When we last checked in on Patton Boggs, the long-suffering law firm was on the brink of a bankruptcy breakthrough. Its partners, and the partners of Squire Sanders, were in the middle of voting on a merger that would save Patton Boggs.
Alas, sadly for Patton Boggs, Squire Sanders has suspended the merger vote. What happened? Did Squire come to its senses get second thoughts about that hideous proposed firm name, Squire Patton Boggs?
Actually, no; the issue is more substantial than that. Here’s a hint: Patton Boggs might have saved itself by June, if it weren’t for those meddling… Ecuadorian villagers!
(The vote is back on. Please note the multiple UPDATES at the end of this post.)
Some former partners of the dearly departed Dewey & LeBoeuf claim that the firm could have survived if not so many partners had defected in the final months. The wishful thinking theory of these Dewey defenders is that if the firm could have held on to more of its top rainmakers, the plan of paying everyone back (slowly) and waiting for work to pick up might have succeeded.
Perhaps learning from Dewey, the leaders of embattled Patton Boggs have been trying to get partners to commit to staying as the firm restructures. Not long ago, managing partner Edward Newberry declared that about 90 percent of the firm’s partners agreed to stick around.
But 90 percent is not 100 percent. Today brings word of more Patton partners headed for the exits. How many? Who are they? And where are they going?
Patton Boggs, the once heralded D.C. lobbying firm, has been in trouble for more than a year now. It all started in March 2013 when the firm conducted significant layoffs, and things continued to spiral out of control from there. Additional layoffs followed, flanked by fleeing partners and the closure of the firm’s Newark, New Jersey, office. Profits have plummeted, so much so that Patton Boggs hired the Dewey & LeBoeuf turnaround team of financial advisers Zolfo Cooper and bankruptcy attorney Al Togut. Things certainly aren’t looking very good for the firm, even though managing partner Edward Newberry claims it’s all lollipops and unicorns over there.
Admittedly, first Newberry was afraid, he was petrified. He thought Patton Boggs could never live without cash by its side. But then he spent so many nights thinking how his firm went wrong, and he grew strong. He learned how to get along. His firm will survive — “healthy and profitable” — the same way all floundering firms do: additional layoffs are making their way down the pipeline, and it’s partners’ heads that will roll.
How many partners will have to find new homes? Let’s find out…
Albert Togut: man with a plan (of reorganization).
Maybe the floundering firm of Patton Boggs can actually right itself. It doesn’t have the Biglaw mark of Cain, namely, a name that lends itself to bad puns — e.g., Dewey and “do we,” Howrey and “how are we,” and Thelen (rhymes with “feelin’”). In hindsight, Patton Boggs did the right thing when it dropped George Blow’s name from the marquee and went from “Patton Boggs & Blow” — a name we would have had a field day with — to simply “Patton Boggs.”
(Yes, Patton Boggs has some pun potential. But there are only so many “bogs down” and swamp-related plays on words to be had. Yes, even for us.)
Luckily, for the time being we can use some “Dewey” puns. Because Patton Boggs, for whatever reason, is using all of Dewey & LeBoeuf’s old advisers….
For those of you who haven’t tuned out Jarndyce v. JarndyceChevron Corp. v. Donziger, the never-ending litigation between oil giant Chevron and plaintiffs’ lawyer Steven Donziger, today brings some news. It shouldn’t come as any surprise to those who have been following the case, but Judge Lewis Kaplan (S.D.N.Y.) just ruled in favor of Chevron, enjoining Donziger and his Ecuadorean-villager clients from trying to enforce here in the United States the multi-billion-dollar pollution judgment they secured against Chevron in Ecuador — a judgment that was the result of fraud, according to Judge Kaplan. (Links to coverage and to the parties’ reactions to the ruling appear at the end of this post.)
The Chevron/Ecuador case is one of those matters that’s most interesting to those who are actually involved in it; to the rest of us, it’s a lot of noise. Speaking for myself, I’m interested in only two aspects of it: (1) its impact on the revenue and profit of Gibson Dunn, which has been litigating the case aggressively on behalf of Chevron, and (2) its meaning for the deeply troubled law firm of Patton Boggs, which made the ill-advised decision to align itself with the Ecuadorean village people.
In a media call this afternoon that I joined, Chevron’s general counsel, R. Hewitt Pate, declined to discuss the size of the company’s legal fees in the litigation. So we’ll have to focus on that second item: the bog that is Patton Boggs. Which right now looks like the Lago Agrio oil field, prior to remediation….
The prominent lobbying and law firm recently announced the closing of its office in Newark, New Jersey. Discussing the move with Politico, managing partner Edward Newberry said, “We’ve lit intentionally a forest fire, we’ve controlled that forest fire. While we’ve lost a few people over the last year, who are good friends and good partners, our firm is much stronger today than it’s been in a long time.”
The firm has lost “a few people” over the last year? How about roughly 100 attorneys, representing 20 percent of lawyer headcount, plus an unknown number of staff? With additional prominent partners said to be eying the emergency exits?
Let’s not mince words: Patton Boggs is stuck in the muck. In the most recent Am Law 100 rankings, the firm showed a 15 percent decline in profits per partner — one of the biggest dips in the entire survey, contrasting with the modest growth that most of Biglaw enjoyed. Gross revenue also fell, by 6.5 percent.
The Am Law 100 rankings looked at 2012 performance compared to 2011 performance. Perhaps things have improved for Patton Boggs in 2013?
Alas, no. While many firms have resorted to voluntary buyouts or layoffs of support staff this year, few have laid off lawyers (at least not openly). But Patton Boggs has already been through two significant, open and notorious rounds of layoffs in 2013 to date, affecting not just staff but lawyers as well.
How is Patton Boggs trying to save itself, and will its plan work?
Law firm layoffs are back (assuming they ever left). This is not a complete shock, since we heard predictions of them in January, including predictions of partner layoffs.
Many of these layoffs are stealth layoffs — so some firms might argue that they’re not even layoffs, just performance-based dismissals made in the ordinary course of business. It’s hard for us to report on these unless we receive enough tips. If we hear from a single lawyer or staffer who has been asked to leave, that could be a performance-based dismissal; if we hear from multiple lawyers or staffers at the same firm, that starts to look more like layoffs. If you have layoff information you’d like to share, please email us or text us (646-820-8477).
Now, on to the layoffs at Patton Boggs, D.C.-based law firm and lobbying powerhouse. These reductions were too large to fly under the radar….
Please note the UPDATES below regarding the number of affected employees.
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 seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.
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