* As a public service, here’s a very good guide about what criminal activities should NOT be talked about on Facebook. [Slate]
* It’s getting to that time of year when law students’ minds turn from finals preparation and towards the violent overthrow of the government. [McSweeney's]
* Finally, the full story on how reporter T.J. Quinn eavesdropped on Barry Bonds’s grand jury testimony without violating any laws. Go New York Daily News lawyers! [Deadspin]
* There allegedly was a female soldier prostitution ring at Fort Hood, lead by the unit’s sexual assault prevention officer. Now watch as somebody uses this to argue that women shouldn’t be in the military. [Gawker]
* Winners from Detroit’s bankruptcy filing include lawyers, don’t really include Detroit. [Am Law Daily]
* Here we go — proof that the internet is racist is coming. [Forbes]
* Rutgers-Camden Law has been fined and censured for allowing applicants to use something other than the LSAT without asking the ABA nicely if it could do so first. This is what the ABA cares about. Those are the questions they had for Rutgers. What was left off the list of ABA inquiries: Rutgers-Camden’s favorite color? [ABA Journal]
* Justice Sonia Sotomayor thinks that the lack of diversity on the federal and state judiciaries poses a “huge danger,” one that might even be greater than her complete inability to dance. [Blog of Legal Times]
* Because “love [shouldn't be] relegated to a second-class status for any citizen in our country,” Illinois is now the 16th state in the U.S. to have legalized same-sex marriage. Congratulations and welcome! [CNN]
* “His discrimination claim was not about discrimination.” After only 2.5 hours deliberating, the jury reached a verdict in John Ray III v. Ropes & Gray, and the Biglaw firm came out on top. [National Law Journal]
* One thing’s for sure: big city bankruptcies ain’t cheap. Detroit has paid about $11 million to Jones Day, emergency manager Kevyn Orr’s former firm, since this whole process kicked off. [Detroit Free Press]
* Baylor Law is being overrun by a colony of feral cats. Someone please tell the administration these kitties can’t be used as therapy animals before finals — students will have their faces clawed off. [Baylor Lariat]
Would you rather be a great lawyer or be perceived as being a great lawyer?
For many people, I think the answer to that question varies over time: At age 30, you’d rather be a great lawyer. At age 60, you’d rather be perceived as being a great lawyer.
Because, over time, your reputation may come to track reality. If you’re perceived as great when you’re 30, but you’re actually no good, that truth may out over time. As you age, your reputation may catch up with you.
By the time you’re 60, your professional horizon will have shortened, and it’s less likely that the world will unearth your incompetence. If you’re perceived as being a great lawyer when you’re 60, you may well make it to retirement unscathed.
What of law firms? Would you rather that your firm be great or be perceived as being great?
The answer may be the same for institutions as it is for individuals, and the answer may again turn on your time horizon: If you’re actually great, you’re likely to prosper over time. If you’re (incorrectly) perceived as being great, you’re likely to prosper in the short-term and fail over time.
What does that tell you about law firm mergers that are meant to increase the “brand awareness” of a law firm? The firm will merge and improve its public profile (and image) in the short-term, without necessarily tending to quality. That may well improve short-term performance, but perhaps at the expense of long-term success.
Finley Kumble plainly followed that strategy. Steve Kumble is quoted as having said, “When we’re the biggest, people will think we’re the best.” I’m not sure that anyone ever viewed Finley Kumble as the pinnacle of quality, but the firm surely gained prominence by expanding rapidly and improving its brand awareness, until the firm exploded.
There’s plenty of pseudo-empirical evidence that suggests that the marketplace generally perceives bigger as better. From the late 1980s through roughly 2000, Baker & McKenzie, Jones Day, and Skadden were the three largest law firms in the world, with Baker & McKenzie the largest and Jones Day and Skadden running neck and neck for second place. Which U.S. law firms had the strongest brands this year? You guessed it.
Zoom out from the U.S. to the entire world, and big still matters. A recent analysis by Acritas says that the five law firms with the strongest brands globally are Baker & McKenzie, Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Linklaters, and DLA Piper. Those may not be precisely the five largest law firms in the world, but they’re all contenders. And I’ll wager that the recent moves by Norton Rose Fulbright and, if it closes, Orrick and Pillsbury Winthrop, will catapult those firms (even) higher in the brand awareness charts.
I recently dined with a senior administrative guy from one of those five best-known global firms, and he told me that he thought the trend to globalization favored his gargantuan firm. “If I were a great law firm with a presence in only one or two cities, the trend in these brand-awareness studies would worry me. To remain at the top of the heap in today’s world, you simply must get bigger.”
But that’s all reputation; what of quality?
