Partner Issues

Breaking news to lawyers at firms: In-house, we have these things called “business plans.”

Our business units prepare those plans at least annually. The plans typically contain both general objectives (such as achieving a specified level of organic growth, or margin, or whatever) and concrete steps that the business will take to achieve those objectives (such as introducing new products, controlling specified expenses, or whatever).

In-house law departments may create those plans, too. We commit to implement controls, or improve response times, or give a specified number of training sessions to a specified number of people, or the like. Depending on the corporation, a lawyer may be paid less than his target bonus if he doesn’t achieve his objectives and perform according to plan. A system like that is pretty good at grabbing folks’ attention and causing things to be done.

Do law firms (or individual lawyers at firms) prepare business plans?

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UPDATE (1/10/2013): Please note the update at the end of this post concerning the dismissal of the charge in this case.

This is going to go down as one of those “partners behaving badly” stories, but I don’t think it should. Underage drinking is a problem because kids don’t know how to handle alcohol and they drink too much and die. Or they drink too much and then do something stupid and die. Dead teenagers are not a good thing.

Many people think the solution is to somehow “ban” teenage drinking. Note that currently people under 21 aren’t allowed to buy alcohol. Note also that teens almost always still find a way to drink.

Instead of only focusing on ways to prevent teens from drinking, can’t we also at least think about ways to allow teens to drink in a safe environment? I think every high school should have at least one “cool” parent. One parent whose house you can go over to and have a couple of beers without everybody freaking out. Then, if you get too drunk or stupid or whatever, the “cool” parent can drive you home, or keep an eye on you, or tell the attending physician exactly how much you had to drink before you lapsed into a pansy-boy “alcohol poisoning” coma.

So yeah, to the rest of society, this Biglaw partner has been accused of something really bad. To me, he’s just been accused of providing a vital public service….

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Tom Wallerstein

I have long spent my Sunday nights watching HBO. When I graduated from law school, The Sopranos was in its first season. More recently, I’ve been enthralled by Game of Thrones. For those who aren’t fans, Game of Thrones is a medieval fantasy series which won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, and a Golden Globe Award for “Best Television Series – Drama.” I guess this post needs a spoiler alert, because what follows are some legal lessons I think can be gleaned from the hit series.

That being said, let’s take a look at the six lessons that the legal world could learn from Game of Thrones….

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I worked for twenty years at the darkest of the black-box compensation law firms: No one knew what anyone else was being paid, and the firm forbade talking about compensation. Here’s the curious part: We obeyed.

I saw the raised eyebrows of partners considering moving laterally to my firm: “Right — no one talks about compensation. You guys must talk about it all the time, just like we do at my firm. It can’t be a secret.”

Wrong. We really, honest-to-God did not talk about compensation. The subject just didn’t come up.

I’ve heard second-hand that this is true for other black-box firms, too. The managing partner of a different large, black-box comp firm recently told one of my colleagues: “Once you take compensation out of the limelight and forbid people from talking about it, then people stop talking about it. The subject drops off the table.”

That sets the stage: At firms where lawyers are permitted to talk about each other’s compensation, they do. And at firms where lawyers are prohibited from talking about compensation, they don’t.

Riddle me this: In corporate law departments, we are not prohibited from discussing each other’s compensation, but we don’t do it anyway. Why is that?

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The bankruptcy case of the dying Dewey & LeBoeuf rolls on. As we mentioned yesterday, other Biglaw firms are getting business out of its burial. For example, Brown Rudnick is representing the official committee of unsecured creditors, and Kasowitz Benson is representing the official committee of retired D&L partners. (This group is separate from the 60 or so ex-partners who have hired Mark Zauderer to fight potential clawback lawsuits and other claims that the Dewey estate might bring against former partners and their new firms.)

If asked to name people who might be worried about owing money to the Dewey estate, some observers might cite “the Steves”: former chairman Steven H. Davis, and former executive director Stephen DiCarmine. Some have accused the Steves of mismanaging D&L’s affairs (or worse), contributing to the collapse of a firm that was once in the top 30 U.S. law firms by total revenue.

But if you’re thinking that Steve DiCarmine wants to pay the Dewey estate some money and get on with his tanning life, think again. As it turns out, Steve DiCarmine is claiming that Dewey owes him money….

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(Plus pictures of his former office.)

Last week, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the American Lawyer all mentioned an unusual debt in the bankruptcy case of Dewey & LeBoeuf. A former D&L associate, Emily Saffitz, was listed as being owed $416,667 — a sum big enough to put her in the top 20 unsecured creditors of the firm. This was apparently due to a “severance arrangement.”

Why did Dewey agree to pay an associate from the class of 2006 more than $400K in severance? According to the Times, Saffitz received this severance agreement after she “complained over how she was treated by a former Dewey partner and told the firm’s management.” According to the Journal, she filed “a complaint regarding sexual discrimination by a Dewey partner who is no longer with the firm.”

