The ATL inbox has been buzzing with layoff news about Howrey. Could it be that another firm that recently picked up a bunch of partners from a dissolved firm could be laying people off? Would former-Thelen chief Stephen O’Neal’s new firm cut associates so soon after his arrival?
Today, a firm spokesperson told us:
As we have stated on several occasions, unlike many firms, Howrey is not laying off lawyers or staff.
As in every year, there is an outplacement of some associates based on performance issues. This year, as in previous years, this involves approximately ten associates and occurs only after an exhaustive evaluation process and review. The information that you received is incorrect and has mischaracterized this as layoffs.
Howrey is enjoying a strong year. You should also note that unlike many other firms, we are not rescinding or delaying offers to first years. Our Associate Development program remains robust and on track.
The Recorder is reporting that Howrey will take on 40 lawyers from Thelen’s prestigious San Francisco construction practice:
The group — which Howrey characterized as “most of the construction practice” from Thelen — includes Thelen Chairman Stephen O’Neal, construction practice head John Heisse II, D.C. office managing partner Andrew Ness, San Francisco partner David Buoncristiani (who handles matters for client Bechtel), Los Angeles partner Robert Thum and D.C. partner David Dekker. Most of the 18 partners and about 25 associates and of counsel are in San Francisco and D.C., and the rest are in New York and Los Angeles.
Hmm… Thelen attorneys, Chairman Stephen O’Neal, Howrey — where have I heard that before?
Oh yeah! You’ll remember that the Recorder initially broke the story on O’Neal’s flirtations with Howrey.
Immediately after Thelen dissolved, we mentioned possible options for the firm:
Option 1 is the plan they have arguably been pursuing: breaking up the firm practice group by practice group to interested parties. As we reported yesterday, this is the best option to save associate jobs. However, that plan is dependent on Thelen’s banks signing-off on the plan and maintaining their line of credit. Did Stephen O’Neal’s aggressive and ultimately public pursuit of his own lifeboat at Howrey scuttle that option? Once everybody is told that the managing partner could be leaving in ten days, why would other potential suitors compete for full Thelen practice groups? Instead, it’s easier to wait for an official dissolution and cherry-pick the rainmakers. This is what happened to Heller.
I’ll pause until the Thelen people stop screaming and hitting things.
Read about other Thelen landing places, after the jump.
The Vault 100 march continues! In this series of open threads, we list the firms, and you all discuss their upsides and downsides. We’ll be wrapping this puppy up this week.
Here are the next ten (with prestige scores in parentheses):
Usually, we have fun with the “notable perks” chosen by Vault. But as we move down the list, the perks are becoming distinctly less notable — e.g., gym membership discounts, free parking, and “good views.” Oh well.
You know what to do! Have at it in the comments. Earlier:Vault 100 Open Threads – 2009
Coming soon to a theater near you: Howrey LLP: The Movie?
Late last week, several readers here in Washington reported unusual activity at the Howrey offices:
“Howrey is doing a film shoot in the lobby of its DC office… Multiracial attorneys in suits everywhere… Looks serious.”
“I was in the building where Howrey’s DC offices are today. There was some filming with a lot what seemed to be Howrey attorneys. At one point, a large group ran through some doors, talking on their cell phones. Hopefully, it’ll provide something entertaining to watch on YouTube….”
As long as they don’t take it down as soon as they put it up (or we link to it).
One tipster decided to do a little reporting:
“A few minutes ago, I walked through my building’s lobby to go out and get lunch. On the way, I was surprised to find the lobby lit up like a movie set. A few dozen young folks in suits — many of them holding cell phones — stood in a big group, listening to some guy shouting some directions. I chatted up the security guard at the front desk, who told me that Howrey was shooting a commercial.”
“From what I can tell, the whole scene will make for a fairly lame ad: ‘Hire Howrey — we stand around in suits, smiling and cell-phoning.’ Perhaps the worst-case scenario would be Howrey trying to play off of the Verizon cast-of-thousands ads….”
