The first quarter of 2013 was not particularly kind to large law firms. There’s no crisis at hand, but things aren’t exactly great either, with demand registering as slightly sluggish.
Citi Private Bank’s Law Firm Group, which possesses great insight into the legal industry because of Citi’s role as a leading law firm lender, just released its quarterly survey of managing partners’ confidence. The results are consistent with the general sense of “meh” that we’ve been anecdotally picking up from partners we hear from….
* Dewey know when we’ll be able to stop using this pun? Hmm, at this rate, probably never. Steve Otillar and Citi recently settled their dueling suits over the ex-D&L partner’s capital contribution loan to the failed firm. [Am Law Daily]
* Cahill Gordon was supposed to investigate the Rutgers basketball scandal, but the firm cited a conflict of interest, so Skadden Arps stepped in. [Insert the joke of your choice here. I don't like or watch this sport.] [Reuters]
* She’s got a death wish: the aggravation phase of the Jodi Arias trial was postponed at the last minute yesterday, and some think it’s because of the interview she gave after the verdict was announced. [CNN]
I was recently chatting with a young litigation partner about how the year was going for his firm thus far. He confessed it was off to a sluggish start. He was not extremely busy himself, but he said that his colleagues on the transactional side were practically twiddling their thumbs.
He wondered: was this slowness specific to his firm, or was the legal industry in general not exactly going gangbusters? I shared with him my sense, admittedly anecdotal, that 2013 to date has been pretty “meh.”
Now we have actual data on the first quarter. My partner friend should be relieved. Misery loves company….
* Right about now, the Second Circuit is wondering why authors are suing Google and crying infringement over the Internet company’s e-book project, especially since digitization could benefit so many of them. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]
* This is the end of an era of legal battles: Jeffrey Skilling, Enron’s former chief executive officer, is getting a little shaved off the top of his 24-year prison sentence thanks to a deal with the Department of Justice. He’ll be out in 2017. [CNBC]
* Biglaw expected to have a slow start in 2013, but no one expected it to be this slow. The latest Citi report wasn’t exactly encouraging; on average, firms saw a 0.2% increase in revenue during the first quarter. [Am Law Daily]
* In the past decade, the American Bar Association has created six task forces to explore changing the face of legal education as we know it. Funny… nothing’s really changed. [National Law Journal]
* Bail for Ariel Castro, the accused Cleveland kidnapper, has been set at $8 million. “Just think of how many ribs and salsa albums could be bought with that, bro,” said Charles Ramsey. [Chicago Tribune]
* To those of you who celebrate it, Happy Easter! Welcome the holiday by voting in the ABA Journal’s fifth annual “Peeps in Law” contest. [ABA Journal]
* If law firm brackets aren’t your thing, check out Professor Kyle Graham’s brackets for (1) law school classes and (2) law blogs. I’m thankful for ATL’s #1 seed but terrified by who we’re up against (because they’ve ripped me a new one before). [noncuratlex]
* Sorry, Judge Steiner, you wuz robbed; you should have been our Judge of the Day. It’s tough to top “allegations of a sexual quid pro quo with a female lawyer and the eye-opening confiscation of carpet from [chambers] for forensic analysis.” [OC Weekly]
The legal economy right now is not unlike the economy writ large. People with small or non-existent paychecks are suffering, but those at the top are actually doing just fine for themselves.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it might just be reality. As David Brooks put it in a recent New York Times column, “[t]he meritocracy is overwhelming the liberal project.” He argues that in our current, rapidly changing economy, people who are smart, well-educated, and hardworking just end up doing better and better for themselves — and there are practical limits on how much redistributive policies can “fix” this situation.
Sorry for that digression — back to Biglaw. Let’s take a look at how the rich are getting richer….
* The early numbers for the Am Law 100 are in, and it looks like Husch Blackwell’s gross revenue grew by six percent in 2012 after a two-year decline. Hmm… perhaps the firm is saving money by cutting back on its rejection letter proofreaders. [Am Law Daily]
* “If I can’t settle with any of those parties, I will sue them.” Howrey’s trustee, Allan Diamond, plans to sue former partners of the failed firm with a vengeance — and quite “quickly” — if they refuse to cooperate with him. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]
* Anyone remember Amy McTeer, the attorney who doubled as an apparent model for “faces of meth”? She resigned from the bar after allegedly helping her boyfriend escape from jail. Classy! [National Law Journal]
* Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. Attorney whose name was dragged through the mud after Aaron Swartz’s suicide, claims she intended to recommend only a six-month sentence for the deceased internet hero. [Bloomberg]
The grass isn’t quite this green in the ‘new normal.’
In a piece from last month, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wondered: Is Growth Over? One could very easily take this question, posed with respect to the broader economy, and apply it to the world of large law firms.
And what would the answer be? According to a client advisory just issued by Citi Private Bank and Hildebrandt Consulting, “Probably.”
Their analysis is gloomy, although guardedly so; we’re not talking about “the sky is falling” pronouncements. Let’s take a look at the specifics….
I later found out that during this whole period of time… when I was being romanced by Citibank, that they had reason to believe — in fact, they knew — that Howrey was in default of material covenants, and they didn’t tell me that.
– Stephen O’Neal, a former partner of Howrey LLP, in a deposition in his pending litigation against Citibank. O’Neal and another former Howrey partner, David Buoncristiani, allege that Citibank committed fraud by encouraging them to finance their capital contributions with Citi, claiming that Howrey was financially sound when the bank knew Howrey wasn’t.
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