Over the last two decades, a dedicated Supreme Court bar has gained prominence, focusing on arguing the increasingly few cases before the justices each term. These lawyers face fierce competition in persuading clients to hire them, participating in a not-so-glamorous competition known in the industry as a “beauty contest.” At these lawyerly pageants, attorneys competing to take the case make their pitch and try to persuade the client that their firm is the best suitor.
In my new book, Unprecedented: The Constitutional Challenge to Obamacare (affiliate link), I go backstage and look at two of the most high-profile beauty contests in Supreme Court history: who would represent (1) the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and (2) twenty-six states in their respective challenges to the constitutionality of Obamacare.
How did these litigants go about choosing their counsel? Which lawyers and law firms got passed over?
For my generation, carrying a BlackBerry was synonymous with employment in Biglaw. For over a decade, my BlackBerry was a constant companion. At the peak of my billable-hours craziness, I would literally wake up when the little red LED light signaling a new email started blinking. No matter the hour. For the sake of my marriage, I kept my BlackBerry on silent late at night. Despite that, my wife would occasionally complain in the morning about hearing me type reply emails from bed in the wee hours.
Even though I recently gave up my BlackBerry for a more robust smartphone, I still get the occasional vibrating “BlackBerry leg.” And despite having a “modern” phone now, it is hard to not miss my BlackBerry when typing an involved email. Perhaps the introduction of non-qwerty keyboards on smartphones has led to shorter emails generally. I am not sure, but it is clear that BlackBerry’s problem was not in providing a certain capability to its clients — BlackBerry was always the best mobile email platform, and BBM was always the best mobile instant messaging one as well. What changed was the public’s conception of what a smartphone could and should do.
Like many others in Biglaw, my BlackBerry was part of my work identity. I remember getting my first one, a black-and-white model with a rotating disc to scroll between emails. And I was an early devotee of the (j)ohn (q)uinn approach to responding to emails — check constantly, and respond often. For associates who are wondering — partners do take note of who responds promptly. And which associates respond substantively, too….
Former managing partner Edwin Reeser is one of my favorite analysts of the legal profession (or industry, as the case may be). He recently wrote an interesting and thoughtful piece for the ABA Journal with a great title: “Law firms in the Great Recession: looking for change in all the wrong places.”
I’m a sucker for a good double entendre. Here, “looking for change” has at least two meanings. First, there’s “change” in the sense of reform. Second, there’s “change” in the sense of “spare change,” reflected in the sad way that law firm are rifling through the couch cushions — de-equitizing partners, laying off associates and staff, and cutting other costs here and there. These marginal steps have helped keep profits per partner up in the wake of the Great Recession, but they’re no recipe for winning the future.
So what should Biglaw be doing to promote long-term success?
First things first: I’m heading back to the States for a couple of weeks in October, and Troutman Sanders and Miller Canfield have already asked me to take advantage of that visit by giving my “book talk” about The Curmudgeon’s Guide at those firms. That means I’ll be blowing the dust off my speaking notes and reminding myself what I say. I might as well get some bang for the dust; if you’d like me to give the book talk at your firm (or school) in early October, please let me know.
Second things second: Citi, Wells Fargo, and PeerMonitor recently released their analyses of law firm performance to date in 2013, and the pundits were all a-twitter. (Well, all a-blogger, anyway, but the pundits are so retro.)
Here’s one question the pundits posed: Why is law firm headcount up when law firms are suffering from decreased demand for their services?
That’s a pretty good question, and there’s no obvious explanation. Being a curious fellow, I used a clever technique to get to the bottom of this: I asked.
After the jump, I explain why firms are hiring more lawyers during a time of weak demand (as explained by senior partners at a couple of firms) and note an overlooked aspect of 2012 law firm performance that may affect results in 2013 . . . .
Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today’s post is written by Michael Allen, the Managing Principal of Lateral Link, who focuses exclusively on partner placements with Am Law 200 clients.
You would think that most lateral partners climb the proverbial Am Law 200 ladder to the “Holy Grail,” but our research has shown that predicting partner moves is not merely an exercise in linear extrapolation. Instead, myriad factors are relevant in predicting when and where a partner is likely to move.
Though the basic Am Law rankings are enormously useful in many aspects, they fall short in predicting lateral movement, at least if one adheres to the conventional wisdom that “bigger is better.” We have instead found that, on average, a lateral partner tends to move to a firm ten rankings below their previous firm. This is why we utilize a smorgasbord of other indicators, including PPP (profits per partner), firm reputation, practice size, and other analytics, to better match candidates to firms.
The foremost objective is to predict partner moves, which is why we utilize advanced statistics in our database to assess the likelihood of partner moves….
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 Shelly Leonida, LP’s Director of Human Resources.
It’s 10:30 on a Wednesday morning, you’re cranking away at that brief, and your office line rings. You don’t recognize the number. You put your head down, waiting for voicemail to pick up so you can get back to the finer points of Massachusetts estoppel law. Because you know, inevitably, that on the other end of that line is yet another headhunter.
Sure, it’s annoying. But don’t let that experience turn you off from recruiters when it comes time to make a move. For one thing, let’s be honest: having too many people trying to get you a job isn’t the worst thing in the world. For another, recruiters taking the scattershot, cold-calling approach — testing your interest in a real estate practice in LA, when you’re quite happy at your corporate group in Chicago — are not the best representatives of the profession. The fact is, they can help. And I don’t just say that because I used to be one myself.
