If you follow the world of large law firms, then you are probably familiar with the incisive and candid commentary of Steven J. Harper. Over at his blog, The Belly of the Beast, Harper offers excellent insights into the world of Biglaw.
Harper knows so much about that world because he spent his entire legal career in it. He joined Kirkland & Ellis after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1979. He practiced litigation at the firm for about 30 years, until his retirement in 2008, at the early age of 54 (which you can afford to do when you’re an equity partner at a firm as lucrative as K&E).
In addition to blogging, Harper has written four books. I spoke last week with Harper about his latest book, The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis (affiliate link), and about his views on the worlds of Biglaw and legal education….
When the merger of Edwards Angell and Wildman Harrold was announced back in August 2011, some observers, such as our beloved commenters here at Above the Law, viewed the move as an act of desperation. Because both firms had a tough time during the recession, the notion of their combining with each other reminded some people of… well, this.
Now, as we approach the two-year anniversary of the merger’s announcement, how are things going over at Edwards Wildman? Are Angells flapping their wings with joy and Wildmen hoisting glasses of grog?
In fairness to DLA Piper, the craziness might not be that high on a per capita basis. DLA Piper is one of the largest law firms in the world. In the most recent Global 100 rankings, DLA took second place in both total revenue and attorney headcount.
Many of the DLA Piper stories are on the lighter side. But this latest one — involving serious allegations of overbilling, apparently supported by internal DLA emails saying things like “churn that bill, baby!” — is no laughing matter….
When I graduated from law school, one of the perceived benefits of working in Biglaw was job security. This manifested itself in various ways.
First, firms rarely, if ever, conducted true “layoffs;” i.e., reductions in force based more on outside economic factors than qualitative assessments of the affected employees. The rate of hiring either accelerated or slowed, but rarely reversed.
The “no layoff” tradition was to some extent rooted in a genteel culture, but more directly based on pure economics. Most Biglaw firms had more available work than they could handle at any given time. If work slowed, partners nonetheless were confident that it would pick back up…
As we mentioned this morning, preliminary reports suggest that profits and revenue at large law firms were up in 2012. As we noted yesterday, some firms — e.g., litigation powerhouse Quinn Emanuel — enjoyed double-digit increases in gross revenue and net profit.
Of course, these firm financial reports, reported to and compiled by the American Lawyer magazine, are not as detailed as they could be. They certainly aren’t as detailed as the quarterly and annual reports filed by publicly traded companies, even though a fair number of Biglaw firms have revenues and profits that exceed those of public companies.
And they probably never will be, at least as long as U.S. law firms are private partnerships rather than publicly traded companies. But at least one firm is opening the door a crack and letting more light in….
“Where do I sit?” seems like an important question. Especially for second-graders on the first day of school. Or for zit-spocked high schoolers angling to spend some class time in the proximity of their crushes. And just like second-graders or hormonal high schoolers, Biglaw partners are known to obsess about their office locations. For example, I have seen partners I used to work for studying the floor plan like a treasure map, for uncomfortably long periods of time.
Surely they were mentally imagining their names transposed over a corner office, or next door to the big conference room, or for the real aspirants, within touching distance of the managing partner’s office. While this behavior is strange when taken to the extreme, it highlights an important reality of Biglaw.
* “But Daddddddd!!!” Sorry, HealthBridge, but sometimes mom’s word is the law. After RBG slapped down a request to review the constitutionality of Obama’s recess appointments, the rest of the Supreme Court told Scalia to STFU. [Blog of Legal Times]
* “The very idea that she would be headlining a Pepsi event is shocking.” Are Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s days as a judicial darling coming to an end? After attending this event for Yale Law women in April, they may be numbered. [New York Times]
* And you thought they were “Burning Down the House” before! Standard & Poor’s has hired talented trial attorney John Keker of Keker & Van Nest to represent the ratings agency in the DOJ’s $5 billion suit. [Reuters]
* Talk about a soft landing: David Kappos, the former director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, was picked up by Cravath. He’s only the fourth lateral partner the firm’s hired in 50 years. [Am Law Daily]
* “Axiom simply does it better, faster and cheaper.” The innovative legal services company manned by Biglaw refugees celebrated its thirteenth anniversary with a bang — $28 million in funding. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]
* Oh noooo! We’re a public school and we don’t have enough students to fill the seats! Let’s raise tuition by six percent, then charge everyone the new in-state price, and pretend like it’s a favor. Yay! [National Law Journal]
Is lateral partner hiring a game of musical chairs that law firms can’t win? Anecdotes about unsuccessful lateral hires abound. You hear stories about high-profile partners moving from Firm A to Firm B, often lured by huge guarantees, only to leave Firm B a few years later, after failing to integrate or deliver the expected business.
