Partner Issues

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 second of a three-part narrative detailing the make up of a lateral move and is written by Larry Latourette, Executive Director of the Partner Practice at Lateral Link. Read the first part here.

HOW FIRMS EVALUATE CANDIDATES (CONTINUED)

Client Diversification and Conflicts: To diversify risk, firms prefer candidates who have spread their business among a number of clients, rather than concentrating it in just one or two large ones. While they generally like high-profile clients who can raise their profitability and status, the more dominant a company, the more likely it is to create conflicts with others in that industry, whether or not a firm has an immediate conflict; further, such high-profile clients often expect that firms will voluntarily forgo representing even potential competitors (sometimes referred to as the “Microsoft conundrum”). Thus, a candidate with such a client has no chance at any firm that currently represents a competitor.

Bill had worked with a marquee high-tech client over the last decade, which constituted about three-quarters of his portable business. The client had followed Bill through several moves, but its conflicts policies necessitated the moves. So while the heft of the marquee client and its loyalty to Bill mitigated the diversification issue, a number of firms would likely shy away from hiring him because of definite or potential conflicts with his showcase client….

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Robert Barnett

I have no comment. Hope you will understand.

Robert Barnett, longtime Williams & Connolly partner and D.C. power broker, declining to comment to the New York Times about his representation of General David Petraeus, the former CIA Director who stepped down amid a sex scandal. Our jokey headline notwithstanding, “no comment” was probably the best comment here.

(Additional tidbits about who is representing whom in this messy affair, after the jump.)

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Last week I discussed the associate bonus process from your typical partner’s perspective. I want to talk a bit more about ways firms can take advantage of the glut of prospective associates out there, while increasing the odds of finding those rare jewels who will make partner — with each associate making less, but getting a better lifestyle (and a shot at a Biglaw career) in the bargain.

Some caveats. First, the ideas below are not intended for the Simpsons — this Simpson, not those Simpsons — of the world. They will continue to attract the very best, and should continue their current structure. Why? Because the Cravath model that the elite firms instituted makes for great partners and strong law firms. The problem is that almost every Biglaw firm adopted the Cravath model, and not all of them should have. Most firms do not have the institutional client base of the elite firms, and therefore don’t need the tremendous fixed costs and inflexibility with respect to associates that the Cravath model brings. As firms expand, contract, or just struggle to stay afloat post-Biglaw Breakdown, it seems like a great time to try some new approaches to talent structures and compensation. There is nothing wrong with some experimentation, as long as the protocols are transparent, and management is prepared to cut bait quickly if things are not working out.

Now over the years we have seen firms experiment with their junior associate hiring models. Most of these programs involved trying to turn junior associates into some form of quasi-apprentices. None seem to have taken root. And in my mind there is no sense in implementing a drastic, global overhaul of your associate model, before trying some more limited changes on the practice group level.

Here is what I would try….

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This week marks the second anniversary of my “Inside Straight” column at Above the Law.

Two years. Two hundred columns. One book. And 1.5 million clicks through the “jumps” to “continue reading” my silly little ditties. Your favorite columns were here (but it was a fraud, and I admitted as much), here, and here (and the kid landed a great job within weeks after the post went up!). I’ll lift my exhausted typing fingers to crank out these words: Thank you!

But back to business.

Oooh, oooh, oooh.

I wrote back in September that clients don’t prompt law firms to open new offices by insisting on one-stop shopping, and I suddenly became a popular guy. The letter carrier was exhausted, schlepping all those e-mails to my e-mailbox.

Remarkably, few people fundamentally disagreed with my thesis. I wrote that clients don’t insist on one-stop shopping, and I expected to hear that my experience was limited, my evidence anecdotal, and my position ridiculous. Instead, I heard largely that law firms open new offices for many and varied reasons, but client insistence on one-stop shopping is far down the list.

So why do firms launch new offices?

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I’ll miss you the most, my little cupcake.

