In fairness to DLA Piper, the craziness might not be that high on a per capita basis. DLA Piper is one of the largest law firms in the world. In the most recent Global 100 rankings, DLA took second place in both total revenue and attorney headcount.
Many of the DLA Piper stories are on the lighter side. But this latest one — involving serious allegations of overbilling, apparently supported by internal DLA emails saying things like “churn that bill, baby!” — is no laughing matter….
As we mentioned this morning, preliminary reports suggest that profits and revenue at large law firms were up in 2012. As we noted yesterday, some firms — e.g., litigation powerhouse Quinn Emanuel — enjoyed double-digit increases in gross revenue and net profit.
Of course, these firm financial reports, reported to and compiled by the American Lawyer magazine, are not as detailed as they could be. They certainly aren’t as detailed as the quarterly and annual reports filed by publicly traded companies, even though a fair number of Biglaw firms have revenues and profits that exceed those of public companies.
And they probably never will be, at least as long as U.S. law firms are private partnerships rather than publicly traded companies. But at least one firm is opening the door a crack and letting more light in….
“Where do I sit?” seems like an important question. Especially for second-graders on the first day of school. Or for zit-spocked high schoolers angling to spend some class time in the proximity of their crushes. And just like second-graders or hormonal high schoolers, Biglaw partners are known to obsess about their office locations. For example, I have seen partners I used to work for studying the floor plan like a treasure map, for uncomfortably long periods of time.
Surely they were mentally imagining their names transposed over a corner office, or next door to the big conference room, or for the real aspirants, within touching distance of the managing partner’s office. While this behavior is strange when taken to the extreme, it highlights an important reality of Biglaw.
Is lateral partner hiring a game of musical chairs that law firms can’t win? Anecdotes about unsuccessful lateral hires abound. You hear stories about high-profile partners moving from Firm A to Firm B, often lured by huge guarantees, only to leave Firm B a few years later, after failing to integrate or deliver the expected business.
And some of the most successful firms in all the land, places with immense prestige and sky-high profits, do very little lateral hiring. Their refusal to engage in the lateral market hasn’t seemed to hurt them.
When it comes to lateral hiring, should firms “just say no”? Well, that’s not what’s actually happening in the marketplace. Last year, lateral partner hiring climbed, suggesting that it must be working out — at least for some firms….
Hiring “the lawyer, not the firm” is not a toxic notion; it is sanity.
Hiring the firm would be nuts, for at least two different reasons. First, the firm has many invidious institutional incentives: Let’s suppose you “hire the firm” by calling the managing partner (or head of litigation, or whoever) to say that you have a new case that you’d like the firm to handle. The managing partner naturally pokes around to see “who has time.” Presto! Your case would be staffed with the partner who has nothing else to do, because the firm can’t foist that guy off on any other sorry client. That inept partner would likely be assisted by a few associates who also “have time,” and you’d be wallowing in B-team city.
Not for me, thank you very much.
If you’re an intelligent client, you don’t want the lawyers who “have time;” you want the lawyers who “are good.” There’s no reason to think those two categories overlap, and plenty of reasons to think they do not.
Ed. note: This is a new series from Bruce MacEwen and Janet Stanton of Adam Smith Esq. and JDMatch. “Across the Desk” will take a thoughtful look at recruiting, career paths, professional development, human capital, and related issues. Some of these pieces have previously appeared, in slightly different form, on AdamSmithEsq.com.
At the time I wrote, I treated it more or less as a thought experiment, but we now see that shirking that obligation can come back to bite firms with sharp and large teeth right here in the real world, as seen in Henry Bunsow’s high-profile suit against Dewey’s former leadership (accusing them of running a “Ponzi scheme,” and alleging he’s out $1.8-million in lost capital, among other damages). The gist of Bunsow’s action is that Dewey’s leadership painted a misleadingly rosy picture of Dewey’s financial health, and failed to disclose its obligations in deferred compensation. Bunsow further alleges that former chairman Stephen Davis withdrew his own capital investment after he was forced out of his leadership role and “took those funds personally to the disadvantage of the firm and his fellow partners.”
My three-year-old proposal was that firms be obliged to prepare the equivalent of a Private Placement Memorandum for laterals — equally available to incumbent partners as well, of course.
I also noted that the reaction of most readers would probably fall into polar camps: That my proposal was “fascinating” or else “preposterous”….
Ed. note: This is the latest in a series of posts on partner issues from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today’s post marks the conclusion of a two-part narrative about lateral partner hiring, and was written by Larry Latourette, Executive Director of the Partner Practice at Lateral Link. You can read the first part here.
PROVIDE RECRUITERS THE INFORMATION NECESSARY TO DO THEIR JOBS (CONTINUED)
At the typical meeting with firms to discuss hiring needs, several partners will quickly go through a vague wish list (such as “IP litigators” or “government contract partners” all with “more than $2 million in business”), and give no more direction. When they are asked why a lateral might come to the firm, there is almost always a brief pause, followed by a blanket statement that the firm has a collegial atmosphere and a “no a-holes allowed” policy.
