Partner Profits

Jennifer Hudson

* At least two firms probably won’t be handing out spring bonuses like candy this year. While gross revenue remained steady at Dickstein Shapiro and Crowell & Moring, PPP dropped at both firms. [Legal Times]

* Not-so breaking news: the Thirteenth Amendment applies only to humans. It seems like the only people who didn’t already know that were the lawyers PETA hired for their orca whale slavery case. [Washington Post]

* Washington has approved a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, and Governor Gregoire has vowed to sign it. Wedding planners can prepare for a fabulous summer season, and divorce practitioners can create a new niche. [CNN]

* In China, lawyers are allowed to name their firms after imaginary people. Here in the United States, we’ve got laws against that, and for good reason. Because knowing Americans, we’d probably end up with a bunch of dueling Dewey, Cheatem & Howes. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* Jennifer Hudson says, “And I am telling you, I’m not going — to speak to your lawyers.” William Balfour’s defense team wants to meet with her prior to his murder trial. [Chicago Sun-Times]

* Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and if you’re still trying to find the best present for your crappy spouse, then look no further. This law firm is giving away a free divorce. [Charleston Daily Mail]

Last year, Sullivan & Cromwell announced spring bonuses on January 21st. Today is February 3rd. It might be time to panic.

The conceit of this entire bonus season has been that the ridiculously low bonuses bar set by Cravath, Swaine & Moore was just an opening figure. People really didn’t expect that Cravath would halve bonuses. I mean, it’s CSM. They can count. Their profits went up. Why would they pay out 50% less than last year?

Well, I guess the answer “because they can” is going to have to be enough for Biglaw associates everywhere….

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Meet the new Biglaw. Same as the old Biglaw.

As we mentioned in Morning Docket, the Wall Street Journal has a good article about how various recession-era cutbacks have become entrenched in Biglaw. If you have been paying attention or are a current law student, you know the issues: smaller entry-level classes, stagnant salaries, and a partnership track long enough to make a first-year Ph.D. student laugh.

Basically, if you were already a Biglaw partner when the recession hit, you are likely to say, “What recession?” Your profits per partner have probably gone up, despite the general economy’s woes. Other industries use economic downturns to retool their business models and develop new ways to compete. Not Biglaw. It appears that Biglaw has used the recession to fire a bunch of people, exclude new partners, and keep associate salaries and bonuses at recessionary levels. They haven’t developed a new business model; they’ve just found a way to reduce the costs of the old business model.

Biglaw partner: It’s great work if you can get it. The WSJ even found one partner who was so busy loving himself and his life that he appears to be totally oblivious to the struggles of everybody else…

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At the start of this new year, what is the outlook like for legal employment? There’s certainly a fair amount of bad news out there, particularly for recent law school graduates.

But what about for denizens of Biglaw, the lawyers fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to work at the nation’s largest law firms? What does 2012 hold for them?

Earlier this month, my colleague Elie made some predictions for the legal profession. I will follow in his footsteps and venture some prophecies of my own for the year….

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John J. O'Brien

Last August, John J. O’Brien, who was once a highly regarded and well-liked partner in the celebrated M&A practice of Sullivan & Cromwell, pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor tax offenses. The charges of conviction were mere misdemeanors, but the amounts involved were large, as you’d expect from a well-paid partner at S&C.

O’Brien was accused of failing to file income-tax returns for tax years 2001 to 2008, on almost $11 million in partnership income. In the end, he pleaded guilty to failing to file taxes relating to $9.2 million in partnership income, for tax years 2003 to 2008.

Earlier today, John O’Brien was sentenced. The sentencing hearing provided some interesting additional information about why O’Brien acted as he did.

So is O’Brien trading Biglaw for the Big House? And if so, how long a sentence did he receive?

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Despite the lukewarm job market, the lateral market for partners is going strong. Still, not all partner candidates are created equal. Whether you are trying to lateral to a big firm or a small firm, there are several considerations firms must analyze during the partner vetting process. Unlike the promotion of an internal candidate, a prospective firm does not have ready access to your employment file, does not know how you interact with co-workers, and has not seen you in real action.

