Laterals

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today’s post is written by Nicholas Goseland, a Director at Lateral Link, where he oversees attorney placements and client services in California and Asia.

Seeking to chart a course for China, Fenwick & West recently moved quickly to recruit a pair of corporate partners, Eva Wang and Carmen Chang (who will serve as a part-time advisor), to spearhead the firm’s new office in Shanghai. The move is already paying dividends.

Less than two months after her arrival, Wang, who once served as VP and general counsel of Spreadtrum Communications Inc. (NASDAQ: SPRD), has secured a mandate to represent Spreadtrum in its announced acquisition by Tsinghua Unigroup Ltd. for $1.78 billion. The deal will present numerous cross-selling opportunities for Fenwick partners in the coming year and generate a lucrative stream of fees for the firm, which has already assigned 16 attorneys to the matter….

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Ed. note: The Aspiring Lateral, a new series from Levenfeld Pearlstein, will analyze a variety of issues surrounding lateral moves, drawing on the firm’s experience in the lateral market as well as the individual experiences of LP attorneys. Today’s post is written by the firm’s chairman, Bryan Schwartz.

I spent all of July on sabbatical from the law. I didn’t field a single work-related email, or phone call, or even check the news. For an entire month, I focused on fly-fishing, golf, and family. I focused on myself.

Now, I don’t say all that to make anyone jealous. (If I were going to do that, I would have mentioned my week in Punta Cana.) I say that because, as I sit down to write about how law firm “culture” should impact lateral decision making, I keep coming back to my sabbatical. I was as unplugged from legal practice as I’ve been in years — okay, decades — but it told me more about culture than any month in the office.

As anyone who has been through it knows, the recruiting process is rife with talk about law firm culture. Interviews that pass without glowing reference to a firm’s “collegial culture” are as rare as sightings of the Dodo bird. But let’s face it: some minimum amount of camaraderie among peers is a pretty low bar to meet.

The cultural questions that should concern laterals most do not have to do with the frequency of happy hours, the annual barbeque, or the degree of a partnership’s collective inebriation at the holiday party. Instead, the most important question of culture is this: does this firm have a motivating purpose beyond the production of income for its individual lawyers?

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a new series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today’s post is written by Michael Allen, the Managing Principal of Lateral Link, who focuses exclusively on partner placements with Am Law 200 clients.

From Q3 2012 through Q2 2013, we have seen approximately 7,500 lateral moves at the top 200 law firms. Approximately 4,500 (60%) were associates; 1,900 (25%) were partners; and perhaps most surprisingly, 1,100 (15%) of the lateral movement consisted of “counsel” or “of counsel” positions.

To clarify, some firms promote their senior associates to a “counsel” position based on seniority, but even excluding this pool of associates, that still leaves a significant number of counsel-level laterals finding opportunities within new law firms. From April 2012 to the end of the second quarter this year, Gordon & Rees had the largest number of lateral counsel transitions, with 34 (in large part due to the fact they opened seven offices in 2012 alone). Seyfarth Shaw, Greenberg Traurig, and Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker followed closely with 26, 23, and 22 counsel placements, respectively. Notably, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan had 11 counsel transitions in that same timeframe, 8 of them from a group of more than 15 Skadden Arps product liability attorneys who followed colleagues Sheila Birnbaum and Mark Cheffo, two heavyweights in the product liability world….

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Ed. note: The Aspiring Lateral, a new series from Levenfeld Pearlstein, will analyze a variety of issues surrounding lateral moves, drawing on the firm’s experience in the lateral market as well as the individual experiences of LP attorneys. Today’s post is written by Angela Hickey, LP’s Executive Director and a member of the firm’s Executive and Compensation Committees.

Gladys Knight had the Pips, Han Solo had Chewbacca, and Walter White had Jessie Pinkman. To be successful, you need the right support — and that lesson is as true in legal practice as it is on the Millennium Falcon

Lateral candidates, however, often travel to their new firms alone. How can they tell, ahead of time, whether this new firm will give them the support they need for their practice to flourish? What questions can they ask to discover what their new support system will look like? The first step in getting answers is to define what the oft-used term “support” really means…

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Davis Polk: no more Mr. Nice Guy.

Some things haven’t changed at Davis Polk. The genteel, uber-WASPy firm is still a student favorite during on-campus interview season. Perhaps this is because it still puts on a great summer associate program.

