The profit gods did not smile upon Morgan Lewis & Bockius in 2009. Not on the partnership, not on the associates. We’ve already reported on MLB’s various attempts to change its associate pay scale. But making employee costs “merit-based” wasn’t enough to keep Morgan Lewis profits growing. Am Law Daily reports:
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius saw declines in revenue and profits in 2009 as a general economic slowdown and a hiring spree impacted the firm’s bottom line.
As of September 30, the end of Morgan Lewis’s fiscal year, 2009 revenue declined by nearly 5 percent to $1.07 billion from $1.12 billion in 2008. Profits per equity partner (PPP) dropped 15 percent to 2006 levels. The firm’s 2009 financials contrast sharply from 2008–that year, Morgan Lewis saw an 8 percent boost in PPP.
“We knew we dodged the bullet [in 2008], but we knew the hit was coming later,” says managing partner Thomas Sharbaugh.
The firm’s cost cutting measures were more than counterbalanced by significant new investments in lateral hires, says Sharbaugh. Morgan Lewis hired 55 new lawyers in the last fiscal year, nearly double the number of lateral hires made in 2008.
Oh, I see. Morgan Lewis is using laterals to replace people that they’ve laid off or deferred. Well, that’s a plan, I guess.
But for that plan to work, laterals have to want to come to the firm. Usually attracting laterals involves paying them competitively. Is MLB doing that?
More 2009 profit numbers are in, this time for law firms based in Boston. And, as we’ve seen elsewhere, partners in Boston are enjoying record-breaking profits. The Boston Globe reports:
Senior lawyers at three of Boston’s biggest law firms had their most profitable year ever in 2009, despite widespread job losses in the city’s legal industry.
Bingham McCutchen, Fish & Richardson, and WilmerHale all said they recorded the highest average profits per partner ever in 2009. Meanwhile, some other firms reported better-than-expected financial results.
For the associates laid off by Bingham, the associates laid off by Fish, and for the staff laid off by WilmerHale, I don’t know what to tell you. Biglaw partners in Boston didn’t just find a way to make money during the recession, they were able to make more money than ever before.
I guess all of the laid off associates and staff can feel good about helping them rake in the dough?
All the gory details after the jump.
Occasionally, I am guilty of overselling my point. That slight personality flaw means that I have at least one thing in common with Brad Karp, chairman of Paul Weiss. American Lawyer reports that 2009 was the most profitable year ever for Paul Weiss (more on that later). The article contains an interesting turn of phrase:
Though the firm’s gross revenue slipped by 3.8 percent, from $692 million in 2008 to $665.5 million in 2009, profits per equity partner (PPP) hit $2.69 million, up from $2.65 million in 2008. Notably, the firm achieved its results without resorting to layoffs. In fact, lawyer head count at the firm increased slightly from 647 to 653.
No layoffs you say? None? Zero? Well allow this tipster to retort:
PW’s Load of S***.
I was among the one third of PW’s staff attorney program that was axed. I also know that more senior associates were given the “talk” about how they have no future at PW, so they better get their shit together to leave. One of them left into the “wild blue yonder” because he had no place to go.
They welcomed the first year class of 100, that is why it appeared that their numbers went up slightly without layoffs.
I can’t speak to secret talks that lead to mysterious disappearances, but we were all over the staff attorney layoffs at Paul Weiss, just a couple of months ago. Details after the jump.
Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft on Tuesday reported a 28 percent increase in profits per partner, the firm’s first positive results since 2007.
Yet while the firm enjoyed a slight increase in net income, some of the increase in its per-partner average earnings appears attributable to a nearly 21 percent loss in the number of equity partners. Gross revenue fell nearly 10 percent, a drop that W. Christopher White, the firm’s chairman, calls “very strong in light of a steep contraction in the finance market.”
I think that there are going to be a lot of stories about firms that conducted massive layoffs who are now experiencing PPP increases.
More details after the jump.
Great news for Biglaw partners and the associates who love them. Early returns suggest that despite the global economic meltdown that wrecked multiple American industries, profits per partner remained relatively stable in 2009.
Biglaw partners made out okay. They survived. And they’re looking forward to even more profit in 2010. The WSJ Law Blog reports:
Here’s one thing that’s not in dispute: 2009 was awful for firms. A survey by Citi Private Bank’s Law Firm Group of 50 of the country’s 100 largest firms, as measured by revenue, found last year’s revenue at the firms was down an average 4% from 2008. These same firms, according to Citi, averaged 7% revenue growth in 2008, and 12% growth from 2001 to 2007. And the profit picture would have been worse had firms not aggressively cut expenses, by an average of 7% in 2009, says Dan DiPietro, the Citi’s Law Firm Group advisory head.
