Laterals

Bingham new logoOver the past few months, we’ve offered extensive coverage of Bingham McCutchen, the once high-flying law firm that’s now struggling to survive. Bingham has remained mainly mum during these trying times.

This week, however, managing partner Steven Browne — who took over earlier this year from Bingham’s longtime leader, Jay Zimmerman — has been on a charm offensive. He gave interviews to the Boston Globe and the Wall Street Journal, which along with the American Lawyer ran long pieces on the state of affairs at the firm. We’ll share with you the new and most notable material from all three stories.

Before we get to the substantive stuff, though, let’s check out the Wall Street Journal’s interesting choice of a photo for its Bingham piece….

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kirkland RFEarlier this year, we noted a number of departures of private-equity partners from Kirkland & Ellis, a traditional leader in the PE space (and the #2 firm in our new law firm rankings). But K&E has also picked up partners in this practice area as well, including Sean Rodgers and Rick Madden, plus Andrew Calder and Anthony Speier in Houston.

This week the revolving door spins again at Kirkland, with the departure of a lawyer who has served in leadership roles at K&E. Who is he, and where is he going?

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goodbye farewell Ill miss you“Beware the serial lateral partner.” That’s conventional wisdom in some circles of the legal profession. Here’s a pattern you often see: someone who gets poached by one firm, presumably lured by a big pay package, then laterals to another firm after the period of guaranteed compensation runs out, to enjoy another few years of guaranteed comp.

Today’s lateral partner story is a bit different. This high-profile partner is leaving his new firm after less than a year there (surely to the great disappointment of any recruiter who might have been involved in his original move).

It’s a strange story. What could be going on here?

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In our last report on the beleaguered Bingham McCutchen, we predicted that its partners would vote in favor of the proposed merger with Morgan Lewis — even if some of them might get de-equitized as a result. Why? Because “it’s not clear that Bingham has better options.”

Talk about understatement. Maybe this is fearmongering to get Bingham partners to approve the deal, but check out what management is saying might happen if this deal doesn’t go through….

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Earlier this month, we reported on Bingham McCutchen and Morgan Lewis & Bockius’s agreement to merge. The 750-lawyer Bingham firm has been going through a rough patch lately, so news of the deal with 1,200-lawyer Morgan Lewis sounded like a rescue to some observers.

But rescues come with terms and conditions. What are the ones at issue here? There’s good news for some Bingham partners, and bad news for others….

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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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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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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. As Michael Allen, Managing Principal at Lateral Link, recently announced, “We are pleased to announce the hiring of Ryan Turley [pictured], who brings years of legal and recruiting experience to Lateral Link. We recently sat down and he gave me his thoughts on the Chicago market and how it compares to the national market.”

As we become further and further distanced from the recession of 2008 and 2009, the market seems to be settling into a new equilibrium state that has seen a modest uptick in the demand for legal services and a sharp rise in the volume of lateral moves since 2009.

My own stomping ground, Chicago, is no exception. From 2009 to today, the Windy City has seen a significant increase in lateral moves:

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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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