At more senior levels, however, Davis Polk is evolving. Under managing partner Tom Reid, the firm is increasingly focused on the bottom line. It’s adding lateral partner talent, which it historically hasn’t done very often, and it’s asking more from its existing partners in terms of business development (and subjecting some less productive partners to, shall we say, heightened scrutiny). It’s offering buyouts — rather generous ones, it should be noted — to reduce the ranks of support staff (and the associated expenses).

The old Davis Polk, prioritizing prettiness and peacefulness over profits, might have quickly and quietly settled a lawsuit with a recruiter, without regard to the legal merits, just to avoid the ugliness. The new Davis Polk, in contrast, won’t go down without a fight….

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Ed. note: The Aspiring Lateral, a new series from Levenfeld Pearlstein, will analyze a variety of issues surrounding lateral moves, drawing on the firm’s experience in the lateral market as well as the individual experiences of LP attorneys. Today’s post is written by Rob Romanoff, the Managing Partner of Levenfeld Pearlstein.

When it comes to the ultimate departure, you can’t take it with you. When it comes to professional departures, however, it’s a different matter entirely. Whether or not you can take it with you — that is, whether your clients will follow you to a new firm — is a very open question indeed, and a critical one in any lateral candidate’s recruitment.

But how much portable business is enough to catch the eye of suitor firms? How can lateral candidates even determine the amount of their portable business? And how do they actually go about moving it? Let’s consider these questions in turn…

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Ed. note: The Aspiring Lateral, a new series from Levenfeld Pearlstein, will analyze a variety of issues surrounding lateral moves, drawing on the firm’s experience in the lateral market as well as the individual experiences of LP attorneys. Today’s post is written by Peter Donati, the chair of Levenfeld Pearlstein’s Labor & Employment Group and the head of its Compensation Committee.

We’ve been conditioned to believe that lateral moves are all about money. Popular thinking — which may not be far from the truth — holds that law firms, held in collective thrall by the American Lawyer’s profit-per-partner numbers, focus on lateral hiring as the first step in a virtuous cycle that will increase their PPP metric, in turn attract more profitable laterals, and so on and so on. Laterals themselves, meanwhile, are viewed as economic actors lured away from their firms primarily through the prospect of increased, or guaranteed, compensation.

(Given the prominent role that guaranteed compensation is said to have played in the downfall of Dewey, and the pains Weil Gotshal took to point out its relative lack of compensation guarantees when announcing its recent layoffs, this particular carrot may be falling out of fashion. Even Weil conceded, however, that it has compensation guarantees in place for first-year laterals.)

In light of the focus on dollars in connection with lateral moves, it may surprise the reader to hear the head of a compensation committee say that in many cases, lateral candidates do not talk enough about money. To be more specific, lateral candidates often don’t scratch beneath surface questioning about their prospective new firm’s compensation system. If they did, their answers would inform them more deeply not only about their future paychecks, but the character of the firm they are considering….

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Last week, we wrote about reductions to the ranks of lawyers and staff at WilmerHale. We noted that the cuts, made in connection with twice-annual performance reviews, seemed to focus on IP litigation and on the Boston and Palo Alto offices.

Today we bring you additional information about the reductions, which look a lot like stealth layoffs. They seem to be more widespread, in terms of offices and practice areas, than previously reported.

And they might be due to some earlier overhiring, reflected in an interesting email we received….

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Last September, we wrote about the mysterious departure of Lee Smolen from Sidley Austin. Smolen, former head of Sidley’s real estate practice in Chicago and a member of the firm’s executive committee, departed without comment or a known destination. When that happens, something interesting is usually afoot.

Earlier this month, the other white shoe dropped. A lawyer ethics commission in Illinois leveled charges against Smolen arising out of his time at Sidley.

What has he been accused of? And what does his new law firm have to say about it?

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It seems that the firm of Patton Boggs is stuck in the mud right now. Back in March, the firm announced significant layoffs of attorneys and staff — possibly the biggest in 2013, at least until this morning’s Weil Gotshal layoffs. Patton Boggs is also feeling some heat over its involvement in the Chevron / Ecuador litigation mess (fifth link).

And now we have news that a sizable number of Patton partners are heading for the exit. How many partners are leaving, and where are they headed?

Please note the UPDATE at the end of this post.

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