What is a law firm? Unlike a lot of businesses, there are really no assets except the lawyers and (in some instances) the brand name. For most law firms — especially newer firms and start-ups — there is no brand name; that leaves the lawyers as the only assets. And for brand-name law firms, if the talent starts to leave, eventually the brand dies.
As one of my partners once said to me: “Bruce, all of the assets of this business go down the elevator every night. Your job is to get them to come back up in the morning.” He just said it casually, but it hit me strongly later on as I realized he was completely right. The entire point of running a law firm was to keep the lawyers in the firm. You can always get more clients if you lose them, but without the lawyers, you have nothing to sell and it is game over.
Accordingly, to answer the question posed at the outset as to what a law firm is…. it is a collection of lawyers who are together because they wish to be together. If they don’t wish to be together any more, then they leave, and that is the end.
Last week, the American Lawyer announced its eagerly anticipated Am Law 100 rankings, reflecting the financial performance of major law firms in 2013. On the whole, the news wasn’t bad. The elite firms did great, and most other firms eked out “modest, hard-won gains.” Am Law suggested that the big vereins underperformed, but that indictment might have been too harsh.
The Am Law data focuses on last year. What about last quarter? How are law firms doing in 2014 so far?
A new report from Citi Private Bank, a leading provider of financial services to leading law firms, has some answers….
On Monday, we heard rumors of momentous events at Patton Boggs, the troubled law and lobbying firm. One of the rumors was that the partnership was holding a meeting to vote on something major — although what exactly was not revealed.
We reached out to Patton Boggs, which shot down the rumors of a meeting, so we ended up not doing a story. But there may have been some truth to reports of exciting goings-on at the firm — developments that could help the firm in its struggle for survival.
The firm just removed the albatross of litigation with oil giant Chevron from around its neck. As you may recall, Chevron sued Patton Boggs for PB’s representation of plaintiffs in an Ecuadorian environmental case that Chevron alleged was nothing more than a shakedown — a view that Judge Lewis Kaplan (S.D.N.Y.) vindicated in March.
But escaping from the Chevron quagmire did not come cheap for Patton Boggs. How much did the firm have to cough up to make this case go away?
As The Economist concisely explains, a verein is “a Swiss partnership that lets [law firms] maintain separate national or regional profit pools under a single brand.” For purposes of preparing its influential Am Law 100 rankings, the American Lawyer treats a verein as a single firm — a decision that some at non-verein firms object to.
Let’s hear some of the complaints — and then, interestingly enough, a defense of the vereins’ financial performance in 2013, which might have been better than Am Law suggested….
Last week, I addressed how technological advances and freer access to information can help ex-Biglaw partners like myself transition to a boutique practice without disruption — from the standpoint of being able to conduct a litigation practice in much the same way it was conducted while in Biglaw. As I said, it has become much easier to gain access to the litigation work product of Biglaw firms, for example, reducing Biglaw’s edge in knowledge management over a start-up firm like ours.
Of course, how best to exploit that work product requires training and skill, and to some extent a Biglaw-caliber background to begin with. In other words, the information may be more accessible, but it does not come with an instruction manual. At least when it comes to patent litigation, everyone needs to learn the trade the hard way.
But there is another important area where Biglaw’s edge is eroding….
Plug two: I’ll be back in the States for a few weeks in June, and I’m taking advantage of that opportunity to give my “book talk” about The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law at three “Vault 50” firms. So long as I’ve dusted off the notes to give those three talks, I might as well speak at your firm, too, Please let me know if you’re interested.
Finally, some crystal-ball-gazing: I’ve been picking for years on the fictitious law firm of Bigg & Mediocre. For good reason: To my eye, a fair number of firms have decided that adding more offices and lawyers is the cure to all that ails them and that relentlessly focusing on quality is a failed strategy of the past.
Recent empirical evidence now suggests that I may actually have a point. The Am Law profitability ratings for last year show that the super-rich firms are getting richer, and the run-of-the-mill big firms are doing okay. But one group is getting crushed, seeing substantial decreases in both revenue per lawyer and profits per partner: what Am Law calls “the giant alternatives” or the “vereins.”
My mental category of “big and mediocre” doesn’t match Am Law’s “giant verein” group. To my eye, a few of the global giants have managed to pursue both size and quality. But several have not. (I can’t say publicly which firms I would place in which category, because my employer is the world’s leading insurance broker for law firms, and I can’t go around offending the clients and potential clients. Let me just say that your firm is great. Not just great — stupendous! But the other guy’s firm? Not so much.)
So “big and mediocre” got its clock cleaned last year. I’m predicting that big and mediocre will get its clock increasingly cleaned over time, and within a couple of decades, will suffer the fate of the sundial.
As we’ve mentioned before in these pages, lawyers as a group are highly susceptible to addiction. The rate of alcoholism among lawyers may be twice as high as it is among the general population. If you think you or a colleague might have a substance abuse problem, try reaching out to a Lawyer Assistance Program for help.
Alcohol problems afflict the high and the low. As for the high, let’s tell you about a managing partner who needs to manage his drinking….
Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Michael Allen is Managing Principal at Lateral Link, focusing exclusively on partner placements with Am Law 200 clients.
As we noted last year when we spoke at length about law firm branding, “[a]side from the daily challenges associated with sustaining or exceeding gross revenue year after year, Biglaw partners are probably most worried about their firm’s brand.”
With so many law firms out there in the world, it may be difficult to figure out which one is right for a client’s specific needs. Amid recent layoffs of all kinds, even from the most respected of firms, how is one to decide which Biglaw firm to roll with?
As luck would have it, there’s a ranking to determine which firm has the strongest brand in the business — one that can withstand even the bad taste that layoffs can leave in a client’s mouth….
This week has been a big one for rankings. On Monday, the American Lawyer released the 2014 Am Law 100 rankings, chronicling how Biglaw fared in 2013. Last night, we released our top 50 law school rankings, based on the latest employment data from the ABA.
The process of getting measured causes people to modify themselves toward the metric; just ask any bride trying to fit into her wedding dress. So it shouldn’t be surprising that, with rankings on the brain, law firm leaders have been cutting headcount to boost profits.
Which major law firm just announced double-digit cuts, perhaps in an effort to get into fighting shape by Memorial Day, before the arrival of summer associates?
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.
Please note that Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney are still in Hong Kong and will stay FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS WEEK. We still have a handful of available slots for meetings with our Asia Chronicles fans. If we have not been in touch lately, reach out and let us know when we could meet! There is no need for an agenda at all. Most of our in-person meetings on these trips are with folks who understand that improving a legal practice through lateral hiring is an information-driven process that takes time to handle correctly.
Regarding trends in lateral US associate hiring in Hong Kong, we of course keep much of what we know off of this blog. Based on placement revenue, though, Kinney is having one of our most successful years ever in Asia. We are helping a number of our law firm clients with M&A, fund formation, cap markets, project finance, FCPA and disputes openings. These are very specific needs in many cases, so a conversation with us before jumping in may be helpful. As always, we like to be sure to get the maximum number of interviews per submission, using a well-informed, highly targeted, and selective approach, taking into account short, medium and long-term career aims.
Making a well informed decision during a job search is easier said than done – the information we provide comes from 10 years of being the market leader in US attorney placements at the top tier firms in Asia. There is no substitute for having known a hiring partner since he/she was an associate or for having helped a partner grow his or her practice from zip to zooming, and this is happily where we stand today – with years of background information on just about every relevant person in all the markets we serve, and most especially in Hong Kong/China/Greater Asia. So get in touch and get a download from us this week if we can fit it in, or soon in any case!
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.
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.