Alternative Fees

Biglaw competition is getting intense. Everyone is chasing the same clients, while also deploying rearguard actions to protect institutional clients from being poached. Forget about lateral partners taking clients for a moment. I am talking about overt approaches from competing firms regarding existing matters, bearing promises of handling things more cheaply and more efficiently. In-house lawyers, under pressure to contain costs, almost have to listen. They may not act right away, but with each such approach another dent has been made in the Biglaw client-maintenance bumper.

It is no secret that in the face of declining overall demand (especially for the profit-pumping activities like mega-document reviews that were Biglaw’s joy to perform in the past), firms need to aggressively protect market share. While also seeking to grow market share. In an environment where more and more large clients are either (1) reducing the number of firms that they are willing to assign work to or (2) embracing an approach that finds no beauty contest too distasteful to engage in. So partners, at least those tasked with finding work for everyone to do, are falling back on a tried-and-true “sales approach” — putting things on sale.

How bad has it gotten?

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[Think of hourly fees] as the equivalent of a sticker on the car at a dealership. It’s the beginning of a negotiation…. Law firms think they are setting the rates, but clients are the ones determining what they’re going to pay.

Ward Bower, a principal at the legal consultancy Altman Weil, commenting on the ever-growing price tag for the Biglaw billable hour — and the deep discounts that are available to clients who simply refuse to pay full freight.

A few months ago, we wrote a story about the $160K-Plus Club: those law firms that pay their first-year associates more than $160,000 a year, the going rate within Biglaw. Earlier this week, we covered which cities give young lawyers the biggest bang for their buck — i.e., cities where the buying power of the median salary for that city is the greatest.

Let’s mash up these two stories. Today we bring you news of a law firm that (1) pays a starting salary of more than $160,000 and (2) is based in a city that’s in the top ten for buying power. Associates at this firm are — by our calculations, based on the NALP Buying Power Index — living as well as someone earning $414,000 in New York City. That’s a staggering sum for a first-year associate.

So which firm are we talking about? And are they hiring?

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Now that bonuses, year-end collections, and holiday parties are behind us, it is helpful to remind ourselves (early on in the new year) that it is (paying) clients that make everything possible for Biglaw firms. A few months ago, I was the fortunate recipient of some illuminating correspondence from a Biglaw refugee turned in-house counsel, offering a “customer’s” take on what is both right and wrong with the “current law firm service delivery model.” Because I truly believe in the importance of this column offering an anonymous outlet for informed discussion of Biglaw-related topics (see my posts detailing my conversations with Old School Partner and Jeffrey Lowe), I offered to make my correspondent the resident In-House Insider.

Agreement was not long in coming, together with yet more astute observations about Biglaw. For our initial “discussion,” I have (similarly to how I handled the Lowe interview) added questions and some brief commentary to our Insider’s points, and share this written interview with you. The only changes I made to the Insider’s words were related to their identity, and the Insider was given the opportunity to revise their responses once I added the questions and commentary. I hope we can continue to benefit from this In-House Insider’s perspective in the future. For now, I definitely appreciate when I get contacted by Biglaw-related personalities looking to discuss the issues raised in my column, and share their thoughts with this audience. Without further ado….

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Life in a service profession — there’s nothing to it!

When you’re asked to do something, think about how you can make the other guy’s life as easy as humanly possible. Then, do precisely that. Presto! You’re a star!

When a client asks you to do something, do it. On time and right.

When a partner asks you to do something, do it. On time and right.

“On time” is typically pretty easy to understand: That means “on or before the established deadline.”

“Right” is slightly trickier: It certainly means, at a minimum, “done to the absolute best of your ability.” (There’s a chance that “the absolute best of your ability” won’t make the grade. That’s an individualized issue, not capable of being resolved in a blog post. But it’s a lock-cinch that you won’t make the grade by “submitting a crappy first effort, riddled with incomplete research, barely literate, and filled with typographical and grammatical errors, because all I’m really trying to do is get the client/partner off my back.”)

Now I’ve moved in-house, and life in an in-house service profession is just like life at a firm — there’s nothing to it! . . .

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Each year, Corporate Counsel compiles a list of the firms that the Fortune 100 companies use as outside counsel. These are the firms that corporate clients turn to when they’ve got bet-the-company litigation. From Exxon Mobil to Apple to Walmart, and everywhere in between, these are the clients with the deepest of pockets, and if you care at all about the business end of the law, then this is a list that you should care about.

