Partner Profits

* Unfortunately, it looks like law schools aren’t the only ones cooking the books. According to Citigroup, partner profits in the Am Law 100 may have been a teensy bit overstated last year. [Wall Street Journal]

* A perp walk is a terrible thing to waste. Prosecutors may be dropping the charges against Dominique Strauss-Kahn faster than the old frog can allegedly drop his pants in a hotel room. [New York Times]

* Ethics investigation? Florida better realize that it’s dealing with the legal community’s honey badger. Jose Baez don’t care. Jose Baez don’t give a sh*t. [Crimesider / CBS News]

* Lindsay Lohan wants Pitbull to give her everything in this new lawsuit. Sorry honey, but you’ve already done more irreparable harm to yourself than a rap lyric ever could. [New York Daily News]

* In a lawsuit against Urban Outfitters over a picture, we learn that underage boobs are going for $14M a pop these days. Damn you, inflation, damn you to hell. [International Business Times]

* I see an orange jumpsuit in your future. And when you’re facing 47 counts of wire fraud after being busted in Operation Crystal Ball, that’s a pretty accurate fortune. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel]

Edwards Angell & Wildman Harrold: A match made in heaven?

What results from the coupling of an angel and a wild man? One might think: angel + wild man = air traffic nightmare.

In the law firm context, however, the result is quite different. Edwards Angell is merging with Wildman Harrold, to form Edwards Wildman Palmer. The merger will take effect on October 1 and “will bring together 650 lawyers across two legacy firms renowned for their deep experience, shared dedication to client service, and highly collaborative cultures,” according to the new firm’s website.

What else do we know about Edwards Wildman Palmer? And what might be motivating this merger?

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Juliette Youngblood and Morgan Chu

Last month, Juliette Youngblood, an ex-partner at the elite California law firm of Irell & Manella, filed suit against her former firm. In her lawsuit for sex discrimination and wrongful termination, Youngblood advanced a whole host of salacious allegations — including a report of sexual harassment by Morgan Chu, arguably the nation’s #1 intellectual-property litigator.

Irell did not respond to the lawsuit at the time. Now it has, in a blistering 22-page filing that calls Youngblood’s claims “meritless” and “utterly false, complete fabrications manufactured out of whole cloth.”

What does the firm have to say about the specific claims made by Youngblood — such as the allegation that a drunken Morgan Chu made inappropriate and offensive comments to her at a firm happy hour, including remarks about her physical appearance and about “objects entering [Youngblood's] body”?

And what do ATL sources, including readers familiar with both Youngblood and Irell, think of the situation?

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Firm denies claims and moves for arbitration.

John J. O'Brien

Remember John J. O’Brien? Back in April 2009, we wrote about the mysterious departure of John O’Brien from Sullivan & Cromwell, where he was a well-regarded and well-liked partner in the M&A department. In a follow-up post in December 2009, we noted : “When partners leave a place like Sullivan & Cromwell, there’s often a story behind the departure.”

In our December 2009 post, we reported that John O’Brien “left Sullivan & Cromwell due to an issue relating to his taxes.” We added that the problem was personal, i.e., that it did not implicate S&C or any of its clients (unlike the fraud of another former SullCrom partner, Carlos Spinelli-Noseda, who defrauded the firm and its clients of more than $500K).

Some readers pushed back on this reporting. They claimed that John O’Brien left voluntarily and for perfectly innocent reasons. They told us to leave O’Brien alone. They accused us of harboring ill-will towards Sullivan & Cromwell (even though, to be honest, large law firms are somewhat interchangeable for us here at ATL; they’re all just potential sources of news to write about).

In light of all the flak we took for our John O’Brien coverage — similar to the criticism we received for covering Theodore Freedman’s departure from Kirkland & Ellis, a few months before Freedman got indicted by the feds — please forgive us for gloating a little. (This gloating is directed at our critics, not at John O’Brien; we have nothing against O’Brien and wish him the best of luck in moving on with his life.)

Today brings news that John J. O’Brien has been hit with federal criminal charges. Like Ted Freedman, John O’Brien has been hit with tax-related charges. But the numbers involved are larger — a lot larger….

