Many longtime observers of the legal profession argue that it’s not what it once was and that it’s increasingly focused on the bottom line. But even when trying to improve the bottom line, many law firms go about it in a kindler, gentler manner. Traces of Biglaw’s gentility remain.
Today we have news of another firm that’s reducing its ranks — not through layoffs, but through generous voluntary buyout packages….
To address the issue, Schulte Roth recently offered voluntary buyout packages to all of its secretaries. We heard the news from several sources and confirmed it this afternoon in a conversation with Alan Waldenberg, chair of the firm’s executive committee.
In terms of numbers, the firm hopes that 20 to 30 secretaries will accept the buyouts, resulting in a more optimal lawyer-to-secretary ratio. The severance is generous, consisting of (1) a lump-sum payment of $10,000, (2) an additional one week’s pay for every year of service, and (3) health care benefits for a year (through COBRA). The firm wanted to make the package appealing enough to encourage acceptances.
The Schulte package sounds ample to us, but we’re no longer in the Biglaw trenches. We’d love to hear from readers who have either accepted or rejected one of the voluntary buyouts that many major firms have offered in recent years. If you’d be willing to walk us through your calculations, please email us (subject line: “Voluntary Buyouts”) or text us (646-820-8477). We’re happy to keep you and your firm anonymous; we’d just like to get a better sense of which people are well-situated to take early retirement or a buyout and which people are not. Thanks.
Your highbrow tastes manifested themselves in our recent summer associate event contest. Rejecting pop culture icons and fun-sounding sporting events, you flocked to the polls to vote for a classic….
And I’m not talking the Rolling Stones; that event, hosted by the Wilmington office of Skadden, took third place. Second place went to Morrison & Foerster’s surfing outing in San Diego.
And now, our winner. Congratulations to the New York office of Kirkland & Ellis, which took its summer associates to Shakespeare in the Park, specifically, The Comedy of Errors. Other firms take their summers to Shakespeare in the Park, but K&E’s version included dinner backstage and quality time with two of the actors, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Emily Bergl.
Personally speaking, I voted for the Queen Bee, the Beyonce concert that Schulte Roth treated its summers to. And one could argue that it wasn’t fair to put both Beyonce and her husband, Jay Z, in the contest, given the potential for vote splitting. But it looks like it wouldn’t have made a difference. Even combining the votes for Mr. and Mrs. Shawn Carter wouldn’t have dethroned Kirkland’s evening with Big Willy (Shakespeare).
To summer, or not to summer? That is the question. And if the program is K&E in NYC, the answer is yes.
P.S. For fabulous photos of Beyonce driving Jay Z and daughter Blue Ivy home from the Hamptons — in her million-dollar, vintage Rolls-Royce — click here.
Summer associate class sizes might be shrinking, but for those law students lucky enough to make it into a summer program, life is good. The offers are being given outliberally, and the summer events are just as fun as ever.
Need proof? Just consider the six excellent events that we’ve selected for the finals of this year’s summer associate event contest. Some were cultural extravaganzas, others were athletic outings, but all were fun and fabulous. Thanks to everyone who submitted a nomination.
Vote below for your favorite. Without further ado, here they are:
1. Kirkland & Ellis: The New York office of Kirkland took summers to see Shakespeare in the Park — a coveted ticket here in Manhattan, generally requiring a wait of many hours. But not for VIPs at K&E:
We saw The Comedy of Errors — it was awesome. The dinner was catered/open bar backstage; we could see the dancers rehearsing behind the set as we ate. An actress in the show, Emily Bergl, apparently had connections to Kirkland somehow, and hung out with us during dinner. And then Jesse Tyler Ferguson (of Modern Family, starring in the show) photobombed our class photo!
2. Morrison & Foerster: Hang ten, MoFos! The San Diego office held a surfing event, replete with lessons, at the beautiful Del Mar beaches:
Summer associates, some associates, and some partners all met at the beach (which is less than 10 minutes from our office) at 9:30 on a weekday. [B]ringing a date/spouse was allowed. We were all given a suit/board and then were given a lesson by a professional group that does this sort of thing. We all surfed for a few hours on some fantastic waves. Then we had a delicious lunch at a local restaurant before trickling back into the office afterwards. It was fabulous!
3. Ropes & Gray: Ropes has a reputation as a prim and proper, white-shoe Boston firm. But out on the West Coast, they cut lose and jump, jump:
The San Francisco/Silicon Valley offices of Ropes & Gray had an event involving trampoline dodgeball. I thought it was a great idea, because it was an easy way to break the ice (especially when you can laugh over a group of ten-year-old boys beating a group of attorneys). I imagine it was also low budget, which is great during these times. It was a lot of fun!
