Am Law 200

Just because there aren’t as many people applying to law school, doesn’t mean you should apply to law school. Even if there are fewer people to compete with, what can your feeble skills do against the machines?

From the annals my large “I told you so” files, a few years ago I predicted that the “Watson” technology — computers that can answer complex and subtle questions like Watson on Jeopardy — could be a threat to associate jobs. Now, that technology appears closer than ever to making a real impact on client services.

And it’s not just Watson. There are a lot of technologies floating around that threaten to make much entry-level associate work obsolete. If you are going to law school based on a bet of where the legal job market might be in three or four years, you might want to hedge against the rise of the machines…

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Today, the American Lawyer released its Am Law 200 law firm rankings — a closely watched list of the law firms that are rich and prestigious, but not quite rich and prestigious enough to become a member of the elite and influential Am Law 100. If this were law school rankings, you could think of the “Second Hundred” as the institutions that came in just a step below the lauded T14.

As we noted when the Am Law 100 rankings came out in late April, the key takeaway was that the super rich were continuing to get richer. When it comes to the Am Law 200, flat performance is still very much the new up. There were some outstanding performances, though, and 20 firms out of the Second Hundred were designated as “super rich,” just like their Am Law 100 cousins.

While some firms came out on top, others were merely surviving. How did the Am Law 200 stack up?

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As we noted in Morning Docket, there’s a new survey out about corporate America’s legal spending in 2013. As noted by Am Law Daily, the LegalView Index “is based on actual dollars paid by clients, not on surveys of law firms” — so perhaps it’s more reliable than many of the other studies.

What does the survey say? Here are some highlights:

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Good news: According to the Citi Private Bank Law Firm Group (and its partner, the Hildebrandt Institute), firms are looking at nice, steady profit growth in the coming year. It’s not super, but who can be choosy in the current market? And partially driving this growth is an expected uptick in demand, so that’s good.

Bad news: While the media latched on to the favorable demand projection, the report expects firms to be more profitable because they are finally taking Citi’s advice on how to become more profitable — and that doesn’t bode well for rank-and-file attorneys.

Let’s see what’s in store for 2014….

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As noted in Morning Docket, Citi’s quarterly review of the financial landscape facing law firms just came out. The surface level verdict is — as it has been for some time — slow and steady, with a bunch of red flags.

The firms are happy to see positive revenue growth, even if it’s only 2.7 percent. I mean, other industries aren’t so lucky. But when the industry is a few years into the “New Normal” and analysts are still pointing to the same failings, it’s hard to feel too optimistic.

Let’s look at the other highlights of the report:

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As we mentioned in Morning Docket, the American Lawyer recently released its Am Law 200 law firm rankings — a list that’s still closely watched, but not quite as prestigious as being a ranked member of the influential Am Law 100. Sorry, but being a part of the “Second Hundred” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

While the Am Law 100 celebrated a year of “slow growth” in 2012, it looks like the Am Law 200 will be known for its “bets on bulk.” When all of the big boys were busy playing it safe, perhaps out of fear of becoming the next Dewey, firms in the Second Hundred were gobbling up talent like there was no tomorrow.

Of course, as could’ve been expected, this kind of aggressive hiring had some pretty major effects on firms’ financial performance. So how did the Am Law 200 stack up? Let’s find out…

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Rihanna

* The Am Law 200 rankings are out, and the difference between the First Hundred and Second Hundred Biglaw firms has been described as “stark.” Check out who made the grade here. [American Lawyer]

* Many Biglaw attorneys are sharks, but at Crowell & Moring, a firm with a duck as its mascot, at least they’ve got hearts. They’re awaiting the birth of little ducklings outside of their office. [Washington Post]

* Spyfall, Round Two: General David Petraeus, of CIA and sex scandal fame, is joining private equity company KKR & Co. with Williams & Connelly advising on his employment agreement. [Am Law Daily]

* Want to know at which law school you’ll get the biggest bang for your buck? Want to see which law school is best at financial efficiency? You may be surprised at some of the schools on this list. [Morse Code / U.S. News & World Report]

* No, silly, he wasn’t being an antisocial gunner, he just wasn’t old enough to go to the bar with you. Harvard Law recently graduated one of its youngest African-American students ever. [Boston Globe]

* A legal Hail Mary? Joe Paterno’s family, former Penn State football players, and select members of the school’s board of trustees are suing the NCAA over its Sandusky sanctions. [Legal Intelligencer]

* A woman is suing MAC after she allegedly picked up the gift that keeps on giving from Rihanna’s lipstick: herpes! Chris Brown, don’t hurt me for implying it was from Rihanna. [New York Daily News]

The 2012 Biglaw numbers are starting to trickle in. The American Lawyer (and the rest of the legal press) follows a near-uniform format in reporting them. Revenues — up or down x percent. Profits per partner — slightly to moderately up (if your executive committee was unable to generate higher profits, via financial sophistry or good-old de-equitizations or stealth layoffs, I am very sorry). Revenue-per-lawyer, slightly up. Feel-good comment by managing partner. Slightly passive-aggressive commentary by a “legal consultant.” Repeat, on a daily basis for about a month, until the Am Law 100 (and “interesting” Am Law 200 firms as well) is covered.

As a partner, you obviously hope your firm is reporting good news, even though the likelihood of that news reflecting on your personal situation is pretty low for most Biglaw partners. No one wants to be associated (or own the obligations of) a loser, and when everyone is proclaiming “modest” or “respectable” growth, the peer pressure can be tremendous. Especially where the Biglaw death spiral is a recognized phenomenon, and firms who report poor performance in a generally positive climate are quickly judged negatively, like a figure skater stuck doing double lutzes when everyone else is knocking out triples. Outliers, for good, but mostly for bad, stick out, and their ignominy is frequently paraded on these pages. With bonus Lat commentary for additional effect.

I for one, enjoy reading this kind of reportage…..

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* In a move to “end the vacancy crisis,” one week after being reelected, and one day after the Senate returned to session, Barack Obama nominated seven people for open seats on federal district courts, including two S.D.N.Y. slots. [Blog of Legal Times]

* Dewey know how much the Los Angeles Dodgers will have to pay the now defunct firm for its work on the team’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy case? About $13M — the equivalent of their pitcher’s salary, or 62% of their first baseman’s pay. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Which Biglaw firms in the Am Law 200 are the most LGBT friendly? Overall, of the 145 firms that participated in the Human Rights Campaign’s survey, 71 received perfect scores. Absolutely fabulous! [Am Law Daily]

* The American Bar Association’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education wants to know what should be done about law schools. This is a time to keep it simple, stupid: change EVERYTHING! [National Law Journal]

* The New York Court of Appeals invoked the Major Disaster Rule for the first time ever, allowing out-of-state attorneys to perform pro bono services for Hurricane Sandy victims. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* William Adams, the Texas family court judge who got caught beating his daughter, returned to the bench yesterday after a year-long suspension. At least he won’t get physical abuse cases, anymore. [Fox News]

* John Coffey, Senior Status Judge of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, RIP. [Journal Sentinel]