Citigroup

Thumbs up, managing partners!

April Fools’ Day is a terrible day to be in this business. Every tip that comes in requires an extra layer of scrutiny because even longstanding, trusted sources are trying to troll. It’s really not all that funny to make up false but entirely believable stories and pass them off as real. That’s why the Daily Currant isn’t funny.

Which is why when Citi Private Bank issued its First Quarter report on the confidence of managing partners across the legal landscape and declared that managing partners have a rosy outlook, it earned a double take on this end. After all, wasn’t it just a few months ago that managing partners were telling the American Lawyer that it was all gloom and doom on the horizon?

So is this result real? It is, but the headline isn’t the end of the story….

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‘So it’s decided – we’ll be Cravath, Swaine, Moore, & Doritos.’

All those professional responsibility lectures, and bar prep, and boring CLEs that I attended after becoming a lawyer, and all the boring CLEs I dutifully watched on the Internet after I escaped the probationary period, consistently preached the evils of non-lawyer ownership of law firms.

It raises ethical concerns! It dilutes what it means to be a lawyer! This is a profession, not a business! All the usual complaints from a profession convinced that it’s made up of beautiful and unique snowflakes with unimpeachable judgment.

But with the rest of the world embracing new structures to permit non-lawyer ownership — and empirical evidence suggesting that those models raise fewer ethical concerns than the alternative — some argue that the U.S. firm model stifles innovation and cripples international competitiveness.

But the better question is, “Don’t non-lawyers own law firms already?” And to the extent the answer is “of course,” shouldn’t the profession be bending over backwards to approve ownership models that better serve the firms and their clients than the status quo?

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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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Debrahlee Lorenzana

[S]he got nerve damage. What’s unusual about that? Sometimes they screw up.

Frank Panetta, lawyer for Debrahlee Lorenzana, issuing comment on the buxom beauty’s latest lawsuit against Quest Diagnostics. She’s now claiming that she suffered “serious and severe permanent injuries” after getting her blood drawn.

(You may remember Ms. Lorenzana from her lawsuit against Citigroup, in which she alleged that she was let go for being distractingly attractive.)

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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Missing: multiple midlevels

Even though there’s significant excess capacity — meaning too many lawyers chasing too little work — I am hearing the concern that there aren’t enough midlevel associates.

Dan DiPietro, chairman of the Citi Private Bank Law Firm Group, offering an explanation as to why he thinks Biglaw firms want to increase headcount in this time of economic stress. In the latest Law Watch Managing Partner Confidence Index Survey, law firm leaders’ overall confidence level was lower than it has been since last year at this time, with expectations for profits and revenues also on the decline. The only area where their confidence rose was in expectations for hiring associates and equity partners.

D.C. is dysfunctional, as pundits constantly complain about. Has the lack of productivity on Capitol Hill expanded to affect the private law firms of Washington?

Perhaps. According to Citi Private Bank’s recent survey of law firm performance, which showed that the first half of 2013 was bad for Biglaw nationally, D.C.-based law firms did even worse than their counterparts in other cities.

Let’s look at the numbers….

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The sky is not falling for the world of large law firms. But could Biglaw be a frog in boiling water? We can’t rule that possibility out just yet.

The latest report on law firm performance, focused on the first six months of this year, shows some signs of weakness. The numbers aren’t awful, but if Biglaw continues to travel down this path, it won’t wind up in a good place….

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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….

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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….

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