Partner Issues

Woody Allen

* Woody Allen’s lawyer, Elkan Abramowitz, responds to Dylan Farrow’s account of alleged sexual abuse at the hands of her famous father. [Gawker; Gothamist]

* Sound advice from Professor Glenn Reynolds on how not to increase applications to your law school. [Instapundit]

* What is a “nitro dump,” and will it provide information about who (or what) killed Philip Seymour Hoffman? [ATL Redline]

* “Is Elena Kagan a ‘paranoid libertarian?’ Judging by [Cass] Sunstein’s definition, the answer is yes.” [Reason via Althouse]

* A petition of possible interest to debt-laden law school graduates: “Increase the student loan interest deduction from $2,500 to the interest actually paid.” [WhiteHouse.gov]

* Vivia Chen wonders: Is Amy Chua, co-author of The Triple Package (affiliate link), being attacked as racist in a way that it itself racist? [Time]

* Yikes — journalists around the country have been receiving “a flurry of subpoenas in recent months,” according to Jeff Kosseff of Covington & Burling. [InsideTechMedia]

* Congratulations to Orrick’s 15 new partners — an impressively diverse group, from a wide range of practice areas and from offices around the world. [Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe]

Back in December, some associates at Kirkland & Ellis expressed some displeasure about their bonuses. Now, make no mistake, the K&E bonuses still beat the market by a healthy amount; they just didn’t beat the market by as much as they usually do (at least according to some sources; under an individualized bonus system, reactions will vary).

In our bonus post, we wondered about K&E’s financial performance in 2013. Could the firm — which could very well be the nation’s finest law firm — have had a less than stellar year?

Associates might not be the only ones dissatisfied with their compensation. Sources point to a fair number of prominent partner departures over the past few months, in one of K&E’s top practice areas….

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Although Am Law and ATL covered the story first, the long spread in The New York Times alerted the whole world to the woes of Gregory Owens, a former Dewey partner who’s now a bankrupt non-equity partner at White & Case.

The legal blogosphere naturally lit up over this story, with Scott Greenfield dispensing his usual simple justice and the Volokh Conspirators (and their many commenters) debating Owens’ personal and professional worth.

But my emailbox filled up, too, with assorted reactions from people at all levels in the law. The most interesting rant — and the one I’m sharing with you today — came from a person who looks a lot like Owens; he or she is a non-equity partner at a Vault 50 firm who’s in his or her 50s. This person disagrees violently with the conventional wisdom about non-equity partners. My correspondent sings their praises and insists that both law firms and many law firm consultants terribly misjudge the value that non-equity partners provide to their firms. . . .

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‘So it’s decided – we’ll be Cravath, Swaine, Moore, & Doritos.’

All those professional responsibility lectures, and bar prep, and boring CLEs that I attended after becoming a lawyer, and all the boring CLEs I dutifully watched on the Internet after I escaped the probationary period, consistently preached the evils of non-lawyer ownership of law firms.

It raises ethical concerns! It dilutes what it means to be a lawyer! This is a profession, not a business! All the usual complaints from a profession convinced that it’s made up of beautiful and unique snowflakes with unimpeachable judgment.

But with the rest of the world embracing new structures to permit non-lawyer ownership — and empirical evidence suggesting that those models raise fewer ethical concerns than the alternative — some argue that the U.S. firm model stifles innovation and cripples international competitiveness.

But the better question is, “Don’t non-lawyers own law firms already?” And to the extent the answer is “of course,” shouldn’t the profession be bending over backwards to approve ownership models that better serve the firms and their clients than the status quo?

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345 West 13th Street

Meet Michael Graffagna, who’s one impressive MoFo… partner. The Harvard Law School graduate, admitted to practice in New York, California, and Japan, heads up the project finance practice at Morrison & Foerster.

Graffagna is now resident in the firm’s Tokyo office. So he and his wife, Midori Graffagna, recently sold their Manhattan pied-à-terre. And oh what a pied-à-terre it was — larger than most Manhattanites’ primary residences.

How large are we talking? How much did the Graffagnas get for it? And which celebrity lives upstairs?

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Everyone has an opinion about a trip to Disney World. Some people relish immersing themselves in the experience, while others bemoan the long lines, incessant invitations to spend money, and roaming packs of at-turns hyperactive and hysterical children.

Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle, if leaning a bit to being a Disney-phile as opposed to a Disney-phobe. Having just spent a week there with my family, I can attest to the importance of having realistic expectations regarding the trip — such as recognizing that it will not be a relaxing “vacation,” in the traditional sense. Whether physically or emotionally, anything more than a day visit can be quite draining. At the same time, it is also a lot of fun, and can be quite educational for the kids as well. And there is a lot we can learn as lawyers from the way that Disney goes about its business….

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Let’s play a game of law firm word association. What words come to mind when I say Skadden Arps?

Prestigious? Yes.

Profitable? Definitely.

Sweatshop? Perhaps; some sources say the hours can be “long and unpredictable.”

Funky?

Yes, you heard me: funky….

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I’ve just celebrated my fourth anniversary working in-house, and I’m now officially out of touch with law firm life.

I thought I knew all the law-firm-partnership tricks. For example, when law students ask at interviews what percentage of firm partners hold equity status, some firms answer: “At this firm, all partners are partners.” That’s true, of course, but tautological; it says nothing about the equity and non-equity ranks.

On the other hand, this non-responsive answer serves a useful purpose. It may help to convince law students (or lateral associates) that they have a real chance at making partner at the firm, even though the equity partnership ranks are tiny and getting thinner every day.

But I recently learned about a new game that law firms play. This one is aimed not at deceiving law students or lateral associates, but rather the granddaddy of law firm rankings: The American Lawyer’s profits per partner calculation.

I thought I knew all the ways law firms could try to mislead The American Lawyer. There’s the possibility of outright lying, of course, and then there’s using funky methodologies that inflate profits per partner from $1 million to $1.8 million for the year 2011. But there’s a new game in town. It may well be widespread, but I heard about it only recently….

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It’s been viewed online nearly 7 million times. Sheryl Sandberg calls it one of the most important documents ever to come out of Silicon Valley. And it was created by the company whose stock increased in 2013 more than any other’s in the S&P 500—up nearly 350%.

“It” is a 126-slide PowerPoint called “Netflix Culture: Freedom & Responsibility,” and it outlines Netflix’s approach to just that—culture—although it has primarily been interpreted as a “reinvention” of HR, as this Harvard Business Review article puts it.

Going through the entire PowerPoint (I have) is valuable in and of itself; if nothing else, you’ll see how very well done PowerPoints can be, for a change. But the HBR article, written by the former head of HR at Netflix itself, distills their approach to talent into five tenets based on two key insights into how people actually feel about performing their jobs…

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Last week, we mentioned that Winston & Strawn partner Gene Schaerr is leaving the firm to represent Utah in its gay marriage squabble against equal rights. By all accounts, Schaerr is a terrific lawyer. The BYU and Yale Law School grad served as head of Winston & Strawn’s Appellate and Critical Motions Practice.

It’s a little bit surprising that Schaerr took the extraordinary step of leaving the firm to take this case. The move caused some online commentators to speculate that Schaerr left W&S because of the firm’s work with LGBT groups… or even because W&S has an LGBT affinity group at the firm.

Well, we now have Schaerr’s actual departure memo, the one that he sent out firm-wide. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes suggested that Schaerr left the firm simply so he could “focus” on this important case. You can read the departure memo and judge Gene Schaerr’s motivations for yourselves…

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