Midsize Firms / Regional Firms

The ship be sinking?

As in-house columnist Mark Herrmann put it, “Dewey know who’s next?” No, we don’t. But we certainly have some guesses about major law firms that are existentially challenged.

Here at Above the Law, we do maintain a shortlist of Biglaw firms that could go under. But, truth be told, the list is not that exciting. With a handful of exceptions, the firms that populate it are big regional firms, not national or international behemoths, and they cluster toward the lower echelons of the Am Law 200 or NLJ 350. Put another way, no firm on our list boasts the size and stature of Dewey & LeBoeuf. (If you know of a firm that should be placed on our list, please email us, subject line “Biglaw Death Watch,” or text us, at 646-820-8477.)

But even if a firm isn’t a household name, lawyers and staffers will suffer when it goes under. Let’s hear about the latest large law firm that appears to be on the ropes….

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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 Laura Friedel, a partner in the firm’s Labor & Employment group.

In the legal profession, the view from the top is pretty good. If you’ve been lucky enough to snag a position at one of the 100 or so firms loosely defined as “Biglaw,” you’re probably looking out a window near the top of a shiny skyscraper. You probably have a nice cafeteria down the hall. Who knows: at your glam partner retreats, you may even take chartered boats down the Thames.

The point is, while that view from Biglaw is a good one, it’s not the easiest vantage point to assess your career options. I’ve been there. And when I began to think about alternatives to a Biglaw practice, I admit I did not fully realize that mid-sized firms even existed. In my mind, there were Biglaw firms, boutiques, and that’s about it. I was something like the native New Yorker who is only dimly aware that a mass of states lies between herself and the only other meaningful part of the country, California.

Thankfully, just as flyover states do in fact exist, so too do mid-sized firms that provide sophisticated, full-service capabilities to their clients. For the Biglaw practitioner facing rate pressure from clients, frustrations with the anonymity that goes with mega-firm practice, or perhaps nosebleeds from the trip up the elevator, they are worth considering along with obvious alternatives such as in-house positions.

And as Biglaw lawyers investigate mid-sized firms, they will likely find more misperceptions falling away. I’ll share a few here that opened my eyes further, and that make the mid-sized firm alternative an attractive one…

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Business development sometimes seems like an impossible task. Winning new clients, or generating new business from existing clients, isn’t easy. If you doubt this, check out in-house columnist Mark Herrmann’s excellent column, Nothing You Can Say Can Cause Me To Retain You (explaining all the strategies for trying to obtain his business that won’t work). The challenge of getting new clients explains why so many firms resort to effectively trying to buy clients, by luring lateral partners and hoping their books of business come with them.

But still, every now and then a law firm does get hired by a new client. And every now and then a law firm gets fired by an existing or even longstanding client (even though it’s not easy to displace incumbent counsel, especially if they’re decent).

Why do clients hire and fire their outside counsel? A new survey offers some answers….

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Is the slowdown in Biglaw that we’ve seen since the Great Recession a long-term trend or just a temporary blip? Only time will tell, but in the meantime, the debate rages on. (The latest salvo: New Republic editor Noam Scheiber’s response to critics of his controversial article, The Last Days of Big Law.)

Because of its power, prestige, and profitability, Biglaw gets a big proportion of the media coverage that’s aimed at law firms. But let’s not overlook small firms and solo practitioners, who make up about 70 percent of American lawyers in private practice.

One often hears stories about small firms, especially boutiques formed by ex-Biglaw attorneys, that are thriving. The tales are inspiring; the small-firm lawyers talk about how they enjoy their practice more, have greater autonomy, and make the same or even more money than they did back in Biglaw.

But such information is anecdotal. How are small law firms doing compared to bigger firms on a broader level? A new survey has some answers….

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Kamala Harris

* If President Obama could send a love note to California Attorney General Kamala Harris, it’d probably say something like this: “Girl, you look good. Won’t you back that ass up?” [ABC News]

* The fun things you learn during a Supreme Court justice’s book tour: apparently Sandra Day O’Connor dated William Rehnquist when they were at school together at Stanford Law. [Legal Times]

* When it comes to law firms, size really does matter. Quite a few midsize firms had the urge to merge in the first quarter of 2013, according to the latest Altman Weil survey. [Am Law Daily]

* In case you haven’t heard the news by now, NYU Law School has a new dean, and he was poached fresh from Columbia. The bonus here is that he’s actually pretty cute. We’ll have more on this story later today. [NYU Law News]

* Law faculties may be a tad too liberal, say some at Harvard Law School, which is basically a bastion of leftie law professors. Cut to Ted Cruz muttering about Commies under his breath. [USA Today]

