Lateral Moves

Law firms have been in a “slow growth” phase ever since the nation began its recovery from the Great Recession. As we mentioned when we discussed the 2013 Am Law 100, “success now comes in the form of single-digit returns with regard to key financial metrics,” with Biglaw gains described as “modest” and “spotty” across the board.

Big-name lateral hires can sometimes bring in enough positive publicity and fanfare to make even the sickest of firms seem like the very picture of health and vitality. According to the latest American Lawyer Lateral Report, those lateral moves can be likened to a peacock’s tail: they offer “no advantage” for a firm’s ultimate survival, and may hinder the firm in the future. It happened at Dewey, and it can happen at other firms if they’re not careful. If only partners’ attentions weren’t so easily grabbed by the promise of higher profits.

So if this growing reliance on lateral hiring is truly capable of destabilizing law firms, wouldn’t you like to know which firms did the most lateral hiring over the past year? We’ve got the details for you….

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Only you can prevent lateral fires.

* There will be filibusters: Victoria Nourse, a Georgetown Law professor whose nomination to the Seventh Circuit was blocked, thinks the political move will remain intact for SCOTUS nominees. [Legal Times]

* The Tenth Circuit politely pwned Roberta Kaplan. Her bid to intervene in the Utah same-sex marriage case before the court was rejected. Guess she’ll have settle for writing an amicus brief. [Salt Lake Tribune]

* Are laterals killing your firm? It happened to Dewey, and it could happen to you. Only you can prevent lateral fires. Take the pledge and show your commitment to lateral fire prevention. [American Lawyer]

* Lawyers are worried about what’s been going down at the storied Canadian firm of Heenan Blaikie. A third of its partners did the dip over the weekend amid financial troubles. Sounds familiar… [Ottawa Citizen]

* Women are slowly but surely working to close the gender gap in the law — well, at least they are in South Florida. It seems to be working, though, so feel free to follow their lead. [Daily Business Review]

* “Just because you can’t make the world a perfectly fair place doesn’t mean you can’t make it fairer.” If you really liked socialized health care, then you’re going to absolutely love socialized law. [New Republic]

* If your LSAT score is in the 160 range and you’re writing to an advice columnist to figure out what to do next, then you are the most special of all the little snowflakes. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News]

Back in December, some associates at Kirkland & Ellis expressed some displeasure about their bonuses. Now, make no mistake, the K&E bonuses still beat the market by a healthy amount; they just didn’t beat the market by as much as they usually do (at least according to some sources; under an individualized bonus system, reactions will vary).

In our bonus post, we wondered about K&E’s financial performance in 2013. Could the firm — which could very well be the nation’s finest law firm — have had a less than stellar year?

Associates might not be the only ones dissatisfied with their compensation. Sources point to a fair number of prominent partner departures over the past few months, in one of K&E’s top practice areas….

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Is there really a value to recruiting home-grown associates based on 1L grades? Is there a negative connotation to not competing with the top-tier firms for law school talent? Can firms only fill their “real” needs by looking across the market for lawyers 3 or 4 years into their careers?

There are pros and cons to recruiting associates (and partners) through either method. Let’s take a look at how to build a law firm….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Scott Hodes is a Principal in Lateral Link’s South Eastern office. He utilizes his experience as a former partner to help partners and associates make lateral leaps in the Florida and Atlanta markets.

With the new year upon us, we look back at an exciting 2013 as we have witnessed a resurgence in the legal industry after enduring a rocky time during the recent recession. As economic and labor market conditions improve, many firms are seeing sustained signs of growth, especially in the South Florida market.

As evidence of this growth trend, one need not look any further than Miami-based Akerman Senterfitt, now known as Akerman LLP. With more than 550 lawyers and government affairs professionals, Akerman recently became the largest law firm in South Florida based on number of attorneys, eclipsing Greenberg Traurig. Akerman reported its third consecutive year of growth, with record gross revenues of $297.5 million and net income of $109.3 million for the 2013 fiscal year. From January 1, 2013, to date, 65 attorneys, including 19 partners, have lateraled in to the firm. During that same time period, only seven attorneys departed the firm.