Let me start with the obvious: All of the huge global firms appear near the top of the brand awareness charts, and no huge firm appears at the bottom (or falls off the charts entirely because no one has ever heard of it). Thus, in one sense, Kumble was right: Bigness alone adds value.
At that point, please lay out the eggshells for me to walk on. I work for the world’s leading insurance broker for law firms; I’m not about to criticize any particular law firm in public.
To the contrary: I think you’re all great! Lawyers are like the children in Lake Wobegon: They’re all above average! In fact, that’s understating it: You’re all the very best in the world! It’s a zillion-way tie for first place! (By the way, do you need a good broker? Send me a note through the e-mail link at the end of this column.)
I’ll say only that there must be some large firm whose quality has become spottier over time as the firm pursued growth as an end in itself. And there are surely some small- and medium-sized firms that consist entirely of top-notch lawyers; those firms are overlooked in the marketplace only because fewer clients have had personal contact with lawyers at the firm.
But perhaps that’s irrelevant. Reputations are odd things and are often very sticky. Maybe reputations do conform themselves to reality over time, or maybe that’s true only in an abstract world in which information is perfect and time unbounded.
Or, as yet a third possibility, maybe the meaning of “quality” is so amorphous in the field of professional services that reputation is what matters and reality doesn’t exist.
* The NSA protests that its spying on foreign leaders was entirely legal. In defense of the NSA, this latest uproar seems misplaced. Warrantless spying on Americans is illegal, but spying on foreign governments is kind of the whole point of the NSA. [Associated Press]
* Should a plagiarizing journalist be allowed to join the ranks of licensed attorneys? Con: His crime suggests low moral character. Pro: He’s going to be a master of boilerplate. [Juice, Justice & Corgis]
* Jones Day is representing pro bono a number of Catholic institutions ticked off that they might have to buy insurance that their workers might, at some point, maybe use to buy birth control pills. It’s a tremendous intrusion upon religious liberty that Catholic institutions routinely did before they decided to make a political spectacle out of it. [National Law Journal]
* A speech to Harvard Law alums about the slow death of free speech at Harvard. By “slow death of free speech” the speaker details how a private, non-governmental institution decided not to tolerate jackassery, but whatever. [Minding the Campus via The Volokh Conspiracy]
* It’s still several months until the ATL Law Revue competition. So to keep you entertained until then, check out this parody of Lorde’s Royals performed by some law students. It looks like it’s the same geniuses from Auckland Law School behind the Blurred Lines parody. Do the Kiwis have time to do actual law school stuff? Video embedded after the jump… [Legal Cheek]
The popular conception of “lawyer” — as seen on television and in the movies — is that of a litigator. Understandably, law students are also susceptible to this view and will be so as long as the case method remains the pedagogy of choice in law school. Cases, by definition, are always about litigation. Both popular culture and the law school curriculum show lawyers most often in court or, at least, investigating the facts of the case. However, the truth of litigation practice is very different: the overwhelming majority of litigators’ work takes place outside the courtroom. Never mind that upwards of 90 percent of all lawsuits settle before trial or that most litigators’ spend their actual in-court time arguing procedural motions rather than the substance of the dispute. Oh, and there’s also doc review.
Anyway, most new associates and law students who aspire to Biglaw are going to be confronted with a question. To grossly generalize and simplify: am I a litigator or a transactional attorney? Many would say that there are distinct personality types best suited for each. Are you a win-lose kind of person or a win-win kind of person? Do you enjoy confrontation? Do you care if you ever see the inside of a courtroom? How important is the predictability of your schedule? And so on. (Of course we must acknowledge that wrestling over such questions is the classic “luxury problem.” For the majority of law students, what follows is, at most, of voyeuristic interest.)
For those in a position to choose, which Biglaw shop’s litigation departments offer the highest quality of life? We’ve dug into our survey data for answers…
The ATL Insider Survey (14,500 response and counting) asks respondents to assess their employers in terms of compensation, training, firm morale, hours, and culture. Below are the firms that were highest rated by their own litigators in each category, as well as overall. Keep in mind that these ratings are a commentary on the firm as an employer, without regard to “prestige” or won/loss record. Please note we lack sufficient survey data to generate ratings for all firms, most notably in this case Williams & Connolly. Also, we use the category “Litigation” in its broadest sense, lumping together IP, general commercial litigation, white collar defense, securities litigation, and all the disparate varieties into one group. Ratings are on a scale of 1 through 10, with 10 highest.
