People are talking about an interesting Slate article entitled “Leaving Big Law Behind: The many frustrations that cause well-paid lawyers to hang out their own shingles.” It’s currently the most-read piece on the site. But it’s actually quite similar, even down to some of the sources, to an article that appeared a few days earlier in Crain’s New York Business:
A lawyer’s hourly billing rate used to be a badge of pride — the higher the number, the more valuable (and supposedly brilliant) the lawyer. But over the past 18 months, a strange phenomenon has been sweeping the legal arena: Partners at major law firms are quitting because they want to be able to charge less for their services.
This is, of course, not a new development. Kash and I wrote about it in a December 2009 cover story for Washingtonian magazine, in which we interviewed a former member of the $1,000-an-hour club who left a large law firm and started his own shop so he could offer clients better value. But all the recent coverage — in Crain’s, Slate, and elsewhere — suggests that the trend is picking up steam.
Which kinds of lawyers are leaving Biglaw to hang up their own shingles? Why are they doing it? And how’s it going for them?
This was a year of small summer classes. Fewer summer associates mean a greater likelihood that all will get offers… unless a law student does something egregious. (Good news for rising 2Ls: There are signs that next year’s classes will be larger.)
Partners are on the move, and this time it’s major. Latham & Watkins is losing some serious firepower from its banking group, with the windfall going to Milbank. Am Law Daily reports:
Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy made a rare venture into the U.S. lateral market Tuesday, announcing that it had lured five Latham & Watkins finance partners, including the co-head of Latham’s banking practice group….
Milbank chair Mel Immergut said the Latham hires will have “an enormously positive impact” on his firm’s leveraged finance practice, while the chair of Latham’s New York office released a statement wishing the partners well and assuring everyone that Latham retains “a very deep bench of talent” in New York, the NYLJ reports.
When banking partners are making major lateral moves, it’s got to be a good sign for the legal economy.
While Milbank was relatively restrained in its public comments to Am Law, the internal Milbank memo obtained by Above the Law shows that the firm is eager to crow about its new talent…
Last year, we covered a mistake made in a death penalty case by the white-shoe firm of Sullivan & Cromwell. It was a noteworthy development because of the rarity of the occurrence — S&C doesn’t often make mistakes, at least not ones as elementary as missing a deadline — and because of the stakes involved.
Well, the stakes are getting higher: S&C is now seeking SC review. The firm wants the Supreme Court to step in and essentially forgive the firm’s error in missing the deadline to file an appeal. Adam Liptak tells the tale, in the New York Times:
Sullivan & Cromwell is a law firm with glittering offices in a dozen cities around the world, and some of its partners charge more than $1,000 an hour. The firm’s paying clients, at least, demand impeccable work.
Cory R. Maples, a death row inmate in Alabama, must have been grateful when lawyers from the firm agreed to represent him without charge. But the assistance he got may turn out to be lethal.
Please note: that last sentence originally appeared in the august pages of the Times. Despite its tabloid tone — we can imagine an announcer for Inside Edition intoning darkly, “the assistance he got may turn out to be lethal” — it did not appear first in Above the Law. [FN1]
So how did S&C put a man’s life in jeopardy? Let’s descend into the mailroom at 125 Broad Street….
We feel like we’re taking magic Biglaw pills today and having hallucinatory flashbacks to 2006. The good news has been rolling in. Just today, we covered raises at Sheppard Mullin, and a 100% offer rate for D.C. summer associates at Latham & Watkins.
And over at Am Law Daily, Zach Lowe predicts good things for 2011. There will be more summer associate spots to go around next year, law school kiddies:
On-campus interviewing starts in two weeks at some schools, and early indications are that hiring at premier law firms will jump–in some cases by a lot–after plummeting this summer, according to sources at law schools and firms.
Cravath, Skadden, and Ropes & Gray, among others, plan to hire more warm bodies next summer than this one. This summer was dismal, after all, in terms of summer associate hiring, as demonstrated by these charts from the National Law Journal and Am Law Daily.
The upside of hiring fewer summer associates, though, is an increase in the likelihood of all of them getting hired. We’ve had more reports of 100% offer rates from a few firms today, along with fun ways of spreading the good news. Eyewitness accounts, after the jump.
A week ago, we reported that Pepper Hamilton surprised its summer associates with 100% offers at a Friday lunch. Now this is a trend we hope catches on.
And maybe it will. Latham & Watkins surprised its D.C. summers during a rooftop extravaganza, yesterday. A tipster reports:
Last night (Thursday), Latham & Watkins’ D.C. office officially extended offers to 100% of its summer associates during an end-of-summer party on the rooftop of the Donovan House–one of the city’s swankiest spots. The offers came unexpectedly, as summers were under the impression that they would be waiting another week or so, until the conclusion of the programs at Latham’s other national offices, to hear about offers.
Well now, that should lighten the mood.
And Latham D.C. even provided a little extra incentive for summers who accepted their offers on the spot…
As multiple tipsters have been telling us, Dave Gordon, managing partner of Latham & Watkins’s New York office is putting down the mantle of leadership. But Gordon will be staying at the firm, continuing his private practice.
Gordon attracted attention after Latham laid off 440 people a year and a half ago. First-year attorneys were caught up in the layoffs as well, especially in New York. And some of the departed associates left with bitter feelings towards the firm, and Gordon specifically.
But Kirk Davenport, a member of Latham’s executive committee, assured us that last year’s layoffs had nothing to do with Gordon’s new move…
People are always telling laid off or unemployed lawyer to “hang out a shingle” and start their own firm. They say this like it is comparatively easy for young lawyers to just go out there and drum up enough business to support themselves. It’s not, but some people are at least trying.
Today, the Washington Post profiles (gavel bang: ABA Journal) a group of lawyers that aren’t just trying to start their own firm, they’re also trying to kill the billable hour while they do it:
When clients call Washington attorney Sue Wang, the clock doesn’t start ticking.
Phone calls aren’t billed in six-minute intervals and each hour of work won’t cost several hundred dollars.
Wang and the four other lawyers in Clarity Law Group aim to reconfigure the billable-hour business model at law firms that she said tends to shut out small and start-up companies with shallow pockets.
Yeah, yeah, nobody likes the billable hour — Clarity Law Group purportedly has a “timeshare” business model. Does this mean that potential clients will get a free meal while the lawyers lock them in a room and try to sell themselves?
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: [email protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months (Robert Kinney and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong again March 15 to 23), and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.
Are you challenged by the costs and logistics of maintaining your office, distracting you from the practice of law?
Many small firms are successfully moving part—or even all—of their practice to a virtual setting. This even includes multi-jurisdictional practice spanning several states and practice areas, although solo and small partnerships are still the largest adopters of virtual law.
Can you do the same? The new article Mobile in Practice, Virtual by Design from author Jared Correia, Esq., explores how mobile technology bring real-life benefits to a small law firm. Read this new article—the next in Thomson Reuters’ Independent Thinking series for small firms—to explore how a mobile practice:
Everyone is talking about the importance of Social Media in Corporate America. But it is relatively safe to say that most law firms and lawyers are slightly behind the social curve. Most lawyers, at minimum, use LinkedIn, for networking. Some even use Twitter for pushing out short, pithy content, while many have Blogs, where they write their little hearts out. The adage “it is better to give than to receive” is not always true though in the world of Social. In the Social World – it is best to listen, give back and engage.
Social Media is a communications tool that can deeply educate you about the needs and wants of your clients and prospects when used in conjunction social media monitoring and sharing tools.
Take this quick quiz and see if you know how to use Social to help you engage more with your clients or to better service the ones you have.