Earlier today, the American Lawyer published a report detailing declining profit margins in the legal industry.
It is nice to see that somebody commissioned an entire report to figure out obvious facts like “the first half of 2008 looks very different from the previous six years” and “[t]he slowdown is hitting the most profitable firms the hardest.” In other breaking news, Britney Spears’s career has hit a bump in the road.
Instead of a simple doom-and-gloom economic report, Am Law columnist (and Biglaw banker) Dan DiPietro offers this proposed solution to all the law firm ills: fire the associates!
“There is a silver lining. A bad year (and the numbers suggest 2008 will be even more trying than 2001, when partner profits were down slightly) will enable firms to take steps that partners would resist in a good year — winnowing out unproductive lawyers and applying greater discipline to expense control.”
Partners, pundits, and others who like to play McKinsey & Co. on the weekends always suggest this form of fat cutting in tough economic times. But it is a disingenuous solution.
Read why, after the jump.
[Ed. note: This post is by FROLIC & DETOUR, one of the finalists in ATL Idol, the "reality blogging" competition that will determine ATL's next editor. It is marked with Frolic & Detour's avatar (at right).]
Why was ATL so fascinated by Shinyung Oh? Partly because it was juicy drama, and partly because she’s practically the only lawyer who’s given the world a straight story about a big-firm layoff. Partners and associates alike accept severance packages that keep them quiet, and while you can’t blame them for taking the cash, no one else can learn from their experience. We all figure that firms’ PR departments are feeding us BS when they claim that layoffs have always been part of the annualreviewprocess, but we haven’t had any eyewitness testimony on that point.
Today, ATL breaks the silence with an exclusive insider’s view of partner layoffs. Out of the dozens (hundreds?) of AmLaw 100 equity partners who’ve lost their jobs in this recession, we found a small number who were willing to talk to ATL about their experiences. According to their co-workers, our sources were well liked and doing good work when the axe dropped … they just didn’t have clients of their own. The picture they painted for ATL includes one piece of good news: well-informed young lawyers (i.e., ATL readers) have a pretty good understanding of how partners have become vulnerable to layoffs. On the other hand, it’s no cause for celebration that we were right about how dismal the picture has become.
Read more, after the jump.
We linked to it yesterday in passing, but thought we’d draw your attention to it in a dedicated post. Check out TheLawyer.com’s report on the 2007 financial performance of the top 50 U.S. law firms (ranked by revenue):
The top 50 US firms last year generated a total of $46.8bn (£23.4bn) in revenue – an increase of more than 16 per cent on the 2006 total of $40.27bn (£20.14bn)….
2007 was one of the strongest on record for the majority of US firms, despite the turbulence that rocked the market in the summer and which continues to do so. The average profit per equity partner (PEP) at the leading group of US firms showed smaller, although still significant, growth. In 2006 the average PEP among the top 50 US firms was $1.55m (£842,391). Last year that rose by 11 per cent to $1.72m (£860,000).
Here’s the discussion of one of the most closely watched metrics, profits per partner:
Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft was second only to Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in terms of posting the biggest fall in PEP. The former was down by 6.2 per cent, although despite this drop it hung on to its place in the top five best performers on PEP overall, with $2.72m (£1.36m). Here, Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz remains out of reach of any other US firm with a PEP of $4.48m (£2.24m)
And what will this year look like? You already know the answer to that question:
Ward Bower of US legal market consultancy Altman Weil says the numbers confirm that 2007 was the best ever for top firms in terms of both productivity and profitability.
“Don’t expect to see that in 2008,” he added. “Some of those same firms are off 10 to 15 per cent on the revenue side for the first two months of this year.”
Debevoise & Plimpton has long been among New York’s most prestigious law firms. It’s also widely viewed as an excellent place to work.
In the past, Debevoise’s prestige has arguably outpaced its profits. It’s often ranked more highly on the Vault 100 than on the Am Law 100 (when ranked by profits per partner). In the most recent rankings, Debevoise was #13 on the Vault 100 and #20 on the Am Law 100 by PPP.
Perhaps that’s about to change. From Legal Week (via Law.com):
Debevoise & Plimpton has unveiled stellar financial results for 2007, with the New York law firm seeing both partner profits and fees climb by more than 20 percent over the last 12 months.
