* Well, at least somebody’s getting a spring bonus. A Biglaw firm has folded against the EEOC’s will on the de-equitization of partners. And all of the underpaid old farts at Kelley Drye & Warren rejoiced! [Bloomberg]
* Jets fans, are you ready for some football? That’s too bad, because no amount of Tebowing could have saved Reebok from settling this Nike suit. You’re going to have to wait for your damn jerseys. [WSJ Law Blog]
* George Zimmerman’s lawyers, Craig Sonner and Hal Uhrig, have dumped him as a client. They’re probably just pissed that the “defense fund” he set up wasn’t linked to their PayPal account. [Miami Herald]
* Marrying a terminally ill client who’s as old as dirt may seem like a great way to make some quick cash, but it’s more likely that you’ll just be disbarred. [San Francisco Chronicle]
* When you’ve been late to court so many times that a judge calls your behavior “premeditated, blatant and willful,” you better be ready to open your wallet. That’ll be $500; at least pay on time. [New York Law Journal]
* If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again — but only after a few years, banking on the off chance that the bar admissions people have forgotten about all the bad sh*t you did in law school. [National Law Journal]
* Frank Strickler, Watergate defense lawyer to two of President Nixon’s top aides, RIP. [New York Times]
* Well, this could definitely be one of the reasons why Cravath hasn’t given out any spring bonuses to associates yet this year. They probably had to spend all of their money to clean up their allegedly fly-infested cafeteria. [Am Law Daily]
* Women in Virginia will now be able to politely decline their pre-abortion transvaginal ultrasounds in favor of abdominal ones. Oh, how nice! Look at that, girls, we totally won the war on women. [CBS News]
* Things Dharun Ravi texted to Tyler Clementi on the night the latter committed suicide? “I’ve known you were gay and I have no problem with it.” Of course you knew, you watched his sexual encounters via webcam. [CNN]
If you think this economy is just kicking the asses of recent graduates, associates, and support staff, you are forgetting one critical group: partners without portable books of business. Those who make it rain are getting soaked with wealth, but everybody else is just trying to get a drink.
We’ve heard many stories about partners without business quietly being “pushed out” or de-equitized. But we rarely see an entire group of partners publicly “demoted” en masse.
Last week’s Am Law 100 list revealed publicly a trend that partners at big law firms have been feeling acutely: The largest law firms have de-equitized partners in the last two years in an unprecedented way. In the words of one of the articles, “Equity partner head count alone slipped 0.9 percent last year, after dropping 0.7 percent in 2009.” That trend may undermine the business models of some law firms.
Law firms have many and varied business plans and compensation systems. But one reasonable way to run a firm is to market your most marketable lawyers — concentrate business development in the folks best able to develop business. For that model to work, however, all partners must trust the institution. De-equitization reduces the necessary trust and may kick the stilts out from under this business model.
Here’s how the model works. If a potential new client asks your firm to respond to an RFP for litigation matters, you turn to your half-dozen heaviest-hitting litigators and decide which one will be offered up as the lawyer to lead the new engagement. You know that, if you’re invited to a beauty contest, the heavy-hitter will clinch the deal, because he’s clinched so many deals in the past.
If you read in today’s Wall Street Journal that the plaintiffs’ mass tort bar has just put another industry under seige, you spring into action. Pull together the firm’s marketing materials, identify lawyers with relationships in the relevant industry, draft up outlines of motions to dismiss and oppositions to class certification, assemble an outline of key issues and proposed responses, and then have your relationship lawyers call and email their client contacts, offering to have one of the heavy-hitters meet with the client to explain the firm’s capabilities. The heavy-hitter takes it from there.
If a corporate lawyer gets a serious litigation nibble, the corporate lawyer will naturally advise the head of litigation about the opportunity, so the firm can make an appropriate pitch. The head of litigation asks one of the heavy-hitters to lead the charge.
If a client asks a junior partner in the commercial trial department about the firm’s ability to defend a multi-billion dollar case, the junior partner reports up through the ranks. The firm puts together a response that proposes a talented litigation team to handle the case — led, of course, by one of the heavy-hitters.
This approach to running a firm isn’t crazy. To the contrary: Institutionally, this system makes a lot of sense. You offer up your most impressive lawyers to handle the most important opportunities, land the business, and distribute that business among the masses to keep everyone busy. Collectively, everyone at the firm benefits.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Kelley Drye & Warren for stripping aging partners of equity in the firm.
Here at ATL, we have mixed feelings about the elderly. In an ATL debate over mandatory retirement policies at law firms, Elie endorsed kicking old partners to the curb, while I objected to age discrimination policies. The EEOC also sees age bias in mandatory retirement.
Five years ago, Sidley Austin paid $27.5 million to settle a EEOC complaint on behalf of 32 de-equitized partners. But it looks like Kelley Drye will resist settling, and is not afraid to rough up the ‘decrepit’ New York partner, Eugene D’Ablemont, who wants to keep raking in the big bucks…
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Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deal flow has clearly picked recently up for most US associates, counsels and partners in Hong Kong/China and Singapore. We are on the phone with a lot of these folks on a daily basis, many of whom we have known for years. Further, the head of our Asia team, Evan Jowers, and Kinney’s founder and president, Robert Kinney, frequently meet in person with leading US partners in Asia to assess their needs and keep on top of the inside scoop at as many firms as possible. The need for legal recruiting help in Asia from experienced recruiters appears to be live and well. In March, Evan and Robert were in Beijing at such meetings, in April, Evan was in Hong Kong, and for half of June Evan will be in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Thus its pretty easy for us to tell when there has been an across-the-market pick up in capital markets and corporate work.
On an average day in Asia when Evan and Robert visit firms, they typically have 5 to 9 meetings a day, mostly with US partners in the market. The reason they have these meetings is not simply because Kinney makes a lot of US attorney placements in Asia and that a particular firm may have openings; instead these are just visits with friends. After years of working together as business partners, the folks at Kinney are actually these peoples’ friends. The firms Kinney work closely with in Asia (which is just about every law firm – call us if you want to know the one firm in the world we will never place anyone with again, ever, and why) look forward to the visits, or at least act like they do. After seven years in the market, many of the client partners are former associate candidates. Also, these US partners see Kinney as a very good source of market information as well, because they know how deep their contacts are in the market and how frequently they are speaking to counterparts at peer firms.
In a land that is right here and in a time that is right now, a technology has arisen so powerful that it can replace basic human document review. Is it time to bow down before our new robot overlords?
First, here’s a little story about me: my life in the legal world began as a paralegal. My first case was a GIANT patent infringement case that was already six years old and had involved as many as five companies, multiple US courts, the ITC and an international standards committee. I knew nothing about any of this.
On my first day, my supervisor (a paralegal with at least eight other cases driving her crazy) sat me down in front of a Concordance database with a 100,000+ patents and patent file histories. “Code these,” she said. I learned that “coding”, for the purposes of this exercise, meant manually typing the inventor’s name, the title of the patent, the assignee, the file date, and other objective data for each document. I worked on that project – and only that project – for at least the first six months of my job. After a week or so, time began to blur.
What I know, in retrospect and with absolutely certainty, is that as time began to blur, so did my judgment. So did my attention to detail. If you could tell me that I did not make at least one mistake a day – one inconsistent spelling, one reversed day and month, one incorrectly spaced title – I frankly would need to see your evidence. I would not believe it. The human mind is trainable but it is not a machine.
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