Adam Smith Esq

There’s no Biglaw intercity rivalry that can match the one between London’s venerable Magic Circle and New York’s elite white-shoe firms. Both groups of firms are the clear alpha dogs in their markets, attracting the top talent and most lucrative clients.

There are, however, some significant differences between the two groups in how they operate. For example, U.K. firms tend to follow a lockstep (rather than “eat what you kill”) compensation model. Last month, friend of ATL Bruce MacEwen took a deep dive into the relative performance over the last several years of the Magic Circle firms versus their New York cousins. The piece is highly recommended: it’s chock-full of data, and its findings suggest the groups are moving in different directions….

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Promising answers to questions nobody is asking, the Buzzfeed-style personality quiz is the most virulent force in social media. Which Ryan Gosling Character Is Your Soulmate? What Type Of Chicken Tender Is Right For You? Are You Turning Into Your Mom? The silly online personality quizzes are sort of the idiot stepchildren of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, that test designed to distill human personality into abstract terms. (For some background on Myers-Briggs, see here.)

The MBTI and its progeny have long been used by government agencies and educational institutions, but it truly has a foothold in corporate America. The MBTI supposedly helps employers to identify potentially successful employees and job candidates to identify their strengths. From the employer’s perspective, these tools offer a chance to identify potential successful hires based on something more objective than hiring managers’ hunches and first impressions.

A recent New York Times Magazine piece detailed an ongoing movement to “revolutionize the human capital resource allocation market” through Moneyball-style, Big Data empiricism. Apparently, employers are becoming more cautious and deliberate in their interviewing processes (the average length of the interviewing period had doubled over the past five years), while at the same time employing work-force-analytics software that can make the process cheaper and more efficient. All in all, around 80% of the Fortune 500 companies practice data-driven assessment in their hiring processes.

Which brings us to the legal industry, an outlier in this “revolutionary,” data-driven recruitment landscape…

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“The future is already here — it is just not evenly distributed.” If this William Gibson aphorism is true, then there was an extra heavy concentration of the future of the legal profession in Tribeca last Wednesday at the inaugural meeting of a new organization, the Forum on Legal Evolution. (The Forum is spearheaded by some names familiar to ATL readers, Bill Henderson (Indiana-Maurer/Lawyer Metrics), Bruce MacEwen (Adam Smith Esq/JDMatch), and Dan Katz (Michigan State Law/ReInvent Law).

While the rest of the business world has embraced off-shoring, Six Sigma, right-sizing, and what-have-you in pursuit of efficiencies and greater productivity, we are still waiting for the long-promised technology-driven transformation of the legal profession. When compared to other industries, actual changes thus far amount to so much fiddling around the margins. The Forum is premised on the idea that a way must be found to propel earlier and wider adoption of innovations.

The invitation-only Forum is intended as both a high-level networking community and as a resource for briefings on new technologies and trends. Think TED talks, but for senior in-house lawyers, law firm leaders, tech entrepreneurs, and academics. In other words, the entire legal supply chain. Without identifying them, we can confirm the room was sprinkled with the legal world’s equivalent of bold-faced names, including current and former Biglaw managing partners and Fortune 100 corporate counsel.

For such a forward-looking gathering, it was a little surprising then that it began by harkening back to Iowa cornfields during the Great Depression…

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series from Bruce MacEwen and Janet Stanton of Adam Smith Esq. and JDMatch. “Across the Desk” takes a thoughtful look at recruiting, career paths, professional development, human capital, and related issues. Some of these pieces have previously appeared, in slightly different form, on AdamSmithEsq.com.

For years, I’ve been hearing firms describe their cultures as “entrepreneurial,” and I hardly paid the slightest attention. Like “collegial” or “collaborative,” it just seemed like so much white noise. Then finally I heard it once too often and had to face cold reality: I had absolutely no idea what these people — a lot of smart, articulate people — were talking about.

Let’s go to the dictionary, where we find:

/äntrəprə no͝orēəl/

1. characterized by the taking of financial risks in the hope of profit; enterprising

Other notions orbiting around the concept of entrepreneurism include engaging in genuine innovation and invention (to the extreme of shattering the status quo), proceeding decisively in the face of profound ambiguity and uncertainty, and shouldering the personal risk of sacrificing years of reliable income provided by others for whatever rewards you can persuade the market to deliver — with a meaningful risk those rewards could be nonexistent.

This is an audience participation column, so I ask you this: Would you describe your own firm as “entrepreneurial?” Are there firms you admire or look down upon that you’d describe as “entrepreneurial?” What mental image or behavior, what cultural archetype or partner personality type, pops into your mind when “entrepreneurial” is used to describe a firm?

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…To Take A Survey

We here at ATL want to know what world’s largest legal audience — ours, of course — thinks. Hence, we ask our audience a lot of questions. Our Insider Survey, which is soon coming up on its 15,000th respondent, provided the raw materials for the creation of our Law Firm and Law School Directories, as well as features on various specific organizations, locations, and practice areas. To supplement our Insider Survey data, we also take a closer look at specific aspects of institutions, such as compensation and social media policies. Additionally, we check in with our readers for their take on topical events, including presidential politics and Obamacare. Today, we have a look at a handful of our ongoing survey projects: Social Media, Stipend/Advance, and Health Insurance. But first, we are looking for help with a new research initiative.

