Partner Issues

It looks like a silly marginal tax increase on the personal incomes of the top 2 percent is the last thing the barons of Wall Street need to worry about. President Obama is sending a new sheriff into the regulatory fray.

Dealbook reports that Obama will nominate former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White to head the Securities and Exchange Commission. Sending in White to the SEC is a little bit like calling the Wolf to drive home your blood-soaked vehicle. It’s a bold move for an agency that is often overwhelmed by the impressive lawyers marshaled on behalf of the financial industry in defense of their most complex transactions.

Unlike Elizabeth Warren (bless her heart), Mary Jo White is no academic, she’s a hard-nosed litigator. And she might be exactly what the SEC needs…

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Behind the blue door lies a world of great beauty.

You’d expect a top mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer to have excellent business sense. So it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that an M&A partner at a leading law firm bought a Manhattan townhouse for $837,000 that is now probably worth more than $7 million.

It’s a gorgeous home, very tastefully decorated (which can’t be said of all our Lawyerly Lairs). Let’s see some pictures and learn more about it, including the identities of the owners….

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Ed. note: This is the latest in a series of posts on partner issues from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. This post was written by Tricia McGrath, Senior Director at Lateral Link, who works with partner and associate candidates on law firm searches, most often in the New York, California, and Washington, D.C. regions.

When a firm is considering a lateral partner candidate, the firm will perform due diligence on the candidate. The firm will be interested in reviewing materials such as a partner business plan and a lateral partner questionnaire, and will investigate and evaluate the partner and their practice. It is equally important for a lateral partner candidate to conduct his or her own due diligence on a prospective firm. As an equity partner, you will become part owner in a “business,” and should verify that there will be an appropriate return on your investment of time, energy, skill, and capital.

Of course, neither the firm nor the partner can ascertain with 100% certainty that a lateral relationship will work. However, appropriate due diligence can minimize the risk of failure, as important facts are revealed and future expectations can be managed. While there are many areas in which you’d like insight, three top concerns are (1) the firm’s financials, (2) the firm’s management, and (3) the firm’s culture….

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Over the last two weeks, we have heard from an In-House Insider, an opinionated source of insight into Biglaw-client relations — see here, here, and below. As with the two prior installments, the only changes I made to the Insider’s words were those done to protect their identity, and Insider was given the opportunity to revise their points once I added the questions and commentary. Again, I thank Insider for the candid observations and thoughtful opinions on these core issues.

AP: How firms are viewed from a value perspective is often very difficult to gauge from the outside. What criteria do you use to determine if a firm is delivering services to your company appropriately from a billing perspective?

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Earlier this week, we wrote about a pair of prominent partners at Skadden Arps who got hit with a big-time benchslap. A federal judge in Chicago issued an order to show cause, requiring the Skadden lawyers to explain why they should not be sanctioned for failing to cite a highly relevant (arguably dispositive) Seventh Circuit case when briefing a motion to dismiss. The judge also set “a status hearing in open court…. [at which the attorneys] are all directed to appear in person.”

The Skadden partners filed a contrite response. They apologized profusely to the court, explained why they viewed the Seventh Circuit as distinguishable, and argued that even though they erred, their conduct didn’t merit sanctions. They announced to the court that they had settled the case in question, with Skadden “contributing to the settlement amount in order to personally redress plaintiffs’ counsel for responding to the motion to dismiss.” (In a classy move, they also extracted their associate from under the bus, explaining that he played no substantive role in the briefing.)

Despite the apology and the settlement, the status hearing went forward as scheduled yesterday. What happened?

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Everybody’s a comedian.

Can you imagine what would happen if somebody who used to be an extra on Saturday Night Live tried to make a go of it as a Biglaw associate? I think it would be a spectacular failure. Law firms don’t usually reward things like “creativity” and “humor.” Biglaw values drones, and in many situations, you have to check your personality at the door.

But what if you got in on the “ground floor” of a firm that was growing into a Biglaw power? If you got lucky, you might stick, things might work out for you. And in that happy circumstance, you might end up being a partner in Biglaw who can let your personality flourish in all sorts of ways.

Today, we have a story about that kind of would-be comedian turned law firm partner. And somebody gave him an email account….

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* “The bottom line is … I’m the 800-pound-gorilla that you want to settle with.” By the way, if you weren’t sure, Howrey’s trustee Allan Diamond wasn’t kidding about suing the firm’s former partners. “Either we’re going to cut deals, or I’m suing you.” [Am Law Daily]

* It takes two to do the partnership tango: in the expansion of its Financial Institutions Group, Goodwin Procter picked up Brynn Peltz, an attorney with more than 20 years’ experience, and an ex-partner at Latham and Clifford Chance. [Fort Mill Times]

* Hello, predictive coding! Goodbye, jobs! Not only can computers do the work of lawyers on the cheap, but they can do it more intelligently, too. Get ready to welcome our new digital overlords. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* Another day, another op-ed article about the law school crisis in the pages of the New York Times. But at least this one is about something most can support: changing the third year of law school. [New York Times]

* As it turns out, with 82 applications for the program’s first five spots, there’s actually a demand for Yale Law’s Ph.D. in Law. So much for this being “[t]he worst idea in the history of legal education.” [National Law Journal]

* Linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s defamation suit against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in connection with Bountygate was dismissed. Wonder when Goodell will suspend Vilma for thinking he could win. [Bloomberg]

* Francis Lorson, former chief deputy clerk of the Supreme Court, RIP. [Blog of Legal Times]

I wrote last week about ideas to build a book of business. My main point was to start small and branch out from there. I mentioned how, as a young and naïve (ok, ignorant) associate, I was quickly disabused of the idea that I would soon be able to waltz into Pfizer and pick up some strands of litigation.

Then I received the following email in my Gmail account. It is a well-written counterpoint to my argument. A partner in New York City argues that starting small is a recipe for staying small.

I reprint his email (largely unedited) below….

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* The early numbers for the Am Law 100 are in, and it looks like Husch Blackwell’s gross revenue grew by six percent in 2012 after a two-year decline. Hmm… perhaps the firm is saving money by cutting back on its rejection letter proofreaders. [Am Law Daily]

* “If I can’t settle with any of those parties, I will sue them.” Howrey’s trustee, Allan Diamond, plans to sue former partners of the failed firm with a vengeance — and quite “quickly” — if they refuse to cooperate with him. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* Speaking of bankrupt law firms, former Dewey partner Steven Otillar may proceed with his various claims against Citibank over the repayment of his $209K capital contribution loan. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* Anyone remember Amy McTeer, the attorney who doubled as an apparent model for “faces of meth”? She resigned from the bar after allegedly helping her boyfriend escape from jail. Classy! [National Law Journal]

* Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. Attorney whose name was dragged through the mud after Aaron Swartz’s suicide, claims she intended to recommend only a six-month sentence for the deceased internet hero. [Bloomberg]

We frequently discuss the various issues that women face in Biglaw. Whether it’s a lack of salary parity, a lack of leadership roles, a lack of understanding that sometimes women have babies, or a lack of opportunities for promotion to partner, women just can’t seem to get the respect that they deserve.

And maybe that’s just because, like it or not, much of Biglaw is still a good ol’ boys’ club. After all, it’s not too often you hear men complaining about the fact that they’ve been passed over for partner year after year after year, or that they aren’t paid on par with their female colleagues.

One major firm’s satellite office seems to be a case study on this subject….

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