But this time around, the list looks a little different. Due to the state of the economy, general counsel are now looking for more ways to reduce costs, and are constantly seeking out alternative fee structures. The firms on this year’s list may have been the ones that were most amenable to such changes.

Without further ado, let’s take a look at which firms topped this year’s list….

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* Dewey know how many professional firms have been allowed to stay on as advisers for the largest law firm bankruptcy in U.S. history? Six out of nine firms were permitted to continue services, but Proskauer wasn’t one of them. [Am Law Daily (sub. req.)]

* In other defunct firm news, Al Togut will be presenting Dewey & LeBoeuf’s former partners with a proposed settlement on Wednesday. You’ve been warned: prepare yourselves for some Biglaw-style bitching. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* Despite reports of the billable hour going the way of the dodo bird, it looks like they’re here to stay. Right now, corporate law departments are still much more excited about alternative billing arrangements than law firms. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Judge Sam Sparks, the King of Benchslaps, dismissed Lance Armstrong’s lawsuit against the USADA in record time. That ruling came too quickly — guess it’s time to investigate judicial doping. [New York Times]

* Marc Dreier’s son, Spencer Dreier, is representing himself pro se in a defamation suit against his former college roommate. Looks like Daddy couldn’t spring for his kid’s lawyer while he was in the clink. [Bloomberg]

* A California woman claims that the Food and Drug Administration’s methods regarding sperm donations are unconstitutional. Why should she have to go to an intermediary to get sperminated? [Huffington Post]

* Do you smell what The Rock is cooking? It’s not exactly something to be proud of. Actor Dwayne Johnson is listed as a “co-conspirator” in a $1.8M fraud lawsuit that’s been filed by a South Florida family. [NBC Miami]

There are firms that won’t do it at all, and God bless them if they can get away with that in this environment. Any law firm leader today who thinks they can do 100 percent of work on billable hours forever into the future is not going to have a law firm for very long.

Robert Lipstein, a partner at Crowell & Moring, explaining the shift toward alternative fee arrangements within the legal industry.

Apparently Google thinks this Mob Wife is a 'cheap hooker.' If nothing else, she totally dresses like one.

* The harsh realities of post-recession practice: will Biglaw leaders have to resort to alternative billing practices in order to survive? Well, they better, or else they’re “not going to have a law firm for very long.” [Washington Post]

* I don’t think “secret service” means what you think it means. Listen up, agents, prostitution might be legal in much of Columbia, but it makes America look bad when you can’t afford a $47 hooker. [New York Post]

* Jessica Recksiedler, the judge assigned to oversee George Zimmerman’s case, may have a conflict of interest thanks to her husband. Somebody’s getting banished from the bedroom this week. [Bloomberg]

* Law firms with ties to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have seen record profits compared to their take under Jon Corzine’s rule. That said, even if he called them “idiots,” it was totally worth it. [Star-Ledger]

* UMass Law is being reviewed for accreditation by the American Bar Association, and opponents are throwing some major shade. As if Dean Ward’s scandalous resignation wasn’t enough. [South Coast Today]

* Is this house haunted as a matter of law? That’s what this New Jersey couple is hoping that a judge will say about their rental home. Hey, it wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened in the tri-state area. [ABC News]

* The billable hour may be far from dead, but last year, 61% of general counsel worked out alternative fee arrangements with outside counsel, including counsel from elite (read: Biglaw) firms. [Wall Street Journal]

* Dewey need to take lessons on revenge from this firm? John Altorelli, the D&L defector who spilled all the beans to the Am Law Daily, was blasted on Page Six this weekend. More on this to come later today. [New York Post]

* CHECK YOU LATERALS: recent Quinn Emanuel hires William Burck, Paul Brinkman, and Andrew Schapiro, as well as name partner John Quinn, have entered appearances on behalf of Megaupload. [Am Law Daily]

* Copyright infringement suits over porn downloading involving some 3,500 defendants were dismissed because the plaintiffs’ attorney, Terik Hasmi, couldn’t get it in legally in Florida. [National Law Journal]

* In England, there’s no such thing as a no-fault divorce, but instead, you can get one for “unreasonable behavior” — behavior like malicious service of tuna casserole, and speaking only in Klingon. [New York Times]

* This gives “I’m a Slave 4 U” some new meaning. Britney Spears’s fiancé, Jason Trawick, is trying to start their impending rocky marriage off on the right foot. He’ll soon be her co-conservator. [New York Daily News]

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