UPDATE (7 PM): O’Brien pleaded guilty. See the update appended to the end of this post.

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Morgan Chu

Legendary litigator Morgan Chu, former managing partner and current litigation chair at Irell & Manella, is one of the nation’s top intellectual-property attorneys and trial lawyers. He has tried multiple IP cases to nine-figure jury verdicts, and he has earned every professional accolade under the sun (see his Irell website bio). He is arguably the nation’s #1 IP litigator. (If you disagree, make your case for someone else in the comments.)

And now Morgan Chu is the subject of sexual-harassment allegations. In a lawsuit filed in California Superior Court on Friday, former Irell partner Juliette Youngblood alleges that Chu sexually harassed her, then retaliated against her after she rejected his advances.

Morgan Chu is widely admired — at Irell, where his rainmaking monsoon-making helps generate robust partner profits (over $2.9 million in PPP in 2010), as well as above-market associate bonuses; in IP litigation circles, where he is a fearsome adversary; and among Asian-American lawyers, where he stands as proof that we can excel at litigation as well as transactional work.

It’s hard to believe that such a beloved figure has been hit with such salacious allegations (which we must emphasize are mere allegations at this point, nothing more). But let’s forge ahead and check them out — along with the pertly pretty plaintiff who is making them….

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Former partner alleges sexual harassment by Morgan Chu.

Last month, we broke the news of seven key corporate partners leaving O’Melveny & Myers to join Paul Weiss. Shortly thereafter, we learned that two other prominent partners were leaving O’Melveny to join Weil Gotshal.

Of course, partners come and partners go at large law firms — but some of these nine were major rainmakers and practice group heads. Paul Weiss snagged Gregory Ezring, who chaired O’Melveny’s corporate finance and capital markets practice, and Brad Okun, who headed O’Melveny’s tax practice. Meanwhile, Weil scored Harvey Eisenberg, a leading private-equity adviser, and M&A partner Douglas Ryder.

Could something more be going on at OMM?

“You guys are missing a huge story about O’Melveny,” a tipster recently told us. “In the last two years or so, around 60 partners have disappeared.”

“The pace is now quickening,” this source added. “Since January 1, around 10% of the OMM partners, including many practice group leaders and other key rainmakers, have departed.”

These numbers sound significant — but, in fairness to O’Melveny, they should be viewed in context. Let’s hear what the firm had to say about them….

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Katherine Forrest: You'd smile too if you were this rich.

I recently wrote about Katherine B. Forrest, the celebrated litigatrix nominated to a federal judgeship on the breathtakingly prestigious Southern District of New York. Forrest currently serves as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, but before joining the DOJ she was a longtime partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore — a premier, if not the premier, American law firm. Forrest was one of CSM’s most popular (and most powerful) young partners.

Katherine Forrest has a reputation as an incredible attorney, and she has the awards to prove it (see question 8). Not surprisingly, the ABA deemed her “unanimously well-qualified” as an S.D.N.Y. nominee.

So here’s what I wondered: Why did the amazingly accomplished Forrest, a partner at super-lucrative Cravath for over a dozen years, declare a mere $4.3 million on her net worth statement? Granted, $4.3 million is nothing to scoff at; KBF is rich (even by Elie’s standards). But it seemed to me that a lawyer of her distinction, who was a partner at a top firm for such a long time, should be even richer.

Thanks to information from helpful readers who saw my earlier post, I now know the truth. As it turns out, Katherine Forrest is considerably wealthier than that $4.3 million number suggests.

Way richer, in fact. Let’s find out….

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Katherine Forrest: Why isn't her net worth higher?

As I’ve previously mentioned, one of my favorite parts of the judicial nomination process is the attendant financial voyeurism. Judicial nominees are required to make detailed disclosures about their finances, allowing us to learn about their income and net worth. For example, thanks to her nomination to the Supreme Court last year, we got to learn about Elena Kagan’s net worth.

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee released financial disclosure reports for several of President Obama’s recent judicial nominees — including antitrust litigatrix Katherine B. Forrest. Forrest has been nominated to the mind-blowingly prestigious Southern District of New York, perhaps the nation’s finest federal trial court. As a highly regarded lawyer who has won numerous awards and accolades (listed in her SJC questionnaire), Forrest will fit right in if confirmed to the S.D.N.Y. — a superstar among superstars.

