Lateral Moves

Earlier this month, we asked: What’s Going On At Kirkland & Ellis? Some observers wondered whether K&E, arguably the nation’s best overall law firm, was experiencing an unusually high number of prominent partner departures.

We received some interesting responses from Kirkland sources, some defending the firm and some more critical. Let’s hear what these readers had to share with us….

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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. Michael Allen is Managing Principal at Lateral Link, focusing exclusively on partner placements with Am Law 200 clients.

A good recruiter can identify window-shoppers. We are all tempted to do it. You walk down Rodeo Drive and on your left, the polished chassis of a Bugatti Veyron catches your eye and on your right, the muted silver of Lamborghini Veneno flickers in the sun. A Lamborghini or Bugatti would more than satiate most people, but the titans of Biglaw are always chasing that elusive Maybach Exelero and in the process, they may at the same time alienate top-tier “Lamborghini” lawyers.

This condition is endemic to some of the top Am Law 100 law firms. Despite their massive push for expansion, many firms are still hesitant to bring in outstanding lateral candidates. The process is also torturous for the candidates who go through multiple rounds of interviews before they are finally turned away for bill rate concerns or potential conflicts, not even mentioning the opportunity costs of time for everyone involved in the process…

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About two years ago, in May 2012, Dewey & LeBoeuf filed for bankruptcy. It was the largest law firm bankruptcy in the history of the United States. Shortly thereafter, industry insiders began to speculate as to when the next big firm would fold. In June 2012, our own Mark Herrmann suggested that it was a “near certainty that a firm [would] collapse within the next two years.”

Lo and behold, he was correct, for it was just last night that another embattled Biglaw firm decided to close its doors. Perhaps the loyal employees clinging to this firm’s carcass should have been better prepared for something like this, since it was preceded by waves upon waves of partner defections and talks of a “major restructuring,” likely due to financial problems, among the firm’s leaders.

You’ll want to keep reading, because this is the largest law firm to ever fail….

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* Randy Levine, president of the New York Yankees, has left Akin Gump’s dugout. He hopes to hit it out of the park and slide into his new home at Jackson Lewis. Please, no more baseball references. :( [Am Law Daily]

* Thanks to Virginia, the electric chair may be making a comeback when drugs for lethal injection aren’t available. OMG, that’s so freakin’ lame. Bring back the breaking wheel or death by disembowelment. [Gawker]

* A lawyer won’t have to pay an ex-law student $1M after making a hyperbolic challenge in a TV interview. Better luck reading the Leonard v. Pepsico case next time, pal. [Volokh Conspiracy / Washington Post]

* Protip: when you’ve been suspended for your “contemptuous attitude,” bragging that one of the judges who disciplined you thinks you’re “probably the best DUI lawyer” isn’t smart. [Santa Barbara Independent]

* If you watch The Walking Dead, you’ve probably wondered if all of the killing was legal — because you’re a lawyer, and you can’t enjoy anything anymore. Here’s your answer, from a UC Hastings Law prof. [GQ]

* If you’d like your chickens to live a life of luxury before you eat them and their eggs, then you’re going to love this law in California. If not, you can move to Missouri. See Elie squawk about it here. [ATL Redline]

* Ian Whittle, a recent George Mason Law grad, took a break from watching the saddest Super Bowl ever to save a little girl from drowning in a pond. Check out the news coverage, after the jump. [CBS 6 WTVR]

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Law firms have been in a “slow growth” phase ever since the nation began its recovery from the Great Recession. As we mentioned when we discussed the 2013 Am Law 100, “success now comes in the form of single-digit returns with regard to key financial metrics,” with Biglaw gains described as “modest” and “spotty” across the board.

Big-name lateral hires can sometimes bring in enough positive publicity and fanfare to make even the sickest of firms seem like the very picture of health and vitality. According to the latest American Lawyer Lateral Report, those lateral moves can be likened to a peacock’s tail: they offer “no advantage” for a firm’s ultimate survival, and may hinder the firm in the future. It happened at Dewey, and it can happen at other firms if they’re not careful. If only partners’ attentions weren’t so easily grabbed by the promise of higher profits.

So if this growing reliance on lateral hiring is truly capable of destabilizing law firms, wouldn’t you like to know which firms did the most lateral hiring over the past year? We’ve got the details for you….

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Only you can prevent lateral fires.

