Law Firm Merger Mania

This is my first column of 2014, so I’m due to join the ranks of those who make predictions for the coming year.

But my predictions will be slightly different from others, because mine will be based on fact.

In the last months of 2013, I heard that two different law firms had reduced partners’ draws to offset the firms’ poor financial performance. At least one of the firms reduced draws retroactively — announcing near the end of the year that partners’ salaries would be reduced as of January 1, 2013 (which slices partners’ incomes dramatically in the last few months of the year). Both firms shared the pain among all partners — folks suffered in the equity and non-equity ranks alike. (This is a particularly nasty trick to play on income partners: “Here’s your partnership deal: If the firm does better than expected, you’re a mere income partner; of course you will not share the wealth. On the other hand, if the firm performs worse than expected, we’ll permit you to share the pain, and we’ll cut your pay. Here’s the partnership agreement! Sign right here on the dotted line!”)

I’ve now been in-house for four years, and my ear has lifted pretty far from the law-firm ground: If I heard about two law firms suffering from such terribly bad years that they were forced to reduce their budgets as year-end approached, then I’m guessing that many more than two firms suffered this fate. This means that, for many firms, 2013 was not a good year, which leads me to my predictions for 2014 . . . .

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As reported in Morning Docket, the year is quickly drawing to a close, and two large law firms may be getting ready to celebrate their future together in 2014. Sources say that Blank Rome and Nixon Peabody have the urge to merge, and they’ve supposedly been in talks for two months or more.

The last three proposed Biglaw mergers we reported on — McKenna/Dentons, Pillsbury/Orrick, Patton Boggs/Locke Lord — fell apart, but if the Blank Rome/Nixon Peabody combination comes to fruition, their union would create one of the top 50 largest firms in the U.S. (number 33, to be exact).

Will they or won’t they? Let’s discus the details…

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Limited discovery: NOW!

* Exciting news: Justice Sonia Sotomayor will be leading the countdown on the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square. She’ll be the first SCOTUS justice to perform the task. You go girl! [New York Times]

* Blank Rome and Nixon Peabody are reportedly in merger talks, but one firm’s managing partner says he “talk[s] to firms all the time,” it’s no big deal. No word on what guys from his high school do. [Reuters]

* Sorry, Quinn Emanuel, but this limited discovery thing is going to happen. Judge Ronnie Abrams recently slapped down the firm’s attempt to appeal her MTD denial in this contract attorney’s suit. [Am Law Daily]

* A state court judge from Texas stands accused of strangling his girlfriend over the balcony of his apartment and threatening to “f**king kill [her].” Romance in Texas has certainly got some of that je ne sais quoi. [Dallas Morning News]

* A legal soap opera? An ex-prosecutor whose relationship with a judge landed her lover in hot water was found dead in her home hours after a judicial misconduct ruling came down. R.I.P. [Reno Gazette-Journal]

* Take a look back at the legal profession’s year that was: from the highest of highs in gay marriages to the lowest of lows in law school enrollment, 2013 was a year for the record books. [National Law Journal]

This Thanksgiving, give thanks that your firm… is no longer merging with another firm? Biglaw combinations that break apart like wishbones seem to be the big theme of this week.

On the heels of Orrick and Pillsbury parting ways, the partnership of McKenna Long & Aldridge just rejected the proposed tie-up with Dentons. As we’ve reported before, talks of a transaction have been going on for months.

So what led the McKenna Long partnership to spurn the advances of Dentons?

(Please note the UPDATE added below, comment from McKenna Long.)

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* In November, Supreme Court justices engaged in the “totally unnecessary” practice of releasing 41 pages of nondecision opinions. In all fairness, we can’t really blame them for enjoying hearing themselves speak. [National Law Journal]

* These D.C. Circuit judges of differing political viewpoints “disagreed less than 3 percent of the time” over the course of two decades. Please, keep arguing about the court’s “ideological balance.” You’re accomplishing lots. [New York Times]

* With more tie-ups than ever before and another record broken, 2013 is officially the year of full-blown law firm merger mania. Query how many more we’ll be able to add to the already huge list of 78 by the end of December. [Am Law Daily]

* Speaking of which, Baker Hostetler is merging with Woodcock Washburn, an intellectual property firm with a name that sounds like the aftercare instructions for a painful sex toy injury. [Philadelphia Inquirer]

* Of course a fired ADA’s scandalous emails landed on BuzzFeed. This is one more embarrassing chapter in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. [New York Times]

* It’s amazing how things can change in a year. In 2012, New York bar pass rates for in-state schools fell. In 2013, they’re up — except for one school, which is way down. Which one? [New York Law Journal]

Sorry, Patton Boggs…

* The right to choose… to drive out of state? SCOTUS rejected an application to block Texas from enforcing a law requiring abortion doctors to have privileges at nearby hospitals. [New York Times]

* Patton Boggs should prepare for the day when Locke Lord is too busy washing its hair to go on a date. The would-be merger is just one of many “interesting opportunities” the firm is considering. [Am Law Daily]

* In case you were wondering about the type of people who are accepted into Greenberg Traurig’s residency program, the recent law grad profiled in this article went to Nova Southeastern. [Sun Sentinel]

* Law firm merger mania, mid-size Midwest edition: Chi-Town law firm Shefsky & Froelich merges with Cincinnati-based Taft Stettinius & Hollister. [Crain's Chicago Business]

* When it comes to law faculty hiring, it doesn’t matter what color your skin is or what you’ve got between your legs, so long as your résumé is covered in Ivy and you’re dripping with prestige. [National Law Journal]

* Ave Maria School of Law is in need of a new dean. It seems the man who created the school’s “Advanced Critical Thinking Department” engaged in deep thought before deciding to call it quits. [Naples Daily News]

If you’re hiring a lateral partner at this level, then quality is assumed….

