Partner Profits

Obtaining a summer associate position at a major law firm remains difficult. That’s the upshot of a recent report (PDF) issued by our friends at NALP. You can read summaries of the report at the NALP website and at the ABA Journal. This quip, by NALP executive director Jim Leipold, pretty much says it all: “This is not a hot recruiting market.”

Given that employers are still in the driver’s seat, at least when it comes to entry-level recruiting — recruiting of lateral lawyers, whether associates or partners, is a different kettle of fish — you’d think that law firms would use this opportunity to experiment a bit with fall recruiting. There are some interesting alternatives out there to the standard model of 20- to 30-minute screening interviews, typically held in the summer before or early fall of the 2L year, followed by callback interviews at the firms. E.g., JD Match (disclosure: a past ATL advertiser).

But law firms, as we know, are a conservative group. They tend to stick with existing models, even if those models are imperfect.

Well, most law firms. Nobody ever accused Quinn Emanuel of not daring to be different….

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If you think this economy is just kicking the asses of recent graduates, associates, and support staff, you are forgetting one critical group: partners without portable books of business. Those who make it rain are getting soaked with wealth, but everybody else is just trying to get a drink.

We’ve heard many stories about partners without business quietly being “pushed out” or de-equitized. But we rarely see an entire group of partners publicly “demoted” en masse.

Well, on Monday a Biglaw firm did just that…

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On Friday, we broke the news of lawyer and staff layoffs at Dewey & LeBoeuf. There have been reports of the firm experiencing financial issues, and these cost-cutting measures appear to be part of a larger plan of attack. According to the memo sent out by chairman Steven H. Davis, Dewey plans to “reduc[e] the number of lawyers and administrative staff globally by approximately 5% and 6% respectively.”

But associates and support staff aren’t the only ones who will be feeling the pain. It appears that Dewey is seeking sacrifices from certain partners as well….

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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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