Lateral Moves

Last month we wrote about a Biglaw firm that’s in big trouble. The firm in question: Dow Lohnes, a former Am Law 200 firm that has been hemorrhaging lawyers and clients (and lost two more partners last week, to Venable). In our story about Dow Lohnes, we noted that “[i]t seems possible that the firm could merge out of existence — if it’s lucky enough to find a partner.”

Fortunately for the remaining lawyers and staff at Dow Lohnes, the sinking ship has located some lifeboats. A larger and stronger firm, a member of the Am Law 50 and Vault 100, will be picking up many (but not all) of Dow Lohnes’s lawyers.

Who’s the white knight riding to the rescue of Dow Lohnes?

(Note the UPDATES added at the end of this post.)

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Welcome to today’s episode of everyone’s favorite Biglaw drama, As The Weil Turns. Today brings word of another Weil coming off the wagon — specifically, another partner defection.

And no, it’s not in Texas, where Weil Gotshal’s offices — which have lost about 15 partners in the past few weeks — are starting to feel as besieged as the Alamo. It’s up here in the northeast, closer to WGM’s headquarters in New York.

Who is leaving which Weil office?

(Please note the UPDATES added below regarding where this partner is going.)

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Oyez, oyez, oyez! It’s the first week of October.

* Say what you will about Justice Scalia, but the man is hilarious — more funny than his four liberal colleagues combined, according to a statistical analysis of oral argument recordings. [New York Times]

* The government shutdown is slowing down the judicial confirmation process, already famous for its speed and efficiency. [The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times]

* More about news for Steven Donziger in his long-running battle with Chevron. Maybe it’s time to surrender, Steve? I hear Ecuador is a great place to retire. [New York Law Journal]

* Law firm merger mania continues, as Carlton Fields combines with Jorden Burt. [Carlton Fields (press release)]

* Herbert Smith Freehills says “you’re hired” to Scott Balber, the lawyer for Donald Trump who got mocked by Bill Maher on national television. [The Lawyer]

* You might see your dog as harmless and cuddly, but the law might see your dog as a weapon (and rightfully so, in my opinion). [New York Times via ABA Journal]

* Congratulations to all the winners of the FT’s Innovative Lawyers awards. [Financial Times]

* And congratulations to Heidi Wendel and Deirdre McEvoy, high-ranking government lawyers headed to Jones Day and Patterson Belknap, respectively. [New York Law Journal]

* Today the Supreme Court will hear argument in McCutcheon v. FEC, a major campaign finance case that some are calling “the next Citizens United.” Check out an interview with one of the lawyers behind it, after the jump. [UCTV]

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If the Houston office of Weil Gotshal & Manges ends up shutting down in the wake of the recent partner defections, management in New York might not shed a tear. In fact, it might have been part of their master plan.

As one Weil source told us, the Houston litigation defections were “not a surprise,” since the June layoffs “took away all but one assistant and all of the associates. The associates that were allowed to stay were switched to contract positions and have since left. Basically, it was an elimination by New York of the Houston group from the bottom up.”

Dallas, however, is a different story. It’s more of a standalone office, with a more diversified mix of practices, and it makes a bigger contribution to the firm’s bottom line.

But the latest partner departures do raise serious questions about its future. Which Dallas partners just left, and where are they going?

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Last Friday, we broke the news of four partners in Houston leaving the powerhouse firm of Weil Gotshal & Manges. This news came just a week after eight partners in Dallas announced their move to Sidley Austin.

In today’s episode of “As The Weil Turns,” we’ll reveal the identities of the Houston defectors, then explore the possible reasons for their leaving Weil….

(Please note the multiple UPDATES at the end of this story.)

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Ed. note: The Aspiring Lateral, a new series from Levenfeld Pearlstein, will analyze a variety of issues surrounding lateral moves, drawing on the firm’s experience in the lateral market as well as the individual experiences of LP attorneys. Today’s post is written by Angela Hickey, LP’s Executive Director and a member of the firm’s Executive and Compensation Committees.