The fabulous Forrest currently serves as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s antitrust division. She joined the DOJ last October — a commendable public-service commitment that required her to relinquish her partnership in one of America’s mightiest and most prestigious law firms, Cravath, Swaine & Moore. When she left to pursue government service, Forrest had been a Cravath partner for over 12 years (since 1998), and had been with the firm for about 20 years in all (since 1990).

At the time of her departure for the Justice Department, Katherine Forrest had been taking home hefty paychecks for decades. First she was an associate at Cravath, which pays its people quite well, in case you hadn’t heard. Then she was a partner at the firm (reportedly one of the most well-liked and most powerful younger partners) — from 1998 to 2010, a period in which average profits per partner at CSM routinely topped $2 million and occasionally exceeded $3 million. And remember that Cravath is a lockstep partnership with a reported 3:1 spread, meaning that the highest-paid partners make no more than three times as much as the lowest-paid partners. So it’s not possible that she was earning, say, $400,000, while other partners were earning millions (which can be the case at firms with higher spreads).

In light of the foregoing, what is Katherine Forrest’s net worth, according to her Senate Judiciary Committee financial disclosures? Not as much as you might expect….

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Last week’s Am Law 100 list revealed publicly a trend that partners at big law firms have been feeling acutely: The largest law firms have de-equitized partners in the last two years in an unprecedented way. In the words of one of the articles, “Equity partner head count alone slipped 0.9 percent last year, after dropping 0.7 percent in 2009.” That trend may undermine the business models of some law firms.

Law firms have many and varied business plans and compensation systems. But one reasonable way to run a firm is to market your most marketable lawyers — concentrate business development in the folks best able to develop business. For that model to work, however, all partners must trust the institution. De-equitization reduces the necessary trust and may kick the stilts out from under this business model.

Here’s how the model works. If a potential new client asks your firm to respond to an RFP for litigation matters, you turn to your half-dozen heaviest-hitting litigators and decide which one will be offered up as the lawyer to lead the new engagement. You know that, if you’re invited to a beauty contest, the heavy-hitter will clinch the deal, because he’s clinched so many deals in the past.

If you read in today’s Wall Street Journal that the plaintiffs’ mass tort bar has just put another industry under seige, you spring into action. Pull together the firm’s marketing materials, identify lawyers with relationships in the relevant industry, draft up outlines of motions to dismiss and oppositions to class certification, assemble an outline of key issues and proposed responses, and then have your relationship lawyers call and email their client contacts, offering to have one of the heavy-hitters meet with the client to explain the firm’s capabilities. The heavy-hitter takes it from there.

If a corporate lawyer gets a serious litigation nibble, the corporate lawyer will naturally advise the head of litigation about the opportunity, so the firm can make an appropriate pitch. The head of litigation asks one of the heavy-hitters to lead the charge.

If a client asks a junior partner in the commercial trial department about the firm’s ability to defend a multi-billion dollar case, the junior partner reports up through the ranks. The firm puts together a response that proposes a talented litigation team to handle the case — led, of course, by one of the heavy-hitters.

This approach to running a firm isn’t crazy. To the contrary: Institutionally, this system makes a lot of sense. You offer up your most impressive lawyers to handle the most important opportunities, land the business, and distribute that business among the masses to keep everyone busy. Collectively, everyone at the firm benefits.

Enter de-equitization….

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Profits per partner numbers are out and they confirm what we’ve all suspected: 2010 was a really good year to be a Biglaw partner. The Am Law 100 reports that 2010 PPP rose 8.4%. That’s a significant improvement over 2009, when PPP rose only 0.3%

Kind of makes you wonder what the hell firms were thinking when they initially tried to give the same crappy 2009 bonus in 2010.

Gross revenue also went up 4% (kind of — more on that below), that’s compared to a 3.4% decrease in revenue in 2009. However you crunch the numbers, Biglaw had a better year in 2010 than it did in 2009.

If you managed to stay in Biglaw. Some of these gains can be traced directly to Biglaw’s willingness to shed people, including equity partners, in order to keep the numbers up…

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