Partner Profits

As of this writing — Thursday, December 16, at 10:30 AM — Sullivan & Cromwell has not yet announced its bonus scheme. We suspect that several other top firms that have yet to announce bonuses, like Davis Polk, Simpson Thacher, Cleary Gottlieb, and Debevoise, are simply waiting for the white smoke to emerge from 125 Broad Street. [FN1]

So… what’s going on at S&C?

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Partnership: the proverbial brass ring.

‘Tis the season — for new partner elections at large law firms. Although there are some exceptions, most firms pick and announce their new partner classes around November and December, with partnership effective on January 1 of the following year.

These partnership announcements sometimes contain interesting information, if you read between the lines. As we’ve previously observed, “Partnership decisions often shed light on the current state of a firm, its prospects for the future, and its priorities. How many new partners did a firm make? How does the number of new partners this year compare to past years? In which practice areas did it make new partners? How many of the new partners are women or minorities?”

After the jump, we look at new partner news from ten top firms — perhaps you know some of these law firm superstars (and soon-to-be millionaires)? — and we invite you to discuss the new partners at your firm….

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The new normal is depressingly flat.

First the good news. American Lawyer surveyed managing partners at Am Law 200 firms and 80% of them said they were optimistic (“somewhat” or “very optimistic”) about the future profitability of Biglaw firms.

The bad news? An ever shrinking group of people will experience the benefits that future. Managing partners are feeling good because they are cutting staff, hiring fewer associates, paying minuscule bonuses, and even de-equitizing their fellow partners.

It must feel good to be a gangsta. It probably feels less good to be gang banged…

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Even the Grinch's dog knew when to take a break.

Welcome back from your long weekend. I trust everybody is ready to put in a lot of hard work through the holiday season in order to finish the year off strong.

Ah, what’s the point? Based on the early bonus news, it seems that Biglaw managers are going to go with stingy bonus payments for the second year in a row. And while we’ve reported that hours appear to be up this year over last year, hours aren’t back to 2007 levels.

If firms are going to keep bonuses at 2009 levels until their profits get back to 2007 levels, well, then maybe it’s time to kick back and do some shopping on Cyber Monday

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What are the differences between Washington lawyers and New York lawyers? One broad generalization — crude, but largely accurate — is that D.C. attorneys are all about power and prestige, and NYC attorneys are all about money.

It’s certainly true that, in the Biglaw world, New York-based law firms generally enjoy higher profits per partner than Washington-based firms. But D.C. attorneys aren’t doing too badly for themselves.

The latest issue of Washingtonian magazine, available now on newsstands, is the salary survey issue. It’s all about who makes what in the D.C. metro area, from the president to police officers to pediatricians.

And given the proliferation of lawyers in the nation’s capital, there’s a whole section on lawyers and judges. Thankfully for us, Washingtonian has made this portion available online….

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If you talk to law firm partners who are in charge of collecting fees, they’ll tell you that getting clients to pay has become a real hassle ever since the recession started. Clients are trying to make their books look as palatable as possible, and if that means avoiding or delaying payments to their lawyers, well, then that’s what they are going to do. Collecting fees from clients is one of the top concerns of Biglaw managers.

And it should be a top concern for Biglaw associates. Nobody is going to be getting a bonus when the firm cannot realize its profits.

You’d think every practicing attorney would be on the same page with this by now. You’d think, at the very least, every person would be diligently putting in their time to give their firm the maximum opportunity to collect on their billable hours. But apparently some people haven’t gotten the memo that putting in your hours in a timely fashion is critical in this environment.

Well, at Simpson Thacher, they want to know your hours, now. And the firm is threatening to bring the hammer down on attorney timekeepers who are putting off this important paper work. Put in your hours, or STB will hit you where it hurts — the wallet…

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The American Lawyer Global 100 is out. It’s the list that ranks law firms around the world by gross revenue.

And this year, there’s a new name at the top. Baker & McKenzie leapfrogged a number of firms to become the top-grossing law firm in the world (based on 2009 revenue numbers). Baker narrowly edged out Skadden for this honor.

Of course, Skadden people shouldn’t be ashamed of their second-place finish. Baker & McKenzie is huge: it leads the Am Law list of most lawyers by more than a thousand over its nearest rival, Clifford Chance. Skadden ranks #9 on the “most lawyers” list, with an attorney headcount that is almost doubled by Baker & McKenzie. Skadden gets to #2 in the revenue rankings by having a much higher revenue-per-lawyer figure.

Let’s take a look at the top ten in terms of revenue, and drool over these billion-dollar businesses…

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Yesterday we discussed the merger talks that are currently taking place between Akin Gump and Orrick. We solicited your views on a possible combination, and we received some interesting feedback (in the comments and by other means).

Let’s start with the happy stuff. Here are some positive takes on an Orrick / Akin merger, from the comments (yes, positivity in the comments — it happens):

  • “I have been at both firms and I believe it would be a good fit both geographically and practice-wise. Orrick is almost all about finance, and finance is one key area that Akin lacks real depth.” [FN1]

  • “#1 Vacuum company in America + #1 brand of cocktail shrimp = unstoppable legal force.”

But it’s not all vacuums and cocktail shrimp, sunshine and puppies. Insiders with knowledge of both firms also identified downsides to a possible Orrick / Akin merger….

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People are talking about an interesting Slate article entitled “Leaving Big Law Behind: The many frustrations that cause well-paid lawyers to hang out their own shingles.” It’s currently the most-read piece on the site. But it’s actually quite similar, even down to some of the sources, to an article that appeared a few days earlier in Crain’s New York Business:

A lawyer’s hourly billing rate used to be a badge of pride — the higher the number, the more valuable (and supposedly brilliant) the lawyer. But over the past 18 months, a strange phenomenon has been sweeping the legal arena: Partners at major law firms are quitting because they want to be able to charge less for their services.

This is, of course, not a new development. Kash and I wrote about it in a December 2009 cover story for Washingtonian magazine, in which we interviewed a former member of the $1,000-an-hour club who left a large law firm and started his own shop so he could offer clients better value. But all the recent coverage — in Crain’s, Slate, and elsewhere — suggests that the trend is picking up steam.

Which kinds of lawyers are leaving Biglaw to hang up their own shingles? Why are they doing it? And how’s it going for them?

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Wachtell Lipton is one of the nation’s most prestigious and most profitable law firms. The lawyers who work there, especially the partners, are some seriously smart cookies.

So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that a former Wachtell partner has gotten the best of his ex-wife in contentious divorce proceedings. Leigh Jones of the National Law Journal reports:

It may have been the result of some crafty legal maneuvering by a Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz partner, or it may have simply been part of his tempestuous marriage to a “European Playmate” nearly 30 years his junior. Whatever the reason, the now-retired partner has thwarted a second bid by his ex-wife to invalidate a prenuptial agreement and collect a share of the annual retirement payments that he receives from the firm.

The Appellate Court of Connecticut, in a decision released on Thursday, affirmed a divorce judgment between retired Wachtell partner Peter McKenna, now 72, and Roberta Delente, a one-time model from Brazil who was working for an agency called “European Playmates” when the couple met in 1997. She was 32 at the time.

The divorce judgment left Delente, from whom McKenna sought a divorce less than a year after their wedding in August 1999, with virtually nothing from the marriage.

Let’s cut to the question that everyone is curious about: How big is McKenna’s (retirement) package?

UPDATE: And how hot is Roberta Delente? We’ve added a photo — as well as a link to the appellate court’s opinion, but that’s less exciting — after the jump.

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