If you’re using Bigg & Mediocre, then quality is assumed….

If you’re hiring only from the top ten percent at the top ten schools, then quality is assumed….

Let me start again:

By the time you get to major league baseball, quality is assumed.

Right. But I’d rather have Babe Ruth than a journeyman outfielder.

We instinctively realize that, in every endeavor known to man, there are true superstars. But, when we talk about lawyers, we somehow assume that they’re all fungible. Or, in the examples I just gave, that all the lawyers within a certain rarefied group are fungible. That’s just not true. There’s quality, and then there’s real quality. In the words of Arthur Schopenhauer: “Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see.” Talent is nice; genius is better.

If you’re with me so far, then you don’t believe that all law firms are created equal; you don’t believe that all lawyers (or partners) within a single firm are created equal; and you understand that many law firms are basically incapable of true quality control….

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Why go big when you can supersize? As has been reported recently, one of Biglaw’s most aggressive firms in terms of growth, Dentons (née Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal and some foreign counterparts cobbled together just a few years ago), is now in serious discussions about a combination with McKenna Long & Aldridge. Both firms are products of recent tie-ups themselves, and the combined firm should the transaction go through will be instantly one of the world’s largest, at least in terms of number of lawyers. Welcome to the age of the global Megalaw franchise, in which a firm can raise its profile by connecting with other firms in the interest of getting bigger, all the while creating a new global brand in the process. Dentons is sure giving it a try.

It is actually unfair to say that Dentons is the Biglaw equivalent of McDonald’s, or even Burger King. Biglaw brands of that stature would be Baker & McKenzie or even DLA Piper, and not only because they are bigger….

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* “There are no magic bullets here.” Caught in a “trilemma,” President Obama is up against the wall and is running out of options. He soon might be forced to choose the least unconstitutional solution to the nation’s problems. [Bloomberg]

* During the government shutdown, it certainly wouldn’t be worth it for furloughed employees to hire lawyers to fight their “essential” versus “non-essential” determinations — please, like they’ll be able to afford legal representation right now. [National Law Journal]

* It seems some partners at both Dentons and McKenna Long & Aldridge aren’t fans of a possible tie-up, so they’re heading for the hills as fast as they can. Perhaps it simply wasn’t meant to be? [Am Law Daily]

* It’s time for our favorite show, As the Weil Turns! Partners from various offices are departing for other Biglaw firms, and we can now confirm that Steven Peck is a new face at Proskauer. [Law360 (sub. req.)]

* We told you last week that Matthew Martens of Fabulous Fab fame would be leaving the SEC, but now we know where he’s landing. Congrats on your new home at WilmerHale. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* Ohio is the latest state to offer “hazy” abortion restrictions that skirt the very edge of Supreme Court jurisprudence in order to make women feel guilty about their own right to choose. [New York Times]

* “Without makeup she looks like the Joker in Batman.” Joan Rivers is locked in a $15 million condo catfight with a Canadian socialite who isn’t afraid to pull punches. Meow! [New York Daily News]

Oyez, oyez, oyez! It’s the first week of October.

* Say what you will about Justice Scalia, but the man is hilarious — more funny than his four liberal colleagues combined, according to a statistical analysis of oral argument recordings. [New York Times]

* The government shutdown is slowing down the judicial confirmation process, already famous for its speed and efficiency. [The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times]

* More about news for Steven Donziger in his long-running battle with Chevron. Maybe it’s time to surrender, Steve? I hear Ecuador is a great place to retire. [New York Law Journal]

* Law firm merger mania continues, as Carlton Fields combines with Jorden Burt. [Carlton Fields (press release)]

* Herbert Smith Freehills says “you’re hired” to Scott Balber, the lawyer for Donald Trump who got mocked by Bill Maher on national television. [The Lawyer]

* You might see your dog as harmless and cuddly, but the law might see your dog as a weapon (and rightfully so, in my opinion). [New York Times via ABA Journal]

* Congratulations to all the winners of the FT’s Innovative Lawyers awards. [Financial Times]

* And congratulations to Heidi Wendel and Deirdre McEvoy, high-ranking government lawyers headed to Jones Day and Patterson Belknap, respectively. [New York Law Journal]

* Today the Supreme Court will hear argument in McCutcheon v. FEC, a major campaign finance case that some are calling “the next Citizens United.” Check out an interview with one of the lawyers behind it, after the jump. [UCTV]

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