In contrast, with Dickinson, I met all of the D.C. partners to talk about what kinds of lawyers might best complement their practices, and had numerous follow-up discussions with both the individual attorneys and the hiring partner about what would and wouldn’t make sense. I also spoke to numerous lawyers in their other offices to get a sense of what kind of attorneys would be a good fit. Of critical importance were our detailed talks as to which existing and new business opportunities Dickinson might offer laterals, what leadership positions might be available, the recent steady growth of the firm, and where the firm was headed.
They also kept me informed about the process, which allowed me to bring further value. When one group I brought to them mentioned in a meeting with Dickinson that they were considering another firm, I put together a spreadsheet demonstrating that the competing D.C. office had lost half of the lateral partners hired in the last ten years. This was in stark contrast to the much higher retention rate at Dickinson. I later learned that the spreadsheet was a primary factor in helping to seal the deal….
Cravath partners enjoy discounts at Subway, among other perquisites.
It’s rare for partners to leave Cravath, given the prestige, pay, and perks associated with partnership at the firm. And it’s especially rare for a Cravath partner to leave for a rival firm, as opposed to a Wall Street investment bank or major corporation.
Cravath has a very specific system for running itself, and that system has served Cravath very well over the years. As its competitors expend increasing amounts of effort to climb the prestige hierarchy and expand across the globe, Cravath remains at the top, serenely servicing its clients — and printing money for its partners. Part of the reason why Cravath so rarely loses partners to other firms is that it’s so profitable overall that even a partner being paid under Cravath’s lockstep system still does better than a “star” partner at many other firms.
So that’s why today’s news is so notable. A prominent young partner at Cravath has decided to leave Worldwide Plaza and take his talents across town.
Who is the partner in question, and where is he headed?
Ed. note: This is the latest in a series of posts on partner issues from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. This two-part post about lateral partner hiring was written by Larry Latourette, Executive Director of the Partner Practice at Lateral Link.
The call came in on a dreary Saturday afternoon in November. A senior partner from the Detroit-based firm of Dickinson Wright was going to be in town on Monday and wanted to meet about lateral hiring for their D.C. office. Having been a lawyer at three D.C. branch offices (including a stint as managing partner for Preston Gates) and having attended dozens of similar meetings as a recruiter with out-of-town law firms, I didn’t have high expectations; almost all out-of-town firms think they can successfully compete in the brutal Washington market already rife with marginal offices on life support and shuttered offices of those that didn’t make it. Nevertheless, I agreed to meet since I always learn something from these encounters, and one thing life has taught me is that you never know how things will actually turn out.
The meeting and my subsequent experience reconfirmed that lesson as together we almost doubled the size of their D.C. office by adding 10 lawyers in the subsequent 15 months. While many firms do a decent job at partner recruiting, most have some weaknesses either in strategy or execution. Dickinson, however, put in place the best hiring structure and followed through as effectively as any I have encountered.
To bring more rationality to an often convoluted and inefficient process, the following distills the elements of that approach. While its solutions aren’t unique, the Dickinson model offers a useful benchmark from which other firms might improve their own hiring efforts….
We currently have a number of active openings for associate roles at US and UK firms in HK / China, Singapore and two new in-house openings. As always, please feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com in order to get details of current openings in Asia, as well as to discuss the Asia markets in general and what we expect for openings later this year. Our Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney will be in Beijing the week of March 25 and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong the week of April 1, if you would like to meet them in person.
The US associate openings we have in law firms are in the usual areas of M&A, cap markets, FCPA / white collar litigation, finance, and project finance. The most urgent of our top tier (top 15 US or magic circle) law firm openings in Asia (among many other firm openings that we have in Asia) are as follows:
• 2nd to 5th year mandarin fluent M&A associates needed in Beijing and Hong Kong at several firms;
• Korean fluent 2nd to 4th year cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 5th year Japanese fluent M&A associates needed in Tokyo;
• 4th to 6th year mandarin fluent cap markets associate needed in Hong Kong;
• 2nd to 4th year M&A / cap markets mix associate needed in Singapore.
In a land that is right here and in a time that is right now, a technology has arisen so powerful that it can replace basic human document review. Is it time to bow down before our new robot overlords?
First, here’s a little story about me: my life in the legal world began as a paralegal. My first case was a GIANT patent infringement case that was already six years old and had involved as many as five companies, multiple US courts, the ITC and an international standards committee. I knew nothing about any of this.
On my first day, my supervisor (a paralegal with at least eight other cases driving her crazy) sat me down in front of a Concordance database with a 100,000+ patents and patent file histories. “Code these,” she said. I learned that “coding”, for the purposes of this exercise, meant manually typing the inventor’s name, the title of the patent, the assignee, the file date, and other objective data for each document. I worked on that project – and only that project – for at least the first six months of my job. After a week or so, time began to blur.
What I know, in retrospect and with absolutely certainty, is that as time began to blur, so did my judgment. So did my attention to detail. If you could tell me that I did not make at least one mistake a day – one inconsistent spelling, one reversed day and month, one incorrectly spaced title – I frankly would need to see your evidence. I would not believe it. The human mind is trainable but it is not a machine.
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