Partner Issues

* According to Justice Kagan, Justice Ginsburg “is responsible for eliminating sex discrimination from American law.” Whoa, that’s a nice thought, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves with wishful thinking. [New York Law Journal]

* After handing out pink slips staff, Heenan Blaikie lawyers sat down and voted to dissolve the Canadian firm’s partnership and wind up its business. It’s kind of like Dewey, but with maple syrup! [Legal Post / Financial Post]

* Jack W. Butler, the bankruptcy bigwig who managed to negotiate the American Airlines / US Airways merger, will leave his home at Skadden Arps after 23 years and head to Hilco Global. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Vermont Law School has partnered with several historically black colleges and universities in order to put warm bodies in empty seats promote the expansion of racial diversity in the legal profession. [VT Digger]

* David Savner, a corporate partner at Jenner & Block, recently donated $1 million to his alma mater, Northwestern Law, to fund a high-tech classroom. It must be nice to be rich. [Crain's Chicago Business]

* The ABA Journal wants to know what the “oddest” elective course you ever took in law school was. If you took a “Law and _____” class and didn’t get an “A,” you should hang your head in shame. [ABA Journal]

* Morgan Stanley will settle with the Federal Housing Finance Authority for $1.25 billion to resolve a suit over the sale of craptastic mortgage-backed securities. It’ll be the third-largest settlement of its kind. [DealBook / New York Times]

* “Sometimes the voters and the legislature get it wrong. So, we have you.” With those bold words from Ted Olson, the federal judge overseeing the challenge to Virginia’s ban on gay marriage has promised a speedy ruling in the case. [Washington Post]

* DLA Piper announced changes to its leadership, naming Roger Meltzer and Nigel Knowles as Earth’s co-chairs. We look forward to news on the DLA Venus and Mars outposts. [WSJ Law Blog]

* In other DLA Piper news, it looks like the one of the world’s largest firms may be coming to the rescue of a Canadian Biglaw firm in financial trouble. Welcome aboard, Heenan Blaikie lawyers! [Globe and Mail]

* Dean Michael Fitts of Penn Law School is leaving his position after 15 years to take a position as the president of Tulane University. There’s no word yet on who’ll serve as interim dean. [Daily Pennsylvanian]

* In case you haven’t heard about it yet, a former Roger Williams Law student was involved in an all-day standoff with police after threatening school administrators. We may have more on this. [ABC 6 News]

Ascension to Biglaw partnership demands, obviously and above all, an enormous amount of first-rate legal work, in addition to political savvy, endurance, timing, and luck. A would-be partner’s chosen practice area also undoubtedly plays no small role. If firm leadership believes that there will be a spate of major Chapter 11 filings or trademark litigations on the horizon, obviously that will redound to the benefit of the potential bankruptcy or IP partners (although, as recent news reflects, partnership isn’t necessarily the lucrative, secure lifetime position it once was).

Late last year, ATL took a close look at the newly minted partner classes for the Vault 10 firms. Despite the great profitability and prestige of this select group, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the general direction of the legal market from the composition of these partnership classes. First of all, this is a small sample size. Second, we are witnessing an important shift in the allocation of the business within the market. A recent AdvanceLaw survey of general counsel at major global corporations found that three-quarters of general counsel were inclined to engage “less-pedigreed” firms (e.g., outside the Vault 10 or Magic Circle) for “high stakes” legal work. This survey of GCs (including those from Google, Nike, 3M, Unilever and Deutsche Bank) indicated their willingness to engage firms lower down the Biglaw totem pole.

Because of the apparent diminishment of the brand value of the most historically prestigious firms, as well as the broader trends toward disaggregation and unbundling of legal services, one must account for a larger set of law firms in order to see the fullest picture of the market for high-end legal services. With that in mind, today we look at the practice areas of the entire Biglaw partnership class of 2013….

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Law firms have been in a “slow growth” phase ever since the nation began its recovery from the Great Recession. As we mentioned when we discussed the 2013 Am Law 100, “success now comes in the form of single-digit returns with regard to key financial metrics,” with Biglaw gains described as “modest” and “spotty” across the board.

Big-name lateral hires can sometimes bring in enough positive publicity and fanfare to make even the sickest of firms seem like the very picture of health and vitality. According to the latest American Lawyer Lateral Report, those lateral moves can be likened to a peacock’s tail: they offer “no advantage” for a firm’s ultimate survival, and may hinder the firm in the future. It happened at Dewey, and it can happen at other firms if they’re not careful. If only partners’ attentions weren’t so easily grabbed by the promise of higher profits.

So if this growing reliance on lateral hiring is truly capable of destabilizing law firms, wouldn’t you like to know which firms did the most lateral hiring over the past year? We’ve got the details for you….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Which Firm Had The Most Lateral Hires (And Partner Defections) In 2013?”

In last week’s column, I drew some customer service lessons for lawyers from the way that Disney treats visitors to its theme parks. This week, I want to focus on how Disney incorporates technological advances into its theme parks as a means of enhancing the customer experience.

