In-House Counsel

Although Am Law and ATL covered the story first, the long spread in The New York Times alerted the whole world to the woes of Gregory Owens, a former Dewey partner who’s now a bankrupt non-equity partner at White & Case.

The legal blogosphere naturally lit up over this story, with Scott Greenfield dispensing his usual simple justice and the Volokh Conspirators (and their many commenters) debating Owens’ personal and professional worth.

But my emailbox filled up, too, with assorted reactions from people at all levels in the law. The most interesting rant — and the one I’m sharing with you today — came from a person who looks a lot like Owens; he or she is a non-equity partner at a Vault 50 firm who’s in his or her 50s. This person disagrees violently with the conventional wisdom about non-equity partners. My correspondent sings their praises and insists that both law firms and many law firm consultants terribly misjudge the value that non-equity partners provide to their firms. . . .

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Everyone has an opinion about a trip to Disney World. Some people relish immersing themselves in the experience, while others bemoan the long lines, incessant invitations to spend money, and roaming packs of at-turns hyperactive and hysterical children.

Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle, if leaning a bit to being a Disney-phile as opposed to a Disney-phobe. Having just spent a week there with my family, I can attest to the importance of having realistic expectations regarding the trip — such as recognizing that it will not be a relaxing “vacation,” in the traditional sense. Whether physically or emotionally, anything more than a day visit can be quite draining. At the same time, it is also a lot of fun, and can be quite educational for the kids as well. And there is a lot we can learn as lawyers from the way that Disney goes about its business….

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He’s great at servicing clients.

* Morrison & Foerster just snagged a major government player for its global anti-corruption practice. Congrats to the firm on adding Charles Duross, formerly of the DOJ’s FCPA program, as a partner. [Washington Post]

* General counsel are keeping more and more work in-house, “presumably in order to minimize outside counsel spend.” In the alternative, it could be because the lawyers from the firms are too arrogant. [Corporate Counsel]

* If you dare to reject the Facebook friend request of the judge who’s presiding over your divorce case, then you can count on some retaliation in court. You can also count on the judge getting removed. [WSJ Law Blog]

* If you postponed applying to law school, please think long and hard about why you stopped applying the first time. Only take this advice if anything’s actually changed — like your grades, your LSAT score, or the job market. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News & World Report]

* “This is a case to restore faith in the old-fashioned idea that divorce is something that lasts forever.” Steven A. Cohen is getting off when it comes to his ex-wife’s RICO claims, but not much else. [Reuters]

I’ve just celebrated my fourth anniversary working in-house, and I’m now officially out of touch with law firm life.

I thought I knew all the law-firm-partnership tricks. For example, when law students ask at interviews what percentage of firm partners hold equity status, some firms answer: “At this firm, all partners are partners.” That’s true, of course, but tautological; it says nothing about the equity and non-equity ranks.

On the other hand, this non-responsive answer serves a useful purpose. It may help to convince law students (or lateral associates) that they have a real chance at making partner at the firm, even though the equity partnership ranks are tiny and getting thinner every day.

But I recently learned about a new game that law firms play. This one is aimed not at deceiving law students or lateral associates, but rather the granddaddy of law firm rankings: The American Lawyer’s profits per partner calculation.

I thought I knew all the ways law firms could try to mislead The American Lawyer. There’s the possibility of outright lying, of course, and then there’s using funky methodologies that inflate profits per partner from $1 million to $1.8 million for the year 2011. But there’s a new game in town. It may well be widespread, but I heard about it only recently….

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Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith

* Microsoft’s General Counsel was once asked to help police stop a serial killer because he’s Batman. [Business Insider]

* Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is joining DLA Piper. A transportation expert is exactly what you need for a firm that doesn’t know where its offices are. [Chicago Tribune]

* The legal fallout of the fight between Nick Saban’s daughter and her friend is now sitting in front of an Alabama judge. One thing is certain: this case would get dismissed if somebody could’ve avoid a 100 yard FG return for a touchdown. [ABC News]

* Congratulations to Paul Weiss on winning “Securities Litigation Department of the Year.” The award could also be called, “Wow, you helped Citi get out of a lot of jams this year!” [The American Lawyer]

* A KU law grad is donating $1 million to provide scholarships to a new generation of Jayhawk lawyers to run their firm’s March Madness brackets. [Topeka Capital-Journal]

He’s great at servicing clients.

Which Biglaw firms are the best? Which Biglaw firms are the best in terms of providing quality client service? Those are two very different questions. Just because a particular law firm is classified as being one of the best does not mean it isn’t chock full of arrogant a-holes (there’s actually a ranking for that). On the other hand, just because a law firm is overflowing with arrogant a-holes does not mean that it isn’t one of the best. It can be a fairly complicated equation, and general counsel are often forced to pick the perfect sweet spot when choosing outside counsel for litigation matters.

How does your firm stack up against the others, and how can you increase the likelihood that yours will be chosen to represent some of the biggest brands in the business? Being rated as one of the “absolute best” by general counsel in terms of client service will certainly give your firm a fighting chance.

Did your firm make this year’s ranking of the Client Service 30? Take a look and find out…

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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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What’s the key to good writing?

It turns out that it’s also the key to giving great speeches.

And to making great pitches for new business.

And to impressing clients, and your boss, and anyone else who matters to you.

Now that I think about it, it’s not a bad guide to planning your business development activities, ginning up theses for your articles, and plotting your blog posts. It would be a great way to design your firm’s website, too.

Eureka! The key to all professional success on earth!

And, of course, it’s just common sense . . . .

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Being general counsel is like being Tom Hagen in the Godfather — you’re a Consigliere.

– A “top lawyer at a New York City startup,” explaining the value of creative lawyering to getting a new business off the ground. Daniel Doktori of WilmerHale spoke to a number of GCs about when startups should hire a lawyer and how to make the most of their new counsel when they do. Just always remember that Tommy isn’t a wartime consigliere.

This is my first column of 2014, so I’m due to join the ranks of those who make predictions for the coming year.

But my predictions will be slightly different from others, because mine will be based on fact.

In the last months of 2013, I heard that two different law firms had reduced partners’ draws to offset the firms’ poor financial performance. At least one of the firms reduced draws retroactively — announcing near the end of the year that partners’ salaries would be reduced as of January 1, 2013 (which slices partners’ incomes dramatically in the last few months of the year). Both firms shared the pain among all partners — folks suffered in the equity and non-equity ranks alike. (This is a particularly nasty trick to play on income partners: “Here’s your partnership deal: If the firm does better than expected, you’re a mere income partner; of course you will not share the wealth. On the other hand, if the firm performs worse than expected, we’ll permit you to share the pain, and we’ll cut your pay. Here’s the partnership agreement! Sign right here on the dotted line!”)

I’ve now been in-house for four years, and my ear has lifted pretty far from the law-firm ground: If I heard about two law firms suffering from such terribly bad years that they were forced to reduce their budgets as year-end approached, then I’m guessing that many more than two firms suffered this fate. This means that, for many firms, 2013 was not a good year, which leads me to my predictions for 2014 . . . .

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