Ever since I wrote on ATL about going in-house through the compliance route, I’ve been getting emails with questions — almost every month and often several times a month. It seems that everyone and their sister is interested in compliance, from law school grubs to seasoned attorneys. I even get emails about this from people who aren’t in law at all. It almost makes me wonder whether I should be checking out some of those job posts myself!
And why not? According to Reuters, it’s Wall Street’s “hot trade.” And the Wall Street Journal considers whether compliance is a “dream career.” Salaries have been rising and demand for compliance professionals is high and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. So it’s no wonder that inquiring minds want to know. Many inquiring minds.
A lot of the questions I’ve been getting are pretty similar. And while I understand that sometimes one needs to respond to the same questions over and over and over and over again (those of you who are parents can sympathize), I figured it would be a much better use of my time more efficient situation for everyone to instead address some of those commonly asked questions in a blog post.
And for good measure, I reached out to a couple of compliance recruiters to get their expertise. So here goes…
In 1983, when I graduated from law school, essentially no one wanted in-house legal jobs, and people who worked in-house weren’t held in very high regard.
To the contrary: With few exceptions, in-house lawyers were viewed as failures. These were the folks who couldn’t succeed at real jobs. People went in-house because law firms wouldn’t have them; jobs with short hours, low pay, no challenging assignments, and no stress were the only available alternative.
That was not simply my narrow-minded perspective. It was the widely shared belief of generations of lawyers who came of age in the law before about 1990. I recently had a drink with the general counsel of a Fortune 250 company, and he (or she, but I’ll use the masculine) told me that he could never be a success in his father’s eyes: “My father was a partner at a major law firm. He was pleased with me when I clerked for a federal appellate judge, took a fancy government job, and later became a partner at a big firm. But then I went in-house, and he lost all respect for me. He wanted me to ‘succeed’ in the law — to try high-profile cases and argue important appeals. When I went in-house, he quickly decided that I was a failure, and there was never any chance that he’d change his mind.”
Last week, the American Lawyer announced its eagerly anticipated Am Law 100 rankings, reflecting the financial performance of major law firms in 2013. On the whole, the news wasn’t bad. The elite firms did great, and most other firms eked out “modest, hard-won gains.” Am Law suggested that the big vereins underperformed, but that indictment might have been too harsh.
The Am Law data focuses on last year. What about last quarter? How are law firms doing in 2014 so far?
A new report from Citi Private Bank, a leading provider of financial services to leading law firms, has some answers….
Last week, I addressed how technological advances and freer access to information can help ex-Biglaw partners like myself transition to a boutique practice without disruption — from the standpoint of being able to conduct a litigation practice in much the same way it was conducted while in Biglaw. As I said, it has become much easier to gain access to the litigation work product of Biglaw firms, for example, reducing Biglaw’s edge in knowledge management over a start-up firm like ours.
Of course, how best to exploit that work product requires training and skill, and to some extent a Biglaw-caliber background to begin with. In other words, the information may be more accessible, but it does not come with an instruction manual. At least when it comes to patent litigation, everyone needs to learn the trade the hard way.
But there is another important area where Biglaw’s edge is eroding….
Plug two: I’ll be back in the States for a few weeks in June, and I’m taking advantage of that opportunity to give my “book talk” about The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law at three “Vault 50” firms. So long as I’ve dusted off the notes to give those three talks, I might as well speak at your firm, too, Please let me know if you’re interested.
Finally, some crystal-ball-gazing: I’ve been picking for years on the fictitious law firm of Bigg & Mediocre. For good reason: To my eye, a fair number of firms have decided that adding more offices and lawyers is the cure to all that ails them and that relentlessly focusing on quality is a failed strategy of the past.
Recent empirical evidence now suggests that I may actually have a point. The Am Law profitability ratings for last year show that the super-rich firms are getting richer, and the run-of-the-mill big firms are doing okay. But one group is getting crushed, seeing substantial decreases in both revenue per lawyer and profits per partner: what Am Law calls “the giant alternatives” or the “vereins.”
My mental category of “big and mediocre” doesn’t match Am Law’s “giant verein” group. To my eye, a few of the global giants have managed to pursue both size and quality. But several have not. (I can’t say publicly which firms I would place in which category, because my employer is the world’s leading insurance broker for law firms, and I can’t go around offending the clients and potential clients. Let me just say that your firm is great. Not just great — stupendous! But the other guy’s firm? Not so much.)
So “big and mediocre” got its clock cleaned last year. I’m predicting that big and mediocre will get its clock increasingly cleaned over time, and within a couple of decades, will suffer the fate of the sundial.
As we noted last year when we spoke at length about law firm branding, “[a]side from the daily challenges associated with sustaining or exceeding gross revenue year after year, Biglaw partners are probably most worried about their firm’s brand.”