* There will be filibusters: Victoria Nourse, a Georgetown Law professor whose nomination to the Seventh Circuit was blocked, thinks the political move will remain intact for SCOTUS nominees. [Legal Times]

* The Tenth Circuit politely pwned Roberta Kaplan. Her bid to intervene in the Utah same-sex marriage case before the court was rejected. Guess she’ll have settle for writing an amicus brief. [Salt Lake Tribune]

* Are laterals killing your firm? It happened to Dewey, and it could happen to you. Only you can prevent lateral fires. Take the pledge and show your commitment to lateral fire prevention. [American Lawyer]

* Lawyers are worried about what’s been going down at the storied Canadian firm of Heenan Blaikie. A third of its partners did the dip over the weekend amid financial troubles. Sounds familiar… [Ottawa Citizen]

* Women are slowly but surely working to close the gender gap in the law — well, at least they are in South Florida. It seems to be working, though, so feel free to follow their lead. [Daily Business Review]

* “Just because you can’t make the world a perfectly fair place doesn’t mean you can’t make it fairer.” If you really liked socialized health care, then you’re going to absolutely love socialized law. [New Republic]

* If your LSAT score is in the 160 range and you’re writing to an advice columnist to figure out what to do next, then you are the most special of all the little snowflakes. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

Back in December, some associates at Kirkland & Ellis expressed some displeasure about their bonuses. Now, make no mistake, the K&E bonuses still beat the market by a healthy amount; they just didn’t beat the market by as much as they usually do (at least according to some sources; under an individualized bonus system, reactions will vary).

In our bonus post, we wondered about K&E’s financial performance in 2013. Could the firm — which could very well be the nation’s finest law firm — have had a less than stellar year?

Associates might not be the only ones dissatisfied with their compensation. Sources point to a fair number of prominent partner departures over the past few months, in one of K&E’s top practice areas….

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Is there really a value to recruiting home-grown associates based on 1L grades? Is there a negative connotation to not competing with the top-tier firms for law school talent? Can firms only fill their “real” needs by looking across the market for lawyers 3 or 4 years into their careers?

There are pros and cons to recruiting associates (and partners) through either method. Let’s take a look at how to build a law firm….

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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. Scott Hodes is a Principal in Lateral Link’s South Eastern office. He utilizes his experience as a former partner to help partners and associates make lateral leaps in the Florida and Atlanta markets.

With the new year upon us, we look back at an exciting 2013 as we have witnessed a resurgence in the legal industry after enduring a rocky time during the recent recession. As economic and labor market conditions improve, many firms are seeing sustained signs of growth, especially in the South Florida market.

As evidence of this growth trend, one need not look any further than Miami-based Akerman Senterfitt, now known as Akerman LLP. With more than 550 lawyers and government affairs professionals, Akerman recently became the largest law firm in South Florida based on number of attorneys, eclipsing Greenberg Traurig. Akerman reported its third consecutive year of growth, with record gross revenues of $297.5 million and net income of $109.3 million for the 2013 fiscal year. From January 1, 2013, to date, 65 attorneys, including 19 partners, have lateraled in to the firm. During that same time period, only seven attorneys departed the firm.

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This is my first column of 2014, so I’m due to join the ranks of those who make predictions for the coming year.

But my predictions will be slightly different from others, because mine will be based on fact.

In the last months of 2013, I heard that two different law firms had reduced partners’ draws to offset the firms’ poor financial performance. At least one of the firms reduced draws retroactively — announcing near the end of the year that partners’ salaries would be reduced as of January 1, 2013 (which slices partners’ incomes dramatically in the last few months of the year). Both firms shared the pain among all partners — folks suffered in the equity and non-equity ranks alike. (This is a particularly nasty trick to play on income partners: “Here’s your partnership deal: If the firm does better than expected, you’re a mere income partner; of course you will not share the wealth. On the other hand, if the firm performs worse than expected, we’ll permit you to share the pain, and we’ll cut your pay. Here’s the partnership agreement! Sign right here on the dotted line!”)

I’ve now been in-house for four years, and my ear has lifted pretty far from the law-firm ground: If I heard about two law firms suffering from such terribly bad years that they were forced to reduce their budgets as year-end approached, then I’m guessing that many more than two firms suffered this fate. This means that, for many firms, 2013 was not a good year, which leads me to my predictions for 2014 . . . .

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