Brokers fill important roles in many markets, and recruiters — though not “brokers” in the strictest sense — do just that in the market for legal talent. First, and maybe most importantly, they are valuable sources of information. That may sound like a superfluous role in the Internet age, given all the information available on law firms’ websites and candidates’ LinkedIn profiles. But neither firms nor prospective laterals put everything out there for the world to see, and that’s where recruiters can be handy…
Partners versus associates in Biglaw. I am not referring to the annual end-of-summer softball game. This is more serious. Many groups are flat or slow. Even though associates leave firms and get replaced very slowly, or not at all, and even though incoming associate classes have shrunk, Biglaw firms make every effort to keep associates as busy as possible. For one, associates are expensive, with their high salaries and real benefits packages. Plus, it is always easy to generate some make-work for them, particularly when there are not as many around as there used to be.
These efforts are surely welcomed by associates, but at what cost to the firm’s other timekeeping employees — the partners? Does the fact that a partner “got elected,” has the title, signed a partnership agreement, and has money (either their own or a friendly bank’s) in the firm’s capital account mean that he or she should have first dibs on all available work? Put another way, do I have the right to insist that a fellow partner assign me work rather than an associate? Do I need to make sure my fellow partners are all fully busy before I assign some of my hard-earned client matters to them? Assuming that the clients do not care about who services a particular matter (e.g., it is a new client who only cares about the price and not who is providing the service), these are very difficult questions. Unfortunately for many in Biglaw today, they are also timely….
Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today’s post is written by Elizabeth Katkin, a Senior Director at Lateral Link, where she focuses on partner and practice group transitions and developing strategic relationships with top international firms and companies in the Middle East and Europe.
Do you have one or more of the following frustrations with your current law firm? Inadequate overall or relative compensation. No platform to support or develop your practice. Feeling shut out of management decisions — or even having a voice.
Perhaps you are just beginning the search for a new firm, or perhaps you know where you are headed next — a place with a great footprint, support in the practice areas you need, and a group of lawyers that feels like a good fit. In the world of law firm management today, you already know that what you see is not always what you get. It is essential to gauge the financial and management health of a firm before you move, both to ensure your happiness and viability at the firm and to ease your exit in the event that there is trouble in paradise.
Here are five things you should understand before giving your withdrawal notice to your current firm:
For the past three years, Baker & McKenzie has taken the top spot in the American Lawyer’s Global 100, the magazine’s ranking of the 100 highest-grossing law firms in the world. With 74 offices in 46 counties, the firm has a presence in almost as many countries as Starbucks (which is in 50 different countries around the globe).
Baker saw its financial metrics rise like bread in the last fiscal year. Gross revenue grew by 4.6 percent to $2.42 billion; net income rose by an even larger amount, 9.1 percent, to $862 million; and profits per equity partner increased by 10.1 percent, hitting $1.2 million.
But this strong performance wasn’t enough to keep Baker at #1. Who is the new top dog?
In 2008, a paralegal at Weil Gotshal alleged in a lawsuit that Matthew Powers, co-chair of litigation at Weil at the time, ruled over his domain with the “pimp hand” and the “mojo hand.” The “pimp hand” was used to intimidate and coerce, while the “mojo hand” was used to stroke and cajole.
In 2011, Powers, one of the nation’s leading intellectual-property litigators, left Weil to start his own firm, Tensegrity Law Group. In leaving Biglaw, he also left behind a stable of blue-chip clients, focusing instead on representing plaintiffs on a contingency basis.
Two years into his new venture, some observers are wondering whether Matt Powers has lost his powers….
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 six years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We currently have a very exciting and rare type of in-house opening in China at one of the world’s leading internet and social media companies. Our client is looking for an IP Transactional / TMT / Licensing attorney with 2 to 6 years experience. The new hire will be based in Shenzhen or Shanghai. Mandarin is not required (deal documentation will be in English) but is preferred. A solid reason to be in China and a commitment to that market is required of course. This new hire will likely be US qualified (but could also be qualified in UK or other jurisdictions) and with experience and training at a top law firm’s IP transactional / TMT practice and could be currently at a law firm or in-house. Qualified candidates currently Asia based, Europe based or US based will be considered. The new hire’s supervisors in this technology transactions in-house team are very well regarded US trained IP transactional lawyers, with substantial experience at Silicon Valley firms. The culture and atmosphere in this in-house group and the company in general is entrepreneurial, team oriented, and the work is cutting edge, even for a cutting edge industry. The upside of being in an important strategic in-house position in this fast growing and world leading internet company is of the “sky is the limit” variety. Its a very exciting place to be in China for a rising IP transactional lawyer in our opinion, for many reasons beyond the basic info we can share here in this ad / post. This is a special A+ opportunity.
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When Chintan Panchal decided to leave a global BigLaw partnership to start his own firm, he could only hope that he would face the high-quality problem of firm building that many had cautioned him about. Focused on the uncertainty surrounding of a new firm launch, he decided to tackle staffing needs, IT challenges, and financial planning requirements after he had built up his legal practice.
Panchal Associates LLP–a corporate/finance and outside general counsel boutique–was quickly off to a great start. Clients and matters were flying in the door, and Chintan soon had a team of lawyers and staff with a variety of operational needs. To continue building an excellent team and provide them with a competitive benefits package, to expand his physical presence to include a European practice and additional partners, and to scale his operations and IT capabilities to support this growing enterprise brought with it demands of time, money, and expertise. Chintan knew he needed help.
“With the assistance of NexFirm, we have upgraded the capabilities of our firm to meet, and in some cases exceed, the standards we were used to at our former BigLaw firms. Operationally, we can now attract and service clients we didn’t have the bandwidth to support in the past, and continue to build our team with the best and brightest legal talent in the industry,” said Chintan Panchal, adding “It has worked out quite well in our case; NexFirm is an essential partner for us.”
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