“On my way back, I noticed that they have stacks of life-sized photos of people up against the wall. Maybe they decided to replace their associates with cardboard stiffs? (Some would say that, at Howrey, they did that years ago.)”
We contacted Howrey for comment — about the filming, not the extent to which they staff matters with cardboard stiffs — but they did not get back to us.
As you may recall from our prior coverage, in posts titled Howrey Is Planning Something Weird and More About the Howrey Weirdness, the law firm of Howrey LLP was planning to ditch lockstep compensation for its associates — in favor of something weird (or innovative, or both).
Starting in 2008, Howrey was going to employ a “competency model,” in which it would “determine salary based on individual evaluations and various forms of progress indicators.” At least that was the plan.
Consider the plan on hold, or at least put off for a while. Sources at Howrey advise us that at a meeting of the Associate Affairs Committee today, it was announced that the new, non-lockstep compensation system will not be implemented until at least 2009. In other words, Howrey will keep a lockstep pay scale through 2008.
It’s still planning to move in the direction of a new pay paradigm. The associate evaluation system upon which the new compensation will be based is going to be rolled out in 2008. But evaluations under that system won’t affect associate paychecks until 2009, at the earliest.
Why the postponement? A source tells us, “apparently the delayed implementation is a result of concerns voiced by associates to the firm’s outside consultants during focus group sessions about the new system.”
That’s nice. Who says partners don’t listen to associates? Update: Or, as one commenter puts it, “they have been listening to those comments in exit interviews as Howrey hemorrhages associates who are terrified of a compensation structure based on an inadequate performance review system.” Earlier: Nationwide Pay Raise Watch: More About the Howrey Weirdness Nationwide Pay Raise Watch: Howrey Is Planning Something Weird
Back on Wednesday, we reported that Howrey LLP plans to chuck lockstep compensation for its associates. Starting in 2008, the firm will employ a “competency model,” in which it would “determine salary based on individual evaluations and various forms of progress indicators.”
Today our scoop was picked up by The Recorder (and then by the WSJ Law Blog). From The Recorder:
In a radical departure from the status quo, Howrey is getting rid of lockstep compensation for its associates….
While Howrey first-years will start at the market rate — the firm recently raised them to $160,000 — all other associates will advance through different levels based on personal evaluations instead of seniority. Each level has a salary range, and [partner Henry] Bunsow said top performers would be paid more than market, while some could make less.
“The goal is not to have associates make less than their counterparts at other firms,” Bunsow said. “If poor performers can get a better deal somewhere else, that may be a marketplace reality — we would hope that this system wouldn’t promote that.”
“The goal is not to have associates make less than their counterparts at other firms” — sounds a bit defensive, but whatever.
This system will be highly customized, but complicated:
The evaluations will be based on performance and experience, which could shorten the partnership track for some and lengthen it for others. Since Howrey is a litigation-focused firm, factors like writing, deposition, trial practice and client presentation skills will be considered, Bunsow said. Although there will be bonuses based on hours, that will be just one of many considerations in the evaluation, he added….
Associates will be assigned to partners who will be responsible for their development and their individual evaluations. A full-time staff person will be hired to oversee the program and to make sure that associates feel they are being treated fairly, Bunsow said.
Okay, we’re getting a headache. This sounds like the brainchild of a Soviet bureaucrat.
And this is just the simplified version. If you’re interested in the dirty details, an internal Howrey email — which includes mention of a “Competency Czar” — appears after the jump.
As associate salaries climb (further) into the stratosphere, will firms start experimenting with different compensation schemes? Is lockstep compensation for associates headed for the dustbin of history?
As we mentioned yesterday, Thelen Reid just moved to a two-tier system. And now we’re hearing that Howrey LLP may have something odd up its sleeve.
