Peter J. Kalis, Chairman & Global Managing Partner
Yale Law School, JD
77 (69 2Ls, 8 1Ls)
from the firm
Ed. note: This is the first installment of The ATL Interrogatories, brought to you by David Carrie LLC. This recurring feature will give a notable law firm partner an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.
1. What is the greatest challenge to the legal industry over the next five years?
Although I’m tempted to do a passable imitation of a legal consultant and talk about globalization, innovation and the New Normal, all of which are important, in fact the fundamental challenge facing our industry over the next five years and beyond is to preserve the Rule of Law in a world in which an increasing number of globally significant economies have no comparable tradition and in which some governments don’t respect rights of individuals and enterprises. The world, our industry and our profession would be much different if norms we associate with the Rule of Law were defined downward as a by-product of globalization. I know it’s a stretch for an audience focused during difficult times on real and immediate career challenges to shift gears and focus on a seemingly abstract concept such as the Rule of Law. The times tend to divert all of our gazes inward. But there is no one reading this who is more self-absorbed than the least self-absorbed law firm managing partner.
We all need to do a better job when it comes to talking about and vindicating the Rule of Law in our day to day lives. I know that I do. With all of the misguided talk about vocationalism in legal education, moreover, I also worry that our law schools are not pounding away sufficiently at the foundational importance of the Rule of Law or the role of U.S. lawyers, among others, as its missionaries.
2. What has been the biggest positive change to the legal profession since the start of your career?
Over the last 30 years, we’ve seen the advent of a true market for legal services in which ideas and services are sharpened through competition, law firms wax and wane based on performance, and consumers of legal services are empowered to make retention choices based on value propositions. For lawyers and law firms willing to embrace competition, and of course for clients, the development of a true market for legal services has been transformative and positively so.
3. What has been the biggest negative change to the legal profession since the start of your career?
In the last three decades, the practicing side of the profession has become more open, more scrutinized, more transparent, more competitive, more diverse, more global, more remunerative, more complex, more client-focused, more meritocratic and more interesting. What’s not to like about those trend lines? On the other hand, legal education is lost in a wilderness of self-doubt, operates with a business model that often confers upon its graduates more burdens than benefits, and as a result seems headed for a gigantic market correction. Lives and aspirations will be altered and likely not for the better.
4. What is the greatest satisfaction of practicing law?
Winning. Did I just quote Charlie Sheen?
5. What is the greatest frustration of practicing law?
Clients don’t retain you to lose, and there’s nothing more frustrating than delivering a bad result to a client who deserved much better.
6. What is your firm’s greatest strength?
We’re positioned at the critical crossroads of the 21st Century — at the intersection of globalization, regulation and innovation. With 46 fully integrated offices on five continents, we can address clients’ needs arising from the movement of people, products, services, capital and ideas across national borders. With leading policy and regulatory practices and offices in a dozen world capitals, we can address the ratchet-like interventions of governments into private markets. With leading IP litigation and prosecution practices, we can serve clients in the creation and protection of intellectual property. And, importantly, we’re fully integrated with a single profit pool, unitary governance, a single brand, no interior profit borders or firewalls, and we have all of the other operational and financial features that are emblematic of a truly integrated law firm capable of serving clients seamlessly across disciplines and around the globe.
7. What is the single most important personal characteristic for a successful lawyer in your field?
I’ve never met a single successful lawyer in any field who isn’t very smart. High intelligence is a prerequisite to success in practicing law because advising clients on how to deal with crushing legal complexity is very hard intellectual work. Of course, degrees of success can thereafter fluctuate based on levels of emotional intelligence, verbal capability, work ethic, a winning personality and so on. But you have to be very smart.
8. What is your favorite legally themed film or television show?
My Cousin Vinny. Sorry. I’m sure you wanted something more profound or trendy. But I watch “movies,” not “films,” and I go to the movies to be entertained, not to deceive myself into thinking that I’m spending a couple of hours immersed in an advanced art form on a par with literature, architecture, painting, sculpture or music. (I’m really happy that you disabled the comment function.)
9. What is your favorite legally themed book (fiction or non-fiction)?
My Mom and Dad ran a little Greek diner. I could see myself as a restaurateur. Or as a researcher for Above the Law.
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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…
As was vividly demonstrated by our recent infographic, Biglaw’s summer associate classes have undergone a major and seemingly permanent contraction. For the most part, large — arguably bloated — summer associate classes are a thing of the past. Among the Am Law 50, only eight firms are bucking this downward trend, with actual increases in the size of their summer classes since 2007. These firms are a collection of Wall Street’s oldest and most elite white shoe mainstays: Sullivan & Cromwell, Cravath, Davis Polk, and their ilk. On average, these firms were founded 112 years ago (i.e., during the McKinley Administration). The outlier here is the relative upstart litigation powerhouse Quinn Emanuel, founded only back in 1987.
Besides the durability and strength that comes with such a refined pedigree, what other trends are apparent in this great downsizing of Biglaw’s summer associate classes?
Earlier this year, K&L Gates generated some (generally positive) press by issuing an unusually detailed disclosure of its firm financials. The report reflected a reassuringly conservative financial position, with zero bank debt and limited retirement-plan obligations (a trouble spot for many other law firms).
It looks like K&L Gates is keeping to its conservatism. It’s trimming its headcount in D.C. and Seattle, presumably to reduce expenses….