1. Davis Polk 8.94
2. Jenner & Block 8.67
3. Sidley Austin 8.22
4. Paul Weiss 7.90
5. Boies Schiller 7.79
Average score for all firms: 7.09
1. Paul Weiss: 8.80
2. Cravath 8.75
3. Jenner & Block 8.58
4. Arnold & Porter 8.22
5. Davis Polk 8.13
Average score for all firms: 7.97
Culture & Colleagues
1. Jenner & Block 9.25
2. Sidley Austin 8.89
3. Davis Polk 8.81
4. Debevoise & Plimpton 8.80 (tie)
4. Quinn Emanuel 8.80 (tie)
Average score for all firms: 7.97
1. Davis Polk 8.67
2. Jenner & Block 8.50
3. Sidley Austin 8.27
4. Paul Weiss 8.04
5. Arnold & Porter 7.89
Average score for all firms: 7.29
Congratulations to the Davis Polkers and all the other happy campers at the firms making the grade here. Not only do the litigators at these firms report a higher quality of life relative to all their peers at hundreds of other firms, they are, however you measure it, among the profession’s most elite practitioners.
Finally, if you have yet to do so, please take a few minutes and tell us about your firm (or school) here.
Why go big when you can supersize? As has been reported recently, one of Biglaw’s most aggressive firms in terms of growth, Dentons (née Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal and some foreign counterparts cobbled together just a few years ago), is now in serious discussions about a combination with McKenna Long & Aldridge. Both firms are products of recent tie-ups themselves, and the combined firm should the transaction go through will be instantly one of the world’s largest, at least in terms of number of lawyers. Welcome to the age of the global Megalaw franchise, in which a firm can raise its profile by connecting with other firms in the interest of getting bigger, all the while creating a new global brand in the process. Dentons is sure giving it a try.
It is actually unfair to say that Dentons is the Biglaw equivalent of McDonald’s, or even Burger King. Biglaw brands of that stature would be Baker & McKenzie or even DLA Piper, and not only because they are bigger….
Name recognition matters, even in foreign markets, and it is fair to say that both Baker & McKenzie and DLA Piper carry more weight than Dentons at the current time, no matter the locale. Nor can Dentons hope to touch, at least for now, the global credibility of a Jones Day or Latham & Watkins, despite the fact that there are a good number of world-class lawyers already at Dentons.
But I am not sure that is their goal. What we are seeing, rather, is a bit of an experiment: a mega-firm created out of whole cloth almost overnight, composed of “component” firms that on their own might have had difficulty distinguishing themselves in their home markets, much less on a global scale. At the very least, it would take quite a bit of time to unravel this new big ball of yarn. Nothing wrong with buying time to see if the grand experiment will work.
In my view, an expanded Dentons will resemble a traditional Biglaw firm as much as a $25 artisanal burger from some Williamsburg locavore joint resembles a Big Mac. Everyone will effectively be an employee, partners included, existing at the mercy of the centralized management that will exercise serious control over individual and firm performance. While the separate member firms that compose the verein will have their own financial affairs to deal with, you can be sure that the firm’s core management team will be watching everyone’s performance quite carefully.
For starters, firms seeking to establish a brand have less margin for error when it comes to being able to reward the rainmaking partners that make the whole structure worthwhile to adopt. I have argued before that the traditional Biglaw firm exists primarily to benefit the service partner in a way that would otherwise be impossible. Firms like Dentons flip that traditional approach on its head. In a megafirm, the rainmakers are paramount, and getting bigger allows them to take an incrementally greater piece of the pie over a shorter period of time. Short-term performance is therefore of the utmost importance, as rainmakers at these firms need to see, right away, the rewards of staying in such a firm (with the requisite loss of a safety net if their own performance lags).
So the big winners, unsurprisingly, in the bigger and grander Dentons will be the firm’s current rainmakers and leadership. But there are other less obvious winners to consider — for instance, senior associates who are up for partner. The chances of elevation are greater when the firm you are at does not yet have the measure of its existing partnership. An aggressive senior associate (ideally with the right sponsor) could play the merger in their own favor, by advancing the argument that giving them the title of partner will not cost the firm anything and will open the door to immediate rate increases, if not the possibility of business development. And a mega-firm really needs to make a lot of partners on an annual basis, for marketing purposes at least. When you have a firm of 3,000+ lawyers, it looks kind of weak if your partner class is a group of ten. So if you are a senior associate at Dentons who survives the merger, make a grand push for partnership.
The other unlikely winners are existing Dentons and McKenna partners who are unhappy with their current firms. A mega-merger provides the perfect cover to shop oneself around, or even consider a graceful exit from Biglaw all together. Lawyers are such creatures of inertia that it takes a major event to get them to focus on their own happiness. I hope that a good numbers of partners will benefit from the lateral liquidity that this merger will generate.