4. Schulte Roth & Zabel: “Beyonce Concert!!!!” ‘Nuff said. (Multiple exclamation points in the original.)
5. Shearman & Sterling: Move over, Mrs. Carter. On July 19, Shearman took its entire New York summer class, along with partner and associate mentors, to the Jay Z and Justin Timberlake concert at Yankee Stadium. Seats were excellent, scattered in groups of four to eight throughout the lower bowl of the stadium. “It was an amazing event!”
6. Skadden Arps: We heard that Skadden’s traditional MoMA party in New York was a time to remember (especially for the two full-time lawyers, not summers, who “managed to break a bathroom sink while they were, shall we say, making their own modern art”). But the contest nomination this year goes to Skadden’s Wilmington office, which took summers and assorted associates and partners to see the Rolling Stones when the Stones were in Philadelphia. Maybe you can’t always get what you want, but if you work at Skadden, you can get “club seats — absolutely awesome!”
So, readers, what will it be? A concert by a member of the First Family of Brooklyn? A spectacular sporting event, like surfing or dodgeball? An evening with a great bard, like William Shakespeare or Mick Jagger? Cast your vote now (voting closes on SUNDAY, AUGUST 11, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time):
Which firm put on the best summer associate event of 2013?
Kirkland & Ellis - Shakespeare in the Park (26%, 427 Votes)
You’d be jumping for joy if you landed an offer from a top law firm.
It’s harder to be a partner in Biglaw today, both in terms of making partner and remaining a partner. You can no longer just coast along after making partner; you need to prove yourself and your value to the firm, year after year. That’s a change from past practice (and people can argue when exactly the change took place).
But some things in Biglaw haven’t changed. The practice of being generous with offers to summer associates — too generous, some might argue — is alive and well. Summer programs are smaller today than they were before the Great Recession, but offer rates remain robust.
Following up on Monday’s story, here are more firms that have given offers to all of their summers:
Debevoise & Plimpton (New York)
DLA Piper (D.C.)
DLA Piper (New York)
Latham & Watkins (Chicago)
Schulte Roth & Zabel (New York)
Sheppard Mullin (Orange County)
Skadden Arps (New York)
Skadden Arps (Wilmington)
Wiley Rein (D.C.)
Congratulations to everyone, at these firms and the firms we mentioned on Monday, on their offers.
If you have corrections to the list — i.e., an office listed above that does NOT belong on the 100 percent list — please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line “Summer Associate Offer Rate Correction,” or text us at 646-820-TIPS (646-820-8477).
If you have additions to this list, please note them in the comments to this post. At this point in time, we are not terribly interested in hearing about still more firms with 100 percent offer rates. It’s more newsworthy if a firm does NOT have a 100 percent offer rate than if it does.
On that note, please let us hear about firms that are NOT issuing offers to all their summer associates. If you know of a firm or an office with an unusually low offer rate — which we will arbitrarily define here as something under 66 percent, or two-thirds — please email us (subject line: “[Firm Name] Offer Rate”). We will then investigate and perhaps write a story. Thanks.
* The number of women arguing before the Supreme Court is still small, but most of its appellate practitioners follow sage advice like this: “Clerk, work, and don’t be a jerk.” [National Law Journal]
* If you were curious about whether gays and lesbians could be excluded from juries on the basis of their sexual orientation, the Ninth Circuit is about to lay down the law. [New York Times]
* Now that the Supreme Court has ruled in Windsor, Cozen O’Connor will be forced to give a deceased partner’s profit-sharing benefits to her wife, and not her parents. [Legal Intelligencer]
* Who are Biglaw’s top innovators of the last 50 years? There are many familiar names, but one of them is near and dear to our own hearts at Above the Law: It’s our managing editor, David Lat. Congratulations! [Am Law Daily]
* If you’re making a career change to go to law school, you should think about why the the hell you’d do such a thing right now — or try to leverage it in applications. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]
* In a surprise move, Wendi Murdoch, better known as Rupert Murdoch’s soon-to-be ex-wife, has hired William Zabel to represent her in the divorce. This is going to get very, very messy. [New York Times]
Those who toil in Biglaw need to spend more time out of the office. But these are not the ideal circumstances.
A fire and power shutdown have forced at least three leading law firms out of their offices….
Note the UPDATE after the jump, regarding a fire at another top firm. What is going on this week in New York City?