I think a four percent haircut, in the middle of the worst recession anybody can remember, is actually strikingly good for Biglaw partners. A lot of associates saw salary cuts of 10% or greater — to say nothing of all the people who saw salary cuts of 100%, i.e., who lost their jobs. Relatively speaking, I think a four percent drop in revenue — with the possibility that PPP won’t even fall by that much — is good news.
Of course, some firms beat the curve….
We have previously predicted that, when the American Lawyer releases its data on profits per partner in 2009, we’ll see some declines over 2008. Last year was not a pretty one for the profession (although most of you think this year will be better).
But could our prediction be wrong? Is it possible that, owing to various cost-cutting measures — including, but not limited to, lawyer and staff layoffs — some firms will report significant increases in profit per partner in 2009?
Quite possibly. Take the case of Locke Lord. The Executive Committee recently informed the LLBL partnership as follows:
The Firm ended 2009 with Net Income of $171.9 million. This total represents a $23.4 million (or 16%) favorable variance to the Revised Budget. This number is also $6.4 million over last year’s Net Income of $165.5 million. The Firm outperformed last year’s AmLaw results with Profits Per Partner of $979,000 as compared to last year’s $956,000. In addition, the average compensation per partner increased from $597,527 in 2008 to $643,820 this year.
As a result of the Firm’s outstanding performance, the Executive Committee has approved a year-end distribution of $60.0 million. This represents an increase of approximately $14.0 million over 2008′s year-end distribution.
The $60 million distribution was funded today. Happy Thursday, Locke Lord partners! (According to the 2009 Am Law 100 rankings, the firm has 136 equity partners and 165 nonequity partners.)
The full LLBL memo appears after the jump.
We’ve spent a lot of time discussing DLA Piper’s new compensation structure for its associates. I’ve assumed that DLA Piper’s changes have the support of DLA partners. I mean, we’ve received leaked memos from DLA partners defending the plan. But it’s wrong for me to think of partnerships as monolithic groups, especially at a firm as big as DLA. Partners don’t uniformly support every single move that leads to increased profits per partner — even when the decision is merely about keeping partner billing rates high. The ABA Journal reports:
Labor and employment partner Richard Hafets worked at DLA Piper for 34 years, but he has some gripes about the firm that is spurring him to jump to Jackson Lewis along with three other partners and four associates.
At DLA, Hafets told the Maryland Daily Record, the firm’s billing rates were so high that the employment lawyers were being priced out of the market.
“It was either stay here and see our practice stagnate at best and wither at worst, or try to find a way to revitalize our practice by reducing our rates,” Hafets told the Daily Record. He said he will be able to drop his billing rates by more than $100 an hour at the new firm.
From time to time, we hear that this kind of situation is one of the most underreported aspects of the legal recession. Some Biglaw partners feel that the rates they are forced to charge make it difficult to develop or grow business with cash strapped clients.
In this situation, Hafets blames the entire DLA model for crowding out his business. Details after the jump.
Last week, we shared with you a very interesting internal document from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett: a collection of notes or informal minutes from a June 2009 partners’ meeting. The notes discussed attorney headcount, possible layoffs, and compensation, among other subjects.
Today we have even more deliciousness for you: an internal memorandum from executive committee chairman Pete Ruegger to the executive committee, transmitting the complete minutes of the June 8 partners’ meeting. As it turns out, the version of the meeting notes that we previously published was accurate, but not complete.
Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite. If you think that a return to the heady days of 2007 is just around the corner, as the economy improves and Wall Street strengthens, think again:
• As we dig out of the recession, hopefully with increased utilization and decreased headcount, we should do better in 2010 and beyond, but we do not think our gross revenues and premiums are going to return to 2007 levels and our net income is unlikely to return to 2007 levels in the next couple of years.
As the matrix shows, if we can get our average hours back up over 1800, we can still have a $1M+ [partnership] point at 88% realization. But, Simpson Thacher and our peer firms are going to be less profitable businesses than they were. Pricing and margins are going to continue to be challenging. At least in the short to mid-term.
Indeed. Additional analysis and the complete documents, after the jump.
Above the Law has obtained what appear to be notes or minutes from a June 2009 partners’ meeting at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. As you would expect, they are riveting reading.
A caveat: the notes appear authentic to us, and they’ve been making the rounds at Simpson, but the firm has not officially confirmed their authenticity. In addition, a firm spokesperson stated that STB does not maintain official minutes of partnership meetings. So please read this post with these warnings in mind. (We welcome private feedback on the notes and their contents; please feel free to email us.)
Let’s start with the important stuff. Back in June, when this meeting took place, Simpson seriously considered doing layoffs, in the truest sense of the word — large in scale, and open and notorious (not stealth). To their credit, however, the partners decided not to go down that path — even though it meant taking a financial hit, by forfeiting potential cost savings. From the minutes:
• Headcount: We continue to be oversized relative to demand in New York corporate, particularly among the younger classes and in California corporate. We have been working closely with Personnel and have aggressively been moving out underperformers and people who have been passed over for partner….