Today the firm had a meeting / conference call about compensation matters. Here are two reports:
“They are planning to adopt a sweeping salary change that amounts to ‘it depends.’ It seems that they will determine salary based on individual evaluations and various forms of progress indicators. Who knows what this means. They said that “market rate” is not the upper cap, and that all-stars could make more than market. This plan is basically final, but they will be speaking to people in focus groups to fine tune the policy.”
“Switching to a ‘competancy’ model as of 2008. First years at 160 but from there based on skills – some above and some below market. Details not released yet as focus groups will be used to fine tune the program.”
Interesting, albeit vague. We’re eager to see what results from this process.
Is Howrey adopting an innovative approach, one that will result in a more flexible and/or meritocratic associate compensation structure? Or is it just an attempt by the firm to get away with paying below-market salaries?
Two things we’ve heard recently (the first more definitive than the second):
1. Howrey LLP: Last week, they made a “secret announcement” — nothing in writing — of associate pay raises in Chicago, California, and Washington, DC.
2. Baker & McKenzie: In their Chicago office (and perhaps others), they sent around a memo similar to the Jenner & Block memo. It was basically “a non-committal memo, pledging to remain competitive, and acknowledging recent associate salary adjustments in the market.”
If you can provide us with more details, or have some associate pay raise news not previously reported herein, please drop us a line. Thanks. Update: The Howrey raises have been announced, but not yet implemented. When they will take effect, and whether they will be made retroactive, is unclear.
We like your idea of drawing up a list of major law firms that have not (yet) joined in the latest round of associate pay raises.
Such lists have been floating around in the comments over the past few weeks. But we thought we’d try and prepare an “official” LIST OF SHAME. Law students, law clerks, and potential lateral associates:
When thinking about whether or not to accept an offer from a particular Biglaw shop, consider whether they appear on the List of Shame — along with all the non-compensation-related variables that should be considered when choosing a firm.
But do hold their presence on the List of Shame against them. That’s why we call it the List of Shame!
From government to academia:
* The brilliant Michelle Boardman is returning to teach at George Mason University School of Law. Professor Boardman had been on leave, serving as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Counsel. From government to private practice:
* Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for environment and natural resources, resigned from the Justice Department earlier this week, stating that she plans to return to the private sector.
(Interestingly enough, her alleged beau, J. Steven Griles — a former deputy secretary of the interior, who Interior Department sources say has been dating Wooldridge — has been notified that he’s a target in the Jack Abramoff corruption investigation.)
* Bankruptcy Chief Judge Melanie Cyganowski (E.D.N.Y.) is resigning to become chair of the bankruptcy litigation practice of Greenberg Traurig (NY). From private practice to government:
* Steven M. Cohen, a partner at Cooley Godward Kronish, has been selected by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo as his new chief of staff. Lateral moves:
* White-collar defense lawyers John Moscow and Jack Blum, to Baker Hostetler (NY), from New York boutique Rosner Moscow & Napierala. Moscow and Blum are gurus of the law of money laundering.
* Litigators Michael Armstrong, Paul Rooney, and William Purcell, to the newly opened New York office of Howrey. They come from, respectively, Cooley Godward Kronish, solo practice, and K&L Gates.
* Five litigators, to the new Houston office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, from litigation boutique Edwards, Burns & Krider. Names here.
* Intellectual property litigator Richard Pettus, to King & Spalding (NY), from McDermott, Will & Emery (NY).
* Corporate lawyer Michael Nissim, to Vedder Price (NY), from McDermott, Will & Emery (NY).
Links after the jump.
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The holiday season is upon us, and yet again, you have no idea what to get for the fickle lawyer in your life. We’re here to help. Even if your bonus check hasn’t arrived yet, any one of the gifts we’ve highlighted here could be a worthy substitute until your employer decides to make it rain.
We’ve got an eclectic selection for you to choose from, so settle in by that stack of documents yet to be reviewed and dig in…
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