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….
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….
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….
What is the future outlook for Biglaw? The Magic 8 Ball is not optimistic.
Last month, we wrote about a less-than-cheery report from Citi Private Bank’s Law Firm Group, the largest lender to U.S. law firms. The bottom line of that report for law firms: “With weak demand growth and the continuation of expense growth, it is likely that expenses will continue to grow at a faster pace than revenue, squeezing margins and making it tricky to achieve even low single-digit profit growth.”
As we mentioned in Morning Docket, there’s a new report out from our friends at Citi, and it also sounds pessimistic notes. It concerns the confidence levels of law firm managing partners.
What are the powers-that-be in Biglaw worried about right now? Let’s find out….
The fable of the ant and the grasshopper may have lessons for the world of large law firms.
As regular readers of Above the Law well know, most major law firms — with a fewnotableexceptions — did not pay spring or mid-year bonuses in 2012. Our associate readers generally viewed this news with disappointment, while our partner readers had less of a problem with it.
But perhaps even associates should have been supportive of their firms’ decisions not to pay spring bonuses. Storm clouds are gathering over the law firm world. So says a recent report by Biglaw’s biggest bankers, over at Citigroup….
* Johnson & Johnson will have to fix several factories after an agreement with the FDA prompted by massive product recalls. This still doesn’t explain why my bottle of Tylenol may contain tree nuts. [Bloomberg]
* Charlie Sheen hammered out a custody agreement With Brooke Mueller. That’s nice. [People Magazine]
* Texas may consider a law that would make losers pay attorneys’ fees. Easy, New York Mets. Not all losers. Just those who lose lawsuits. [New York Times]
* A discussion of the legal complaints lodged against the Wisconsin Legislature for Wednesday night’s votes. You know who’s not complaining? This guy. [Wisconsin State Journal]
* A former assistant attorney general from Maine was sentenced yesterday in a child porn case. This is definitely the year of the assistant AG. [ABA Journal]
Happy Birthday Nino
* Not all people living in Idaho are racists, duh. Some are gangsters from Boston. [New York Times]
* Law firm profits and productivity were up in 2010, while demand was flat and revenue was modestly up. Someone named Dan DiPietro and someone named Gretta Rusanow tag-teamed a report all about it. [Am Law Daily]
* A former McGuireWoods partner pleaded guilty to falsifying a tax document. [ABA Journal]
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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: email@example.com.
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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