Partner Issues

Albert Togut: man with a plan (of reorganization).

Maybe the floundering firm of Patton Boggs can actually right itself. It doesn’t have the Biglaw mark of Cain, namely, a name that lends itself to bad puns — e.g., Dewey and “do we,” Howrey and “how are we,” and Thelen (rhymes with “feelin’”). In hindsight, Patton Boggs did the right thing when it dropped George Blow’s name from the marquee and went from “Patton Boggs & Blow” — a name we would have had a field day with — to simply “Patton Boggs.”

(Yes, Patton Boggs has some pun potential. But there are only so many “bogs down” and swamp-related plays on words to be had. Yes, even for us.)

Luckily, for the time being we can use some “Dewey” puns. Because Patton Boggs, for whatever reason, is using all of Dewey & LeBoeuf’s old advisers….

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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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For those of you who haven’t tuned out Jarndyce v. Jarndyce Chevron Corp. v. Donziger, the never-ending litigation between oil giant Chevron and plaintiffs’ lawyer Steven Donziger, today brings some news. It shouldn’t come as any surprise to those who have been following the case, but Judge Lewis Kaplan (S.D.N.Y.) just ruled in favor of Chevron, enjoining Donziger and his Ecuadorean-villager clients from trying to enforce here in the United States the multi-billion-dollar pollution judgment they secured against Chevron in Ecuador — a judgment that was the result of fraud, according to Judge Kaplan. (Links to coverage and to the parties’ reactions to the ruling appear at the end of this post.)

The Chevron/Ecuador case is one of those matters that’s most interesting to those who are actually involved in it; to the rest of us, it’s a lot of noise. Speaking for myself, I’m interested in only two aspects of it: (1) its impact on the revenue and profit of Gibson Dunn, which has been litigating the case aggressively on behalf of Chevron, and (2) its meaning for the deeply troubled law firm of Patton Boggs, which made the ill-advised decision to align itself with the Ecuadorean village people.

In a media call this afternoon that I joined, Chevron’s general counsel, R. Hewitt Pate, declined to discuss the size of the company’s legal fees in the litigation. So we’ll have to focus on that second item: the bog that is Patton Boggs. Which right now looks like the Lago Agrio oil field, prior to remediation….

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I took the title of this column from Aristotle: “Young men are easily deceived, for they are quick to hope.

But I’m really thinking about business development and, as I often do in my navel-gazing columns, simply using myself as a case study.

I graduated from law school in 1983 and published my first article (in California Lawyer) in 1986. (I’d provide a link to the article, but I’m afraid the internet didn’t exist way back when. The article was a thriller, though; trust me: “Reviewing the Unreviewable: Obtaining Appellate Review of Federal Trial Court Remand Orders.”)

Because I was a young man, I was quick to hope: I’d published an article! My phone would naturally start ringing off the hook within the next few weeks! I’d be deploying my novel thesis in cases left and right, and the partners at my firm would be dumbstruck by my ability to develop business! Life of Riley, here I come!

Because I was quick to hope, I was easily deceived: Publishing one short article — even an article with a pretty decent thesis in a journal with a fairly large circulation — does not generate new business.

So I expanded my analysis and published the long-form of my article in the Arizona State Law Journal in 1987.

Because I was still a young man, I was still quick to hope. . . .

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Cleary Gottlieb switched over from “summer casual” to all-year business casual between my summer and starting full-time, so I never experienced a mandatory business attire office. Some senior folks would kvetch about the falling standard of decorum, but I suspected those guys were really just annoyed that they’d built a truly impressive suit collection and sat idly by as their wife started letting the tailor needle her, and for what? Younger lawyers rejoiced because not having to blow out a suit collection amounted to a functional bonus. I never experienced the full-on business dress policy, but personally, I could never imagine wearing business attire every day if for no other reason than business attire isn’t really conducive to the 18-hour workday.

