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 . . . .
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…
* 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]
* Kansas Law School has been fined and censured by the ABA for recruiting violations surrounding Andrew Wiggins. Wait, no, I got that wrong. KU Law started an LL.M. program without asking, which I’m sure they did only because Wiggins is from Canada. [Topeka Capital-Journal]
* The proposed merger between Patton Boggs and Locke Lord has been called off. Fingers crossed that Bendini Lambert is the next target for Locke Lord. [Am Law Daily]
* Mayor Bloomberg swears at his last set of judges. I mean swears “in.” Man, who gets up this early? [NYC.gov]
* President Obama commutes the sentences of eight inmates convicted of crack-cocaine offenses. [New York Times]
* Did EA know Battlefield 4 would kind of suck before they released it? [Techspot]
* So evidently R. Kelly isn’t “trapped” in the closet, so much as he’s hiding there waiting for your daughter to come home. [The Root]
* Here’s your homework for today: everybody has to go find a dispirited Duck Dynasty fan and patiently explain to him or her the difference between a government infringement on free speech and a network momentarily suspending a bigot. You’re not allowed to punch the fans, you can only use words, and if necessary, hand gestures. [Huffington Post]
* An inside look at the jury deliberations in the recent insider trading trial of Michael Steinberg of SAC Capital. [New York Times]
It was exactly a month ago that we first heard that Orrick was looking to join up with (read: bail out) Pillsbury. Today, the thrill is gone. Orrick and Pillsbury announced they were calling off the mega-merger saving us, our planned Very Special Episode of Legal Eagle Wedding Watch.
* 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]
* 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]
* 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]
Let’s not mince words: Patton Boggs is stuck in the muck. In the most recent Am Law 100 rankings, the firm showed a 15 percent decline in profits per partner — one of the biggest dips in the entire survey, contrasting with the modest growth that most of Biglaw enjoyed. Gross revenue also fell, by 6.5 percent.
The Am Law 100 rankings looked at 2012 performance compared to 2011 performance. Perhaps things have improved for Patton Boggs in 2013?
Alas, no. While many firms have resorted to voluntary buyouts or layoffs of support staff this year, few have laid off lawyers (at least not openly). But Patton Boggs has already been through two significant, open and notorious rounds of layoffs in 2013 to date, affecting not just staff but lawyers as well.
How is Patton Boggs trying to save itself, and will its plan work?
* The rocky relationship between McKenna Long & Aldridge and Dentons is being doubted by everyone, and it looks like Dentons may be on the verge of receiving the “it’s not you, it’s me” speech. [Daily Report]
* Stephen DiCarmine, Dewey & LeBoeuf’s former executive director and resident fashionista, just hired a criminal defense attorney. We trust this man — jailhouse stripes must be so hot right now! [Am Law Daily]
* Skadden cares about its people. The firm is trying to prevent a man who killed one of its legal secretaries, got high, and then ate six waffles from collecting any of the funds from her 401(k). [New York Daily News]
* Just imagine if this great profile were written in true BuzzFeed listicle style. It’d probably be called something like “3,742 Words on Why Mary Bonauto Is the Most Awesome Marriage Equality Lawyer Ever.” [BuzzFeed]
* “I think it’s fair to say the hiring plan is kaput.” As we previously reported, the Law Clerk Hiring Plan is dead, and the heat is on to figure out a way to lure federal judges back to OSCAR. [National Law Journal]
The legal industry is being disrupted at every level by technological advances. While legal tech entrepreneurs and innovators are racing to create a more efficient and productive future, there is widespread indifference on the part of attorneys toward these emerging technologies.
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 seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We at Kinney Asia have made a number of FCPA / White Collar US associate placements in Hong Kong / China thus far in 2014. Most of such placements have been commercial litigation associates from major US markets, fluent in Mandarin, switching to FCPA / White Collar litigation. Some have already had FCPA experience, but those are difficult candidates for firms to find (this will change in coming years as US firms are now promoting FCPA / White Collar to their 2L summers who are fluent in Mandarin and have an interest in transferring to China at some point).
Legal Week quoted Kinney’s Head of Asia, Evan Jowers, extensively in the following relevant article here.
There is a new trend in the market, though, where mid-level transactional US associates, fluent in spoken Mandarin and written Chinese, are interviewing for and in some cases landing junior FCPA / White Collar spots in Hong Kong / China at very top tier US firms.
When the LexisNexis Cloud Technology Survey results were reported earlier this year, it showed that attorneys were starting to peer less skeptically into the future, and slowly but surely leaning more toward all the benefits the law cloud has to offer.
Because let’s face it, plenty of attorneys are perhaps a bit too comfortable with their “system” of practice management, which may or may not include neon highlighters, sticky notes, dog-eared file folders, and a word processing program that was last updated when the term “raise the roof” was still de rigueur.