Chambers and Partners

No, not that kind of chambers.

I’m in-house, so Chambers & Partners — one of the outfits that rates lawyers and law firms — sent me a free copy of their 2014 guide.

If you’re profiled in that book, you get to write your own (very short) bio. You get something like 50 words to convince the world to hire you. So what did one person, from the distinguished firm of Bigg & Mediocre, write? I’ll slightly alter the bio, to disguise the guilty, but you’ll get my point:

Charles Darnay has argued more appeals in the Second Circuit than any other lawyer at Bigg & Mediocre.”

This guy isn’t competing for business with other law firms; he’s trying to steal business from his own partners! His pitch is not: “I’m better than other lawyers in the world.” Instead, it’s: “I may not be better than most lawyers in the world, but at least I’m better than any of the other clowns you’ll find here at B&M.”

Very nice. But that’s not the best of it; Chambers conceals many secrets . . .

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As was vividly demonstrated by our recent infographic, Biglaw’s summer associate classes have undergone a major and seemingly permanent contraction. For the most part, large — arguably bloated — summer associate classes are a thing of the past. Among the Am Law 50, only eight firms are bucking this downward trend, with actual increases in the size of their summer classes since 2007. These firms are a collection of Wall Street’s oldest and most elite white shoe mainstays: Sullivan & Cromwell, Cravath, Davis Polk, and their ilk. On average, these firms were founded 112 years ago (i.e., during the McKinley Administration). The outlier here is the relative upstart litigation powerhouse Quinn Emanuel, founded only back in 1987.

Besides the durability and strength that comes with such a refined pedigree, what other trends are apparent in this great downsizing of Biglaw’s summer associate classes?

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If you are a Biglaw partner and have only one title to hawk, I hope you are at a really top-tier firm. Because “partner” is no longer enough to impress clients. Especially in this age of multiple industry “guides” eager to anoint mortal lawyers with honorifics befitting your typical episode of Game of Thrones. (I am sure there is a female head of litigation somewhere who would relish being called Mother of Dragons, or a managing partner in Silicon Valley who would not mind being thought of as Lord of the Vale.) Between Chambers, Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers in America, and others, there are plenty of possibilities to supplement “partner” with something more.

Of course, the race for titles happens internally at Biglaw firms as well. Factor number one is prior business generation. Rainmakers are given titles by their fellow partners, like farmers seeding clouds for future rainfall. Every firm has at least a managing partner or CEO, numerous practice group heads, and an executive committee. Some firms, typically those of the “eat what you kill” variety, also exhibit a form of “title inflation,” with co-chairs galore and sub-department chieftains abounding. Plus office-level “chairs” — it is always a hoot when there is a local head of litigation for a branch office with three litigators. Especially when the branch office is a major city, with dozens of robust litigation practices at other Biglaw firms for clients to choose from. Everyone who has been granted a title uses it when marketing outside the firm. Who would want to hire a regular partner for a bankruptcy matter when you can have the co-chair of the Boston office’s (two-member) restructuring department handling things?

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Keep your head down, and prepare to wait if you want to make partner.

As we mentioned in Morning Docket, the American Lawyer just published a wonderful study about making partner at the top Biglaw firms. The publication analyzed all of the new partner hires at 97 of the Am Law 100 firms, reported on how women were doing, and noted some other general trends. Here are the top-line results:

  • Only one third of new partners were women.
  • The average wait for partnership was 10.5 years.

Oh, and there’s a chart that shows which firms were really hostile toward making new female partners….

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Chambers Associate Chambers and Partners.jpgLast month, we mentioned the plans of Chambers and Partners, the U.K.-based publisher of law firm guides, to launch an online guide to U.S. law firms called Chambers Associate. Already well-known for its rankings of top firms in different practice areas — which firms love to tout in their PR materials, since they’re always good news — Chambers now seeks to supplement its coverage with a resource for law students and laterals.
The Chambers Associate site is now live. Enter a firm’s name in the search box to find its profile, or use the advanced search feature to find firms by region, practice area, or some other criterion.
How does Chambers Associate compare to other resources in the market? The field is already crowded, with players such as Vault and the new ATL / Lateral Link Career Center. Editor Michael Lovatt, whom we met at the NALP conference, explained Chambers Associate:

The emphasis we have gone for is away from the Vault prestige ranking model, and toward the notion that there isn’t a ‘best’ firm, rather that an individual’s specific interests and ambitions make different firms — with their various cultures, policies, practice strengths and identities — the right fit.

Getting law students and lawyers to look beyond prestige, in a profession as status-obsessed as the law, may be a challenge. But at least Chambers has done its homework:

For each firm, we write an overview based on the detailed practice area rankings from Chambers USA, then write 10 sections of editorial based on anonymous telephone interviews with a random, representative sample of junior associates at that firm. It’s an in-depth, substantive approach that we think gets under the skin of law firms in more detail than any other publication.

Present company excluded, of course; here at ATL, we pride ourselves on the ability to “get[] under the skin of law firms.” We checked out a few of the Chambers Associate profiles, and they struck us as comprehensive, if a bit tilted towards the positive.
Press release, after the jump.

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