Partner Issues

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]

It’s the last day of December, so it’s a good time to look back on the year that was. We’ll do what we’ve done for the past three years (wrap-up posts from 2009, 2010, and 2011 can be found here, here, and here) and identify the ten biggest stories of the past year as decided by you, our readers. With the help of Google Analytics, we’ve compiled a list of our top ten posts for 2012, based on traffic (as represented by pageviews).

By the way, for the third year in a row, the most popular category page on Above the Law was Law Schools. People have now been intensely focused on the declining value proposition of going to law school for as long as it takes to earn a Juris Doctor degree. Isn’t it time that we graduate from the current educational model?

The second and third most-popular categories on ATL in 2012 were Biglaw and Bonuses. Although this year brought us the largest law firm failure ever, nearly all other firms indiscriminately doled out offers to summer associates, and bonus season looked better for the first time in years. While the legal profession is still in transition, things are certainly looking up, and through the highs and the lows, we’ve been there to cover it all.

So what were the ten most popular individual posts at Above the Law in 2012? Let’s find out….

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The year is quickly drawing to a close, but we have unfinished business to conduct here at Above the Law. Come on, people, we still have to crown our Lawyer of the Year for 2012.

Thank you to everyone who responded to our call for nominations, in the comments or via email. We’ve narrowed down the nominees to a field of nine (although you’ll see only eight options in the poll because one is a joint nomination). As in past years, the contenders run the gamut from distinguished to despicable.

And the nominees are….

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* Seven out of nine sitting Supreme Court justices were silent when it came to the passing of Robert Bork. Justice Antonin Scalia, of course, issued a public statement, as did liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (surprise!). [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* No one ever really doubted that it would take an army of Biglaw lawyers from the likes of Sullivan & Cromwell, Shearman & Sterling, and Wachtel Lipton to handle a monumental deal like the proposed $8.2 billion NYSE/ICE merger. [Am Law Daily]

* Can you coach with Nick Saban and be a Miller Canfield partner at the same time? No. But you can sue (and win!) when the firm allegedly forces you out due to its “culture of fear and intimidation.” [Detroit Free Press]

* Justice Rolando Acosta, who wrote the opinion upholding the dismissal of the class action case against NYLS, rates well among his peers as a nominee for the New York Court of Appeals. [New York Law Journal]

* Peter Madoff was sentenced to ten years in prison for his role in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, but the judge will probably let him go to his granddaughter’s bat mitzvah before shipping him to the pokey. [Bloomberg]

* Merry Christmas, now go f**k yourself. A federal judge has given a woman in Louisiana free rein to display holiday lights on her roof in the form of an extended middle finger. God bless America. [CBS 3 Springfield]

Ed. note: This is the latest in a series of posts on partner issues from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today’s post marks the conclusion of a two-part narrative about lateral partner hiring, and was written by Larry Latourette, Executive Director of the Partner Practice at Lateral Link. You can read the first part here.

PROVIDE RECRUITERS THE INFORMATION NECESSARY TO DO THEIR JOBS (CONTINUED)

At the typical meeting with firms to discuss hiring needs, several partners will quickly go through a vague wish list (such as “IP litigators” or “government contract partners” all with “more than $2 million in business”), and give no more direction. When they are asked why a lateral might come to the firm, there is almost always a brief pause, followed by a blanket statement that the firm has a collegial atmosphere and a “no a-holes allowed” policy.

In contrast, with Dickinson, I met all of the D.C. partners to talk about what kinds of lawyers might best complement their practices, and had numerous follow-up discussions with both the individual attorneys and the hiring partner about what would and wouldn’t make sense. I also spoke to numerous lawyers in their other offices to get a sense of what kind of attorneys would be a good fit. Of critical importance were our detailed talks as to which existing and new business opportunities Dickinson might offer laterals, what leadership positions might be available, the recent steady growth of the firm, and where the firm was headed.

They also kept me informed about the process, which allowed me to bring further value. When one group I brought to them mentioned in a meeting with Dickinson that they were considering another firm, I put together a spreadsheet demonstrating that the competing D.C. office had lost half of the lateral partners hired in the last ten years. This was in stark contrast to the much higher retention rate at Dickinson. I later learned that the spreadsheet was a primary factor in helping to seal the deal….

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Year-end is fast approaching in Biglaw. For litigators, the last two weeks of December are usually some of the calmest of the year. Even the hardest of adversaries are apt to adopt a “Christmas Truce” and halt the lobbing of discovery grenades at each other. Courts start to slow down, and most everyone is happy to “pick things back up” after the turn of the year. But like all things Biglaw, complacency at year’s end is impossible for a Biglaw partner — even when work is relatively quiet. Why? One word: collections.

For tax and other corporate structure reasons that your firm’s comptroller will be happy to explain to you (if you dare to actually engage a non-lawyer in conversation about the business of your law firm), most Biglaw firms want to have every single drop of revenue possible in the door by December 31st at 11:59 p.m. While your typical partner is fairly insulated from money matters at the firm all year, and mostly just wants no surprises when it comes to their compensation, at year’s end everyone is recruited and expected to give their all. To what? Collections!

How bad does it get? Pretty bad….

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The client always has more leverage but certainly, for the high-end work, the firm is calling the shots.

Kent Zimmermann, a consultant with Zeughauser Group, commenting on the premium hourly fees charged by Biglaw attorneys in sought-after practice areas like mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance and securities, white-collar defense, and litigation.

(That’s interesting, but what were the highest and lowest rates for partners and associates in 2012? We’ve got that info, and more, after the jump.)

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Cravath partners enjoy discounts at Subway, among other perquisites.

It’s rare for partners to leave Cravath, given the prestige, pay, and perks associated with partnership at the firm. And it’s especially rare for a Cravath partner to leave for a rival firm, as opposed to a Wall Street investment bank or major corporation.

Cravath has a very specific system for running itself, and that system has served Cravath very well over the years. As its competitors expend increasing amounts of effort to climb the prestige hierarchy and expand across the globe, Cravath remains at the top, serenely servicing its clients — and printing money for its partners. Part of the reason why Cravath so rarely loses partners to other firms is that it’s so profitable overall that even a partner being paid under Cravath’s lockstep system still does better than a “star” partner at many other firms.

So that’s why today’s news is so notable. A prominent young partner at Cravath has decided to leave Worldwide Plaza and take his talents across town.

Who is the partner in question, and where is he headed?

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