firms just came out. The surface level verdict is — as it has been for some time — slow and steady, with a bunch of red flags.

The firms are happy to see positive revenue growth, even if it’s only 2.7 percent. I mean, other industries aren’t so lucky. But when the industry is a few years into the “New Normal” and analysts are still pointing to the same failings, it’s hard to feel too optimistic.

Let’s look at the other highlights of the report:

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Missing: multiple midlevels

Even though there’s significant excess capacity — meaning too many lawyers chasing too little work — I am hearing the concern that there aren’t enough midlevel associates.

Dan DiPietro, chairman of the Citi Private Bank Law Firm Group, offering an explanation as to why he thinks Biglaw firms want to increase headcount in this time of economic stress. In the latest Law Watch Managing Partner Confidence Index Survey, law firm leaders’ overall confidence level was lower than it has been since last year at this time, with expectations for profits and revenues also on the decline. The only area where their confidence rose was in expectations for hiring associates and equity partners.

D.C. is dysfunctional, as pundits constantly complain about. Has the lack of productivity on Capitol Hill expanded to affect the private law firms of Washington?

Perhaps. According to Citi Private Bank’s recent survey of law firm performance, which showed that the first half of 2013 was bad for Biglaw nationally, D.C.-based law firms did even worse than their counterparts in other cities.

Let’s look at the numbers….

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The sky is not falling for the world of large law firms. But could Biglaw be a frog in boiling water? We can’t rule that possibility out just yet.

The latest report on law firm performance, focused on the first six months of this year, shows some signs of weakness. The numbers aren’t awful, but if Biglaw continues to travel down this path, it won’t wind up in a good place….

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