We’ve seen this story before. A firm experiences a dip in profitability, then starts losing key partners (or reverse the order if you like; falling profits and defecting partners go hand in hand). Worried about its survival, the firm starts seeking out a white knight, in the form of a merger partner. And then….
Well, that depends. Sometimes a merger partner is found and the combined firms live happily ever after. Sometimes a merger partner is found and the combined firms suffer together, with the weaker firm effectively giving the stronger firm the “cooties.” And sometimes no merger partner is found at all; the troubled firm goes down, and rival firms swoop in like vultures to pick off the top practices and rainmakers. We can all think of examples of each scenario.
Ed. note: This is the latest installment of the ATL Interrogatories. This recurring feature will give notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.
Paul Steven Singerman is Co-Chair of Berger Singerman and concentrates his practice in troubled loan workouts, insolvency matters, and commercial transactions. Paul is active throughout the United States in large and complex restructuring, insolvency, and bankruptcy cases. Although Paul is best known for his representation of debtors in complex restructuring cases, he is also experienced in representing creditors’ committees, lenders, large unsecured creditors, asset purchasers in § 363 sales and trustees. Much of his work has involved companies with international operations or European or Asian parties-in-interest.
1. What is the greatest challenge to the legal industry over the next 5 years?
The prominent lobbying and law firm recently announced the closing of its office in Newark, New Jersey. Discussing the move with Politico, managing partner Edward Newberry said, “We’ve lit intentionally a forest fire, we’ve controlled that forest fire. While we’ve lost a few people over the last year, who are good friends and good partners, our firm is much stronger today than it’s been in a long time.”
The firm has lost “a few people” over the last year? How about roughly 100 attorneys, representing 20 percent of lawyer headcount, plus an unknown number of staff? With additional prominent partners said to be eying the emergency exits?
One of the questions I have been asked since leaving Biglaw is how I decided to join forces with my current partners. It is a good question, because over the years I have had the opportunity to work with many lawyers, both at my firm and at others. I have technically even had hundreds of “partners” between my two prior Biglaw firms. But other than my current partners, I can think of only a handful whom I would have considered opening a firm with.
My professional ambition was never to open a boutique. I very much enjoyed my time in Biglaw, and always thought that I would stay in Biglaw for the remainder of my career. Did that mean that I expected to remain at the same firm for my entire career? Of course not, no matter how appealing that idea sounded. The fraying of the Biglaw social contract as a result of the 2008 recession sealed that deal. But it was a big leap from knowing that my career could involve some moves within Biglaw to leaving Biglaw altogether.
Finding the right compatriots was a critical element of that decision. How did it come about?
* Being a former partner of a firm that’s flopped ain’t easy. Ex-Howrey partners find themselves haunted by the failed firm’s “phantom” funds, and now they’re going to court to fight their tax liabilities. [Am Law Daily]
* Silly Cadwalader! You’re not the “oldest law firm in the United States.” Neither are you, Howard, Kohn, Sprague & FitzGerald. That title goes to Rawle & Henderson, a firm that’s been around since 1783. [ABA Journal]
* If you’d like to work at a firm that’s being touted for its anti-Biglaw culture, you might want to take a look at Tandem Legal Group. You won’t ever have to wear a tie at this “fun” and “cool” place. [Washington Post]
* Jason Bohn, the Florida Law grad accused of murder — who also happens to be the guy who was once featured in an NYT article about the perils of law school — has apparently killed before. [New York Post]
* Nicki Minaj is being sued for $30 million by the man who once served as her “wig guru.” Having absolutely nothing to do with the case, imagine being so obscenely rich that you could employ a “wig guru.” [CNN]
On our recent post about bonuses at Bingham McCutchen, some commenters complained about our coverage of the firm. Here’s what one said: “What this article fails to mention is that NO ONE made their hours, it’s THAT slow. Good job, ATL, for eating whatever it is Bingham pays you to NOT report [on bad goings-on at the firm].”
Actually, we’re perfectly willing to report on negative developments at Bingham (or any other major law firm). Just email us or text us (646-820-8477), and we’ll investigate.
There’s certainly a lot to cover over at Bingham: tumbling profits, partner departures, and unfortunately timed staff layoffs. We’ve collected some reporting from around the web, which we’ve combined with inside information from ATL tipsters at the firm. Let’s have a look, shall we?
I worked at law firms for 25 years. I observed many things and heard many others.
Now I work in-house, and I have to select counsel to represent me.
If I saw you in action (or heard about your reputation) back then, will I hire you now?
It’s obvious how you could have impressed me: You could have put the client’s interests first, and you could have been breathtakingly good when analyzing issues, negotiating settlements, preparing briefs, or appearing in court.
But what could I have seen or heard that forever removed you from my subconscious “approved” list? What are the deadly sins?
* Being a mass murderer wouldn’t be any fun if you couldn’t play video games. Also, let’s Upworthy this: Elie tells a story about himself dancing naked… you won’t believe what happens next. [ATL Redline]
* Ted Wells of Paul Weiss finally got off his duff and issued his report on the harassment situation in the Miami Dolphins locker room. [Deadspin]
* ♫Rubber Duckie, you’re the one, you make state legislative sessions drafting complicated statutes allowing gambling on racing you so much fun!♫ [Lowering the Bar]
* From the “dick moves” file, this guy put up a Craigslist ad pimping out his neighbor without her knowledge or consent. From the f**king idiot files, this guy had no idea how easy it would be for the authorities to track him down. [IT-Lex]
* Is the aggressive lateral partner recruitment strategy bringing results? [Adam Smith, Esq.]
* The Virginia decision legalizing gay marriage made one slight misstatement. “Our Constitution declares that ‘all men’ are created equal.” Really? Does it now? [Josh Blackman's Blog; WSJ Law Blog]
* Intelligence Squared held a debate last night between Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg and the ACLU’s Ben Wizner against former prosecutor (not Weekend at Bernie’s star) Andrew McCarthy and former CIA Director R. James Woolsey on the question: Snowden Was Justified. The video is embedded after the jump…. [Intelligence Squared]
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: [email protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months (Robert Kinney and Evan Jowers will be in Hong Kong again March 15 to 23), and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.
Are you challenged by the costs and logistics of maintaining your office, distracting you from the practice of law?
Many small firms are successfully moving part—or even all—of their practice to a virtual setting. This even includes multi-jurisdictional practice spanning several states and practice areas, although solo and small partnerships are still the largest adopters of virtual law.
Can you do the same? The new article Mobile in Practice, Virtual by Design from author Jared Correia, Esq., explores how mobile technology bring real-life benefits to a small law firm. Read this new article—the next in Thomson Reuters’ Independent Thinking series for small firms—to explore how a mobile practice:
Everyone is talking about the importance of Social Media in Corporate America. But it is relatively safe to say that most law firms and lawyers are slightly behind the social curve. Most lawyers, at minimum, use LinkedIn, for networking. Some even use Twitter for pushing out short, pithy content, while many have Blogs, where they write their little hearts out. The adage “it is better to give than to receive” is not always true though in the world of Social. In the Social World – it is best to listen, give back and engage.
Social Media is a communications tool that can deeply educate you about the needs and wants of your clients and prospects when used in conjunction social media monitoring and sharing tools.
Take this quick quiz and see if you know how to use Social to help you engage more with your clients or to better service the ones you have.