At the same time, partners at other Biglaw firms who need a change of scenery will also benefit from having a new, insatiable firm to lateral into. It is certain that Dentons will continue to have an active lateral merry-go-round, fueled in part by a desire to project an image of growth and success. One can only assume that these partners, once at Dentons, will try and offer more flexible rates to current and prospective clients, on the argument that the size of the firm is an effective means of ensuring a successful engagement, much in the same way a smaller firm would rely on prestige to convey the same assurances. The danger, however, is that these partners (under increased performance pressure and with less loyalty to their colleagues than ever) will lean on the suicide pricing that has been Biglaw’s bane to get ahead. Time will tell.
Even associates should benefit from this merger, assuming they survive the inevitable contraction of practice groups and partners who will leave (possibly without the wherewithal on the portable business end to bring them along) in the merger frenzy. Assuming a long Biglaw career is the goal, an associate’s goal should be to develop their skills. Exposure to a greater breadth and depth of clients and practitioners should only help increase that opportunity. That is not to say that every associate will love the new firm, but being at a Biglaw behemoth in its formative stages is at least better than the associate situation at some other firms these days.
Just as some will benefit from this merger, and its creation of a bit of an alternative Biglaw firm, so will some suffer. Hopefully the collateral damage remains minimal. At the very least, everyone in Biglaw should take the opportunity to give some thought to how they would fare in a firm like Dentons. It may help you appreciate what you have, or inspire you to make a change. Either way, the Dentons experiment will be one to watch.
Could you flourish at a mega-firm? Do you think mega-firms represent a positive evolution of the traditional Biglaw firm? Let me know by email or in the comments.
* 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]
Marty Lasden of California Lawyer magazine interviewed the severely conservative James Bopp Jr. for the “Legally Speaking” series (in which I previously participated). It appears this interview with Bopp took place before Bopp got bumped from the podium in favor of Erin Murphy, a young superstar of the Supreme Court bar:
Biglaw branding sounds painful, but thankfully, associates at the highest and mightiest of firms don’t have to sear their flesh with their firms’ logos. Biglaw branding is more about the image firms want clients to see when making hiring decisions, and partners are likely equally as worried about their reputations in the marketplace as their year-end profits.
The last time we spoke about law firm branding, we found out that Skadden had the most recognizable brand in the country. But we, loving rankings as we do, wondered which law firm had the best brand in the world. Luckily for us, hot on the heels of the release of the Am Law Global 100, Acritas published its 2013 Sharplegal Global Elite Brand Index.
Who’s got the best Biglaw brand on the planet? Let’s find out…
Acritas ranks Biglaw firms based on feedback from their most important clients: general counsel at companies across the globe with revenue of at least $1 billion. Here’s how the survey was conducted:
All interviews were conducted by telephone in local languages across 55 countries between January and September as part of the ongoing Sharplegal 2013 survey.
The Sharplegal Global Elite Brand Index is determined through four open-ended questions from the full survey to ﬁnd out from general counsel:
- The ﬁrst law ﬁrms to come to mind
- The ﬁrms they feel most favorable towards
- The ﬁrms most considered for multi-jurisdictional deals
- The ﬁrms most considered for multi-jurisdictional litigation.
As noted in Morning Docket, DLA Piper, the recently crowned King of the World in terms of revenue, did not take the title of the best brand. Instead, the firm that was dethroned from the seat of power on the Global 100, Baker & McKenzie, came in first place in the Acritas ranking, for the fourth year in a row.
Here are the top 10 global Biglaw brands of 2013, per Acritas (click here to see the full list):
Much of this list has changed from last year’s ranking. While B&M maintained its position (as did DLA and Allen & Overy), the rest of the top 10 shuffled around, and one of the most prestigious firms got booted from the list of the best-known firms in the world altogether. Skadden, once seated at #7 on the Acritas ranking, has landed inelegantly at #13. According to Sarah Chisman-Duffy, head of Acritas Asia-Pacific, Skadden doesn’t have a “clear vision of where it sits in the market.” Ouch. We think Skaddenites will feel better after rolling around in their billions of revenue. White & Case also fell from #10 to #11.
But Baker & McKenzie better watch its back in the global legal marketplace, because rival firms, dubbed the “rapid risers” by Acritas, are quickly catching up — their brand strength has increased dramatically over the past four years. Congratulations are due to the following firms: Kirkland & Ellis (also a rapid riser on the Am Law Global 100); DLA Piper; King & Wood Mallesons; K&L Gates; and Gibson Dunn.
