Partner Issues

Justice never sleeps… except during Obama’s SOTU addresses.

* “You just sit there, looking stupid.” The justices of the Supreme Court aren’t required to show up and look like “potted plants” at the State of the Union address, but some of them do every year. [CNN]

* Well, thanks to the DOJ’s fraud lawsuit filed against ratings agency Standard & Poor’s, it’s starting to look a lot like a litigation gang bang up in here as far as the states are concerned. [Bloomberg]

* Dewey know whether D&L’s retirees are still kicking (legally speaking) or if they’ve decided to send their claims to hospice? We certainly do, and we’ll have more on this later. [Am Law Daily]

* That “death and taxes” thing may be true, but when you’re trying to navigate the U.S. tax code as a married same-sex couple and the government won’t even recognize your union, there’s an uncomfortable air of uncertainty. [New York Times]

* “Have we seceded already? The execution is faster than I thought.” Guess which state in the Deep South accidentally raised a Confederate battle flag over the building that houses its Supreme Court. [Clarion-Ledger]

* Mama said knock you out: if you’re trying to figure out how to get a job after graduating from New England Law School, moonlighting as a champion boxer will help you beat down the competition. [Boston Herald]

The legal economy right now is not unlike the economy writ large. People with small or non-existent paychecks are suffering, but those at the top are actually doing just fine for themselves.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it might just be reality. As David Brooks put it in a recent New York Times column, “[t]he meritocracy is overwhelming the liberal project.” He argues that in our current, rapidly changing economy, people who are smart, well-educated, and hardworking just end up doing better and better for themselves — and there are practical limits on how much redistributive policies can “fix” this situation.

Sorry for that digression — back to Biglaw. Let’s take a look at how the rich are getting richer….

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Talk to the hand, Nino, talk to the hand.

* “But Daddddddd!!!” Sorry, HealthBridge, but sometimes mom’s word is the law. After RBG slapped down a request to review the constitutionality of Obama’s recess appointments, the rest of the Supreme Court told Scalia to STFU. [Blog of Legal Times]

* “The very idea that she would be headlining a Pepsi event is shocking.” Are Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s days as a judicial darling coming to an end? After attending this event for Yale Law women in April, they may be numbered. [New York Times]

* And you thought they were “Burning Down the House” before! Standard & Poor’s has hired talented trial attorney John Keker of Keker & Van Nest to represent the ratings agency in the DOJ’s $5 billion suit. [Reuters]

* Talk about a soft landing: David Kappos, the former director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, was picked up by Cravath. He’s only the fourth lateral partner the firm’s hired in 50 years. [Am Law Daily]

* Hilarie Bass of Greenberg Traurig is one of the most powerful women in Biglaw. In consideration of that $200M suit, the firm is now shifting to a “boys and one girl club” model. [Daily Business Review (sub. req.)]

* “Axiom simply does it better, faster and cheaper.” The innovative legal services company manned by Biglaw refugees celebrated its thirteenth anniversary with a bang — $28 million in funding. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* Oh noooo! We’re a public school and we don’t have enough students to fill the seats! Let’s raise tuition by six percent, then charge everyone the new in-state price, and pretend like it’s a favor. Yay! [National Law Journal]


Ed. note: This is the first installment of The ATL Interrogatories, brought to you by David Carrie LLC. This recurring feature will give a notable law firm partner an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.

Peter Kalis is the chairman and global managing partner of K&L Gates.

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

Although I’m tempted to do a passable imitation of a legal consultant and talk about globalization, innovation and the New Normal, all of which are important, in fact the fundamental challenge facing our industry over the next five years and beyond is to preserve the Rule of Law in a world in which an increasing number of globally significant economies have no comparable tradition and in which some governments don’t respect rights of individuals and enterprises. The world, our industry and our profession would be much different if norms we associate with the Rule of Law were defined downward as a by-product of globalization. I know it’s a stretch for an audience focused during difficult times on real and immediate career challenges to shift gears and focus on a seemingly abstract concept such as the Rule of Law. The times tend to divert all of our gazes inward. But there is no one reading this who is more self-absorbed than the least self-absorbed law firm managing partner.

We all need to do a better job when it comes to talking about and vindicating the Rule of Law in our day to day lives. I know that I do. With all of the misguided talk about vocationalism in legal education, moreover, I also worry that our law schools are not pounding away sufficiently at the foundational importance of the Rule of Law or the role of U.S. lawyers, among others, as its missionaries.

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It looks like the trusts and estates department at Debevoise & Plimpton needs a last will and testament. As we mentioned in Morning Docket, the firm is pulling the lifeline on its T&E department.

The move surprised some, given the kind of place that Debevoise is. As Peter Lattman put it, “it seemed to run counter to Debevoise’s reputation for a strong partnership culture. At a time when many large law firms have discarded the traditional partnership model and embraced a more bottom-line approach, Debevoise has been seen as retaining an old-school ethos — a genteel law firm known for its camaraderie and decency.”

We have some additional information about the wind-down process. On the bright side, it’s being conducted in a genteel, decent, Debevoise sort of way….

