Biglaw

We like to talk a lot about prestige around here, but at Cravath, associates are learning that you can’t spend “prestige points” on your student debt repayments.

Branding is a little easier to take to the bank. It’s something that firm managers and leaders work hard to develop and maintain that can directly lead to business opportunities. As we mentioned in Morning Docket, Am Law Daily published an Acritas report on firm branding. The results will surprise the prestige conscious among you.

This list of firms with a stronger brand than the erstwhile bonus setters at CSM is astounding….

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Newt, you've made the tiger angry.

* “Members of Congress are not above the law,” and that’s why the Senate will likely approve a ban on insider trading of non-public information by the end of the week. Say hello to the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act. [Boston Globe]

* Eye of newt tiger, and toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog. You see, Newt, you screw up one part of the witches’ spell, and you get sued for unauthorized song use on the Election 2012 campaign trail. [Bloomberg]

* Which Biglaw firms have the strongest brands in the country according to high-revenue clients? You’d think that those in the top five would be the firms leading the bonus market, but like most things having to do with money, you’d be wrong. [Am Law Daily]

* As Rutgers Law students take to the streets to protest the school’s merger with Rowan, nontenured faculty members are doing their damnedest to GTFO before all hell breaks loose. [Burlington County Times]

* GW Law will be launching a health care law and policy program next fall for the low, low cost of $5M, but the hordes of law school grads willing to pay top dollar for a useless LL.M. is priceless. [National Law Journal]

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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Hands off the dancers, sir.

Our latest Biglaw blind item concerns the sighting of a partner at a strip club.

Right now you’re probably thinking: yawn. A law firm partner at a strip club? As they say, it happens every day (or night — and often gets billed to “business development”).

But there are a few more details that make this item noteworthy….

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First, a shameless plug. Then, back to business.

I’ll be giving my “book talk” about The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law at The University of Michigan Law School on Monday, March 5, and again at Northwestern University Law School on Tuesday, March 27. If there’s a chance your organization might be interested in that talk, and you’ll be in Ann Arbor or Chicago at the right times, please let me know. We’ll sneak you into the room, and you can get a sense of the topics that I discuss.

Now, the business: You are not a potted plant! When you transmit something, either within a law firm or to (or within) a corporate law department, add value. You are not — or should not be — simply a conduit through which things flow. You don’t impress people with your timidity, and you may well annoy people.

What am I thinking of?

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Keeping you unemployed since 2008.

* People like it when the members of the Supreme Court agree with each other, except when the justices forget to tell them exactly what to do. Poor sheeple. [Washington Post]

* If you’re wondering why you can’t get a Biglaw job, it’s because the firms don’t need you. Well, they probably do, but definitely they need their money more. [Wall Street Journal]

* Chadbourne & Parke to 190K square feet: partners seem to be pissy about the move, but this white-shoe firm may soon be a blue-chip tenant at One World Trade Center. [New York Times]

* British blokes like scamming folks. Kevin Steele, a former Mishcon de Reya partner, has been sentenced to more than five years for his role in a $28M fraud scheme. [The Guardian]

* Florida’s former foreclosure king might have been dethroned, but David J. Stern refuses to give up his crown. Say hello to the Five Guys burger king. [Real Time / Palm Beach Post]

* My Fair Wedding? More like My F**ked Wedding. A New York couple is suing celebrity wedding planner David Tutera, alleging that he left them waiting at the altar. [New York Daily News]

[Ed. Note: Long time readers of Above the Law will remember Exley, a contestant for ATL Idol during which Lat had the ludicrous idea of letting the readers chose ATL's next editor. Exley's got a new blog called Ying-A-Ling, where she wrote this gem of a story of how she used her Biglaw skills to handle a subway situation that we thought you would like.]

So it’s Tuesday morning and the subways on the yellow line are mysteriously MIA. When an R-train finally arrives, it’s so packed that half the people on the platform give up and wait for the next one. I am about to give up too but at the last second see a tiny sliver of space and squeeze myself in just before the doors close.

Two stops into the crowded ride, I’m still congratulating myself on my urban ninja skills when the guy behind me mutters, “Don’t lean on me.”