Obviously, we could “right size” faster if we implemented a lay-off (100 attys). And, we could target the younger corporate classes in New York and the younger classes in California. However, none of the top-tier firms has engaged in lay-offs. We do not want to be the first top-tier firm to engage in lay-offs. From a financial point of view, given the market practice that has developed, with respect to severance, the cost savings produced by a lay-off, as opposed to our aggressive performance-based reductions, is modest [no savings this year / $30K per/point next year].
More discussion, plus the complete minutes, after the jump.
Associate salaries aren’t going up. If anything, we’re in a deflationary period regarding pay.
But billing rates? Yeah, those are still going up. Just a little bit. The National Law Journal reports:
Law firms increased their average annual firmwide billing rate by 2.5 percent over the last year, one of the lowest increases in recent memory, according to The National Law Journal’s 2009 survey of billing rates.
The small 2009 boost compares to a 4.3 percent increase reported in 2008 and a 7.7 percent rate climb in 2007. “Law firms this year increased rates very modestly, compared to the standard rate increase of 6 to 8 percent,” said James Jones, a consultant with Hildebrandt International. “I would have expected to see that, in 2009, when the message [about the state of the economy] finally sunk in.”
See clients, law firms understand the difficult state of the economy. That’s why they are charging you just a little more — instead of a lot more.
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
We currently have a very exciting and rare type of in-house opening in China at one of the world’s leading internet and social media companies. Our client is looking for an IP Transactional / TMT / Licensing attorney with 2 to 6 years experience. The new hire will be based in Shenzhen or Shanghai. Mandarin is not required (deal documentation will be in English) but is preferred. A solid reason to be in China and a commitment to that market is required of course. This new hire will likely be US qualified (but could also be qualified in UK or other jurisdictions) and with experience and training at a top law firm’s IP transactional / TMT practice and could be currently at a law firm or in-house. Qualified candidates currently Asia based, Europe based or US based will be considered. The new hire’s supervisors in this technology transactions in-house team are very well regarded US trained IP transactional lawyers, with substantial experience at Silicon Valley firms. The culture and atmosphere in this in-house group and the company in general is entrepreneurial, team oriented, and the work is cutting edge, even for a cutting edge industry. The upside of being in an important strategic in-house position in this fast growing and world leading internet company is of the “sky is the limit” variety. Its a very exciting place to be in China for a rising IP transactional lawyer in our opinion, for many reasons beyond the basic info we can share here in this ad / post. This is a special A+ opportunity.
If you think most legal technology misses the mark, LexisNexis Firm Manager® wants to change your mind. Read more about it here.
Built with input from hundreds of solo and small-firm attorneys across the country, it’s made for practitioners who’d rather build the firm of their dreams than deal with the hassles of running a business.
· Go Mobile, Stay Connected.
See all your firm’s information, wherever you are, on whatever device you’re using. Access and update client files, enter billing, search & share documents and more. It’s just like you’re in the office, only you’re not.
When Chintan Panchal decided to leave a global BigLaw partnership to start his own firm, he could only hope that he would face the high-quality problem of firm building that many had cautioned him about. Focused on the uncertainty surrounding of a new firm launch, he decided to tackle staffing needs, IT challenges, and financial planning requirements after he had built up his legal practice.
Panchal Associates LLP–a corporate/finance and outside general counsel boutique–was quickly off to a great start. Clients and matters were flying in the door, and Chintan soon had a team of lawyers and staff with a variety of operational needs. To continue building an excellent team and provide them with a competitive benefits package, to expand his physical presence to include a European practice and additional partners, and to scale his operations and IT capabilities to support this growing enterprise brought with it demands of time, money, and expertise. Chintan knew he needed help.
“With the assistance of NexFirm, we have upgraded the capabilities of our firm to meet, and in some cases exceed, the standards we were used to at our former BigLaw firms. Operationally, we can now attract and service clients we didn’t have the bandwidth to support in the past, and continue to build our team with the best and brightest legal talent in the industry,” said Chintan Panchal, adding “It has worked out quite well in our case; NexFirm is an essential partner for us.”
The traditional job application and interview process can be impersonal, and applicants often struggle to present themselves as more than just the sum of their GPAs, alma maters, and previous work history. ATL has partnered with ViewYou to help job seekers overcome this challenge. ViewYou NOW Profiles offer a unique way for job seekers to make a personal, memorable connection with prospective employers: introduction videos. These videos allow job candidates to display their personalities, interpersonal skills, and professional interests, creating an eDossier to brand themselves to potential employers all over the world. Check it out today!