* After three years on top, Baker & McKenzie has lost its place as the top grossing firm in the Global 100. But which firm dethroned the once king? None other than… [Am Law Daily]
* Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, and yet some of the things he sought to change still remain the same in 2013. [Washington Post]
* The house always wins: Navin Kumar Aggarwal, the ex-K&L Gates partner who stole client funds to pay gambling debts, was jailed after receiving a 12-year sentence. [Am Law Daily]
* “This is like a triple-overtime win.” Merrill Lynch is making a huge $160 million payout in a racial bias case that’s been stuck in the courts for nearly a decade. Congrats, plaintiffs! [DealBook / New York Times]
* As eager young law students return to school, maybe it’s time for you to consider brushing up on the basics. Now is an excellent time to take care of those pesky CLE requirements. [Corporate Counsel]
* Career alternatives for attorneys: judicial drug mule. Following an investigation by the DEA, a former Utah judge pleaded guilty to the possession of enough Oxycodone to kill a small horse. [Salt Lake Tribune]
* Don’t even think about texting anyone, ever again, in the state of New Jersey, especially if they might be driving, because the appeals court says you could be held liable for negligence. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]
* Louisville coach Rick Pitino promised his players that he’d get a tattoo if they won the NCAA tournament. I’m hoping Peter Kalis makes the same pledge if K&L Gates makes its projected annual profits. [Huffington Post]
* Hey, Houston readers! Since I’m in town for our event tonight, I wanted to give a plug for the OKRA Charity Saloon. I visited last night and it was great — a beautiful space and all the profits go to a charity that you get to vote on (one ballot for each drink you get). An all-around great idea. So if you’re looking for a location for your next happy hour… [OKRA Charity Saloon]
* James Poulos makes a good point: it may put you horribly, horribly in debt, but education is still a good thing. [Forbes]
* Tomorrow check out our newest series: Unofficial Orientation to Law School. We will be video chatting with students, professors, and hiring managers about how 0Ls can successfully launch their legal careers. This series is presented by LexisNexis, BARBRI, and Law Preview, a BARBRI Company. [Above the Law]
* Have you ever wanted to see puppets set to the L.A. Law theme song? No? Well, after the jump you can see it anyway….
Roger Ebert passed away last week, robbing us of a great film critic and an equally insightful social critic. Ebert loved the movies and his critical ire was only raised when films failed to live up to the standards he’d set in his own mind.
But one genre of film seemed to give Ebert consistent fits — the legal movie. From drama to comedy, if the film found its way into a courtroom, Ebert was likely on the wrong side of public opinion. As a tribute to the critic, we’ve gathered some of his reviews to pass final verdict on Ebert’s understanding of the legal genre….
* “Do you know which state has the worst ratio of white voter turnout to African American voter turnout? Massachusetts.” Sorry, Chief Justice Roberts, but the Bay State’s top elections official begs to differ with your assessment. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]
* This retired SCOTUS justice — the first woman to ever serve on the nation’s highest court — now refers to herself as “an unemployed cowgirl.” We wonder what Justice Scalia will refer to himself as in interviews after he retires. [Sacramento Bee]
* Mayer Brown wasn’t the only Biglaw firm that had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. Dorsey & Whitney’s 2012 revenue was also at a six-year low, but firm leaders think they can turn it around. [Star Tribune]
* Billion-dollar patent verdicts, so hot right now: 2012 was a “banner year” for for Biglaw firms representing winning clients, with K&L Gates leading the pack for the highest monetary award. [National Law Journal]
* “I wouldn’t want to be coming out of law school now.” Oh my God, you guys, the legal job market is still really tough for brand-spanking new law grads. This is new information that no one’s heard before. [Buffalo News]
Biglaw reporting season continues. But this year we have an interesting twist: K&L Gates decided to share (covered by Lat and Bruce MacEwen, among others). Thankfully, the sharing is not of the “we overstated our revenue by a couple hundred million, and owe a bunch of old and retired partners way more than that anyway” variety. Rather, the firm released financial information that goes a little beyond what you see in your typical Biglaw firm reports (which I previously discussed).
While I have seen the firm hailed as courageous in some quarters, I am reluctant to declare this a huge leap forward towards Biglaw financial transparency. For one, there are other firms that put out even more complete “annual reports,” like Allen & Overy (thanks to an ATL commenter for that reminder), a firm that seems to be hanging on to a lockstep compensation model for partners. Second, as Lat pointed out, there are even internal sources within K&L Gates asking the types of questions that the firm’s “enhanced” report does not answer.
Personally I find a few things about this whole to-do interesting and a bit frustrating….
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….
* Law School Transparency? Nay, Biglaw Transparency! Peter Kalis, global managing partner of K&L Gates, just opened the kimono wide on his firm’s financial performance in an “unusually detailed” fashion. [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]
* Talk about a pain in the pocketbook: although profits per partner and revenues are up overall, one firm saw shrinkage of 16 percent in PPP. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]
* The ABA is just now thinking of trying to find someone who will audit the graduate employment data that law schools release each year. Gee, it only took 15 fraud lawsuits to get the ball rolling. [National Law Journal]
* Oh my God, you guys, carrying six figures of law school debt on your shoulders is “unsustainable” in the long run, especially when your salary sucks. This is new information that no one’s heard before. [News-Gazette]
* Former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten is now Tulane Law’s new assistant dean for experiential learning. For the school’s sake, hopefully he’ll be able to control his students better than he did his AUSAs. [Tulane Hullabaloo]
* “You’re a cold-blooded murderer and I’ll stare you down until I die.” Drew Peterson was sentenced to 38 years in prison for the murder of his third wife. A sequel to the Lifetime movie is likely forthcoming. [Reuters]