This is a continuation of the article I published in ATL two weeks ago. My previous article gave my view that the profitability metric of “Profits Per Partner” becomes in effect a master (rather than a servant) and is destructive and a root cause of some serious problems for Biglaw. In this article, I put forth a different way of doing business.
A long time ago, we at Duval & Stachenfeld decided that we would not make partnership decisions in our law firm based on a “numbers game.” Instead, we would look at the quality of the associates, and if they were qualified, we would make them partners irrespective of the effect that had on our firm economics. We have stuck to that view rigorously.
This is the first of a four-article series focusing on the following matters:
First Article – Profits Per Partner: A Good Servant But A Bad Master
Second Article – A Profits-Per-Partner Emancipation Plan
Third Article – Beyond Profits Per Partner – Embracing Volatility
Fourth Article – How to Embrace Volatility as a Law Firm
Those of us running law firms have two sets of clients:
Clients – parties that hire us for legal work.
Lawyers – parties that do the legal work for the clients.
One without the other is pointless, obviously – they are yin and yang. However, despite this almost symbiotic relationship, most law firms are set up to attract great clients a lot more than they are set up to attract great lawyers. That is how law firms define “marketing.” The other function is called “recruiting.”
Indeed, let me ask you — in your firm, which is cooler: to be on the marketing committee, or to be on the recruiting committee? Which one is more likely to result in success at your firm, including money, power, fame, a big office, etc.?
If you’re going to steal millions from clients, at least make a good story out of it. Like blowing hefty sums on luxurious private air travel and wiring millions to casinos to cover gambling debts. Make it a rock star story right up until the very end.
Of course, it’s hard to imagine a lawyer successfully stealing millions. There are just too many checks in place to let it get that far. It felt like the only thing anyone needed to know to pass professional responsibility was to respect escrow accounts. You just make sure all the money you’re watching for your customers, consumers, lenders and employees is always accounted for. There’s inevitably more than one person handling the bank statements. It’s just hard to lose millions.
Nonetheless, one law firm with offices around the country thinks it’s discovered more than a minor problem in its accounts. In fact, it just filed a lawsuit against its former managing partner, alleging that he siphoned off a cool $30 million from client escrow accounts to live like a proverbial rock star….
There – I always wanted to write an article that had such a strange title that people would look at it and wonder what I was talking about. So here goes….
Everyone just loves to beat up on the big law firms. I keep reading articles everywhere that say:
They are overpriced.
They are inefficient.
Their partnerships destroy innovation.
They are terrible places to work – sweatshops – associates are worked to death until they quit.
Their business model is broken.
There was even a book that came out a year or so ago with a great title, The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis (affiliate link). To me the book described the law business as part of a dying profession that is enmeshed in a conspiracy to ruin the lives of all in it — except the fat-cat senior partners at the top of the pyramid. I admit I read it a while ago and it is a bit hazy in my mind, but the author, a former Kirkland & Ellis partner, clearly is not a fan of the current state of Biglaw….
* In this summer’s Biglaw lawsuitpalooza, real estate and conflicts took the lead as headliners. Poor Boies Schiller had double the trouble when it came to ethics complaints. Ouch. [Am Law Daily]
* New Jersey taxpayers owe Gibson Dunn & Crutcher about $6.5 million thanks to Governor Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal. Thanks for the pain in our pocketbooks, chief. [Daily Report (reg. req.)]
* “It’s been a minor inconvenience to us, but of course I don’t like somebody hijacking my name and using it to hurt someone else.” Two Florida law firms are investigating why someone sent out 42 anonymous state bar complaints against one firm using the other firm’s mailing address. [Orlando Sentinel]
* Charleston School of Law is starting a new academic year with even more confusion than it was in last year, considering that its InfiLaw buyout is in a state of flux. Maybe that’s a good thing. [Post and Courier]
* Three ex-Lingerie Football League players have filed class action suits against the club, alleging minimum wage law violations. Come on, pay these half-naked athletes a living wage. [National Law Journal]
* Robert Manfred Jr., formerly a partner of Morgan Lewis & Bockius, is now the commissioner of Major League Baseball, and he beat out another former Biglaw buddy from Kelley Drye & Warren to snag the job. [Am Law Daily]
* “My past is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on.” Michele Roberts is the first lady to lead the NBAPU, and you don’t want to mess with her. [New York Times]
* In case you haven’t heard by now, Governor Rick Perry was indicted on Friday on felony charges of abusing his power in office. Aww, poor guy. Not for nothing, but we can’t wait to see his mug shot. [New York Times]
* Quinnipiac Law has a new building that cost $50 million, and it’s designed to hold between 400 and 500 students. With only 292 students currently enrolled, that’s a lot of wishful thinking. [New Haven Register]
* “This is a lawsuit against the lawyers for being lawyers, for doing what lawyers do.” It also seems to be a lawsuit that’s allegedly about sex, lies, illegal video tapes… and Waffle House. [Daily Report (reg. req.)]
In today’s Lawyerly Lairs column, we’ll step inside the beautiful home of a Biglaw partner — a name partner at an Am Law and Vault 100 firm, in fact. There aren’t many of those folks still around, since most of the nation’s largest and most prestigious firms are so old. Paul Cravath died in 1940, in case you’re wondering.
But there are a few Biglaw name partners around — at (relatively) young, super-profitable firms, like Wachtell Lipton, Quinn Emanuel, and Boies Schiller. And these lawyers own some fabulous real estate.
Which they sometimes put on the market. Let’s look at the next item up for bids: the D.C. home of a leading litigator, on the market for $4.85 million….
Make fun of the University of Chicago Law School’s law-and-economics focus all you want. Their graduates make good use of the training, enjoying tremendous success in the business world. Some of them go on to become billionaires — and then make eight-figure gifts to their alma mater.
The legal eagle featured in today’s Lawyerly Lairs coverage isn’t a billionaire, but he has done very, very well for himself, in both business and politics. And real estate: he just sold his urban mansion for more than $11 million.
You’ll feel pangs of envy when you find out how little he paid for it — and when you see what a beautiful property it is….
Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Michael Allen is Managing Principal at Lateral Link, focusing exclusively on partner placements with Am Law 200 clients.
For senior associates up for partner, firms have become increasingly focused on business potential and less so on an associate’s ability to outclass others in the courtroom or at the negotiating table.
In the days of yore, the partner track in Biglaw was oftentimes a reward for consistent competence and professionalism. In an era of PPP and RPL, most firms (other than the Cravath, Quinn, or Simpson Thacher types) are less likely to promote associates unless they see real revenue-generating potential.
If you find yourself in your fifth to tenth year and are unsure whether you will make partner, here are four steps to help you steer your career…