There’s a point in budding relationships where things get down to brass tacks. You put away the flowers and candles, and find out whether you have a long-term future. You have full and frank discussions about kids, religion, finances, and how those troublesome in-laws might fit into your future life. It may not be as romantic as your weekend in the Berkshires at that place with the clawfoot tub, but it’s necessary. Because you just might find, away from the clean mountain air and raspberry scones that the bed and breakfast served each morning, that you’ve got a serious issue or two. You might in fact . . . have a dealbreaker. And that, in a word, is why prospective laterals should take the due diligence process as seriously as firms do.

The due diligence process — some version of which all respectable firms will have in place — is the offering firm’s last and best chance to closely examine the lateral before extending an offer. (In the case of fast-moving lateral hires, the hiring firm may even give a conditional offer before or simultaneous with due diligence.)

Because of its timing, there is a temptation to think of due diligence as a mere formality before the lateral picks up stakes. But it is a rigorous process, and one that laterals can and should use to perform their own final checks…

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The ship be sinking?

As in-house columnist Mark Herrmann put it, “Dewey know who’s next?” No, we don’t. But we certainly have some guesses about major law firms that are existentially challenged.

Here at Above the Law, we do maintain a shortlist of Biglaw firms that could go under. But, truth be told, the list is not that exciting. With a handful of exceptions, the firms that populate it are big regional firms, not national or international behemoths, and they cluster toward the lower echelons of the Am Law 200 or NLJ 350. Put another way, no firm on our list boasts the size and stature of Dewey & LeBoeuf. (If you know of a firm that should be placed on our list, please email us, subject line “Biglaw Death Watch,” or text us, at 646-820-8477.)

But even if a firm isn’t a household name, lawyers and staffers will suffer when it goes under. Let’s hear about the latest large law firm that appears to be on the ropes….

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It seems that Weil Gotshal & Manges enjoys the title we recently bestowed upon it: “the reigning drama queen of Biglaw.” The juicy news and novel plot twists just keep on coming.

For those of you just tuning into “As The Weil Turns,” here’s a quick recap. Last week, eight prominent partners left Weil’s Dallas office for Sidley Austin. There was lots of speculation for what motivated the move. The Boston office of Weil instituted an unusual policy for raising attorney morale. Weil in Houston lost another partner to a rival.

Today brings more news: fresh partner departures from Houston, additional drama out of Dallas….

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In our recent look at Texas law firms, the firm of Baker Botts placed sixth out of six surveyed firms. But there are some things cooking down there that could cause the dough to rise.

Perhaps taking advantage of the recent turmoil in the Texas offices of Weil Gotshal, Baker Botts just nabbed a lateral from WGM: Nicolas Barzoukas, an IP litigator in Houston. We don’t yet know whether other attorneys are making the same move, but it’s possible. Neither Baker Botts nor Weil responded to our requests for comment, but we do note that Barzoukas’s bio is gone from Weil’s website. (We’ve posted a cached version at the end of this story.)

So that’s the good news about Baker Botts. Now, on to the bad….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today’s post is written by Michael Allen, the Managing Principal of Lateral Link, who focuses exclusively on partner placements with Am Law 200 clients.

With the recent news of eight Weil partners in Dallas leaving for Sidley Austin and Wilson Sonsini announcing the elimination of 35 staff positions in Palo Alto, many are looking towards the fourth quarter with cautious optimism. Traditionally the fourth quarter is the most difficult to predict; even the most basic analysis of Q4 shows that there is little correlation between the rate of change in partner moves from the previous year, and the rate of change in total moves from the previous year (ΔP/ΔT). This essentially means that the total lateral moves over the course of the fourth quarter are an inadequate measure for estimating future lateral partner moves in the fourth quarter. However, gauging the first three quarters, this measure is highly effective, yielding a nearly 85% correlation year to year — compared to 44% in Quarter 4.

There are many factors that complicate lateral moves in the fourth quarter, the most conspicuous being bonuses. Every law firm has a method for compensating its partners. Some compensation plans are highly structured, but many others include subjective elements. Distribution plans incorporating percentages or units of participation with a reserve are often-times structured to incentivize an attorney to remain at the firm through the fourth quarter. Simplified, a partner will receive a variable draw and at the end of the year, and the balance of the net profit will be distributed. There is the general consensus that partners will wait to collect their bonuses at the end of the year before making a lateral move. This evidence may be anecdotal, but nonetheless lateral movements in the past have been about 30% greater in the first quarter compared to the previous fourth quarter…

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