The legal economy right now is not unlike the economy writ large. People with small or non-existent paychecks are suffering, but those at the top are actually doing just fine for themselves.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it might just be reality. As David Brooks put it in a recent New York Times column, “[t]he meritocracy is overwhelming the liberal project.” He argues that in our current, rapidly changing economy, people who are smart, well-educated, and hardworking just end up doing better and better for themselves — and there are practical limits on how much redistributive policies can “fix” this situation.
Sorry for that digression — back to Biglaw. Let’s take a look at how the rich are getting richer….
You don’t want to live in a town where the police and the mob work together.
In a completely unrelated note, today the Second Circuit heard arguments from the SEC — the federal agency statutorily charged to enforce the nation’s securities laws — and Citigroup — a company targeted for securities laws violations that it refuses to admit or deny committing — on the SAME SIDE.
This should be a red flag.
They wanted the Second Circuit to spank Judge Jed Rakoff for having the audacity to ask the SEC to kindly do its job. The nerve of some people.
Well, securities law may not be as sexy as drone strikes, but I watched the SEC try to pull off just as naked an executive power grab.
The grass isn’t quite this green in the ‘new normal.’
In a piece from last month, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wondered: Is Growth Over? One could very easily take this question, posed with respect to the broader economy, and apply it to the world of large law firms.
And what would the answer be? According to a client advisory just issued by Citi Private Bank and Hildebrandt Consulting, “Probably.”
Their analysis is gloomy, although guardedly so; we’re not talking about “the sky is falling” pronouncements. Let’s take a look at the specifics….
I later found out that during this whole period of time… when I was being romanced by Citibank, that they had reason to believe — in fact, they knew — that Howrey was in default of material covenants, and they didn’t tell me that.
– Stephen O’Neal, a former partner of Howrey LLP, in a deposition in his pending litigation against Citibank. O’Neal and another former Howrey partner, David Buoncristiani, allege that Citibank committed fraud by encouraging them to finance their capital contributions with Citi, claiming that Howrey was financially sound when the bank knew Howrey wasn’t.
The Dewey & LeBoeuf drama continues to unfold. As we mentioned in Morning Docket, there have been a few notable recent developments. Citibank just filed a vigorous response to allegations by Steven Otillar, a former Dewey partner, that Citi colluded with Dewey to take advantage of individual partners. Meanwhile, three former leaders of the firm — former chairman Steven Davis, former executive director Stephen DiCarmine, and former CFO Joel Sanders — have filed objections to the global settlement with former partners.
It’s not a pretty picture. And here’s what we’re wondering: Could it happen to another major law firm, sometime in the next twelve months?
What is the future outlook for Biglaw? The Magic 8 Ball is not optimistic.
Last month, we wrote about a less-than-cheery report from Citi Private Bank’s Law Firm Group, the largest lender to U.S. law firms. The bottom line of that report for law firms: “With weak demand growth and the continuation of expense growth, it is likely that expenses will continue to grow at a faster pace than revenue, squeezing margins and making it tricky to achieve even low single-digit profit growth.”
As we mentioned in Morning Docket, there’s a new report out from our friends at Citi, and it also sounds pessimistic notes. It concerns the confidence levels of law firm managing partners.
What are the powers-that-be in Biglaw worried about right now? Let’s find out….
As we mentioned in the Labor Day edition of Morning Docket, there’s some interesting news on the Dewey & LeBoeuf front. The one former Dewey partner being sued by Citibank for allegedly defaulting on a capital loan — energy lawyer Steven Otillar, now a partner in the Houston office of Akin Gump — is opposing Citi’s attempt to collect on the debt, by arguing that he was “fraudulently induced” to borrow the money in question.
How much are we talking about? How does the debt compare to Otillar’s compensation while at Dewey? And what are Otillar’s specific allegations about “fraudulent inducement”?
* Court accidentally posts secret settlement. That’ll teach these courts from keeping secrets. [Boston Globe]
* Here is an appropriate response to a law firm brochure. [Lawprofblawg]
* Former News of the World lawyer arrested. You know, the problem with the News of the World scandal is that it’s one of those things that happens somewhere else and so Americans don’t care. Americans like me. [Wall Street Journal]
* Cincinnati law profs pass around the collection plate and come up with a scholarship for students. [Tax Prof Blawg]
* Citibank settled with its shareholders for being buying bad assets. In other news, Citibank bought a lot of bad assets. [Dealbreaker]
The fable of the ant and the grasshopper may have lessons for the world of large law firms.
As regular readers of Above the Law well know, most major law firms — with a fewnotableexceptions — did not pay spring or mid-year bonuses in 2012. Our associate readers generally viewed this news with disappointment, while our partner readers had less of a problem with it.
But perhaps even associates should have been supportive of their firms’ decisions not to pay spring bonuses. Storm clouds are gathering over the law firm world. So says a recent report by Biglaw’s biggest bankers, over at Citigroup….
If your firm is in ‘go’ mode when it comes to recruiting lateral partners with loyal clients, then take this quiz to see how well you measure up. Keep track of your ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses.
1. Does your firm have a clearly defined strategy of practice groups that are priorities of growth for your office? Nothing gets done by random chance, but with a clear vision for the future. Identify the top practice areas for which you wish to add lateral partners. Seek input from practice group leaders and get specifics on needs, outcomes, and ideal target profiles.
2. In addition to clarifying your firm’s growth strategy, are you still open to the hire of a partner outside of your plan? I’ve made several placements that fit this category. The partner’s practice was not within the strategic growth plan of my client, but once the two parties started talking with each other, we all saw how it could indeed be a seamless fit. Be open to “Opportunistic Hires.” You never know where your next producing partner might come from, so you have to be open to it. I will be the first to admit that there is a quirky element of randomness in recruiting.
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
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