* Here’s an obvious protip that may not be obvious to 0Ls: if you’re going to ask for a recommendation letter, you should probably make sure that it’s going to be a positive one. [U.S. News & World Report]

* OMG! Get ready to have a lawgasm, because the Supreme Court is going to be releasing same-day audio recordings from oral arguments during next week’s gay marriage cases: Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. [National Law Journal]

* “Way to go, Justice.” Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan work out with a personal trainer who’s got a client list that would make Article III Groupie swoon — and he just so happens to be a records manager at D.C.’s federal court. [Washington Post]

* Debevoise & Plimpton’s littlest litigatrix, Mary Jo White, sailed her way through the Senate Banking Committee with a vote of 21-to-1. Her nomination to lead the SEC will now head to the full Senate. [DealBook / New York Times]

* “Our 2012 numbers aren’t as good as we would have liked.” Gee, ya think? From attorney headcount to gross revenue to profits per partner, just about everything was down in 2012 for Fried Frank. [Am Law Daily]

* Eckert Seamans will be merging with Sterns & Weinroth, adding 17 partners and seven associates to its ranks. Someone please come up with the semen joke so I don’t have to. [Philadelphia Business Journal]

* As if Inside the Law School Scam weren’t candid enough, Professor Paul Campos sat down for an interview to discuss how to make an informed decision when considering law school. [U.S. News & World Report]

Sorry, no free entry, not even for prosecutors.

* Even though Obama wants to “make sure that [he's] not interjecting [himself] too much into this process,” the DOJ may still suggest that the Supreme Court overturn Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage. [Associated Press]

* Anheuser-Busch InBev and the Department of Justice are cracking open a couple of cold ones to settle their differences over antitrust concerns with regard to the company’s planned purchase of Grupo Modelo. [DealBook / New York Times]

* It looks like Steve DiCarmine is being forced to take a break from his rigorous class schedule at Parsons to testify at a Dewey bankruptcy hearing next week. He’ll be happy to hear orange is in this spring. [Am Law Daily]

* Represented by Steptoe & Johnson, Jesse Jackson Jr. pleaded guilty to misusing $750,000 of his campaign funds for personal use. Most interesting purchase: Michael Jackson memorabilia. [Blog of Legal Times]

* When it comes to recruiting new talent, the ability to maintain a “collegial culture” is apparently a selling point for midsize law firms. And here we thought douchebaggery was the way to go. Sigh. [National Law Journal]

* Protip: do not flash your prosecutor’s badge to bypass cover charges and lap dance surcharges at the local strip club. You’re going to get fired. We’ll probably have more on this later. [Riptide 2.0 / Miami New Times]

* Don’t worry ladies, if you’re about to be raped, just pee or puke all over your attacker — or better yet, tell him that you’re on your period. Yeah, that’ll work. These tips are almost as good as “don’t dress like a slut.” [CNN]

* “[T]his is a ridiculous sideshow that’s horribly unbecoming to the parties involved.” The NCAA is now suing over a new Pennsylvania law designed to keep PSU’s Sandusky fines in the state. [San Francisco Chronicle]

The eight finalists in this year’s law firm holiday card contest were very well-received by our readers. In fact, more than a thousand votes were cast, and many firms took to Twitter and intra-office message boards in an attempt to rally last minute votes.

(FYI: We continue to receive submissions for this contest, despite the fact that the entry deadline was December 17, 2012. Please check back in with us next year; we’ve had enough holiday cheer.)

Some of these cards were clever, some were beautiful, and some were funny. All of them were excellent, deserving of recognition and praise for the thoughtfulness and creativity that went into them.

But in the end, there can only be one winner. Which firm was lucky enough to take home this year’s title?

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The field of contenders in our fourth annual law firm holiday card contest was quite impressive. We received numerous nominations, and we thank everyone who participated. It took many hours to review the plethora of submissions.

Like last year, apparently reading comprehension isn’t a skill that many lawyers possess, as a few of you declined to follow rule #3 of our contest, limiting the entries to “cards that are unusually clever, funny, or cool…. cards with some attitude, with that extra je ne sais quoi.” But because it’s the holiday season, we won’t rag on you too much. Even if you can’t follow simple instructions, you’re still great.

But some of you were greater than others. Let’s look at this year’s finalists….

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The season of law firm holiday parties, for starters. And, better yet, bonuses. This year, Santa Cravath stuffed stockings with a goodly amount of cash.

But the parties and paychecks pale in comparison to what’s about to get underway: Above the Law’s fourth annual holiday card contest!

Last year, Haynes and Boone, a frequent finalist in the contest, took home top honors. Will they repeat in 2012, will a prior winner reemerge, or will a totally fresh face grab the Christmas card crown?

Read on — and read carefully, counselors — for the official contest rules….

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