A source just informed us: “NY offices of Debevoise and Schulte Roth are currently closed due to power failure at 919 Third Ave. SL Green owns the building.” A second source added that Jenner & Block is also in the building.
Thousands of people headed to work Tuesday, were turned away at the entrance to their East side high-rise office building. An electrical fire resulted in a power shutdown inside leaving them standing on East 55th street for hours.
Sources tell PIX11 a fire in electrical equipment in a sub-basement at 919 Third Avenue resulted in con-ed cutting the power to the building.
Firefighters reported heavy smoke when they arrived and high levels of carbon monoxide. It was initially believed that a transformer exploded. But sources tell PIX11 that 5 transformers feed pieces of electrical equipment in the building and that one of those pieces of equipment caught fire.
Firefighters vented the building to get high levels of carbon monoxide out.
919 Third Avenue
Given the presence of carbon monoxide, let’s hope that the building is thoroughly tested before anyone is allowed back in. Biglaw can be a poisonous atmosphere as it is.
It appears that 919 Third Avenue has a history when it comes to fire. According to the building’s Wikipedia entry, a fire back in 1970 killed three people and injured 20.
Thankfully, we have heard no reports of deaths or injuries as a result of the current fire. So it’s okay to quote the reaction to the news of my colleague Elie, who used to work in the building during his Debevoise days: “Do you know how many times I prayed for that building to burn to the ground?” Or the comments that a Debvoise partner made to Elie, while taking in the amazing views out of the office windows: “The best thing about being in the ugliest building on the block is that you don’t have to look at it yourself.”
We will update this story if and when we hear more. Feel free to email us or text us (646-820-8477) with any news.
Stay safe, everyone.
UPDATE (12:25 p.m.): Yesterday a fire broke out in the sub-basement of Quinn Emanuel’s office building as well. Elevators were out of service for a time. But everything is back to normal today (and in fact was back to normal by yesterday afternoon).
Continuing our annual tradition honoring March Madness, Above the Law is running a law-related bracket, advancing law firms or law schools based on the outcome of reader polls. If you’ve been around for a while, you know the drill. But remember, I’m the new guy, so I’ve made a couple changes to the format this year.
This year, it’s time to talk about law firms. Specifically, your collective editors pose this question: Which law firm has the brightest future? The economy is still fragile and people are writing books with scary titles like The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis (affiliate link). The firms in our competition may look healthy today, but we all could have said the same thing at one time about Howrey, Brobeck, Heller, or Dewey.
What firm’s future is so bright their senior partners gotta wear shades?
First of all, like the real NCAA tournament, we’ve decided to expand the field! Instead of our customary 16 invitees, a full 32 firms will compete in this year’s contest, meaning we’ve got enough entrants to warrant creating some regions. In lieu of geography, we’ll go with the aforementioned, gone-but-not-forgotten firms of Howrey, Brobeck, Heller, and Dewey — the lights dimmed far too soon for you all.
In another change, this year we selected the competitors using the profit per partner rankings from the 2012 Am Law 100 (the 2013 rankings aren’t out yet). If you’re unhappy with the seeding, take it up with firm management for not profiting more in 2011.
(For the record, the law firms that got their bubbles burst were Shearman & Sterling, Jenner & Block, Ropes & Gray, and Alston & Bird. Sorry about missing the Dance.)
Law firms will advance to the next round based on reader polls, in which we ask you which law firm has the brightest future. You can define that however you choose. Possible factors to consider include the top talent at a firm, practice area strengths, global footprint (or lack thereof), firm culture — but really it’s up to you. Feel free to justify your votes in the comments.
The polls are below. The first round will close on TUESDAY, MARCH 26, at 11:59 PM (Eastern). Vote early, and tell your colleagues and friends.
A couple years back, Brazilian TV star Adriana Ferreyr, 29, filed a $50 million lawsuit against her ex-boyfriend. The ex-boyfriend in question is George Soros, known as a billionaire financier to liberals and Lord Voldemort to conservatives. Everyone agrees that the suit grew out of the couple’s breakup and Soros’s refusal to buy her a $1.9 million apartment (or a subsequent $4.3 million pad she found). He also gave the apartment that Ferreyr claims she picked out to another woman (new fiancée Tamiko Bolton), because Soros rolls like that.
To channel Kanye, I’m not saying that she’s a gold digger, but this image sums up the relationship. After seeing that picture, well, to paraphrase Jules from Pulp Fiction, that would have to be one very charming pig.