With so many law firms out there in the world, it may be difficult to figure out which one is right for a client’s specific needs. Amid recent layoffs of all kinds, even from the most respected of firms, how is one to decide which Biglaw firm to roll with?
As luck would have it, there’s a ranking to determine which firm has the strongest brand in the business — one that can withstand even the bad taste that layoffs can leave in a client’s mouth….
* For the third year in a row, Skadden has topped the list of the Biglaw firms GCs love to pay, the firms with the best brands. Kirkland & Ellis and Latham & Watkins rounded out the top three. Congratulations! [PRWeb]
* A federal judge struck down Wisconsin’s voter identification law yesterday, noting that it “only tenuously serve[d] the state’s interest in preventing voter fraud.” Ouch. Sorry about that, Scott Walker. [Bloomberg]
* Hot on the heels of the release of the second annual ATL Law School Rankings, we’ve got a list of the law schools where graduates reportedly have the least amount of debt. We’ll have more on this news later today. [The Short List / U.S. News & World Report]
* It was kind of like the night of the living dead in Oklahoma last night, where an execution was botched so badly the defendant attempted to rise up off the table. That must have been horrific. [New York Times]
* Here’s an eligible bachelor alert: After being suspended from practice for six months for filming “upskirt” videos of women in public, this in-house lawyer has been reinstated. [Legal Intelligencer (reg. req.)]
* Poor Justice Lori Douglas. Not only are her kinky S&M pictures floating around somewhere online, but the man who took them — her husband, Jack King — just died. RIP, good sir. [CTV Winnipeg News]
* NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, a former Cravath lawyer, fouled L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling out of the league, but people are questioning whether his punishment was legal. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]
I’m spreading my criticism widely here: Lawyers both in-house and out are often guilty of the sin I’m describing today.
Look: When people ask for legal advice, they need legal advice. They don’t need to hear from empty conduits through which information passes unfiltered by a human brain.
What’s today’s lesson? When asked for legal advice, give useful advice. Don’t regurgitate silly nonsense that doesn’t help anyone.
Let me give two specific (but fictionalized) examples, both analogous to real-life situations, and which give a sense of the broader issue.
Example number one: A regulator raises a concern about some statement that your company has made repeatedly or some product that you’ve sold widely. A business person — or another lawyer, or any living human being, for that matter — asks you, reasonably enough, “What’s our likely exposure in this matter?”
At this point, many lawyers turn off their brains and give the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad legal advice . . . .
At a law firm, law matters. Law is the center of the institution’s universe, and it’s all everyone is thinking about.
It’s the other functions that don’t matter: “Another email from IT? Telling me about interfaces and gigabytes? Why don’t those clowns leave me alone?”
“Another email from finance hectoring me about time sheets? Don’t those morons know I’m busy?”
At corporations, law (and compliance) is an “other function.” The businesses are concentrating on their businesses, and law and compliance — along with human resources, information technology, and finance — are, at best, a means to an end. If you mirror the other “shared services” and send incomprehensible communications to the businesses, the businesses will soon realize that you’re just one of the pests, meant to be ignored.
Inevitably, if a business person accidentally steps over some legal line, you’ll hear that the business guy had no clue that the line existed: “Yeah, yeah. Now that you’re telling me about it, I understand that we have that rule. But how was I to know? The rule is buried on the fourth page of some impenetrable policy hidden somewhere in our computer system. I spend my time selling; I can’t waste time trying to make sense of your legalese.”
If you don’t sympathize with that guy, then you’ve been a lawyer for too long. His criticism is not just an excuse for having violated the rules; his criticism may well be the truth. How can you change that reality?
If you are a solo or small firm who is looking to work with startup companies, you have probably been asked to take equity in lieu of compensation or to set up a deferred payment plan. When you are talking to companies who sound like they may be doing the next big thing, you may believe you are taking an educated gamble.
Yet, when you turn to the economics of being a solo or small firm, the numbers often do not pan out…
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 seven years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
Things have changed recently in Korea – a few of our US and UK client firms are looking, very selectively, for a lateral US associate hire. Until just recently, there was not much hiring like this going on in Korea, since US and UK firms started opening offices there. We have already placed two US associates in Korea in the past month at top firms. Most of the hiring partners we work with in Korea do not actively work with other recruiters.
If you are a Korean fluent US associate in London, New York or another major US market, 2nd to 6th year, at a top 20 firm, with cap markets or M&A focus (or mix), or project finance background, and you are interested in lateraling to Korea to a top US or UK firm, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Our head of Asia, Evan Jowers, was just in Korea recently, and Evan and Robert Kinney will be in Korea in a few weeks. We are in the process of helping several firms open new offices in Korea (a number of which are interviewing our partner level candidates) and also helping existing offices there fill openings.
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