Profits per equity partner (PEP) at Debevoise rose by 26.5 percent from $1.81 million last year to a new high of $2.29 million. Global revenue, meanwhile, was up by 23.4 percent from $575 million in 2006 to $709.54 million.
A source who passed along this news added: “Although not mentioned in the article, several large investigations are the driving force behind these numbers.”
Of course, that’s not surprising. Thanks in large part to former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, internal investigations have long been a mainstay of Debevoise’s practice. They’re long-running and lucrative, since no company in deep doo-doo wants to look like it’s skimping on self-scrutiny. See, e.g., Siemens (aka Debevoise cash cow).
But how much cash will they get to keep? Discussion of a new tax proposal that will disproportionately affect partners at large law firms, after the jump.
No, seriously. Despite the perception of Biglaw partners as fat cats, some of them, at least in their early years, take home less than the senior associates who toil under them. From an article in the Legal Times by Nathan Carlile (whose work we’ve always admired, even before he wrote this nice profile of us):
[T]he most recent round of associate pay hikes has edged senior associates ever closer to junior partner pay rates. In fact, in some cases, senior associates can come out ahead of partners — particularly if the firm has a nonequity tier.
Here’s just one example: At Arent Fox, Chairman Marc Fleischaker says senior associates can earn as much as $280,000 in base salary and — if they meet targets for generating business — an additional $100,000 in bonuses. Total: $380,000. First-year nonequity partners start off with a pay rate of $310,000. But they subtract $20,000 to cover their own benefits. Their total: $290,000.
Additional excerpts and discussion, after the jump.
So far this month, over 1,500 of you have voted on who should receive two significant accolades.
Our Second Favorite Blog Of The Year After ATL survey, sponsored by ATL and Lateral Link, is still dominated by the Wall Street Journal. But the Volokh Conspiracy, Patently-O, and SCOTUSblog are putting up a fight, write-in candidate taxgirl is creeping up on write-in candidate TaxProf Blog, and added-because-we-love-him candidate ProfessorBainbridge.com is just crushingLikelihood of Confusion (whom we also love).
Meanwhile, nominations for ATL Lawyer of the Year have been dominated by Loyola 2L, Aaron Charney, and Barack Obama (which is probably the only time you’ll see those folks on the same list). Hillary Clinton — who’s already Legal Diva of the Year, as far as we’re concerned — is close on Barack’s heels, and there are a smattering of nods for others.
While both of those surveys remain open, today we reveal results from last month’s ATL / Lateral Link survey about your potential prize: Will you make partner?
More than 1,600 of you responded to last month’s survey, and, generally speaking, you’re a pessimistic bunch. Only about 14% of you thought that you would definitely make partner at your current firm, with another 13.6% holding tentatively positive expectations. About 7% of respondents thought that they would make partner somewhere, but not at their current firms. The remaining two thirds of you either don’t think you’ll make partner, just don’t know, or simply don’t care. The most junior associates were the least likely to believe they’ll make partner.
The good news is, those of you who don’t make partner might still have jobs at the end of the day. Roughly 43% of you responded that your firms are not “up or out.” Thirty percent, however, believe the axe will fall if they don’t make partner. The rest of you simply don’t know.
Some associates at Quinn Emanuel are a tad grumpy these days. But here are three items to cheer them up:
1. Profits per partner clear $3 million. As we previously reported in these pages, some QE associates were rather unhappy with their bonuses. But look on the bright side: stingy bonuses mean more money once you make partner.
As reported by Zusha Elinson in the Recorder:
Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges continued its screaming ascent in 2007 with financial results that should put a scare into the most profitable New York firms.
The Los Angeles-based litigation shop reported that profits per partner hit the $3 million mark last year — a height surpassed by only three firms on the Am Law 100 list for 2006.
“That’s Wachtell country,” said Ronald Beard, a law firm consultant with the Zeughauser Group, referring to the highly profitable New York deal shop Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.
Managing partner John Quinn offered a rebuttal to the bonus complaints:
The financial results didn’t prevent some associates from complaining about their bonuses. Legal blog Above the Law reported griping that the firm unexpectedly drew the line for full year-end bonuses at 2,100 hours, 100 hours more than the previous year.