Now Ferreyr has hired a new high-profile lawyer to pursue her claim for the $50 million she’s obviously owed for dating a billionaire….
Ferreyr has hired William Beslow to take over her case. Beslow, a Columbia Law grad and Davis Polk alum, has quite the reputation as a celebrity divorce lawyer, being named one of the “10 Lawyers You Don’t Want To See Across the Divorce Settlement Table” by Business Insider. He’s represented some high-profile jilted celebrities including Mia Farrow, Linda Evangelista, Marla Maples, and Demi Moore. Here, Celebrity Justice can explain it all to us:
But in this case, Beslow doesn’t have a real marriage contract to rely upon. And the case is factually precarious when you boil the claim down to, “I was betrayed because while I was so in love with my New York area resident boyfriend, he wouldn’t buy me a multi-million dollar apartment where I could live separately from him.” While Ferreyr is banking on the perception that $1.9 million or even $4.3 million is chump change to a billionaire, it exposes a certain “#richpeopleproblems” mindset that anyone could unabashedly assert a legal claim that their boyfriend owed them a luxury co-op. And it’s a waste of our legal resources that we indulge this. She also alleged that Soros got abusive, which is disputed, and that is a different matter, but the point remains that going into court complaining about the apartment at all is embarrassing for the legal system.
Beslow will face off against William Zabel the eponymous founding partner of Schulte, Roth & Zabel. Zabel has his own experience in high-profile divorces, for example representing Jane Welch in her divorce from GE’s Jack Welch.
If Beslow is successful, why marry money when you can get a legally secured settlement for free. Stedman may want to give Beslow a call.
It looks like the trusts and estates department at Debevoise & Plimpton needs a last will and testament. As we mentioned in Morning Docket, the firm is pulling the lifeline on its T&E department.
The move surprised some, given the kind of place that Debevoise is. As Peter Lattman put it, “it seemed to run counter to Debevoise’s reputation for a strong partnership culture. At a time when many large law firms have discarded the traditional partnership model and embraced a more bottom-line approach, Debevoise has been seen as retaining an old-school ethos — a genteel law firm known for its camaraderie and decency.”
We have some additional information about the wind-down process. On the bright side, it’s being conducted in a genteel, decent, Debevoise sort of way….
The department has been given until the end of 2014 to find a new home, according to one source, so it’s not like the group is being rushed out the door. As Debevoise’s presiding partner, Michael W. Blair, told the New York Times, “Debevoise supports the group in this process and will work to ensure that in this transition the needs of the firm’s clients continue to be served.”
A tipster told us that the group is trying to move intact — and sooner rather than later, “to avoid practicing under a cloud of uncertainty.” Any associate who chooses not to move can stay on at Debevoise for six months after the group’s departure. And “it has been suggested that the T&E associates will have a vote on the choice of firm before the move is made.”
“It’s not a great situation,” said a source, “but I suppose it could have been much worse.”
What prompted the firm’s decision to shutter its T&E practice? Some thoughts from DealBook:
[D]rafting wills and trusts, and the legal matters that flow from that, is less lucrative than the primary revenue drivers at big law firms: multibillion-dollar corporate transactions and high-stakes litigation.
And there are problems with trusts and estates within a big law firm model. The practice, to use the law firm management parlance, is not as leverageable as other areas. Corporate and litigation partners generate big fees by assigning armies of junior lawyers to megamergers and complex lawsuits. By comparison, trusts and estates work requires far less manpower, which mean far less profit.
T&E work often involves fewer lawyers billing fewer hours. Although they work hard, T&E lawyers generally aren’t billing 3000 hours a year.
Another issue in sustaining these departments is that individual clients bristle at billable rates that now reach more than $1,000 an hour. While big corporations grudgingly pay those rates, wealthy families often resist them.
Rates are a big part of the puzzle here. They partly explain why some Biglaw partners are leaving their firms to set up their own boutiques. In certain specialties, clients just don’t want to pay the Biglaw rates.
This is what jumped to my mind as the main motivation when I heard about the news:
One factor contributing to Debevoise’s move to discontinue the group, people say, is its unusual lock-step compensation system, which pays partners in a narrow range strictly according to seniority. That means that [T&E practice head Jonathan] Rikoon is paid on par with a star deal maker from the same law school year, while bringing in less business. This created some discord in the partnership ranks. Debevoise’s profits per partner are $2.1 million, according to The American Lawyer magazine.