There is probably no other industry as obsessed with the concept of “culture” as the legal profession, particularly in the world of law firms. Many firms view their culture as a key element of their distinct place in the competitive marketplace. But what does that even mean? Is there consensus on what constitutes culture? Do clients notice or care? We would like to dig deeper into these questions. As a first step in this project, we are looking for a small group of currently practicing law firm attorneys who are willing — in complete confidence — to give us about twenty minutes of their time to answer some of our questions concerning the realities of what defines firm culture. Preference will be given to attorneys who have lateraled between firms. We will be conducting this project in partnership with our friends at Adam Smith Esq. and JD Match. If interested, please email us here.

Apart from the never-ending Insider Survey, ATL has three ongoing surveys which we hope will bring greater transparency to subjects of interest to our readers. Here’s a quick glimpse at where they stand today…

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series from Bruce MacEwen and Janet Stanton of Adam Smith Esq. and JDMatch. “Across the Desk” takes a thoughtful look at recruiting, career paths, professional development, human capital, and related issues. Some of these pieces have previously appeared, in slightly different form, on AdamSmithEsq.com.

There seems to have been a spasm an unusual concentration of articles recently advancing the theory (I generalize) that all is well in BigLaw and that in fact even the universally acknowledged cost/benefit mismatch of a J.D. degree is mistaken.

Regular readers know that I’m the last person to be apocalyptic about the legal industry writ large, but I also would like to believe I apply rigor in analysis and tough love in attitude, so when sloppy happy talk comes front and center. I feel compelled to respond.

Law schools first. I haven’t really entered the “Law school NPV—positive or negative?” debate, and I don’t plan to start. It’s of enormous import on many levels, from the tragic human toll to the socioeconomic policy questions it raises. It’s simply a bit far afield for me to give it the attention it deserves. And I’m not going to do a half-baked job. Still, for the yin and yang of this debate, I refer you to (first pro and then con):

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[I]n today’s environment, averages mislead more than ever. If anything is true about law firm performance in the post-Great Reset era, it’s that dispersion has never been wider. We have more highly outperforming winners and more poorly underperforming laggards.

But if you want to generalize? Out of ‘alive, well, and rich,’ the evidence seems to support one for three.

– Lawyer and law firm consultant Bruce MacEwen of Adam Smith, Esq., taking issue with the defense of Biglaw written by Robin Sparkman, editor in chief of the American Lawyer.

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series from Bruce MacEwen and Janet Stanton of Adam Smith Esq. and JDMatch. “Across the Desk” takes a thoughtful look at recruiting, career paths, professional development, human capital, and related issues. Some of these pieces have previously appeared, in slightly different form, on AdamSmithEsq.com.

We continue our taxonomy of law firms with a term I’ve borrowed shamelessly from the retail industry, “Category Killers.” In retail, these have traditionally been Big Box stores with exhaustive inventory and wickedly competitive prices on one deep “vertical” category of merchandise:

  • Home Depot and Lowe’s
  • Toys ‘R Us, Linens ‘R Us, Attorneys ‘R Us
  • Bed Bath & Beyond and The Container Store
  • Petco and Petland
  • Staples and Office Depot

You get the idea. The most salient characteristic of this model is that it works. If you doubt me, then I have to ask if you disbelieve the famous phrase, “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” because the concept of category killer retail stores has spread far and wide from its initial roots.

As I use it in Law Land, it means a firm that has the following characteristics…

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series from Bruce MacEwen and Janet Stanton of Adam Smith Esq. and JDMatch. “Across the Desk” takes a thoughtful look at recruiting, career paths, professional development, human capital, and related issues. Some of these pieces have previously appeared, in slightly different form, on AdamSmithEsq.com.

Our third installment in the “Law Firm Taxonomy” series addresses corporate-centric firms. With malice towards none and candor towards all, I must confess that I find this species the most problematic of all seven in our taxonomy. I’ll explain why in a moment, but first let me, following Linneaus, simply describe these firms. By and large they:

  • are headquartered in non-global cities
  • cater to desirable upper/middle market clients, mostly non-financial corporations and very high net-worth individuals (the 1%)
  • and are solidly embedded in their local markets

There are a host of such firms, and some of them are quite large indeed, ranking comfortably within the Am Law 50, but in an odd way they are a residual category consisting of firms that don’t fit credibly or plausibly anywhere else.

Where did these firms come from and where are they going?

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Ed. note: This is a new series from Bruce MacEwen and Janet Stanton of Adam Smith Esq. and JDMatch. “Across the Desk” will take a thoughtful look at recruiting, career paths, professional development, human capital, and related issues. Some of these pieces have previously appeared, in slightly different form, on AdamSmithEsq.com.

Adam Smith, Esq. isn’t in the business of covering — or typically even commenting on — late-breaking news, but there’s news and then there’s news.

And the Weil layoffs were reported above the fold on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and as the lead story for much of the day in The New York Times‘ estimable “DealBook.”

To the affected associates and staff: Nothing comforting or reassuring can be said — this is dreadful, awful, horrible, bad bad news for you — but if you can gain perspective after awhile, remember that in America it’s no sin to be knocked down; the sin is not getting right back up.

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