Money

Although Am Law and ATL covered the story first, the long spread in The New York Times alerted the whole world to the woes of Gregory Owens, a former Dewey partner who’s now a bankrupt non-equity partner at White & Case.

The legal blogosphere naturally lit up over this story, with Scott Greenfield dispensing his usual simple justice and the Volokh Conspirators (and their many commenters) debating Owens’ personal and professional worth.

But my emailbox filled up, too, with assorted reactions from people at all levels in the law. The most interesting rant — and the one I’m sharing with you today — came from a person who looks a lot like Owens; he or she is a non-equity partner at a Vault 50 firm who’s in his or her 50s. This person disagrees violently with the conventional wisdom about non-equity partners. My correspondent sings their praises and insists that both law firms and many law firm consultants terribly misjudge the value that non-equity partners provide to their firms. . . .

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Back in 2011, we complained about the complexity of Vinson & Elkins’s compensation system, which involved a deferred compensation arrangement. The next year, the firm fixed it.

Last year, when ATL readers rated Texas law firms, Vinson & Elkins came in #5 out of 6 firms in terms of associate satisfaction with compensation. But maybe the firm has fixed that as well?

Based on the reports we’ve heard so far, associates at V&E are in fact V.E. — “Very Elated” — about their bonuses….

(Please note the very important UPDATE added to the end of this post — and reflected in our tinkering with the title. Some people are less than thrilled….)

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‘So it’s decided – we’ll be Cravath, Swaine, Moore, & Doritos.’

All those professional responsibility lectures, and bar prep, and boring CLEs that I attended after becoming a lawyer, and all the boring CLEs I dutifully watched on the Internet after I escaped the probationary period, consistently preached the evils of non-lawyer ownership of law firms.

It raises ethical concerns! It dilutes what it means to be a lawyer! This is a profession, not a business! All the usual complaints from a profession convinced that it’s made up of beautiful and unique snowflakes with unimpeachable judgment.

But with the rest of the world embracing new structures to permit non-lawyer ownership — and empirical evidence suggesting that those models raise fewer ethical concerns than the alternative — some argue that the U.S. firm model stifles innovation and cripples international competitiveness.

But the better question is, “Don’t non-lawyers own law firms already?” And to the extent the answer is “of course,” shouldn’t the profession be bending over backwards to approve ownership models that better serve the firms and their clients than the status quo?

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Years ago, back when I was in Biglaw, I had an unpleasant interaction with Kasowitz Benson. I will spare you the details — they involved who would pay the costs for photocopying certain documents (in the ancient days before e-discovery) — but the Kasowitz lawyer made a promise that she did not honor. I thought to myself, “Watch out when dealing with Kasowitz Benson.”

That’s probably wise advice — not just for folks litigating with Kasowitz, but also for people applying to work there. Last year, we covered KBTF’s exploding offers during fall recruiting and cold offers to summer associates — practices that are frowned upon, to put it mildly.

And now we have new allegations of shadiness at Kasowitz, this time coming from people already working at the firm as full-time associates. They involve the hot-button subject of associate bonuses….

(Please note the multiple UPDATES at the end of this post.)

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345 West 13th Street

Meet Michael Graffagna, who’s one impressive MoFo… partner. The Harvard Law School graduate, admitted to practice in New York, California, and Japan, heads up the project finance practice at Morrison & Foerster.

Graffagna is now resident in the firm’s Tokyo office. So he and his wife, Midori Graffagna, recently sold their Manhattan pied-à-terre. And oh what a pied-à-terre it was — larger than most Manhattanites’ primary residences.

How large are we talking? How much did the Graffagnas get for it? And which celebrity lives upstairs?

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It will likely warm the cockles of many a Biglaw heart to hear that a bunch plaintiffs’ attorneys got smacked around by a federal court for trying to steal funds from Uncle Sam. They may beat your clients — and deservedly so, since your clients were totally poisoning people — but at least they won’t be getting away with their fat paychecks. Bask in that satisfaction as you go back to your less lucrative life.

If you want to know exactly how these lawyers did it (so you know what not to do, of course), then read on.

Or if you just want to point and laugh at the irony of public interest plaintiffs’ attorneys getting tagged for failing to pay their fair share to the public coffers, you can read on for that too….

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It has been a while since we last covered bonuses at WilmerHale. For whatever reason, associates at the firm are generally tight-lipped on the subject. Given WH’s merit-based compensation system, perhaps bonuses are too individualized to be comfortably discussed.

What can be said about bonuses at WilmerHale? According to Chambers Associate, bonuses go to lawyers who bill 1900+ hours. According to responses to the ATL Insider Survey, these bonuses could be better: even though WilmerHale is a “great” firm with “wonderful” people, “[t]he ‘merit based’ compensation structure is a thinly veiled cost-saving measure.”

But are bonuses getting better at WilmerHale? Maybe….

(Please note the multiple UPDATES added to the end of this post.)

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When we recently ranked top law firms based on responses to the ATL Insider Survey, readers raved about Wilson Sonsini, which took the #5 spot on our list of the top 12 firms. According to one respondent, the firm boasts “entrepreneurial meritocracy, the best client base, endless opportunities, and smart helpful people. It is a unique place, perfect for the self-motivated overachiever.”

In terms of the five specific survey metrics, Wilson fared best in the compensation department. On a 10-point scale, WSGR scored an impressive 8.73 (out of 10) in terms of satisfaction with pay. (The firm’s other scores: 8.63 for culture, 8.33 for training, 7.80 for morale, and 7.33 for hours.)

But will Wilson Sonsini be able to maintain its high score on the comp front? Not everyone is happy with the firm’s latest bonuses….

(Please note the multiple UPDATES added to the end of this post.)

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Congratulations to the Latham & Watkins lawyers who participated in Movember. In November 2013, Team Latham raised more than $7,000 to fight testicular and prostate cancer. Movember might have hurt Procter & Gamble’s bottom line, but it helped raise awareness of important issues in men’s health.

And congrats to Latham lawyers on their 2013 bonuses. The bonuses were announced last Friday and will be paid this Friday.

(Yes, law firm season rolls on, even though it’s past its peak. We’re working on a few bonus stories but need additional data points on some firms — e.g., WilmerHale. If you can help us out, please email us or text us: 646-820-8477.)

If you want to see a bunch of Latham lawyers sporting facial here, click here. If you want information about Latham bonuses, including but not limited to the firm’s bonus memo, keep reading….

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I’ve just celebrated my fourth anniversary working in-house, and I’m now officially out of touch with law firm life.

I thought I knew all the law-firm-partnership tricks. For example, when law students ask at interviews what percentage of firm partners hold equity status, some firms answer: “At this firm, all partners are partners.” That’s true, of course, but tautological; it says nothing about the equity and non-equity ranks.

On the other hand, this non-responsive answer serves a useful purpose. It may help to convince law students (or lateral associates) that they have a real chance at making partner at the firm, even though the equity partnership ranks are tiny and getting thinner every day.

But I recently learned about a new game that law firms play. This one is aimed not at deceiving law students or lateral associates, but rather the granddaddy of law firm rankings: The American Lawyer’s profits per partner calculation.

I thought I knew all the ways law firms could try to mislead The American Lawyer. There’s the possibility of outright lying, of course, and then there’s using funky methodologies that inflate profits per partner from $1 million to $1.8 million for the year 2011. But there’s a new game in town. It may well be widespread, but I heard about it only recently….

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