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* Oh my God, Debevoise & Plimpton is dropping its entire trusts and estates practice. Was the economy the cause? What about the eight soon-to-be-unemployed lawyers? And most importantly, what would Josh Lyman’s father think?! [DealBook / New York Times]

* Major props go out to everyone at O’Melveny & Myers for hitting an all-time high in terms of both profits per partner ($2.06 million) and revenues per lawyer ($1.1 million). Here’s hoping the bonus situation reflected those incredible numbers. [Am Law Daily]

* We probably should’ve known when Pepper Hamilton acquired the Freeh Group back in August that exciting things would happen. Say hello to Louis Freeh, the firm’s new chair. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* Are we supposed to be surprised that the Millennials who are considering applying to law school are more self-confident than those who preceded them? They’re all special little snowflakes! [National Law Journal]

* If you’re taking the LSAT on Saturday, here are some tricks to keep yourself focused. But don’t worry, it’s only one of the most important tests you’ll ever take. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News & World Report]

* Sorry, George Zimmerman, but even though you’re poor, your trial isn’t going to be delayed. Perhaps Judge Nelson made this announcement to serve as a poetic birthday present for Trayvon Martin. [Orlando Sentinel]

The 2012 Biglaw numbers are starting to trickle in. The American Lawyer (and the rest of the legal press) follows a near-uniform format in reporting them. Revenues — up or down x percent. Profits per partner — slightly to moderately up (if your executive committee was unable to generate higher profits, via financial sophistry or good-old de-equitizations or stealth layoffs, I am very sorry). Revenue-per-lawyer, slightly up. Feel-good comment by managing partner. Slightly passive-aggressive commentary by a “legal consultant.” Repeat, on a daily basis for about a month, until the Am Law 100 (and “interesting” Am Law 200 firms as well) is covered.

As a partner, you obviously hope your firm is reporting good news, even though the likelihood of that news reflecting on your personal situation is pretty low for most Biglaw partners. No one wants to be associated (or own the obligations of) a loser, and when everyone is proclaiming “modest” or “respectable” growth, the peer pressure can be tremendous. Especially where the Biglaw death spiral is a recognized phenomenon, and firms who report poor performance in a generally positive climate are quickly judged negatively, like a figure skater stuck doing double lutzes when everyone else is knocking out triples. Outliers, for good, but mostly for bad, stick out, and their ignominy is frequently paraded on these pages. With bonus Lat commentary for additional effect.

I for one, enjoy reading this kind of reportage…..

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I don’t live in Lake Wobegon.

I live in Lake WoeIsMe: All of the children are a little below average.

Or maybe I just have a bad attitude.

I’ll be frank: If I just met you, I assume that you’re inept. Not because you necessarily are inept, but because I’ve been blindsided too often in the past by the mistakes of people who I foolishly believed to be competent. That ain’t gonna happen again.

I understand that not everyone views the world through my gray-tinted glasses. I’ve met folks who are shocked by my attitude: “Mark, that outside lawyer from Honduras just told you that you’d win the case. Why are you acting as though we’re going to lose?”

“Because the lawyer is probably incompetent.”

“Why do you think that? He comes highly recommended by Smith.”

“Why do we think that Smith is competent? Or that Smith knows enough about the Honduran guy to have a right to judge him? My working presumption is that people are incompetent until they prove otherwise.”

“I’m shocked by your attitude, Mark. I’m exactly the opposite. When I meet new people, I always assume that they’re good at what they do.” . . .

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* Aside from writing powerful opinions that will last the ages, being a mentor “is the most valuable thing” this Supreme Court justice can do. Sonia Sotomayor: motivational speaker? [New York Times]

* Aww, poor Biglaw partners. You want bigger cuts of your firm’s profits, but according to the latest Peer Monitor report, expectations like that are incredibly “unrealistic.” [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* This actually isn’t something women like to shop for: the $200 million class action suit over the Greenberg Traurig “boys club” is currently being held up in two federal courts by arbitration and forum shopping issues. [Am Law Daily]

* With news that the legal industry is shedding jobs faster than the ABA can accredit more unnecessary law schools, career services officers must be hanging their heads in shame. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* Dear law schools, your crappy business model is making us take a look at all crappy higher education business models, and we don’t like what we’re seeing here. Pls hndle thx. XOXO, Moody’s. [Washington Post]

* This is justice, Texas style: District Attorney Mike McLelland says the reward fund for tips in the brutal slaying of ADA Mark Hasse will grow to an “astronomical amount” until the killers are found. [Dallas Morning News]

* This lawyer allegedly had a fling with his sister-in-law out of the goodness of his heart, and in return, she accused him of sexual assault. Now he’s suing her for $7 million. You can’t make this sh*t up. [New York Post]

* In trying to get $700 in tickets dismissed, this lawyer says the U.S. Postal Service is immune from state and local traffic regulations. Other USPS immunities include not losing my mail on a regular basis. [USA Today]

Musical Chairs

Is lateral partner hiring a game of musical chairs that law firms can’t win? Anecdotes about unsuccessful lateral hires abound. You hear stories about high-profile partners moving from Firm A to Firm B, often lured by huge guarantees, only to leave Firm B a few years later, after failing to integrate or deliver the expected business.

And some of the most successful firms in all the land, places with immense prestige and sky-high profits, do very little lateral hiring. Their refusal to engage in the lateral market hasn’t seemed to hurt them.

When it comes to lateral hiring, should firms “just say no”? Well, that’s not what’s actually happening in the marketplace. Last year, lateral partner hiring climbed, suggesting that it must be working out — at least for some firms….

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