Partner Issues

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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Passover is a time for family. Judaism has holidays galore, but Passover stands unique in its family-centric nature. The highlight of the holiday, the seder (literally “order,” due to the specific program of the evening), is by its very nature a family meal writ large. And on Passover, the definition of family is an expansive one for Jews, with the unfortunate or downtrodden as welcome and entitled to sit at the seder table as one’s immediate relatives. The seder itself commemorates the biblical paschal offering, which was by design intended to be consumed in a communal setting, amongst family.

Just last week, I was speaking to a client about Passover, and despite our differences in both age and observance level, we easily agreed that some of our strongest personal memories are anchored in our childhood seder experiences. In my case, the fact that my childhood seders were fortunate enough to have included my grandparents was a special blessing. Especially since they themselves (together with my parents, who were young children at the time) were forced to flee Egypt as refugees, leaving family and possessions behind. Thankfully, they all ended up (my Dad by way of France, hence my name) in this wonderful free country, where opportunity is open to all who are willing to invest in creating it for themselves. For me, the most fulfilling part of making partner in 2009 was being able to share that recognition with my grandfather, who was in the final stages of a heroic decade-long battle with cancer at the time. His courage in leaving the place of his birth, locked in the bathroom of a passenger ship to Italy to avoid detection, paved the way for our family’s rebirth on these shores. Many have similar stories, and those stories make holidays more meaningful, no matter what holiday is being celebrated.

While I was in Biglaw, holidays presented some of the few opportunities I had for uninterrupted family time. I was always grateful to have worked with people who respected my religious observances, and tried my best to minimize the disruption caused by my unavailability….

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Over the course of the past two months, we’ve been able to allow only one week to pass without the mention of a layoff or buyout of some sort, whether it be from a law firm or a law school.

These layoffs haven’t affected only handfuls of people — with about 20 people here, and more than 50 people there, hordes of law firm and law school personnel have been thrust into the unemployment line in recent weeks. Today, we’ve got word on yet another double-digit law firm layoff, this time coming amid the “surreptitious firing” of associates and the defection of several partners.

Which firm is the source of this unfortunate action?

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Ed Wisneski is a Director with Lateral Link, a full-service, multinational legal recruiting firm. Ed’s practice focuses on: (1) working with law firm partners who wish to make successful lateral moves that are personally beneficial, maximizes their profitability and best meets the needs of their existing clients; (2) working with law firm associates who wish to make lateral moves that will enable them to meet their career goals; (3) working with top-level government attorneys who wish to make successful transitions into (or back to) private practice; and (4) working with corporate general counsel to attract and acquire top tier attorneys for important in-house positions. Prior to joining Lateral Link, Ed was a partner and an associate at Patton Boggs LLP, a premier international law firm. Over a 20 year career, Ed developed an ability to work closely with colleagues and clients to successfully navigate complex civil litigation matters. Ed strongly believes that his many years on the “inside” of a top law firm provided him with unique perspectives into the legal marketplace and what it takes to make a successful lateral move. Ed holds a B.S. in Communications from the University of Delaware, and a J.D. from the University of Maryland School of Law, where he graduated cum laude.

If you are a partner in a medium to large law firm, part of your week involves fielding multiple calls from legal recruiters. I know this because for many years prior becoming a Director at Lateral Link, I was a partner at a large international law firm. Towards the end of my tenure, I would receive calls from as many as six legal recruiters in a week, each with an earnest promise that they would find me the perfect job.

Did I take every call? No. But I did take many. Why? Because in today’s highly competitive legal market, it makes sense to know your options.

In a sea of legal recruiters, how can you determine which recruiter is right for you? How can that recruiter help you make a prudent lateral move? How can that recruiter help you test your marketability without causing a distraction to your busy work schedule?

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Welcome to the firm.

There’s evidence to suggest that lateral partner hiring doesn’t always turn out well for the law firms that engage in it. Sometimes firms overpay for talent. Sometimes the talent isn’t as talented as they claimed. Sometimes firms fail to integrate lateral partners well. There are many ways for the process to go wrong.

But what about for the lateral partners themselves? Are they more satisfied with the process and their new professional homes?

Survey says….

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Thumbs up, managing partners!