And some of the most successful firms in all the land, places with immense prestige and sky-high profits, do very little lateral hiring. Their refusal to engage in the lateral market hasn’t seemed to hurt them.
When it comes to lateral hiring, should firms “just say no”? Well, that’s not what’s actually happening in the marketplace. Last year, lateral partner hiring climbed, suggesting that it must be working out — at least for some firms….
* Justice Sotomayor’s memoir made the NYT’s best-seller list, and in terms of sales, she’s officially beating the pants off other Supreme Court justices who’ve released books of a similar nature. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]
* In case you were sleeping under a rock yesterday when this happened, John Kerry was confirmed by the Senate as secretary of state. Don’t think we’ll be getting a Texts From John Tumblr, though. [New York Times]
* Despite having a “pretty spectacular” year, Blank Rome’s legal secretaries may soon find themselves blankly roaming in search of new employment. Better hurry up, the buyout offer expires on Friday! [Legal Intelligencer]
* Straight up now tell me, do you really wanna sue me forever? Corey Clark once claimed he had an affair with American Idol judge Paula Abdul, and now he claims MoFo and Gibson Dunn defamed him. [Am Law Daily]
* In this round of musical chairs, we learn that Orrick hoovered up three energy and project finance partners from Bingham, one of whom will co-chair the firm’s U.S. energy group. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]
* Remember the Zumba prostitution ring? Now we know you can’t be prosecuted for secretly filming Johns in the act in Maine, because there’s no expectation of privacy in “bordellos, whorehouses, and the like.” [Wired]
* Energy drink makers are facing class action suits over claims made about their products. Fine, Red Bull may not give you wings, but it tastes like piss, and that’s gotta count for something, dammit. [National Law Journal]
* Much like herpes, Lindsay Lohan’s legal drama is the gift that just keeps on giving. Her longtime lawyer Shawn Holley wants out, and her new lawyer, Mark Heller, isn’t even licensed to practice in California. [CNN]
Hiring “the lawyer, not the firm” is not a toxic notion; it is sanity.
Hiring the firm would be nuts, for at least two different reasons. First, the firm has many invidious institutional incentives: Let’s suppose you “hire the firm” by calling the managing partner (or head of litigation, or whoever) to say that you have a new case that you’d like the firm to handle. The managing partner naturally pokes around to see “who has time.” Presto! Your case would be staffed with the partner who has nothing else to do, because the firm can’t foist that guy off on any other sorry client. That inept partner would likely be assisted by a few associates who also “have time,” and you’d be wallowing in B-team city.
Not for me, thank you very much.
If you’re an intelligent client, you don’t want the lawyers who “have time;” you want the lawyers who “are good.” There’s no reason to think those two categories overlap, and plenty of reasons to think they do not.
Hey, have you read Above the Law for like one single minute in the past month? If so, you probably know that we’re having this big blogger conference on March 14th at the Yale Club. Yeah, the Yale Club. You’ll be able to recognize me: I’ll be the only big… blogger guy surreptitiously holding a can of crimson spray-paint.
Speaking of coming, you should come. We’ve got CLE and all that. Click here to buy tickets to get CLE credit for listening to bloggers scream about stuff on the internet.
To refresh your memory, details on the panel that I’m moderating — almost entirely sober, mind you — follow.
My panel is called Blogs as Agents of Change, and we’re going to talk about whether all of these spilled pixels are actually making a difference. You know my view… just ask Lawrence Mitchell, but here are the panelists:
So you spent a considerable amount of time courting, selling and maybe even doing some friendly stalking of that attractive lateral partner candidate with a sizable book. After he or she ignored your emails and didn’t return your calls, a few weeks go by and you read a press release in the legal media announcing the recent move to a competing firm.
Rats. Another one got away from you. You cringe when you consider how much time was spent in meetings that did not bear fruit. Your heart aches when recall how you were led to believe this was a marriage made in heaven.
You have been rejected.
The sting of rejection is painful, even for fancy law firms. But you need to find a way that you can turn this disappointment into a legitimate learning experience.
No, this isn’t a pre-party before we come back next fall for the real thing. This IS the real thing. Quinn Emanuel is pushing the envelope on recruiting. The party is now. This is when you meet the partners and associates face to face. This is when we begin the dance that could land you an offer for your second summer BEFORE school starts in the fall.
First: You come to the party. Second: If you like us, you send your resume after June 1, 2014. Third: If we like each other, you get an offer.
We’re not waiting for fall. We’re not doing the twenty minute thing. This party is the real thing!
We hope you’ll join us, and look forward to meeting you.
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