lateral partners

September is shaping up to be a busy month for law firm merger news. On the heels of the Locke Lord / Edwards Wildman deal, we’re getting word that Bingham McCutchen and Morgan Lewis have reached an agreement to merge.

The news doesn’t come as a shock. Rumors of a Bingham/Morgan combination have been circulating for months. There was talk that such a deal could trigger some partner departures, and those departures have already come to pass (presumably removing from the picture some potential objectors to a merger).

Let’s have a look at what a Morgan Bingham — or Bingham Morgan, or maybe just a bigger Morgan Lewis, if no name change takes place — might look like….

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Are the pastures greener over at Freshfields?

In case you haven’t noticed, Freshfields has been on a U.S. hiring spree lately. The Magic Circle firm has been making partners disappear from other firms left and right. It recently lured Peter Lyons away from Shearman & Sterling, his longtime professional home. That came on the heels of Freshfields picking up former Wachtell Lipton partner Mitchell Presser and former Skadden Arps partner James Douglas.

Today brings word of more high-profile hires. We’ve learned that three Fried Frank partners — former co-chair Valerie Ford Jacob and two other capital-markets partners, Paul Tropp and Michael Levitt — are decamping for Freshfields. Their bios are all gone from the Fried Frank website. One source of ours called it “a major loss for the firm.”

Is something going on at Fried Frank? It seems the firm has lost a lot of partners lately….

(Please note the UPDATES added to this post, including comment from Fried Frank.)

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We all dream of a world in which collegiality matters.

Partners at law firms are . . . well . . . partners. They look out for each other. They build each other’s practices. They work for the common good.

Perhaps that firm exists. I wouldn’t know.

From my perch here — as the guy who left a Biglaw partnership for an in-house job, and on whose shoulder other Biglaw partners now routinely cry — the view is pretty ugly. (Perhaps my perspective is distorted because of an obvious bias: Partners happy with their firms don’t come wailing to me.) What I hear these days is grim: Guys are being de-equitized or made of counsel; they think they’re being underpaid; they’re concerned that they’ll be thrown under the bus if they ever lose a step.

Several recent partners’ laments prompted me to think about something that I’d never considered when I worked at a firm. (Maybe that’s because I’m one of those guys who was perfectly happy laboring for the common good. Or maybe it’s because I’m a moron.)

In any event, here’s today’s question: I want to wrestle effectively with my own law firm. I don’t want to be nasty; I just want to be sure that I have implicit power when I negotiate with the firm. I want the firm — of its own accord, without me saying a word — to treat me right. How do I wrestle my own law firm to the ground? How do I pin my partners?

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Observers of the legal industry have been wondering about the future of Bingham McCutchen for the past several months. In the wake of a rocky 2013, which triggered some lawyer departures and staff reductions, there has been a fair amount of merger talk.

Some have wondered whether Bingham might “fall victim to its own strategy” — i.e., whether the firm, which grew in power and profitability by swallowing up other firms, might itself get eaten up by a rival.

So what’s the latest on the Bingham merger talk front? And what might happen if the talks go further?

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When a firm starts losing partners to its rivals and slowing down their hiring (or even conducting layoffs), it’s usually a bad sign. But one Biglaw firm that’s lost a number of high-profile partners over the last year is touting its new, streamlined approach. You see, they meant to suffer all those defections and lose some of their biggest clients. It’s all part of reinventing the firm for the modern business climate.

Is this just good public relations, or are they on to something?

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Jonathan Birenbaum

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Jonathan Birenbaum is a Director in our New York office and focuses his practices on lateral partner, group and associate placements and client services in the New York area and Canada. Prior to joining Lateral Link, Jon, was a legal recruiter with a New York City boutique legal recruiting company where he placed associates and partners in a variety of practice areas with AmLaw, regional and boutique law firms in New York, California, New Mexico and in Toronto. Prior to his career in legal recruiting, Jon was a litigator with the City of New York, the New York State Attorney General’s Office and in private practice as a healthcare litigator with two New York City firms. Jon holds a J.D. from St. John’s University School of Law in New York and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

I started out as a legal recruiter in 2007. After success with a series of lateral associate placements, the recession hit and associate hiring slowed significantly. The owner of my recruiting firm encouraged us to start cultivating a partner portfolio to broaden the scope of our work. Since then, I have facilitated numerous lateral partner placements with regional, Am Law 200, and boutique law firms. I have come to understand that the recruiting process can differ greatly with the size of the law firm. Partner candidates and their recruiters must take these differences as well as the candidate’s scheduling and timing needs into account when devising the best search strategy for that individual.

The first partner I recruited was an undercompensated yet well-respected defense litigator. I introduced him to an Am Law 200 firm as well as to a regional firm based in Pennsylvania. My candidate appealed to both firms because of his national reputation, the key client he represented (a major North American transportation client), and his history of strong billables and collections. Both firms immediately expressed an interest in meeting with him….

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Now that Patton Boggs is safely in the hands of Squire Sanders — minus a few notable defectors, such as Ben Ginsberg’s high-profile election-law team, which is leaving for Jones Day — observers of Biglaw are looking around for other possible trouble spots. And some of them are focusing on Bingham McCutchen.

Back in February, we covered some less-than-positive developments at Bingham: “tumbling profits, partner departures, and unfortunately timed staff layoffs.” What has happened since then?

As we mentioned earlier today, partner departures continue at the firm. Who are the latest partners to leave Bingham, and where are they going?

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The Houston legal market is hot — and a lot of the heat is being generated by Kirkland & Ellis. As we reported last month, K&E recently launched a Houston office with talent poached from a rival.

Kirkland hired Andrew Calder away from Simpson Thacher, for a reported $5 million a year for the next three-plus years. We’ve heard that these figures are a bit high — that he’s hitting the $5 million mark in his first year, thanks to a signing bonus, but not guaranteed at that level for the subsequent years — but there’s no denying that he’s being paid very, very well.

And there’s no denying that K&E will pay what it takes to break into the Houston market. Who’s the latest up-and-coming young partner to get invited into the Kirkland club?

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Juan Monteverde and Alexandra Marchuk

The courtroom battle between Alexandra Marchuk and the litigation boutique where she once worked, Faruqi & Faruqi, rages on. As longtime readers will recall, Marchuk alleges that F&F partner Juan Monteverde sexually harassed her, in severe fashion, and that the firm’s leaders ignored his alleged misdeeds.

But no matter who wins in court, it’s possible to argue that the firm is ending up the loser. It has endured extensive bad publicity, and some of the resulting instability has apparently led to lawyer departures.

Who are the latest attorneys to defect from Faruqi & Faruqi?

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As the old saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. The exceedingly prestigious and profitable Kirkland & Ellis, which has seen some partner defections in the past few months, seems to be taking that lesson to heart.

Kirkland recently launched in the hot legal market of Houston — by poaching a promising young partner from a competitor. Which super-elite firm did K&E just raid for talent?

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