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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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The guy in today’s story didn’t dress up like Gumby, but it’s still an amazingly stupid disguise.

* Man tried to rob a convenience store so he could go back to prison. And he almost screwed that up… [KMOV]

* The CIA’s former lawyer explains how torture came to be a go-to national policy. According to John Rizzo, author of the forthcoming Company Man (affiliate link), George W. Bush basically had no conception of what was going on, which makes a lot of sense anyway. [The New Yorker]

* Brooklyn Law’s Dean Nick Allard makes predictions for law schools in 2014. “[P]eople will look back at 2014 and say it marked the start of the new world of law: a renaissance where the respect and reputation of lawyers and law schools began to rise by measurable benchmarks.” Go ahead and laugh, I’ll wait. [TaxProf Blog]

* Paul, Weiss picks up tax partner Scott Sontag from Weil Gotshal. (Congrats to both firms, by the way, on tying for the #9 spot in our list of top-ranked law firms for 2013.) [Paul, Weiss]

* Nooooooooooooo! Judge Richard Kopf is ending his blog. [Hercules and the Umpire]

* And the hits keep on coming. Professor Kyle Graham is also leaving the blogosphere. [Non Curat Lex]

* The Ninth Circuit will start streaming all of its oral arguments next week. If you want to help them out, tune in. No promises that the panel will excoriate any prosecutors this time. [Ninth Circuit]

As we’ve chronicled in these pages, the powerhouse firm of Weil Gotshal has been experiencing some upheaval. The big summer layoffs have been followed by a steady stream of partner departures, mainly from offices outside the power center of New York.

Many of the defections have taken place in Texas, but Weil’s Washington outpost has also been hard hit. Last month, that office lost three IP litigators to Greenberg Traurig. Said one of our sources, “IP was one of Weil D.C.’s most profitable practice groups. Expect downsizing or partner acquisition from another firm to compensate for loss.” And that wasn’t all. Earlier this month, BuckleySandler snagged Walter Zalenski, a prominent player in financial services regulatory law, from Weil.

Today brings news of another departure from Weil in Washington. Who is leaving now, and where is he going?

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Ed. note: This post is written by Clint Russell at Prestige Legal Search. Check out their Prestige Rewards Program here, or email him here.

Bonuses are in. ‘Tis the season to lateral. Here’s what you need to know to make a move. Warning: some points are fairly obvious, many are overlooked, but all are important.

1. Start the process now.

Making a lateral move takes time. Unless the planets magically align for you, you’re likely looking at a couple-month process, start to finish. While that’s certainly not a bad thing (you should be exhaustive when making a career change), it does mean that you should start the process now if you’re planning on exploring your options after you collect your bonus in the upcoming weeks/months.

This is not to say that you should send your résumé to every recruiter that includes you in an e-mail blast in January. However, now is a good time to start taking all the necessary steps that come before sending out résumés and interviewing. These steps will help ensure that your lateral move will be as painless as possible.

The more organized you approach your search, the easier it will be for a good recruiter to get you what you want. This is typically a slow time of year for both work and lateral opportunities, so it’s a good time to get all your ducks in a row and be ready to take advantage of all the opportunities that interest you in 2014…

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The past few months have been good ones for Morrison & Foerster. The firm, which secured an impressive victory for longtime client Apple in the smartphone wars, could end up getting part of its $60 million in fees paid by the losing party, Samsung. MoFo has also been adding new talent at a good clip, including D.C. securities partners Martin Dunn and Scott Lesmes (formerly of O’Melveny & Myers), London restructuring partner Howard Morris (formerly of SNR Denton), and a slew of partners (formerly of Hogan Lovells) who opened MoFo’s new Berlin office.

So the news about lateral partners at Morrison & Foerster is exciting. Can the same be said about associate bonuses in the New York office, the first MoFo outpost to announce?

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