On my recent visit, I was struck by the presence of two familiar pieces of technology from the “real world” within the Disney parks: (1) Disney’s new smartphone app for theme park visitors and (2) the availability of wi-fi in most areas of the park. Each example illustrates distinct yet relate, approaches to implementing technology for the benefit of the customer. And while I am sure that each took Disney many man-hours to develop, test, and roll-out publicly, it was refreshing for me as a lawyer to see a company of that stature making the investment to do so. It was also a real contrast to my Biglaw experience, where implementing technology in a way tailored to improve the client (and even employee) experience was all too often a low priority….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Beyond Biglaw: Disney Lessons for Lawyers (Part 2) — Technology”

Only you can prevent lateral fires.

* There will be filibusters: Victoria Nourse, a Georgetown Law professor whose nomination to the Seventh Circuit was blocked, thinks the political move will remain intact for SCOTUS nominees. [Legal Times]

* The Tenth Circuit politely pwned Roberta Kaplan. Her bid to intervene in the Utah same-sex marriage case before the court was rejected. Guess she’ll have settle for writing an amicus brief. [Salt Lake Tribune]

* Are laterals killing your firm? It happened to Dewey, and it could happen to you. Only you can prevent lateral fires. Take the pledge and show your commitment to lateral fire prevention. [American Lawyer]

* Lawyers are worried about what’s been going down at the storied Canadian firm of Heenan Blaikie. A third of its partners did the dip over the weekend amid financial troubles. Sounds familiar… [Ottawa Citizen]

* Women are slowly but surely working to close the gender gap in the law — well, at least they are in South Florida. It seems to be working, though, so feel free to follow their lead. [Daily Business Review]

* “Just because you can’t make the world a perfectly fair place doesn’t mean you can’t make it fairer.” If you really liked socialized health care, then you’re going to absolutely love socialized law. [New Republic]

* If your LSAT score is in the 160 range and you’re writing to an advice columnist to figure out what to do next, then you are the most special of all the little snowflakes. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

Back in December, some associates at Kirkland & Ellis expressed some displeasure about their bonuses. Now, make no mistake, the K&E bonuses still beat the market by a healthy amount; they just didn’t beat the market by as much as they usually do (at least according to some sources; under an individualized bonus system, reactions will vary).

In our bonus post, we wondered about K&E’s financial performance in 2013. Could the firm — which could very well be the nation’s finest law firm — have had a less than stellar year?

Associates might not be the only ones dissatisfied with their compensation. Sources point to a fair number of prominent partner departures over the past few months, in one of K&E’s top practice areas….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “What’s Going On At Kirkland & Ellis?”

Although Am Law and ATL covered the story first, the long spread in The New York Times alerted the whole world to the woes of Gregory Owens, a former Dewey partner who’s now a bankrupt non-equity partner at White & Case.

The legal blogosphere naturally lit up over this story, with Scott Greenfield dispensing his usual simple justice and the Volokh Conspirators (and their many commenters) debating Owens’ personal and professional worth.

But my emailbox filled up, too, with assorted reactions from people at all levels in the law. The most interesting rant — and the one I’m sharing with you today — came from a person who looks a lot like Owens; he or she is a non-equity partner at a Vault 50 firm who’s in his or her 50s. This person disagrees violently with the conventional wisdom about non-equity partners. My correspondent sings their praises and insists that both law firms and many law firm consultants terribly misjudge the value that non-equity partners provide to their firms. . . .

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‘So it’s decided – we’ll be Cravath, Swaine, Moore, & Doritos.’

All those professional responsibility lectures, and bar prep, and boring CLEs that I attended after becoming a lawyer, and all the boring CLEs I dutifully watched on the Internet after I escaped the probationary period, consistently preached the evils of non-lawyer ownership of law firms.

It raises ethical concerns! It dilutes what it means to be a lawyer! This is a profession, not a business! All the usual complaints from a profession convinced that it’s made up of beautiful and unique snowflakes with unimpeachable judgment.

But with the rest of the world embracing new structures to permit non-lawyer ownership — and empirical evidence suggesting that those models raise fewer ethical concerns than the alternative — some argue that the U.S. firm model stifles innovation and cripples international competitiveness.

But the better question is, “Don’t non-lawyers own law firms already?” And to the extent the answer is “of course,” shouldn’t the profession be bending over backwards to approve ownership models that better serve the firms and their clients than the status quo?

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345 West 13th Street

Meet Michael Graffagna, who’s one impressive MoFo… partner. The Harvard Law School graduate, admitted to practice in New York, California, and Japan, heads up the project finance practice at Morrison & Foerster.

Graffagna is now resident in the firm’s Tokyo office. So he and his wife, Midori Graffagna, recently sold their Manhattan pied-à-terre. And oh what a pied-à-terre it was — larger than most Manhattanites’ primary residences.

How large are we talking? How much did the Graffagnas get for it? And which celebrity lives upstairs?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Lawyerly Lairs: A MoFo Partner’s Badass Crib”

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