Partner Issues

A year ago, in writing about how major law firms performed in the first half of 2013, I wondered whether Biglaw might be the proverbial frog in boiling water. I now wonder whether the analogy might still hold, but in a good way: could we be witnessing a quiet boom for Biglaw, happening so gradually that we don’t even realize it’s here?

In the past few weeks, a slew of mega-mergers have made headlines — which will hopefully turn into contributions to law firm coffers. But even if you focus just on the first six months of 2014, excluding the busy months of July and August, there’s good news to report.

Our friends at Citi Private Bank, a leading law firm lender, just released their report on how Biglaw fared in the first half of 2014. What are the key findings?

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As we noted in today’s Morning Docket, the American Lawyer just published an interesting article with a provocative title: Cleary’s Litigation Slump. In the piece, Michael Goldhaber notes some high-profile defeats recently suffered by Cleary Gottlieb, which he cites in wondering whether the super-elite law firm might be losing its courtroom mojo.

The article struck me as a bit unfair to Cleary. Here’s why….

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According to the latest Am Law 100 rankings, Wachtell Lipton had profits per partner of nearly $5 million in 2013.

Meditate on that for a moment. Breathe in through your nose. Breathe out through your mouth.

Five million bucks per year.

Breathe in through your nose. Breathe out through your mouth.

I lost the slidy-thing from my slide ruler so I have to do this in my head, but I think that’s about $100,000 per week per equity partner. A little less than a newbie associate makes in a whole year outside of the major metropolitan areas.

Imagine all the things you can buy with that kind of money. A mansion that looks somewhat familiar every time you visit it. Luxury vehicles for your nanny. Dream trips for your spouse. The finest private schools for your kids. An iPhone for your son so he can talk to you every day. A high-end camera your wife can take to your daughter’s soccer game so you can watch her play through live streaming video. Oh, the joy that kind of money you can bring your family. It’s not Powerball, but it’s most certainly a lottery win per year.

How much do Canadian law partners earn?

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Does being a Biglaw partner mean never having to say you’re sorry… for annoying, rude, or stupid firm-wide emails? When associates hit “reply all” to firm-wide emails, they sometimes wind up in hot water. But when partners send their random musings far and wide, their colleagues often praise them.

Sure, occasionally “reply all” emails from partners don’t go over well. Sometimes the messages come across as lecherous: “I admire your gumption, especially when you’re in a tight dress.” Sometimes they sound disloyal: “Why are we both still at this firm?”

Today’s Biglaw partner “reply all” doesn’t rise to those heights of cringe-worthiness. But it’s still bad enough to be worth sharing with you….

(Please note the UPDATE added below, which puts the partner’s email in proper context.)

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There are certain legal skills of critical importance that receive the same level of attention as a mid-summer pilot for a sitcom not expected to make it to the fall slate. In fact, there is usually a disconnect, particularly in Biglaw, between what is “taught” and what lawyers really need to learn as they develop. A recent anniversary of sorts reminded me of an example. Let’s discuss the notably unglamorous, but often critically important, role of “second chair” at a hearing or trial.

For the uninitiated, the typical hierarchy on a litigation matter for lawyers is support (faceless associate research drones), team member (associate or higher who is “on the case” but may not even get to sit at counsel table), second chair (trusty lieutenant, perhaps content in the role, or perhaps gunning for more), and first chair (field marshal winning the war and the peace on behalf of a grateful if lighter-pocketed client.)

August is the anniversary of my first patent trial, well over a decade ago….

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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.

For senior associates up for partner, firms have become increasingly focused on business potential and less so on an associate’s ability to outclass others in the courtroom or at the negotiating table.

In the days of yore, the partner track in Biglaw was oftentimes a reward for consistent competence and professionalism. In an era of PPP and RPL, most firms (other than the Cravath, Quinn, or Simpson Thacher types) are less likely to promote associates unless they see real revenue-generating potential.

If you find yourself in your fifth to tenth year and are unsure whether you will make partner, here are four steps to help you steer your career…

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I’m sitting in a Vancouver, BC coffee shop with Gerry Riskin, author of the Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices blog. We’re talking about leadership and the differing mindsets of lawyers and business people. Our conversation was prompted by Gerry’s mindset slide:

The Professional's Mindset and the Slight Edge Theory

I can relate. Early in my legal career, I worked with lawyers in leadership roles who wore this mindset like body armor. They did not inspire. They did not act in ways that moved people closer to a common goal. They often left a bad wake. They lacked awareness. They were not good leaders….

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Bruce Stachenfeld

I am famous for a saying. Actually I am not really famous, but I have a saying that I have been, well, saying for years, as follows:

“Lawyers are only happy when they’re miserable.”

What I mean is this: You are working round-the-clock so much you haven’t even been home for a full day and hardly at all for a month on a doozie of a deal. You are completely sick of it. All you can think of is when the deal will be “over.” You are clearly “miserable.” If only you could have your personal life back! Then, finally, the deal closes — at last. Your client is wiring out the funds. As the transfer of funds is happening, a (terrible) thought races through your mind. You hate yourself for the thought — you try not to have the thought — but you simply can’t help it… and the thought is that you are kind of worried because you have nothing to do now and that is disquieting… gee, what if work has really slowed… at some point this will be a real problem. You’ve had your personal life back for maybe a second — you haven’t even taken a shower — and you are worrying where your next deal will come from.

Or the other way around. Work has been slow — very slow — for a couple of months. You have enjoyed some rounds of golf and gone out to a bunch of dinners and lunches, but you really would like a nice tricky and challenging deal to sink your teeth into. And of course you are mindful of the fact that like it or not lawyers just have to bill hours. That is how we make a living, and you just aren’t billing hours. Not a good thing. You are edgy — if only you could have a big deal to work on….

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Let’s start with a definition. Merriam-Webster defines “autonomy” as “the state of existing or acting separately from others.” Meaning you have the proverbial “control over your own destiny,” or put another way, are not dependent on others. In many respects, complete autonomy is a fiction for a lawyer. We are all dependent — on our clients, our partners, our firms. But lawyers still value autonomy. It may be elusive, particularly in Biglaw, but it is an important contributor to career satisfaction and performance.

In fact, earning a significant degree of autonomy was among the leading factors in making my Biglaw experience a positive one. Yes, I said earned, rather than “being granted” or “given.” In Biglaw, you need to carve out personal space for yourself. It is not something that is given. Nor does anyone tell you what you need to do to earn your measure of independence. At a very high level, it is necessary to project both confidence and competence — to your clients, peers, and superiors, at all times. If you are successful, and earn some autonomy, there is a higher likelihood that you will be happy in your Biglaw job. Imagine that.

Perhaps surprisingly, your Biglaw firm actually wants you to have a degree of autonomy….

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Some Biglaw firms put on variety shows and have associates sing, dance, and act out lame sketch comedy. It’s all about associates demeaning themselves for the amusement of partners in new and more interesting ways. And I guess it’s supposed to engender some kind of camaraderie, though it’s not clear how.

But sketch comedy can go horribly wrong. Like, any time a white guy shows up in blackface.

That’s a problem. And yet this Biglaw firm doesn’t seem to understand why….

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