But according to the firm website, Rikoon is the only partner in the practice area. Removing a single partner isn’t going to improve profit per partner by that much. According to the most recent Am Law 100 rankings, Debevoise had 143 equity partners and PPP in 2011 of $2.075 million. Subtracting one equity partner boosts the PPP figure by a mere $15,000, to $2.09 million. If I were Debevoise, I’d be less worried about T&E’s drag on PPP and more worried about super-rainmaker Mary Jo White possibly leaving to head the SEC.
William D. Zabel — a founding partner of Schulte Roth & Zabel, Debevoise’s neighbor at 919 Third Avenue, and a leading T&E lawyer (who certainly looks the part) — told the Times that it saddened him to hear the news of Debevoise closing its trusts and estates department. And it certainly is a sign of the times, reflecting how law is becoming more of a business than a profession, even at a place like Debevoise.
But, in the end, this could turn out to be a good thing. The Debevoise trusts and estates attorneys will probably wind up at a firm where they can continue to do excellent work, charge their clients much less in fees, and not get dirty looks in the elevator if they leave before 7 p.m.
Best of luck to the Debevoise T&E lawyers as they search for a new professional home.
Can you imagine what would happen if somebody who used to be an extra on Saturday Night Live tried to make a go of it as a Biglaw associate? I think it would be a spectacular failure. Law firms don’t usually reward things like “creativity” and “humor.” Biglaw values drones, and in many situations, you have to check your personality at the door.
But what if you got in on the “ground floor” of a firm that was growing into a Biglaw power? If you got lucky, you might stick, things might work out for you. And in that happy circumstance, you might end up being a partner in Biglaw who can let your personality flourish in all sorts of ways.
Today, we have a story about that kind of would-be comedian turned law firm partner. And somebody gave him an email account….
A tipster sent in an email chain that includes a response from a Schulte Roth & Zabel partner, Howard Godnick. Somebody spammed him and a bunch of lawyers around the country. Many people sent reply-all emails demanding to be taken off the list (many more people sent single reply emails asking to be taken off the list, because there are two reply options, partners). Godnick decided to use the opportunity to have a little reply-all fun. Here was his initial response:
I, too, have no clue what this matter is about – nor do I care to find out. But, before I bid my adieu, and as long as I have so many learned folks assembled in one place and on one email string, let me put to the group a question that has been plaguing me for some time and, perhaps, I can finally resolve:
With Tony laying mortally wounded on the cold, wet pavement of a Hell’s Kitchen playground, having been struck down by a single bullet from Chino’s gun, why did Maria choose to sing “Somewhere” to the supposed love of her life instead of dropping a dime in the pay phone outside of Doc’s store and calling for an ambulance?
Howard O. Godnick
If you don’t get the West Side Story reference, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s the greatest show that’s too racist to be performed anymore. And you know me, I’m always up for a discussion about Good Samaritan liability.
But I suppose I can understand the lawyers that find funny reply-alls just as annoying as spammy reply-alls. I’m just not one of them. Neither is Godnick. In a different reply-all, he continues the theme:
Ok, as long as we’re all here together, let’s sing a song: plaintiffs’ counsel take the part of the Jets, defense lawyers will sing the role of the Sharks, government lawyers take the role of Anita, Maria will be sung by those appearing here pro se. I will sing Riff’s part and whoever started this string will sing the part of Tony. The role of Ice will be played by Ice.
He then pastes in the entire Rumble song.
Godnick also sent out emails referencing the movie The Jerk.
That’s about when tipsters started emailing in. Some of the subject lines were funny: “Biglaw partner loses it.” Some seemed to appreciate the joke: “Partner doesn’t keep it cooley cool boy.”
So I emailed Godnick to see if was as crazy as he sounds. He responded, but before he allowed me to call him, he gave me homework. Because he’s a partner, and I guess telling people what to do comes very naturally to him now. He made we watch the following video before we talked:
Okay, so the guy has a personality. Back in the day he wanted to be a comedian and was a recurring extra on Saturday Night Live. But he’s been a litigator at Schulte Roth since 1985, and is now a partner with the firm. He told me that he tries to “seize every opportunity to have fun.” Apparently he sends these kinds of reply-alls internally at Schulte often enough. This one just went to a wider audience that maybe wasn’t familiar with his sense of humor.
The conversation made me think about how different Schulte probably was back in the 80s. It made me think about how different all of these “Biglaw” firms probably were when they started out. The bigger firms get, the more these kind of personality flourishes get stamped out, often just by self-selection because certain kinds of people chafe under large corporate structures.
My report is that Godnick is not crazy. He’s just a reminder that not every Biglaw partner got there by doing things in a conventional way.