Partner Issues

What does 2013 hold for the world of large law firms? Let’s look into our crystal ball.

Actually, scratch that. Making predictions is a tricky business. Sometimes we’re right — like when we predicted robust bonuses out of Cravath, based on their large partner class — but sometimes we’re wrong.

For now, let’s keep our powder dry, and instead check out historical data about hours, billing rates, and corporate legal spending. Can we gain any insight into the future by looking back over the past?

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This is a lot safer when Mom and Dad are holding you up.

I get pretty annoyed when the state tries to act like everybody’s mother. But the worst application of the “nanny state” is when the state actually supersedes the judgment of a caring parent. It just makes it worse when the government tries to ruin a family’s holiday season.

This summer, we had a report about a partner who was accused of providing alcohol for his daughter and a bunch of her friends during a party for her graduation. The charge has since been dismissed. Today, a tipster sent us a link about another Biglaw partner who has been charged with providing alcohol to her teenage daughter and some of her daughter’s friends, this time at a New Year’s Eve party.

Can we take a step back and ask why the government is running around charging people for letting teenagers drink at family parties?

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Ed. note: This is a new series from Bruce MacEwen and Janet Stanton of Adam Smith Esq. and JDMatch. “Across the Desk” will take a thoughtful look at recruiting, career paths, professional development, human capital, and related issues. Some of these pieces have previously appeared, in slightly different form, on AdamSmithEsq.com.

Three years ago I published What Laterals Need to Know: A Modest Proposal, which essayed the thought that firms had an obligation to disclose certain information about the firm in advance to a prospective lateral partner.

At the time I wrote, I treated it more or less as a thought experiment, but we now see that shirking that obligation can come back to bite firms with sharp and large teeth right here in the real world, as seen in Henry Bunsow’s high-profile suit against Dewey’s former leadership (accusing them of running a “Ponzi scheme,” and alleging he’s out $1.8-million in lost capital, among other damages). The gist of Bunsow’s action is that Dewey’s leadership painted a misleadingly rosy picture of Dewey’s financial health, and failed to disclose its obligations in deferred compensation. Bunsow further alleges that former chairman Stephen Davis withdrew his own capital investment after he was forced out of his leadership role and “took those funds personally to the disadvantage of the firm and his fellow partners.”

My three-year-old proposal was that firms be obliged to prepare the equivalent of a Private Placement Memorandum for laterals — equally available to incumbent partners as well, of course.

I also noted that the reaction of most readers would probably fall into polar camps: That my proposal was “fascinating” or else “preposterous”….

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Congratulations! You made it!

Few people are happier about the world’s surviving the Mayan Apocalypse than new partners at top law firms. Can you imagine slaving away in Biglaw for almost (or even over) a decade, finally winning election to the partnership in late 2012, and then having the world end before your hard-won partner status took effect?

Fortunately that didn’t happen. Heck, we didn’t even go over the fiscal cliff. But some people will have to pay higher taxes this year (and for many years to come).

Like these people: the talented and hardworking lawyers who, as of January 1, 2013, became partners of their respective law firms. Let’s find out who they are, so we can congratulate them….

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Stephen O’Neal

I later found out that during this whole period of time… when I was being romanced by Citibank, that they had reason to believe — in fact, they knew — that Howrey was in default of material covenants, and they didn’t tell me that.

Stephen O’Neal, a former partner of Howrey LLP, in a deposition in his pending litigation against Citibank. O’Neal and another former Howrey partner, David Buoncristiani, allege that Citibank committed fraud by encouraging them to finance their capital contributions with Citi, claiming that Howrey was financially sound when the bank knew Howrey wasn’t.

Now that bonuses, year-end collections, and holiday parties are behind us, it is helpful to remind ourselves (early on in the new year) that it is (paying) clients that make everything possible for Biglaw firms. A few months ago, I was the fortunate recipient of some illuminating correspondence from a Biglaw refugee turned in-house counsel, offering a “customer’s” take on what is both right and wrong with the “current law firm service delivery model.” Because I truly believe in the importance of this column offering an anonymous outlet for informed discussion of Biglaw-related topics (see my posts detailing my conversations with Old School Partner and Jeffrey Lowe), I offered to make my correspondent the resident In-House Insider.

Agreement was not long in coming, together with yet more astute observations about Biglaw. For our initial “discussion,” I have (similarly to how I handled the Lowe interview) added questions and some brief commentary to our Insider’s points, and share this written interview with you. The only changes I made to the Insider’s words were related to their identity, and the Insider was given the opportunity to revise their responses once I added the questions and commentary. I hope we can continue to benefit from this In-House Insider’s perspective in the future. For now, I definitely appreciate when I get contacted by Biglaw-related personalities looking to discuss the issues raised in my column, and share their thoughts with this audience. Without further ado….

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During the Great Recession, it felt like associates were being laid off in droves. In the past year or so, the big trend has been staff layoffs (often fueled by sending staff functions to an outside service provider).

Associates, staff — what about partners? Well, it seems that their time has come, at least according to some new surveys….

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I’m a week late in reminiscing about 2012, but what can I say? I’m a step slow; you’ll just have to excuse me. These are some of the memorable things I heard during the last year.

First, an employment lawyer who recently moved from the United States to the United Kingdom:

“What’s the correct way to refer to black people over here?”

“Excuse me?”

“In the United States, we refer to black people as ‘African-Americans.’ But you must have a different word for black people over here in England. Those people aren’t Americans, so they can’t be African-Americans.”

“We call blacks ‘blacks.’”

Second, a senior partner who serves on the executive committee of his Am Law 20 firm:

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* And here’s the depressing fact of the day (well, at least the morning): the legal services sector added just enough jobs from December 2011 to December 2012 to represent a .7% increase. Gah, not even a full percentage point! [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* A federal judge who never worked at a law firm for a single day in her life stepped down from the S.D.N.Y. to join Zuckerman Spaeder. She only wanted to “try something new,” but she may be in for a little bit of a rude awakening. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Dewey know what the “fundamental problem” is with this failed firm’s partner contribution plan? When even the bankruptcy judge overseeing the case is confused, you know you’re in for a bumpy ride. [Am Law Daily]

* The suit against Albany Law over its allegedly misleading employment statistics was dismissed, but have faith, ye of little hope, because some cases are heading to discovery. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* James Holmes, the man accused of murder in the Aurora movie theater massacre, will appear in court today for his first evidentiary hearing. Of course, none of that matters, because he’ll just say he was insane. [CNN]

* Dewey know how much money this failed firm has run up on its tab for legal advisers since May? It’s quite the pretty penny — $14.8 million — and that amount actually includes some pretty ridiculous fees and charges, like $21,843 for photocopies. [Am Law Daily]

* Everyone’s glad that we didn’t nosedive over the fiscal cliff, but the people who are the most excited about it seem to be Biglaw partners. This wasn’t the best bill, and more uncertainty means more work, which means more money. [National Law Journal]

* It looks like we’re never going to find out what the Justice Department’s legal justification was for the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, because a federal judge upheld the validity of its secret memo. [New York Times]

* Everyone flipped out over Instagram’s money filter, but they’re keeping relatively quiet about this mandatory arbitration provision. Quick, post some pseudo-legalese on your Facebook wall. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* Good news, everyone! Thanks to this ruling, in Virginia, you can be as nasty and negative as you want to be on Yelp without fear that your voice will be censored… kind of like the Above the Law comments. [All Things D]

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