John Desmarais

Representing patent trolls: harder than it looks?

Has the “mojo hand” lost its mojo?

In 2008, a paralegal at Weil Gotshal alleged in a lawsuit that Matthew Powers, co-chair of litigation at Weil at the time, ruled over his domain with the “pimp hand” and the “mojo hand.” The “pimp hand” was used to intimidate and coerce, while the “mojo hand” was used to stroke and cajole.

In 2011, Powers, one of the nation’s leading intellectual-property litigators, left Weil to start his own firm, Tensegrity Law Group. In leaving Biglaw, he also left behind a stable of blue-chip clients, focusing instead on representing plaintiffs on a contingency basis.

Two years into his new venture, some observers are wondering whether Matt Powers has lost his powers….

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Ed. note: This is the final column by Anonymous Partner based on his interview of a more-senior partner, “Old School Partner” (“OSP”). You can read the first column here and the second column here.

We had been talking for a while, when the conversation turned to Old School Partner’s experiences as a general counsel. He pulled no punches. “I was a very sophisticated consumer of legal services,” Old School Partner told me. In short, Old School Partner, when he turned to outside counsel, had high standards.

Having already decided to leave the security of a leadership position at a Biglaw firm for in-house life, Old School Partner demanded the same attention to detail and professionalism from his chosen outside counsel as he displayed when doing work for his former clients. As an example, he shared how he went about choosing litigation counsel.

“I was looking for counselors,” he told me, and that meant no fluffy credentials without real experience backing them up. “I wanted trial lawyers with real trial experience, who could have the confidence to forego a deposition that was not going to be of any value at trial.” Unlike many clients today, Old School Partner was willing to pay top dollar for real guidance, and did not default to assigning his cases to the lowest bidder or a firm that had a “preferred relationship” with his company. I got the sense that he viewed each case his company was engaged in as a business problem that needed solving, and was willing to pay handsomely for a solution — because he realized that throwing money at a litigation “team” was ultimately less effective and more costly than buying top-drawer help….

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It’s been a while since we’ve had a good New York to 190 post. As we’ve discussed before, associate salaries at New York law firms are long overdue for a raise. Starting salaries have stagnated in New York.

What’s worse, total associate compensation has gone down this year from last year, thanks to Cravath’s low bonus and the absence of spring bonuses. The buying power of a New York associate is pathetic.

But one new firm in New York seems poised to change that. The firm isn’t nearly as big as our salary market leaders, but the firm is leaving the stagnated Cravath salary scale in the dust…

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People are talking about an interesting Slate article entitled “Leaving Big Law Behind: The many frustrations that cause well-paid lawyers to hang out their own shingles.” It’s currently the most-read piece on the site. But it’s actually quite similar, even down to some of the sources, to an article that appeared a few days earlier in Crain’s New York Business:

A lawyer’s hourly billing rate used to be a badge of pride — the higher the number, the more valuable (and supposedly brilliant) the lawyer. But over the past 18 months, a strange phenomenon has been sweeping the legal arena: Partners at major law firms are quitting because they want to be able to charge less for their services.

This is, of course, not a new development. Kash and I wrote about it in a December 2009 cover story for Washingtonian magazine, in which we interviewed a former member of the $1,000-an-hour club who left a large law firm and started his own shop so he could offer clients better value. But all the recent coverage — in Crain’s, Slate, and elsewhere — suggests that the trend is picking up steam.

Which kinds of lawyers are leaving Biglaw to hang up their own shingles? Why are they doing it? And how’s it going for them?

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