Partner Profits

There were a few rough patches last year for O’Melveny & Myers. The elite firm, founded in California but now international in its coverage, experienced a significant number of partner departures. It conducted some staff layoffs. And there was turnover at the top, with New York litigator Bradley Butwin picked to replace D.C. power broker A.B. Culvahouse as chair of the firm (ending Culvahouse’s leadership term about a year early.)

Has OMM turned a corner under the new leadership? Butwin and the other new leaders at the firm have started implementing a new strategic vision for the firm, and thus far, things seem to be going well. The firm’s latest financial results were healthy, with the key metrics of profits per partner and revenue per lawyer hitting record highs in 2011 (reaching $1.73 million and $1.02 million, respectively).

What have these financial results meant for O’Melveny associates? The firm recently announced its 2011 bonuses….

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(And other OMM developments.)

In terms of firm finances, Paul Hastings had a perfectly decent 2011. Revenue and profits were fairly stable, according to Am Law Daily. Gross revenue fell by 2 percent to $884 million, and profits per partner fell by 1.3 percent to about $1.97 million. On the brighter side, revenue per lawyer surpassed the $1 million mark for the first time, hitting $1.01 million.

So how are those revenue-generating worker bees being compensated? Bonuses are out at Paul Hastings. How are PH associates reacting?

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The rumor mill has been churning nonstop over the past week about Dewey & LeBoeuf. In our recent stories about the firm, we’ve discussed reports of financial difficulties, partner departures, and possible layoffs of lawyers and staff.

During this time, firm management has remained fairly tight-lipped. But earlier this evening — a Friday evening, of course — the firm broke its silence. Chairman Steven H. Davis sent out a firm-wide memo, acknowledging the rumors and confirming that yes, Dewey will be conducting some layoffs and engaging in other cost-cutting measures.

Let’s take a look at the memo….

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Yes — Firm Is Cutting 5 to 6 Percent of Personnel

The absence of spring bonuses makes cute animals sad.

Today is March 1. By this time last year, about a dozen firms had announced spring bonuses, as you can see from our prior coverage.

This year? Crickets.

Perhaps there’s no cause for worry right now. Things are going just as my colleague Elie Mystal predicted: “You’re going to get your money. My prediction: an extra $10,000 to $20,000 depending on class year, starting with third-year associates. It might be announced really late, end of February or early March, once firms realize they need to keep their talented midlevels.”

I can’t say I share Elie’s optimism….

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We’re getting the sense, based on anecdotal evidence showing up in our inbox, that law firms are quietly making cuts to the ranks of attorneys and staff. They’re doing so somewhat stealthily, however — in dribs and drabs, spread out over decent stretches of time, often invoking performance reasons. So we’re having a hard time obtaining enough information on any one firm to issue a report.

We need your help in keeping law firms honest. If you have layoff news to report, please send it our way, by email or by text message (646-820-8477 / 646-820-TIPS). As you’ve probably already noticed, we do not name our sources.

One firm that’s being commendably upfront about its reductions is Bingham McCutchen. This afternoon, the firm announced some staff layoffs….

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Over the past few weeks, we’ve been receiving interesting reports about Dewey & LeBoeuf. They were nothing but vague rumblings for a while, but they’ve now reached the point where we have enough to write about.

So let’s check in and ask: How do things stand at this major, top-tier law firm? In other words, “Where’s LeBoeuf?”

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If you think that making partner is like winning the Biglaw race, you haven’t actually been paying attention to what’s been happening to partners over the past few years. Sure, Biglaw partnerships overall are enjoying higher profits now than they were during the darkest days of the recession (while associate salaries remain stagnant, of course). But average “profits per partner” numbers can be misleading.

Steven Harper, the former Kirkland & Ellis partner turned law professor, writes that the income gap between the top earning partners and everybody else is “exploding.” It’s never been more lucrative to have a nice book of business.

And to keep it for yourself….

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Jennifer Hudson

* At least two firms probably won’t be handing out spring bonuses like candy this year. While gross revenue remained steady at Dickstein Shapiro and Crowell & Moring, PPP dropped at both firms. [Legal Times]

* Not-so breaking news: the Thirteenth Amendment applies only to humans. It seems like the only people who didn’t already know that were the lawyers PETA hired for their orca whale slavery case. [Washington Post]

* Washington has approved a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, and Governor Gregoire has vowed to sign it. Wedding planners can prepare for a fabulous summer season, and divorce practitioners can create a new niche. [CNN]

* In China, lawyers are allowed to name their firms after imaginary people. Here in the United States, we’ve got laws against that, and for good reason. Because knowing Americans, we’d probably end up with a bunch of dueling Dewey, Cheatem & Howes. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* Jennifer Hudson says, “And I am telling you, I’m not going — to speak to your lawyers.” William Balfour’s defense team wants to meet with her prior to his murder trial. [Chicago Sun-Times]

* Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and if you’re still trying to find the best present for your crappy spouse, then look no further. This law firm is giving away a free divorce. [Charleston Daily Mail]

Last year, Sullivan & Cromwell announced spring bonuses on January 21st. Today is February 3rd. It might be time to panic.

The conceit of this entire bonus season has been that the ridiculously low bonuses bar set by Cravath, Swaine & Moore was just an opening figure. People really didn’t expect that Cravath would halve bonuses. I mean, it’s CSM. They can count. Their profits went up. Why would they pay out 50% less than last year?

Well, I guess the answer “because they can” is going to have to be enough for Biglaw associates everywhere….

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Meet the new Biglaw. Same as the old Biglaw.

As we mentioned in Morning Docket, the Wall Street Journal has a good article about how various recession-era cutbacks have become entrenched in Biglaw. If you have been paying attention or are a current law student, you know the issues: smaller entry-level classes, stagnant salaries, and a partnership track long enough to make a first-year Ph.D. student laugh.

Basically, if you were already a Biglaw partner when the recession hit, you are likely to say, “What recession?” Your profits per partner have probably gone up, despite the general economy’s woes. Other industries use economic downturns to retool their business models and develop new ways to compete. Not Biglaw. It appears that Biglaw has used the recession to fire a bunch of people, exclude new partners, and keep associate salaries and bonuses at recessionary levels. They haven’t developed a new business model; they’ve just found a way to reduce the costs of the old business model.

Biglaw partner: It’s great work if you can get it. The WSJ even found one partner who was so busy loving himself and his life that he appears to be totally oblivious to the struggles of everybody else…

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