Every year, Fortune produces a list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, and every year a handful of law firms make the list. And every year I wonder why some law firms made the list, while others did not, and whether Fortune actually has any idea about what they’re talking about.
We cover this list every year (click here for our posts in 2010, 2009, 2008, and 2007). Last year, six firms made the list. But this year only four law firms are among the top 100 companies.
Again, I can’t figure out what the two firms that dropped did wrong. But let’s congratulate the four firms that did stay on the list.
Our law firm holiday card contest is still underway, but we’re in the home stretch. Voting closes tomorrow, January 9, at 11:59 p.m. (Eastern time). If you haven’t done so already, review the finalists and vote over here.
In the our earlier post, we promised a post in which we’d (1) give shout-outs to some holiday cards that were strong but narrowly missed our cut and (2) poke fun at some of the Christmas cards we found especially disappointing. Here is the promised post.
Let’s look at some of these honorable and dishonorable mentions. Perhaps your law firm’s card is among them?
While some firms ran away from their merit-based compensation plans almost as soon as the economy began to turn around, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe stuck with it. Depending on your performance reviews, you might make less at Orrick than your peers at competitive firms, but you also might make a whole lot more. Click here for our prior coverage of Orrick’s compensation system.
Merit-based compensation makes bonus time particularly complicated. The firm uses the bonus to cover up any gaps between your base salary under its multi-tiered associate structure versus base salary at lockstep firms, and it uses its bonuses to pay out, well, associate bonuses. AND it uses the bonuses to pay out that “extra” compensation top performers at the firm deserve.
If Orrick had a culture of secrecy like some of the Biglaw firms we cover (ahem, Jones Day, ahem), then all that would happen would be a general feeling among every associate that somehow they were getting screwed. But Orrick has fought against distrust and misinformation by being amazingly transparent when it comes to its bonus structure. Last February, Orrick put together a wonderful chart that fully explained to its own associates (and potential new recruits and lateral hires) how the firm determined its 2009 bonus structure. We’ve been told that the firm will put one together again for the 2010 bonus cycle. (In February. Which is unfortunately months away.)
So while we wait for the full story, right now we only know what the Orrick associates know. And that is that their bonus will be using the Cravath scale as a benchmark in its calculation of market compensation…
Well, that was fast. Last week we learned of preliminary merger discussions taking place between Akin Gump and Orrick. But this morning, spokespersons for each firm released the following joint statement (which differed only in which firm’s name came first):
[The firms] have mutually agreed to conclude preliminary discussions regarding the possibility of a merger. The firms appreciated the opportunity to have the discussions, which confirmed their mutual respect for one another. However, the firms have determined not to proceed.
For an assessment of the pros and cons of an Akin / Orrick union, see here.
Yesterday we discussed the merger talks that are currently taking place between Akin Gump and Orrick. We solicited your views on a possible combination, and we received some interesting feedback (in the comments and by other means).
Let’s start with the happy stuff. Here are some positive takes on an Orrick / Akin merger, from the comments (yes, positivity in the comments — it happens):
“I have been at both firms and I believe it would be a good fit both geographically and practice-wise. Orrick is almost all about finance, and finance is one key area that Akin lacks real depth.” [FN1]
“#1 Vacuum company in America + #1 brand of cocktail shrimp = unstoppable legal force.”
But it’s not all vacuums and cocktail shrimp, sunshine and puppies. Insiders with knowledge of both firms also identified downsides to a possible Orrick / Akin merger….
Last week we started to hear rumors of a possible merger between Akin Gump and Orrick. One tipster offered this unenthusiastic take: “Suddenly, the firm that is known for professionalism and California-style collegiality courts the firm whose softball team is named ‘The Cheatahs?’”
Meow! Well, it appears that the rumors are true. Spokespersons for each firm just confirmed to Am Law Daily and the WSJ Law Blog that Orrick and Akin are in “preliminary,” “exploratory” discussions about a merger.
Many real estate lawyers are also real estate investors. It makes perfect sense: they know the market, they know the intricacies of complex transactions, and they see a lot of deals in the course of their practice. For example, Jonathan Mechanic, the renowned real estate lawyer who heads the practice at Fried Frank, owns retail and office space in Bergen County, New Jersey (where I grew up).