April Fools’ Day is a terrible day to be in this business. Every tip that comes in requires an extra layer of scrutiny because even longstanding, trusted sources are trying to troll. It’s really not all that funny to make up false but entirely believable stories and pass them off as real. That’s why the Daily Currant isn’t funny.

Which is why when Citi Private Bank issued its First Quarter report on the confidence of managing partners across the legal landscape and declared that managing partners have a rosy outlook, it earned a double take on this end. After all, wasn’t it just a few months ago that managing partners were telling the American Lawyer that it was all gloom and doom on the horizon?

So is this result real? It is, but the headline isn’t the end of the story….

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* Maybe things are getting better. Per the latest Law Watch Managing Partner Confidence Index, Biglaw partners have shown an uptick in confidence in the first quarter of 2014. [Am Law Daily]

* Thanks to this ruling, Chevron can sue Patton Boggs over claims it engaged in fraud during the Ecuador case. Don’t worry, we’re sure the merger with Squire Sanders will be just fine. [Reuters]

* Dewey know how much the latest clawback suit seeks from this failed firm’s ex-COO? About $9.3 million, for his “astronomically generous” employment contract. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* No more “unfounded” filings for this unfound plane: A firm’s attempts to get documents from Malaysian Air to file a possible lawsuit have been thwarted by a judge, with the possibility of sanctions. [Bloomberg]

* When your “concerned uncle” is writing to a pre-law adviser about your future when you haven’t even gone to college yet, you know you’re probably destined to be a gunner. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

Meetings — you gotta love ‘em.

Especially if you go in-house.

I didn’t appreciate it before I moved in-house, but law firms are remarkably meeting-free. I suspect this is for three reasons: First, law firms are not public companies, so they aren’t obligated to perform many bureaucratic tasks the law imposes on public companies. Second, most law firms bill by the hour; when time is literally money, few people tolerate non-productive meetings. Finally, law firms have flat organizational structures. Although partners cooperate to varying degrees within firms, partners (or, at a minimum, partners who generate business) are largely independent actors. A partner is retained for a new piece of business, assembles a team to handle the work, and starts working. The team is typically fairly small (two or three lawyers are plenty to handle most legal matters; a team of 25 lawyers is large, even at a big firm; a team of 100 means you’re defending the largest of the mass torts). There’s no real organizational structure within the firm. A partner in charge of a practice or an office may technically oversee another partner’s work, but “oversight” in that sense means only making sure the partner’s bringing in enough business and billing enough hours. “Oversight” does not mean, for example, having weekly one-on-one meetings with the partner to manage his performance; no senior partner would stand for that nonsense (and waste of time).

Corporations are different. They’re publicly traded. They’re often much larger than law firms. They’re divided into operational divisions with pyramidal structures, with many people reporting to fewer people who report to fewer people still who report to someone near the top. Put that all together, and it means meetings. And meetings. And meetings. And meetings. In fact, to my eye, there are four types of corporate meetings . . . .

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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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* The federal judiciary is hiring for staff and public defender positions lost during the government’s sequestration throughout the better part of last year. Ready, aim, fire those résumés! [Legal Times]

* New York Biglaw firms always manage to find their way to the top of the Am Law 100 rankings. When all’s said and done, being so close to Wall Street definitely has its perks. [Bloomberg Businessweek]

* Absolutely no one should be alarmed about the fact that Kasowitz Benson’s profits per partner have dropped by 15 percent — well, no one but the equity partners, that is. Have fun with that. [Am Law Daily]

* The managing partner of Jacoby & Meyers is worried people will think his personal injury firm is going under, not Jacoby & Meyers Bankruptcy. Either way, those commercials won’t die. [New York Law Journal]

* A professor at George Mason University Law was pepper sprayed IN THE FAAAAAACE by an unknown assailant in his classroom yesterday afternoon. We’ll obvious have more on this story later. [ARLNow]

* La Verne is the first law school to offer flat-rate tuition. There will be no scholarships and no discounts. Students will pay $25K/year, nothing more, nothing less. This is, dare we say, wise. [National Law Journal]

* “Passion over pension.” Mekka Don, the Weil Gotshal corporate lit attorney turned rapper, just released his first CD, and it’s all about leaving Biglaw to follow his dreams. Go buy it here (affiliate link). [MTV]

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