Bruce MacEwen

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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We posed this question earlier today. The answer, according to a recent news report, is yes.

The past few months have been bumpy for Bingham. In February, we reported on falling profits, partner defections, and staff layoffs. In June, we covered additional partner departures. (By the way, the two “unidentified partners” who went to Skadden turned out to be tax partners Rajiv Madan and Christopher Bowers; they left Bingham due to a client conflict.)

In recent weeks, Bingham conducted a management shake-up. And now comes word that it might be looking for a merger partner.

Keep reading for our review of the reports, plus an internal email that just went around the firm commenting on the speculation….

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I previously wrote about the depressing prospects for graduates of all but the top ten or twenty law schools (“Two Law Grad Markets”). And yes, these were statistical generalizations, and the experience of specific individuals with particular skills and backgrounds will always be different, pro and con. But as an industry, if you care about our supply chain for talent, many law schools are burning platforms.

There are actually some closely connected problems driving this dynamic:

  • More JDs are being turned out each year than there are (a) full-time, (b) long-term jobs, (c) requiring bar passage, (d) at current salary levels;
  • perhaps the primary reason for the mismatch between supply of JDs and current demand for them (about two supplied for every one today’s market is demanding) is that clients increasingly resist paying for junior associates, which makes it uneconomic for firms to invest in traditional training;
  • but/and at the same time, every sentient observer is painfully aware that vast segments of the U.S. population — consumers and businesses alike — remain underserved by lawyers.

This would prompt any economist to ask, almost instinctively, “Why isn’t there a market-clearing price where supply and demand can meet?” Which is another way of asking, “What if there were a way to address both these problems at a single stroke?”

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Who is the white knight of Patton Boggs?

When we last checked in with the beleaguered law firm of Patton Boggs, things were looking… dicey. The firm was losing more partners — some due to layoffs, some due to defections — and firm leaders were suspending their partnership draws (and asking their fellow partners to do the same; yikes).

But today we actually have some positive news to share about Patton Boggs. Here comes the cavalry!

Which major law firm just signed a letter of intent with Patton Boggs regarding a possible merger?

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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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* A guy who tried to get on the bench more than once was just busted in a prostitution sting. Oops. He also spells his name weird. [The Press Democrat]

* Tomorrow, Gibson Dunn partner Miguel Estrada will argue before the Second Circuit that private parties can’t get injunctions under RICO. For those keeping score, Gibson Dunn partner Randy Mastro hangs his whole case in Chevron v. Donziger on a request for an injunction under RICO. Time to play the Distinguish Polka. [Courthouse News]

* Wait until the RIAA realizes there are royalties to be made at CIA black sites in Uzbekistan. Because the only thing more torturous than being forced to listen to this music is the tenacity of the RIAA. [Slate]

* More on the legislative fight over accrual accounting versus cash-basis accounting for Biglaw firms. To the barricades! Swear your allegiance to Generalissimo MacEwen! [Adam Smith, Esq.]

* Is there a right to online anonymity? All the people out there trying to hire contract killers over the Internet certainly think so. [InsidePrivacy]

* Jay Edelson and Chandler Givens of Edelson PC examine the flawed law firm recruitment model. [Legal Solutions Blog / Thomson Reuters]

* Slip and falls at the IRS office. [Lowering the Bar]

It’s been viewed online nearly 7 million times. Sheryl Sandberg calls it one of the most important documents ever to come out of Silicon Valley. And it was created by the company whose stock increased in 2013 more than any other’s in the S&P 500—up nearly 350%.

“It” is a 126-slide PowerPoint called “Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility,” and it outlines Netflix’s approach to just that—culture—although it has primarily been interpreted as a “reinvention” of HR, as this Harvard Business Review article puts it.

Going through the entire PowerPoint (I have) is valuable in and of itself; if nothing else, you’ll see how very well done PowerPoints can be, for a change. But the HBR article, written by the former head of HR at Netflix itself, distills their approach to talent into five tenets based on two key insights into how people actually feel about performing their jobs…

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Turnabout.

I recently wrote about how to demoralize, discourage, and disenchant top talent. This is about how to retain that talent. Like the prior column, this one is based on one of the top columns of the year from Strategy + Business, the Booz & Co. publication: Retaining Top Talent: Yes, It Really Is All About Them.

Prefatory clarification: What follows isn’t addressed to your inner circle of key leaders, or to the Super Rainmakers, all of whom you presumably know intimately, and with whom you talk about what follows all the time, in ways tailored to each individual. Rather, what follows is addressed to how you deal with all the talent that’s not at the tippy-top of your firm already.

Here’s how the Strategy + Business piece starts:

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That law firms are all about talent is a commonplace. Too bad that so many lawyers seem to have an uncanny knack for knocking the wind out of the sails of the most spirited contributors.

I dare you to tell me that you don’t recognize at least a few colleagues who exhibit some of the behavior described in The Three Habits of Highly Effective Demotivators, just picked as one of the top posts of 2013 on Booz & Company’s “Strategy & Business” publication. If these colleagues are at your firm now, you know what to do; if they used to be at your firm and you took the necessary measures, congratulations. (Just be on alert that you may have to do it again.)

The author uses the example of a real, but disguised, high-tech startup in the academic sector, whose CEO—otherwise brilliant—was referred to internally, sotto voce, as “the DM,” standing for “the DeMotivator”:

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “From Across the Desk: See Talent. Kill It.”

Linear extrapolations are widely suspected of being unreliable, but maybe not widely enough. Stated differently, it’s a category error to engage in static, not dynamic, analysis. Stated yet differently, the interesting challenge is almost never to ask, “What can we do to solve this problem?” but instead, “What happens after we take this approach to solving the problem?”

Here’s an example. A long-running contributor to structural disequilibrium in the metropolitan New York traffic congestion pattern is that bridges across the East River are toll-free, whereas almost all other bridges and tunnels in the area carry tolls as high as $12 one-way. Not surprisingly, the East River bridges are chronically congested and “over capacity.” (The experts’ knowing diagnosis that they’re “over capacity” always amuses me; drivers are paying in time, not money: The “capacity” of the bridges is what it always has been.) So periodically proposals are floated to impose tolls on these bridges, with seemingly reliable projections of how much revenue would be collected based on today’s vehicle traffic multiplied by the average toll.

This is a linear extrapolation, a static analysis, and it’s wrong. It overlooks the question, “How will people alter their behavior in light of the tolls?” Obviously, the answer is that some will carpool, some will take mass transit, some will telecommute more often, some will use different combinations of bridges and tunnels. Whatever happens, toll revenue will fall short of {[today's traffic volume] x [proposed toll]}.

Now, in law school land, we have a stunning example of market dynamics at work….

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