Once again, this ranking speaks volumes as to which Biglaw firms are on top when it comes to client loyalty, but there are only two U.S.-based firms in the top 10 of the Acritas Global Elite (Hogan Lovells is a product of a U.S./U.K. merger). What does this say about our lawyers? Our Biglaw firms might be doing something right, but surely there’s a way to do things differently to propel additional firms to success.
For all the talk of layoffs and worries over an unstable legal economy, Biglaw just keeps getting bigger. Today, the American Lawyer magazine announced its Global 100, a ranking of the world’s 100 largest law firms in terms of total revenue. The view from the top is simple: as we learned from the 2013 Am Law 100, slow and steady does win the race, because Biglaw is at the biggest it’s been in years, and partners’ profits are headed up, up, up.
Now that we’re on the long road to recovery following the recession and collapse of the U.S. financial markets, there are some lessons to be learned from the past five years. Some firms were able to cash in modestly on their success, while other firms buckled under the pressure and were forced to close their doors for good. The game of musical chairs in the top 10 of the Global 100 reflects this economic uncertainty.
DLA Piper is the new top dog in terms of total revenue. Which firms are the leaders of the pack in other metrics, such as profits per partner and attorney headcount?
We’ll begin with the revenue figures. Thanks to this record-high revenue growth, it seems like models and bottles may soon be flowing freely at the top 10 firms. Here’s the good news, courtesy of Am Law:
Combined gross revenue for The Global 100 grew by 3.8 percent in 2012 to a record high of $85 billion. This year 77 of the world’s top-grossing firms are American and 13 are British. Rounding out this year’s list are five Australian firms and one firm each from Canada, China, France, Spain, and the Netherlands. Eight firms are structured as vereins or as European Economic Interest Groups (EEIGs).
Here are the top 10 firms of the 2013 Global 100 (click to enlarge; check out the full list here):
For the first time in the history of Am Law’s global rankings, DLA Piper rose to the top, with $2.44 billion in gross revenue, barely displacing Baker & McKenzie. Unlike last year, where the top 10 remained largely unchanged, this year saw some dramatic movement, with one firm being bumped off the list entirely (alas, Am Law’s got no love for Ho-Love). The biggest move came from Kirkland & Ellis, which posted an increase of $187,500,000 in revenue, allowing the firm to jump from ninth place to sixth place in the top 10 ranking.
Next up, we’ve got every prestige whore’s favorite metric: profits per partner…
If you’re working in-house and dealing with bet-the-company litigation, you want the very best litigators in the world to be on your side. You want a firm with litigators so strong that it will make opponents gasp in fear at the very mention of its name. You want a firm that is known internationally for “go[ing] for the jugular” and coming out on top.
But how can you ensure that you’ve picked the right firm? BTI Consulting Group just made it a little easier with the release of its annual ranking of the firms “most likely to trigger dread” in opposing counsel, as determined by a poll of about 300 in-house attorneys. After reviewing all responses, BTI named the “Fearsome Foursome,” the most-feared litigation firms in the country.
Which firms returned to this year’s list and which firms dropped off of it? Check out the latest rankings…
Before we get to the nation’s most-feared firms, here’s some additional information on the methodology behind how they were named, courtesy of Law360 (sub. req.):
The recognitions were based on about 300 one-on-one interviews with litigation heads, general counsel and other law departments leads conducted between March and June, according to BTI. The represented companies had an average annual revenue of $14.3 billion.
This year, the following firms were dubbed the Fearsome Foursome and honored for their ability to strike fear in their opponents’ hearts and minds throughout the course of high-stakes litigation:
Only one firm, Boies Schiller, slipped off the list of honorees this year, while the rest continue to reign as returning champions. Taking the firm’s place is Quinn Emanuel, a litigation powerhouse that was previously honored on the BTI list in years past. (Don’t worry about this one, Boies Schiller — you’ve earned more than enough recognition as a bad-ass firm thanks to David Boies and his Prop 8 success.)
BTI President Michael Rynowecer had this to say of the 2014 Fearsome Foursome: “They have a take-no-prisoners attitude, and they don’t contemplate not winning. They bring the right people, the right chemistry. It’s all about the level of commitment, and not just in courtroom strategy, but in getting the right resources together.” In other words, these are the firms you want to have in your corner if you want to win big.
The BTI report also named four firms as “Awesome Opponents,” additional firms that corporate counsel would prefer to steer clear of in litigation: Boies Schiller, Cravath, Hogan Lovells, and Jenner & Block. Congratulations to all firms that were honored this year for their cutthroat litigation skills.
Do you think the Fearsome Foursome and Awesome Opponents actually earned their titles this year? Can you think of a law firm that deserves to be recognized but hasn’t been? Please give us your thoughts.