Over the weekend, the New York Times documented the successful real estate investing of another top New York real estate attorney: Alan J. Pomerantz, currently a senior counsel at Orrick, and before that the co-CEO of a real estate investment fund and a longtime partner at Weil Gotshal. In 1994, Pomerantz and his wife, Carol Pomerantz, a psychotherapist, bought a fabulous Upper East Side apartment for $1.6 million. Now, “because they now spend most of their time with family in Northern California and are building a house in the Napa Valley” — sounds like a nice life, doesn’t it? — they are selling the apartment.
The asking price: $5.7 million. Even accounting for inflation and the costs of their renovation, it seems that the Pomerantzes made a wise investment (assuming the co-op sells at or near the asking price, as places are starting to do again here in NYC).
While expressing a commitment to maintain its new, incredibly transparent, merit-based salary structure, Orrick is moving its base salary back to reaffirming its commitment to $160,000 for first-year associates working in major markets. That’s right, the time for $145K in big offices is almost at an end.
UPDATE: Initially spokespeople from Orrick termed the move as one back to $160K, but our previous reporting didn’t indicate that Orrick ever came off the $160K starting salary — even after its switch to merit-based compensation. Sources now confirm that Orrick was at $160K all along; today’s salary announcement will primarily affect veteran associates.
From the memo associates received from Orrick’s CEO, Ralph Baxter:
I am pleased to announce an increase to our 2011 base salary schedule for partner track associates in our US offices. This salary schedule will be effective January 1, 2011. We will continue to monitor the legal market and will make any further adjustments necessary to remain competitive.
This change in our salary scale reinforces our continued commitment to be competitive with the world’s leading law firms and to attract and retain the best legal talent. We will continue to ensure that your total compensation reflects the increasing value you contribute to our clients and the firm through the new talent model’s performance-based career progression and bonuses that are driven by merit rather than solely by billable hours.
And there’s more good news: Orrick bumped up each of its associate “tier” levels. This means that, assuming Orrick associates get promoted “on time” relative to their peers at lockstep firms, Orrick’s base salary will once again match the market…
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Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deal flow has clearly picked recently up for most US associates, counsels and partners in Hong Kong/China and Singapore. We are on the phone with a lot of these folks on a daily basis, many of whom we have known for years. Further, the head of our Asia team, Evan Jowers, and Kinney’s founder and president, Robert Kinney, frequently meet in person with leading US partners in Asia to assess their needs and keep on top of the inside scoop at as many firms as possible. The need for legal recruiting help in Asia from experienced recruiters appears to be live and well. In March, Evan and Robert were in Beijing at such meetings, in April, Evan was in Hong Kong, and for half of June Evan will be in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Thus its pretty easy for us to tell when there has been an across-the-market pick up in capital markets and corporate work.
On an average day in Asia when Evan and Robert visit firms, they typically have 5 to 9 meetings a day, mostly with US partners in the market. The reason they have these meetings is not simply because Kinney makes a lot of US attorney placements in Asia and that a particular firm may have openings; instead these are just visits with friends. After years of working together as business partners, the folks at Kinney are actually these peoples’ friends. The firms Kinney work closely with in Asia (which is just about every law firm – call us if you want to know the one firm in the world we will never place anyone with again, ever, and why) look forward to the visits, or at least act like they do. After seven years in the market, many of the client partners are former associate candidates. Also, these US partners see Kinney as a very good source of market information as well, because they know how deep their contacts are in the market and how frequently they are speaking to counterparts at peer firms.
In a land that is right here and in a time that is right now, a technology has arisen so powerful that it can replace basic human document review. Is it time to bow down before our new robot overlords?
First, here’s a little story about me: my life in the legal world began as a paralegal. My first case was a GIANT patent infringement case that was already six years old and had involved as many as five companies, multiple US courts, the ITC and an international standards committee. I knew nothing about any of this.
On my first day, my supervisor (a paralegal with at least eight other cases driving her crazy) sat me down in front of a Concordance database with a 100,000+ patents and patent file histories. “Code these,” she said. I learned that “coding”, for the purposes of this exercise, meant manually typing the inventor’s name, the title of the patent, the assignee, the file date, and other objective data for each document. I worked on that project – and only that project – for at least the first six months of my job. After a week or so, time began to blur.
What I know, in retrospect and with absolutely certainty, is that as time began to blur, so did my judgment. So did my attention to detail. If you could tell me that I did not make at least one mistake a day – one inconsistent spelling, one reversed day and month, one incorrectly spaced title – I frankly would need to see your evidence. I would not believe it. The human mind is trainable but it is not a machine.
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