On the flip-side, you do not know the internal politics of the firm, what the firm’s long-term strategic plan is, or if there are any potential conflicts with your clients. With all the unknowns, it will be the responsibility of the firm and the partner candidate to make sure all proper disclosures have been made to make sure both sides are compatible. If you are thinking about making a lateral move, check out the tips below, courtesy of the recruiters at Lateral Link….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Career Center: Looking for Greener Pastures – Tips for Partners Wanting to Switch Firms”

If you look back at the great law firm departure memos of years past, you’ll see that almost all of them were written by associates. When partners leave Biglaw, they tend to do so in rather staid fashion, presumably because they have less to complain about (although query whether that’s always the case; see, e.g., A Partner’s Lament).

Every now and then, you’ll come across a colorful farewell message penned by a partner. One such email, sent out last Friday by a longtime partner leaving a major law firm, is now making the rounds. Here’s a teaser: “I have realized that I cannot simultaneously meet the demands of career and family. Without criticizing those who have chosen lucre over progeny, let me just say that I am leaving the practice of law.”

Wow. So who’s the partner in question, which firm did he just leave with such flair, and what’s he planning to do next?

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This morning’s news that Boies Schiller is making a mockery of the Cravath bonus scale simply reinforces the prevailing view (pace David Lat) around here that the 2011 Cravath bonus scale is fundamentally unfair.

Agreeing on this point is former Kirkland & Ellis partner Steven Harper (whose apparent pro-associate stance may make him a sort of Biglaw apostate). As Harper points out, “equity partner profit trees have resumed their growth to the sky. As the economy struggled, Cravath’s average partner profits increased to $2.7 million in 2009 and to $3.17 million in 2010 … That’s not ‘treading water.’ It’s returning to 2007 profit levels — the height of ‘amazing’ boom years that most observers had declared gone forever. Watch for 2011 profits to be even higher.”

And yet associate bonuses remain stagnant at 2009 levels. Furthermore, as ATL commenter “The Cravath Cut” is so fond of noting, when viewed as a percentage of profits, bonuses appear especially measly, at least from the associate p.o.v. (The current $7,500 market rate for first-years is just 0.23% of Cravath’s profits per partner. Back in 2007, first-year bonuses equalled 1.36%.) Despite these numbers, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone Biglaw’s rank and file will follow Cravath’s lead.

Cravath is among the most profitable firms in the world. We thought it would be interesting to see what the implications of matching Cravath are for those firms with much lower profit margins. Which firms’ partners willingly take the biggest hit by keeping up? Are these firms arguably more “generous”? After the jump, check out those firms that pay the largest percentage of PPP in bonuses.

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New partners, jumping for joy.

Is making partner at a major law firm as desirable as it used to be? In an interesting article in the New York Times about the growing trend of lawyers leaving large firms to start their own boutiques, Margie Grossberg, a partner at the legal recruiting firm of Major, Lindsey & Africa, offered these observations: “In the past, associates found if they worked really hard and did the right things, they made partner. That’s not necessarily the case anymore. The odds are a lot slimmer, and it’s also not as coveted as it once was.”

These are all fair comments. Note also the number of partners who leave Biglaw behind for other opportunities, such as in-house posts, or government or judicial service.

At the same time, however, let’s face it: being a partner at a top law firm is still highly desirable. The pay, prestige, and perks are tremendous. In a recent survey of new partners by the American Lawyer, over 80 percent of respondents said their new jobs were either what they expected or better than they expected. As Aric Press of Am Law noted, “new partners are basking in the land of more: more money, more responsibility, and more information about their firms.”

This is especially true of partners at firms near the top of the Biglaw hierarchy — places like Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, with profits per partner in 2010 of $3.17 million and $2.64 million, respectively. They both announced new partnership classes this month.

Let’s learn about the new partners at CSM and STB. Maybe you know some of them — from college, or law school, or a case or matter you’ve worked on….

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At large law firms around the country, associates and counsel are eagerly awaiting their bonuses. But partners and chief financial officers have their minds on other things: namely, collections. The fourth quarter is when firms step up their efforts at shaking down clients for cash.

As we all know from the law-and-economics reasoning that was taught to us in law school, people — yes, this includes lawyers — respond to incentives. At one leading law firm, bonus anxiety is being shrewdly harnessed in service of collections efforts.

CHECK YOU TIME SHEETS….

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