More than a decade into the business casual movement, there are still holdouts demanding a return to the formality of the good old days. The problem with all these irritated partners is it’s not really possible to preach business attire without looking like a tool….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Michael Allen is Managing Principal at Lateral Link, focusing exclusively on partner placements with Am Law 200 clients.

The “Legal” world versus the “legal” world. The actual practice of law versus the construction of practices and firms. These are diametrically different disciplines, and while the demand for “Legal” work influences the “legal” world phenomenon of lateral hiring, many other market conditions dictate demand and compensation for partners.

Partners are often sequestered from the tedious details of the lateral market and, consequently, they often undersell themselves to firms and subsequently become underpaid. If you’re a partner looking to make a move, here are 5 beginner’s tips to maximize your lateral partner compensation package:

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For the past eight years, the National Association of Women Lawyers has tracked women’s progress at the 200 largest firms in the nation by comparing their careers and compensation with similarly situated men. We snidely remarked last year that reviewing the most recent report was like “drinking a fifth of gin, then watching Requiem For A Dream: it’s really freaking depressing.”

Keeping that in perspective, we — perhaps over-optimistically — thought that in a year’s time, Biglaw firms would have realized that women have a rightful place in this profession, and deserve to be treated as fairly and as equally as their male counterparts. We were clearly and painfully delusional.

Sure, the percentage of female equity partners rose from 15 percent to 17 percent, and that’s great. But we’ve found out that an “unprecedented” number of Biglaw firms refused to participate in the survey. Was it because they’re sick of surveys, or was it because firms “are generally less interested in the subject of advancing women lawyers and/or are hesitant to share, even on an anonymous and confidential basis, statistics that show that their women lawyers lag behind their male counterparts”?

Let’s find out….

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We’ve seen this story before. A firm experiences a dip in profitability, then starts losing key partners (or reverse the order if you like; falling profits and defecting partners go hand in hand). Worried about its survival, the firm starts seeking out a white knight, in the form of a merger partner. And then….

Well, that depends. Sometimes a merger partner is found and the combined firms live happily ever after. Sometimes a merger partner is found and the combined firms suffer together, with the weaker firm effectively giving the stronger firm the “cooties.” And sometimes no merger partner is found at all; the troubled firm goes down, and rival firms swoop in like vultures to pick off the top practices and rainmakers. We can all think of examples of each scenario.

What will happen to Patton Boggs, the troubled law firm plagued by plummeting profits, fleeing partners, and layoffs galore? It’s too early to tell. Right now we’re at the stage of the firm casting about for someone to merge with. Who is the firm’s latest love interest?

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of the ATL Interrogatories. This recurring feature will give notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.

Paul Steven Singerman is Co-Chair of Berger Singerman and concentrates his practice in troubled loan workouts, insolvency matters, and commercial transactions. Paul is active throughout the United States in large and complex restructuring, insolvency, and bankruptcy cases. Although Paul is best known for his representation of debtors in complex restructuring cases, he is also experienced in representing creditors’ committees, lenders, large unsecured creditors, asset purchasers in § 363 sales and trustees. Much of his work has involved companies with international operations or European or Asian parties-in-interest.

1. What is the greatest challenge to the legal industry over the next 5 years?

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Smokey Bear, please report to Patton Boggs.

Is Patton Boggs on fire — and not in a good way?

The prominent lobbying and law firm recently announced the closing of its office in Newark, New Jersey. Discussing the move with Politico, managing partner Edward Newberry said, “We’ve lit intentionally a forest fire, we’ve controlled that forest fire. While we’ve lost a few people over the last year, who are good friends and good partners, our firm is much stronger today than it’s been in a long time.”

The firm has lost “a few people” over the last year? How about roughly 100 attorneys, representing 20 percent of lawyer headcount, plus an unknown number of staff? With additional prominent partners said to be eying the emergency exits?

Somebody call 911, law firm fire burnin’ on the dance floor….

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