Partner Issues

Minnesota is beautiful this time of year.

Is having your back-office functions handled on-site — i.e., in the same location as the lawyers being serviced — now a luxury? More and more law firms are adopting the model of sending their administrative support functions to lower-cost locations.

Thanks to advances in technology, it’s no longer necessary to have your back office in the same pricey place as your lawyers. And it’s not surprising that firms are going in this direction when you consider the cost savings involved.

Which law firm expects to save millions of dollars a year by sending support staffers to the land o’ lakes?

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The current discussion regarding the decision by Dentons not to report its average profits per partner (“PPP”) to the American Lawyer is interesting. While I was at Greenberg Traurig, then-CEO Cesar Alvarez used to have a pithy statement on the whole PPP issue, along the lines of: The only thing partners really care about is “profits per me.” There is a lot of wisdom in that statement. In my experience it is true for existing Biglaw partners, potential laterals, and those (fool?) hardy associates aspiring to partnership.

At the same time, the popularity of the American Lawyer’s various charts and rankings can’t be denied. And PPP is one of the catchier columns on those charts. It is used as a proxy for determining everything from firm prestige, to strength of client relationships, to how well a firm is managed.

Savvy associates can and do use it to determine associate quality of life at a particular firm. Your firm has a blazing PPP and no big contingency windfalls feeding the flames? Good chance you are looking at a never-ending flow of “interesting work,” coupled with the partnership prospects of a diminutive drone buzzing around hoping to get noticed by the queen bee. In contrast, you might enjoy a better lifestyle if employed as associate #614 by a Biglaw 2.0 monolith, but you also run the distinct risk of making partner only to realize that the financial gulf between you and the “real” partners is a broad one….

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I was 26 years out of law school before I moved in-house.

In those 26 years, I had never heard of “one-on-ones” (outside of the context of basketball). When I moved to a corporate job, folks were astonished by my ignorance. (A small part of that astonishment had to do with my unfamiliarity with one-on-ones.)

I’ve now been working for four years in what I take to be a typical (indeed, world-class) corporate environment, and I’m ready to declare the truth, thus offending every human resources professional who has ever lived: One-on-ones — individual weekly meetings between managers and each of the people who report to them — are generally unnecessary.

I know, I know: One-on-ones guarantee that the manager knows what’s happening in his or her department. And the meetings let managers give immediate feedback on how members of the team are performing. And there’s nothing like personal conversations to build relationships and esprit de corps.

Humbug!

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Major law firms select their leaders in different ways. Some have a committee of partners do the picking, for example, while others have the outgoing leader designate her successor.

Rank-and-file partners often have little to no say in the selection. And, perhaps because the process is frequently run by a small group of people at the top, it doesn’t often come with much public drama. Yes, some firm leadership struggles boast intrigue worthy of Game of Thrones, but it’s generally kept under wraps.

At one prominent law firm, though, the entire partnership selects the managing partner in a firm-wide vote. This year’s election was contested — and not everyone is happy with the results….

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* In defense of its PPP metric, the editor-in-chief of the American Lawyer revealed a shocking statistic about Dentons: the firm’s PPP was likely down about 20 percent year over year. [Am Law Daily]

* A judge dismissed many of defunct firm Heller Erhman’s remaining unfinished business claims in the case against its former partners. Dewey know some partners who are thrilled? [WSJ Law Blog]

* From 2012 to 2013, NLJ 350 firms saw the rise of “other” attorneys — staff attorneys, of counsel, and lawyers who were neither associates nor partners. We’re living in lean times. [National Law Journal]

* “No one predicted there would be this kind of huge drop in applications.” Apparently law school deans thought prospective students would be thrilled about their lack of job prospects. [Hartford Business Journal]

* Shelly Sterling has asked a judge to rule that she can sell the Los Angeles Clippers over her husband Donald Sterling’s protests. We’re very eagerly awaiting their impending divorce train wreck. [Bloomberg]

Ed. note: This is the latest post by Anonymous Recruitment Director, who offers an insider’s perspective on the world of law firm hiring.

In my last column, I offered advice for summer associates. Today I’ll return to the mailbag and answer questions received from readers by email.

Today’s topics: paraprofessionals and legal recruiters. As always, please note that these are simply my personal views on the questions presented.

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Clients are in the driver’s seat these days. Lawyers, even partners at prestigious and profitable firms, must bow and scrape before in-house counsel to land engagements.

It won’t be long before beauty contests actually include, well, beauty contests. What rainmaker worth his or her salt wouldn’t strip down to a swimsuit if required to do so as a condition of being hired? (Assuming that seeing the lawyer in swimwear would actually appeal to the client, that is.)

Not long ago, some Biglaw partners had to humiliate themselves in order to land a major matter. What did they have to do for the deal?

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[A] focus on profit undermines the differences between the practice of law being a profession rather than solely a business. It is easy to anticipate the assertion that we choose not to report aggregate annual average profit numbers because they are not as high as some other firms. But that assertion simply assumes that the way things have been done in the past is the way they should be done in the future.

– Global chief executive officer Elliott Portnoy and global chair Joe Andrew of Dentons, explaining in a letter to the American Lawyer the reasons why the firm will no longer report its average profits per equity partner.

(Dentons, a verein that recently merged with two firms, had PPP of $625,000 in 2013, which put the firm in 96th place on the Am Law 100 when ranked by PPP.)

Puff, puff, pass those voter initiatives.

* This failed firm’s drama is the Biglaw gift that keeps on giving: Dewey & LeBoeuf’s bankruptcy trustee filed an amended complaint against Steve DiCarmine and Joel Sanders seeking the return of more than $21.8 million. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Norton Rose Fulbright elected someone who “love, love, love[s] the law firm” as U.S. managing partner, and she’s the first woman to ever serve as U.S. chair of its management committee. We love, love, love this news! [National Law Journal]

* According to a California judge, tenure laws are unconstitutional and are depriving students of the high quality of education they deserve. The end is nigh, law professors. Enjoy it while it lasts. [New York Times]

* Not all states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, but it’d be a lot cooler if they did. The tide is turning across the United States, and we’ll soon see which states’ drug laws go up in smoke. [Slate]

* “Document review attorneys are in demand now but the demand will gradually decrease.” Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the one job you were able to get soon won’t need or want you. [InsideCounsel]

Since Lat tweeted this past weekend about my UpCounsel profile, I thought I would share some thoughts about my experience with the service to date. First off, compared to leaving a Biglaw partnership to open a new firm, trying out a new legal platform was easy. I first heard about UpCounsel from a former in-house client who had struck out on his own. He happens to now be back in-house, but at the time we discussed UpCounsel, he was very enthusiastic about his experience using the site. Since I happen to like trying out new things, signing up once I left Biglaw was an easy decision.

Notice how I did not join UpCounsel while a Biglaw partner. Such things are simply not done. For all of Biglaw’s talk about encouraging partners to be “entrepreneurial” or to “try new marketing ideas,” there is a lot of resistance to using “new ways” to reach potential new clients. Couple that inertia with a general distaste towards marketing individual lawyers at the expense of “firm branding” (aside from a select group of key current rainmakers), and platforms like UpCounsel face a Tough Mudder-level set of obstacles to overcome if they want to break into the Biglaw firm marketing rotation. But I don’t think UpCounsel and their “evolution of legal services”-oriented kin want to….

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