Inquiring minds want to know: Who was the partner in question? And what did he allegedly say or do to Emily Saffitz?

Finding out such details is difficult. Settlements in cases of alleged sex discrimination or sexual harassment often contain non-disclosure or non-disparagement provisions that prevent the parties from speaking about what took place.

So we didn’t expect we would ever find out which former Dewey partner triggered complaints from Emily Saffitz. Until, well, he emailed us….

Multiple UPDATES, after the jump.

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I’ve watched Dewey’s collapse only from a distance, as have most lawyers. And I’m no student of law firm finances or management. But this struck me as I read the news:

Dewey: 2012.
Howrey: 2011.
Thelen: 2009.
Heller: 2008.
Coudert: 2006.
Brobeck: 2003.

And I’m probably overlooking other recent collapses of prominent firms, since I cobbled together that list from the names that came to mind unprompted.

This history suggests that another large, well-respected firm will collapse next year, and it’s a near certainty that a firm will collapse within the next two years. Who will it be?

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As we mentioned earlier today, retired partners of Dewey & LeBoeuf received some potentially good news. These former partners, whose unfunded pensions were supposed to be funded out of firm profits, will have a voice in the firm’s bankruptcy proceedings. As reported by the WSJ Law Blog and Am Law Daily, the U.S. trustee’s office has appointed an official committee of former partners (in addition to the standard official committee of unsecured creditors). The four ex-partners on the committee are David Bicks, Cameron MacRae, John Kinzey, and John Campo.

What prompted the move? As legal consultant Edwin Reeser, whose analysis of the Dewey situation recently appeared in these pages, told the WSJ, “The retired partners have uniquely separate interests which warrant consideration as a special class of creditors.”

It’s nice that they have a seat at the table, but will the ex-partners end up with any money at the end of the process? That’s less clear. As Jerome Kowalski, another law firm consultant, told the Journal, “There has never been a law firm bankruptcy that resulted in any payment being made to the equity partners… They’ll have zero sway other than perhaps some moral imperatives, and moral imperatives don’t have much play in bankruptcy courts.”

The unsecured creditors might have more luck than the former partners. Who’s on the unsecured creditors’ committee?

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No, not that gavel...

* Dewey retired partners with unfunded pensions get a seat at the table for this bankruptcy circus? Yeah, but only because the U.S. Trustee did something unheard of and appointed a committee of former partners as creditors. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Yesterday was definitely a great day to be gay on the east coast. In addition to the First Circuit’s DOMA decision, a New York appellate court ruled that being called gay is no longer defamatory per se. [New York Law Journal]

* Milberg is the latest firm to dump Paul Ceglia of Facebook lawsuit fame, but Dean Boland, his other lawyer, says the Biglaw firm just “serve[d] as a distraction.” Somebody please give this man a dislike button. [Buffalo News]

* Humblebrag of the day by Judge Alsup of Oracle v. Google fame: he’s written lines of code “a hundred times before.” He also squashed Oracle’s API copyright infringement claims like bugs. [Courthouse News Service]

* Remember Kimberly Ireland, the Kansas attorney who falsely accused Judge Kevin Moriarty of waxing his gavel beneath the bench? She got a retroactive two-year suspension. [ABA Journal via Legal Profession Blog]

* Elizabeth Warren has confirmed that she told Harvard Law and Penn Law that she was a Native American, but only after she had been hired. She didn’t get any action of the affirmative variety, no sir. [Associated Press]

* Recent law school graduates are a little more desperate than we thought they were. At least 32 people have already applied for that BC Law job advertising a salary below minimum wage. [Boston Business Journal]

* Activision settled a lawsuit with two Call of Duty developers, but isn’t worried about an effect on its financials due to a strong third quarter performance. And you can thank your damn Elite packages for that. [PCMag]

The law firm of Dewey & LeBoeuf now finds itself in Chapter 11, but the story of Dewey has not yet reached its end. We’ll now turn the pages in the Bankruptcy Reporter.

Yesterday Judge Martin Glenn of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court allowed Dewey to use cash collateral to fund its wind-down operations, even though this collateral should really be seen as belonging to the firm’s secured creditors. Judge Glenn initially denied this request, at least when it was coupled with giving the secured creditors a lien on recoveries from future litigation. In deciding to let Dewey tap into the cash, Judge Glenn did not decide what the lenders might get in exchange for letting the firm use their money. That will be decided later, at a June 13 hearing.

With things quieting down on the Dewey news front, let’s turn to analysis. Here are some insights into what brought Dewey down and what other firms can learn from its fall, from a former managing partner who now works as a consultant to the legal industry….

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