I hadn’t been leaning on him, though I certainly could have bumped or nudged into him, given the sway of the subway car and all. But actual leaning was what the man in the full velvet suit on my left was doing to me. I was not leaning.

Two years ago, when I was new to New York, two girls had said the same thing to me on the shuttle from Grand Central to Times Square when I had accidentally touched their arms. I’m talking about two young girls, up to my shoulder in height, braces, maybe even pigtails. Nonetheless, I backed away as if they had scorched me with hot irons, and tears might have, you know, sprang to my eyes and s**t.

That was the old me. Today, I am a hardened urban f**king ninja….

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Tom Wallerstein

When Above the Law first covered my “adventure in shingle hanging,” I remember someone quipping that our only business came from attorney referrals and that we didn’t have our “own” clients. The comment wasn’t true, but I still found it interesting. Is a client who pays you money somehow not “your” client, or not a “real” client, just because the client was referred to you by another attorney? That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

But it is worth thinking about the different ways that solo and small law firms try to generate business. There is a valid distinction between approaching a prospective client and asking him to engage you, and approaching other lawyers and asking them to refer cases to you. I’m not sure one is necessarily superior to the other, but they are different approaches. I think of them as “direct” and “indirect” client solicitation.

I also distinguish “active” and “passive” methods. An active approach is where you identify your client and solicit them. A passive approach is where you do something that encourages clients to solicit you. Passive isn’t a pejorative; for example, a good website is an important part of passive business development.

So, I think business development efforts can fall into a matrix. Check it out, after the jump….

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According to the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.), small law firms have adopted the mantra: merge or die. Indeed, the number of law firm mergers is staggering. “At least 60 mergers occurred in the U.S. and abroad last year, the highest level since 2008 and a 54% jump from 2010, according to legal-industry consulting firm Altman Weil Inc. Industry experts expect the figure to rise this year.”

Why the up-tick in mergers? The economic downturn has caused a shift when it comes to legal service providers: it is a “seller’s market for the first time in 20 years.” In other words, law firms are not able to raise rates in order to increase profits. So, small firms turn to mergers as a way to increase their revenue and allow them to compete with all-purpose, larger firms. Randall H. Miller, who as managing partner at Denver-based Holme Roberts & Owen LLP helped engineer its acquisition by Bryan Cave, explained that “[l]ittle by little, our ability to service our clients’ needs ha[d] been limited by our smaller size,” which was why he pushed for the merger.

Yet, small firm to large firm mergers are not the answer for all small firms. The article featured several potential problems….

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The “commenters” at Above the Law are — as you know if you’ve ever looked — a tough crowd. If you’re a partner at a big firm, then you’re a loser, because you’re a workaholic stiff with no life. If you’re a partner at a small firm, then you’re a loser, because you couldn’t succeed at a big firm. If you’re an associate at a big firm, you’re a loser, because you’re a lifeless drone who doesn’t have the courage to pursue your dreams. If you’re a scholar, then you’re a loser: Those who can’t do, teach. If you’re a judge, then you couldn’t cut it in private practice, so you had to bail out.

You get my drift.

The correspondents who choose to write to me personally (by clicking on this link) are an entirely different breed. (Perhaps it’s because they’re not anonymous.) My correspondents have been consistently civilized and reasonable, and often quite thoughtful. But I recently received a well-crafted, nicely written email from a law student who utterly missed the boat. I devote this column to that correspondent, and to others who might be suffering from a similar misconception.

Here’s the backstory: I wrote a column about how improving the quality of law firm interviews might improve the quality of associates that a law firm hires. A law-student-correspondent suggested that law firms might in fact not care about the quality of associates. To paraphrase: “Law firms count on having high attrition in the associate ranks. So you need a fair number of associates who will either leave on their own or have to be shown the door. And law firms make very few partners, so, after an entering class has been winnowed down over the course of a decade, the firm is likely to have one or two remaining candidates who can be offered partnership. That’s true regardless of the quality of the entering class.”

That email is proof that insanity can be made to sound plausible . . .

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