Musical Chairs

Is the grass greener at another law firm?

I had the pleasure of spending much of last week in Seattle, for the 2014 Annual Education Conference of the Association for Legal Career Professionals (aka NALP). On Thursday afternoon, my colleague Brian Dalton and I, along with Guy Alvarez of Good2bSocial, gave a well-attended presentation on new media strategies that work.

I unfortunately had to leave the conference early to speak at another symposium (the Marquette Law conference on law clerks). But while at NALP, I did attend a number of informative panels, centered around two topics: (1) lateral hiring at law firms and (2) federal judicial clerkships.

Here are some themes that emerged from the three lateral hiring panels I attended:

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Some former partners of the dearly departed Dewey & LeBoeuf claim that the firm could have survived if not so many partners had defected in the final months. The wishful thinking theory of these Dewey defenders is that if the firm could have held on to more of its top rainmakers, the plan of paying everyone back (slowly) and waiting for work to pick up might have succeeded.

Perhaps learning from Dewey, the leaders of embattled Patton Boggs have been trying to get partners to commit to staying as the firm restructures. Not long ago, managing partner Edward Newberry declared that about 90 percent of the firm’s partners agreed to stick around.

But 90 percent is not 100 percent. Today brings word of more Patton partners headed for the exits. How many? Who are they? And where are they going?

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Juan Monteverde and Alexandra Marchuk

Last week, we wrote about lawyers leaving Faruqi & Faruqi, the litigation boutique that’s locked in an ugly legal battle with a former associate, Alexandra Marchuk. Marchuk’s lawsuit accuses F&F partner Juan Monteverde of severe sexual harassment and alleges that the firm’s leaders turned a blind eye to his misconduct.

We asked our readers for more information about the recent Faruqi departures. Well, ask and you shall receive. We have the details on the lawyers who left — as well as info about how Faruqi is looking for laterals, and how much it pays them (hint: not enough)….

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Congratulations to Weil Gotshal on securing a significant role in the big Grupo Corporativo Ono / Vodafone deal. The firm is representing Ono’s principal shareholders, a group of private equity firms, in the $10 billion transaction. This comes not long after news of Weil’s representation of Facebook in the company’s $16 billion acquisition of WhatsApp.

At the same time as it handles eleven-figure deals, Weil Gotshal continues to lose partners. Are these defections wanted or unwanted by Weil? If the latter, how significant are they?

Let’s find out which partners are leaving, and where they’re going….

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

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Juan Monteverde and Alexandra Marchuk

Alexandra Marchuk’s headline-grabbing lawsuit against her former firm, Faruqi & Faruqi, has generated a lot of headaches for the firm. It has given rise to some bad PR. It has created client concerns. It has distracted the firm from its mission of shaking down corporate America vindicating shareholder rights.

And is it now causing the high-profile boutique to lose lawyerly talent? Here’s what we’re hearing….

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We’ve all been so transfixed by the Patton Boggs meltdown that we’ve temporarily lost track of some other law firms that are facing challenges right now. The most prestigious name on the list: Weil Gotshal & Manges.

After last summer’s layoffs and partner pay cuts, WGM experienced a rash of partner defections. Some of these were true losses for the firm, but others were chalked up to Weil’s strategy of becoming leaner, more capital-markets-centric, and ultimately more profitable.

Has this revamping of the firm manifested itself in the form of higher partner profits? Not yet. In fact, in 2013, revenues and profits at Weil fell….

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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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Steven Davis

“You just drove a major global law firm into the ground. What’s next?”

“I’m going to… Disney World Ras al Khaimah!”

“Ras al what? Why do you hate Batman?

Congratulations to Steven Davis, the former chairman of now-defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf, who recently landed a new job. As we mentioned earlier today, he has been appointed chief legal officer to the government of Ras al Khaimah, one of seven semi-autonomous emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates.

What could be drawing Steven to Arabia? And what are the downsides of the move?

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As we’ve chronicled in these pages, the powerhouse firm of Weil Gotshal has been experiencing some upheaval. The big summer layoffs have been followed by a steady stream of partner departures, mainly from offices outside the power center of New York.

Many of the defections have taken place in Texas, but Weil’s Washington outpost has also been hard hit. Last month, that office lost three IP litigators to Greenberg Traurig. Said one of our sources, “IP was one of Weil D.C.’s most profitable practice groups. Expect downsizing or partner acquisition from another firm to compensate for loss.” And that wasn’t all. Earlier this month, BuckleySandler snagged Walter Zalenski, a prominent player in financial services regulatory law, from Weil.

Today brings news of another departure from Weil in Washington. Who is leaving now, and where is he going?

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This is as close to titillating as I’ll ever get in one of these columns:  When a senior lawyer (or executive) leaves a company in December, what does that mean?

Basically, Ecclesiastes is all about changing jobs:  “To every thing there is a season.”

When a partner at a law firm moves laterally in January, that’s like leaves changing in autumn.  The partner waited to receive his (or her) year-end bonus from firm A and, having pocketed the bonus, then moved on to firm B.  That makes the lateral acquisition cheaper for the new firm.

The in-house world is a step slower:  When an in-house lawyer (or executive) moves to a new company in March or April, that’s like snow falling in winter.  The in-house person waited to receive his (or her) annual bonus in March (more or less) and, having pocketed the bonus, then moved on.  That reduces the hiring cost for the new company.

But when an in-house lawyer (or executive) leaves a company in December, that’s a blizzard in May!  The game is afoot!  (Blogging is so good for me.  I just learned that Shakespeare said that first, although I was thinking of Sherlock Holmes (who said it later) when I typed the phrase.)  Quickly, Mr. Watson!  What can we deduce from an out-of-season executive departure?

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