* Billable hours in Biglaw are down 1.5 percent, and 15 percent of U.S. firms are planning to reduce their partnership ranks in early 2013. Thanks to Wells Fargo for bringing us the news of all this holiday cheer! [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* Hostess may be winding down its business and liquidating its assets, but Biglaw will always be there to clean up the crumbs. Jones Day, Venable, and Stinson Morrison Hecker obviously think money tastes better than Twinkies. [Am Law Daily]

* How’s that “don’t be evil” thing working out for you? Google’s $22.5M proposed privacy settlement with the FTC over tracking cookies planted on Safari browsers was accepted by a federal judge. [Bloomberg]

* Greenberg Traurig and Hunton & Williams face a $7.2B suit from Allen Stanford’s receiver over a former attorney of both firms’ alleged involvement in the ex-knight’s Ponzi scheme. [Houston Business Journal]

* Perhaps the third time will be the charm: ex-Mayer Brown partner Joseph Collins was convicted, again, for helping Refco steal more than $2B from investors by concealing the company’s fraud. [New York Law Journal]

* H. Warren Knight, founder of alternative dispute resolution company JAMS, RIP. [National Law Journal]

Time to start practicing the Cravath walk? (Google it if you’re not familiar.)

In an excellent essay reflecting on his time at Cravath, lawyer turned author James B. Stewart had this to say about the associates who made partner: “They weren’t necessarily the brightest…. They weren’t, as I had expected, the hardest-working…. They weren’t the most personable…. Finally it came to me: The one thing nearly all the partners had in common was they loved their work.”

Move over, Virginia. Cravath is for lovers — of work.

The firm just named its latest class of lovers. How many new partners did CSM just make, and what might this suggest about the firm’s market-setting bonuses?

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on partner issues from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today’s post marks the first of a three-part narrative detailing the make up of a lateral move, and is written by Larry Latourette, Executive Director of the Partner Practice at Lateral Link.

The call came on a cool, clear Thursday morning in April: “Bill” was in trouble. He had joined a midsize firm as a partner nine months earlier. Now, despite assurances to the contrary, the firm had accepted a representation that would be adverse to Bill’s main client. He needed to move, and he needed to move fast.

We met for more than an hour that afternoon covering all the critical issues: his professional history; his expertise; his clients and potential conflicts; his billings, collections, and rates; whether he would be bringing anyone with him; the kind of firm and culture that he was looking for, including additional support he would need; how much longer he wanted to practice; and the level of compensation he could expect.

Each year, about one in 20 partners faces a lateral move. The process can seem irrational and daunting, especially to first-timers. Having gone through a lateral move myself, and overseen the hiring of numerous laterals as a managing partner, I’m more familiar with this arcane ritual than most. Now, after 10 years as a recruiter guiding dozens of candidates through the process, I offer an “anatomy” of a lateral move, using Bill’s experience to demystify the journey and explain how firms evaluate candidates, which materials candidates should typically produce, the normal sequence of events, and how candidates can best prepare for them….

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Hello associates. It is almost bonus season. For most of you, your main hopes this time of year are (1) to get a bonus and (2) no surprises. What kind of surprises are you looking to avoid? Unwelcome ones. Like your firm going from lockstep associate compensation to a “merit-based” system. Or the firm implementing a different bonus hours target at the last minute. That two-week-long summer trip to Barcelona and Ibiza? The one that cost you about a hundred billable hours? Congratulations. That one hundred hours is now costing you twenty grand in bonus money. Thanks for playing the Biglaw associate game.

So Lat asked me to give some insight into what partners think about associate bonuses. From what I can tell, the overwhelmingly majority of partners don’t think at all about associate bonuses. The reality is that nearly all Biglaw decisions are made by a very small group of partners (increasingly with the help of professional non-lawyer administrators). The ones on the Executive Committee. With an assist (on this issue) by the Associate or Compensation Committees.

Here is how it happens….

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Megyn Kelly

* Barack Obama will not be invited to party with the Supreme Court justices to celebrate his reelection — which is too bad, because from what we hear, they really know how to get down. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Here’s a protip that essentially comes straight from David Petraeus. You can add these to the list of crazy things that your jealous mistress will say to any other woman who so much as looks in your direction. [Althouse]

* “Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better?” Career alternative for this attorney: bludgeoning Karl Rove with witty election night insults for his failure to admit Obama won Ohio. [Daily Beast]

* Here’s a list of the five kinds of partners you’ll typically find in Biglaw. All you’ve got to do is find their weaknesses, and use them to your advantage. [Greedy Associates / FindLaw]

* In the days ahead, should law schools cut tuition or cut class size? Obviously the solution is to do a little from column A and a little from column B, but you know they’ll never budge on tuition. [PrawfsBlawg]

Bill Henderson

It’s kind of like the Hunger Games. You’re just trying to survive.

– an anonymous partner quoted by Professor William Henderson in a presentation today at Unlocking the Law: Building on the Work of Larry Ribstein. Professor Henderson noted that today many partners move laterally not for greater prestige or pay but for sheer survival.

(One factor that’s keeping partners up at night, after the jump.)

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