Partner Issues

I’ve finally plucked “big firm mediocre” out of my life.

First, I left Biglaw, so I’m no longer revising lifeless drafts that arrive either up through the ranks or from co-counsel.

Then, my corporation entered fixed fee deals for virtually all of its litigation work. We invited only firms that do good work to compete for our business, and the winners have performed as expected: No brief arrives at our doorstep until it’s been reviewed by someone who can write.

But we still have a few strays: There are cases in oddball jurisdictions or involving unusual specialties where we select counsel on an individualized basis. And we still have old cases lingering from before our fixed-fee days staffed by an assortment of counsel. Once in a long while, I still run into briefs written in the “big firm mediocre” style.

What’s funny is how consistent it is. Although the briefs address different subjects in different jurisdictions, and they’re written by different people, “big firm mediocre” constitutes its own distinct literary genre. Care to write in that genre (or assess whether you already do)? Here are the characteristics:

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Who is the Judy Garland of Biglaw?

What makes someone a gay icon? I’m tempted to fall back on Justice Potter Stewart’s famous quotation: “I know it when I see it.”

But such instinctive judgments still rest upon criteria. Regarding gay icons, Wikipedia advises: “Qualities of a gay icon often include glamour, flamboyance, strength through adversity, and androgyny in presentation. Such icons can be of any sexual orientation or gender; if LGBT, they can be out or not. Although most gay icons have given their support to LGBT social movements, some have expressed opposition, advocating against a perceived homosexual agenda.'”

So you don’t have to be gay or pro-gay-rights to be a gay icon — which brings me to a partner I hereby dub the Judy Garland of Biglaw. She has a most interesting skeleton in her closet, which might explain her staunch opposition to gay marriage….

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When the merger of Edwards Angell and Wildman Harrold was announced back in August 2011, some observers, such as our beloved commenters here at Above the Law, viewed the move as an act of desperation. Because both firms had a tough time during the recession, the notion of their combining with each other reminded some people of… well, this.

Now, as we approach the two-year anniversary of the merger’s announcement, how are things going over at Edwards Wildman? Are Angells flapping their wings with joy and Wildmen hoisting glasses of grog?

Not exactly, say some….

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* “Beware of conservatives bearing gifts.” While there may be a federalism argument to be made in the DOMA case, it’s really about discrimination. It’s too bad some are afraid to stand up and say that. [Opinionator / New York Times]

* Sooo… was Melvyn Weiss, founder of Milberg LLP, really old, really drunk, or really old and drunk when he allegedly recited part of the alphabet as, “H, I, L, M, N, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, S, X, U, V, W, S, I, C”? [Am Law Daily]

* “Can’t fire me, I quit” moments are much better when they involve partners. Ogletree’s ex-VP was asked to leave over a dispute with another lawyer, so he resigned. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* The U. of Arizona is thinking about lowering tuition by 11% for in-state students and 8% for out-of-state students. On behalf of your indebted students, MOAR doing and less thinking. [Arizona Republic]

* The only thing that’s worse than allegations of insider trading is having your ex-wife’s post-divorce suit reinstated. This is really the last thing Steve Cohen needs right now. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Earlier this week, Governor Chris Christie banned minors from using tanning beds without parental consent. Fare thee well, GTL. Young Jersey Shore wannabes must be weeping. [Clarion Ledger]

Ed. note: Welcome to the latest installment of The ATL Interrogatories, a recurring feature that gives notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as information about their firms and themselves.

Don Lents is chair of Bryan Cave LLP. His practice focuses on M&A, corporate governance, and securities law, with particular emphasis upon multinational and domestic mergers. He has been an adjunct professor at the Washington University Law School. He received both his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard.

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Well, the tournament has been a “shocker,” right? I know folks from Wichita State and they are psyched to flash inappropriate gestures on national TV for another round.

Sadly, Oregon got bounced out of the Sweet Sixteen, which made me a little sad, though not as sad as my whole bracket getting bounced when Indiana lost by double digits. I’d finally put my faith in the Big Ten and they repaid me with that?!?

