Partner Profits

We posed this question earlier today. The answer, according to a recent news report, is yes.

The past few months have been bumpy for Bingham. In February, we reported on falling profits, partner defections, and staff layoffs. In June, we covered additional partner departures. (By the way, the two “unidentified partners” who went to Skadden turned out to be tax partners Rajiv Madan and Christopher Bowers; they left Bingham due to a client conflict.)

In recent weeks, Bingham conducted a management shake-up. And now comes word that it might be looking for a merger partner.

Keep reading for our review of the reports, plus an internal email that just went around the firm commenting on the speculation….

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Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time with us.

In our two most recent Flashback Friday posts, we looked at associate compensation in the 1990s. Today we’ll take a break from that topic and mix it up a bit. (We’ll return to cover associate comp in the remaining batch of legal markets at some point in the future.)

Last week we looked at associate pay in New York in the 1990s. Let’s stay in that city and that decade and examine another subject: NYC’s top law firms, circa 1991.

Some of these firms remain on top today. And some of them are six feet under….

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With this year more than halfway done, let’s look in the rear-view mirror and survey managing partners’ confidence in the legal industry during the second quarter of 2014. Wall Street investors seem generally optimistic, at least based on the state of the stock market (despite today’s turbulence). Are law firm leaders similarly hopeful?

Survey says — well, nothing terribly exciting, but let’s have a look anyway….

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Last month, when we covered BuckleySandler’s midyear bonuses, we included a shout-out to Cahill Gordon. Cahill has paid out generous summer bonuses to its associates dating back to 2010, and we wondered whether the firm would continue the streak.

The answer: yes. Cahill just announced its latest summer bonuses. The timing is good, since rising 2Ls will soon be picking which firms to interview with during on-campus recruiting. (Note Cahill Gordon’s nice rise in the latest Vault 100 rankings, which are widely consulted by law students during the OCI process.)

How big are the Cahill midyear bonuses this time around?

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This year to date has not brought much happy news for Dickstein Shapiro. In April, we covered associate and staff reductions at the firm. In May, the Am Law 200 rankings revealed a 20 percent drop in revenue at Dickstein. In June, the firm fell out of the Vault 100.

In 2013, Dickstein Shapiro experienced the most partner departures of any Am Law 200 firm. And this week brings word of additional partner defections.

Who are the lawyers in question, where are they going, and how big a deal is their departure?

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Ed. note: Please welcome Steve Dykstra, our newest columnist, who will be covering the Canadian legal market.

I am a Canadian-trained lawyer and legal recruiter. I recruit throughout North America so I really get to study the legal systems on both sides of the border. I thought it would be fun and interesting to highlight some of the differences between the American and Canadian systems — hence the column’s title, “The View From Up North”.

As this is my first column, I want to provide a bit of an overview. In coming weeks, I’ll focus more narrowly on specific topics.

Sound good?

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Complaining about profits per partner as a metric is a favorite pastime of Biglaw partners. Sometimes it can look like sour grapes by partners at firms that don’t excel in the PPP department.

But, to be fair, there certainly are things to complain about when it comes to profits per partner. For example, PPP is an average that can sometimes conceal a great deal of variability. It tells you exactly what its name suggests — average profits per partner, i.e., total profits divided by the number of partners – but it doesn’t tell you what the average partner takes home in a year.

To get a better sense of compensation for an average partner, we’d need to know the “spread,” i.e., the ratio between the compensation of the highest-paid partner and that of the lowest-paid partner. Thankfully, there is (some) information on that.

How do partner compensation spreads look these days at leading law firms?

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The Am Law 100 average spread is 11.1 to 1.

* If you’ve been dying to know what the partner compensation spread looks like at your firm, then we’ve got your fix. Check out the insane 23 to 1 spread over at Perkins Coie. [Am Law Daily]

* “It’s a complete structural change, and it’s not going away. The end result is fewer graduates, and fewer law schools.” With enrollment still dropping, the end seems near. [Boston Globe]

* “I predicted the collapse of legal education, but I didn’t quite predict how bad it would be.” Dean Frank Wu of UC Hastings Law is fighting his way out of a rankings slump. Good luck. [The Recorder]

* Widener is the latest law school to roll out a solo / small firm incubator. Only grads from the class of 2014 may apply. Earlier grads are ineligible because they presumably have jobs… maybe. [PennLive.com]

* You may think Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia are “stuck in the past” and “disconnected from the real world,” but you may be wrong. You can read Uncertain Justice (affiliate link), by Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz, to find out why. [New York Times]

* A judge has denied bail for the Georgia man accused of sending sext messages during his seven-hour work day while his 22-month-old son was left to die in his hot car. Ugh, this is terribly sad news. :( [CNN]

On Monday, we noted the surprising news of a young partner leaving Wachtell Lipton to start his own boutique firm. Given the rarity of partner departures from the super-lucrative Wachtell, my colleague Staci Zaretsky described the news as “basically like seeing a unicorn.”

Why did Jeremy Goldstein, a 40-year-old partner in the firm’s executive-compensation practice, leave WLRK? The American Lawyer piece about Goldstein’s move painted a happy picture of a lawyer striking out on his own to be more entrepreneurial and to run his own business.

But we wonder if there’s more to this story than meets the eye….

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“No, I’m cool that you might be making twice as much even though you skipped out to go to the Katy Perry concert.”

Propaganda is only partially about justifying horrible things to the masses. It’s also about salving the doubts of the oppressors. How can they be wrong when there’s a 70-foot statue dedicated to their divinity right there?

The slow march to opacity is one of the single worst developments in the Biglaw model over the last several years. Whether in the name of some half-baked strain of libertarian idealism or just to keep from being publicly judged by ATL readers, a few firms have increasingly moved compensation packages into a black box, starting with complex bonus award structures, then hiding even those frameworks, and now some even hide base compensation.

It’s an awful practice, and while some have the reputation to get away with it, it’s certainly frowned upon by lawyers and prospective lawyers steeped in the notion that this is a collegial profession.

So one firm put their public relations flaks on drafting a spirited defense of their black box so they can sleep better at night….

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