Quinn said that decisions about bonuses are made at the end of the year, not beforehand, and that 2,100 was “not necessarily” a bright line. He added that Quinn associates were given a special bonus this year on top of the normal ones, matching a move made by only a few elite New York firms.
“If [Quinn associates] are not the most highly paid, they’re among the most highly paid in the country,” Quinn said. “Any suggestion that the firm has done really, really well and the associates haven’t shared is false.”
We have a rebuttal to the rebuttal from a disgruntled associate. Check it out — but caveat lector, this tipster may have an ax to grind — after the jump. Update: Note the many defenders of the firm in the comments. Not all associates are whiny bee-atches!
2. Susan Estrich is in da house. Quinn seems to have a weakness for high-powered litigatrices. Already home to former Stanford Law dean Kathleen Sullivan, the firm just added Susan Estrich, who joins as Of Counsel in the Los Angeles office. From one associate:
Susan Estrich just joined our firm. Classic.
Now when I watch Fox News at home, I’ll hear plugs of work.
Law school can be thought of as a Harry Potter-style “sorting hat” for law students (as Dave Hoffman suggests). Similarly, the recent round of pay raises can be thought of as a sorting hat for law firms.
Nathan Carlile has this excellent article in the current issue of the Legal Times:
Call it a near miss.
Earlier this year, New York’s Simpson Thacher & Bartlett raised starting salaries for first-year associates to $160,000. In the competition to recruit top talent, the tactic was similar to one used by Kenyan marathon runners: a midrace burst to separate elite competitors from the pack of pretenders.
But while Simpson’s bump momentarily opened up a $25,000 gap between top-end New York firms and their Washington counterparts, the pack soon matched the move. Eight months later, starting salaries for first-years at most of the 200 largest firms nationwide remain bunched at $160,000.
More discussion — including rumors of Skadden leading a new round of pay raises in New York City — after the jump.
We’re more or less done with our series of posts profiling various “secondary” legal markets. We thought about putting up the Portsmouth thread that some trolls commenters have been demanding, but we decided against it after reading this.
So now we’re going to loop back to a city that we previously covered, to wit, Miami. We have a news hook for this post: a recent story, from the Daily Business Review, about how 2006 treated South Florida’s top law firms.
More details about this market, after the jump.
In a land that is right here and in a time that is right now, a technology has arisen so powerful that it can replace basic human document review. Is it time to bow down before our new robot overlords?
First, here’s a little story about me: my life in the legal world began as a paralegal. My first case was a GIANT patent infringement case that was already six years old and had involved as many as five companies, multiple US courts, the ITC and an international standards committee. I knew nothing about any of this.
On my first day, my supervisor (a paralegal with at least eight other cases driving her crazy) sat me down in front of a Concordance database with a 100,000+ patents and patent file histories. “Code these,” she said. I learned that “coding”, for the purposes of this exercise, meant manually typing the inventor’s name, the title of the patent, the assignee, the file date, and other objective data for each document. I worked on that project – and only that project – for at least the first six months of my job. After a week or so, time began to blur.
What I know, in retrospect and with absolutely certainty, is that as time began to blur, so did my judgment. So did my attention to detail. If you could tell me that I did not make at least one mistake a day – one inconsistent spelling, one reversed day and month, one incorrectly spaced title – I frankly would need to see your evidence. I would not believe it. The human mind is trainable but it is not a machine.
Watch to find out what some of our subscribers received in their May box!
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We currently have a number of active openings for associate roles at US and UK firms in HK / China, Singapore and two new in-house openings. As always, please feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com in order to get details of current openings in Asia, as well as to discuss the Asia markets in general and what we expect for openings later this year. Our Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney will be in Beijing the week of March 25 and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong the week of April 1, if you would like to meet them in person.
The US associate openings we have in law firms are in the usual areas of M&A, cap markets, FCPA / white collar litigation, finance, and project finance. The most urgent of our top tier (top 15 US or magic circle) law firm openings in Asia (among many other firm openings that we have in Asia) are as follows:
• 2nd to 5th year mandarin fluent M&A associates needed in Beijing and Hong Kong at several firms;
• Korean fluent 2nd to 4th year cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 5th year Japanese fluent M&A associates needed in Tokyo;
• 4th to 6th year mandarin fluent cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 4th year M&A / cap markets mix associate needed in Singapore.
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