In any event, the ATL bracket finally got some action too, with a couple of upsets. Including my beloved Cleary…

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* Some Supreme Court analysts are speculating that Justice Clarence Thomas could cast a vote to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, but at this point, that’s just about as likely as him speaking during oral arguments. [Talking Points Memo]

* When a practice group laterals out of a firm en masse, you know things were probably going on behind the scenes for a while. Apparently Bingham’s securities enforcement crew was in very high demand by other Biglaw firms. [Am Law Daily]

* Hot on the heels of a merger ménage à trois, Dentons (fka SNR Denton) is already eyeing new growth possibilities across the globe. Guess they’re down with orgies now… [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* “Clients don’t hire us because of our sex. They hire us because we win.” This, from Hillary Richard, one of the female name partners of a largely all-female firm. You go girl! [DealBook / New York Times]

* Silly Cooley, a “second-tier” law school by any other name would smell as stank. Our nation’s second-best law school is considering a union with Western Michigan University. [National Law Journal]

Conflict checks. A necessary evil in today’s incestous Biglaw, where every partner is a potential lateral, and client loyalty is fickle. Biglaw’s insurance companies demand them, so every firm goes through the motions — at sizable expense, given the size of your typical firm’s “Intake” or “Risk Management” department. Conflicts themselves are an old story, of course. Everyone would be a rainmaker, but for them. Blaming a lack of performance on conflicts is a time-honored Biglaw tradition. But who cares about excuses.

Let’s talk opportunities. There is plenty of information an enterprising Biglaw partner (or partner-aspirant) can glean from the firm’s hourly-daily-weekly conflicts report. Free information, as in not requiring the expenditure of political capital to obtain. (Practice tip: every Biglaw interaction is political in nature. At least you should treat them that way.)

Back to conflict reports. For many, they are simply another email to be skimmed and dragged into “Deleted Items” with all dispatch. A good percentage of Biglaw attorneys probably ignore them outright. That is a mistake. Why ignore a potentially valuable resource and real-time look into the health of your firm? Especially when your other option is to wait for the firm’s executive committee to update you on the firm’s performance — usually using financial metrics that present their own “management” abilities in the best possible light. Associates and other non-partners are not even usually dignified with any such information — but everyone gets a peek at the conflict check.

So what can we learn from conflict reports?

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Kaye Scholer welcomes you to Flori-duh!

* It looks like it’s time for yet another rousing game of Biglaw musical chairs. This time, 11 of Bingham McCutchen’s securities enforcement partners are hightailing it over to Sidley Austin en masse. [DealBook / New York Times]

* This week in on-shore outsourcing: there may be a job waiting for you at Kaye Scholer’s new operations center (so new we bet you didn’t know about it), so hurry up and apply, because the interviews are soon. [Tallahassee Democrat]

* “We’re trained in the law and persuasion, not firearms.” But maybe you should be? After the targeted killing of attorneys in Texas, prosecutors are now on high alert. [New York Times]

* When looking at the current law school model, Paul Caron of TaxProf Blog urges law deans to take advice from Jimmy McMillan because “law school tuition is simply too damn high.” [Businessweek]

* Change our admissions practices amid the worst legal economy we’ve seen in decades? “Ain’t nobody got time for that,” scoffed Sarah Zearfoss, director of admissions at Michigan Law. [AnnArbor.com]

* Drexel Law will accept applications for its two-year law degree program in May 2014. The higher-ups at the ABA are scheduled to laugh their asses off on or about the same date. [Philadelphia Inquirer]

* “[F]or James Eagan Holmes, justice is death.” In a move that shocked absolutely no one, the prosecution in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater massacre case is seeking the death penalty. [CNN]

Folks (including those who wrote the Federal Sentencing Guidelines) think that “tone at the top” matters. And those folks are right: If senior executives include the words “with absolute integrity” in their elevator speeches about the company, other people in the organization will catch on. People will come to believe that ethics matter, and ethics will thus come to matter.

But there’s another aspect of “tone at the top” that the Federal Sentencing Guidelines don’t compel: What are we trying to achieve as an institution? What’s your organization’s “tone at the top” on issues apart from obeying the law?

Does a drug company want to “discover and manufacture new substances to help people live longer, healthier lives”? Or does it want to “deliver maximum return to shareholders”?

Or maybe it’s all the same thing. As the (perhaps apocryphal) story goes: An interviewer asked Itzhak Perlman what he wanted out of life. Perlman said he wanted to play the violin. The interviewer was shocked: “Don’t you want to be happy?” “I want to play the violin. If I play the violin, I’ll be happy.”

Maybe if you develop drugs that improve and prolong lives, your shareholders will be rich. (And you’ll probably be happy, too.)

What’s the goal of your professional services firm: Do you want to strive for perfection? Or do you want to generate revenue? Or do you bill by the hour, so it’s all the same thing?

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