Partner Issues

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?

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The arrival last week of the latest Am Law 100 rankings brought a hot-button subject back to the headlines: vereins.

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….

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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….

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First, two plugs; then, crystal-ball-gazing about a certain breed of law firm. Plug one: Please take a look at “How To Write Articles That Don’t Generate Business.” I amused myself writing it; perhaps you’ll be amused reading it.

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.

Why?

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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….

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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.

Two weeks ago I brought you the Men’s Biglaw All-Star Team of 2014, and now without further ado, here are the Women’s Biglaw All-Stars of 2014.

These superlative attorneys — in conjunction with a vast array of equally deserving attorneys — have sparked the march towards equity in Biglaw partnership…

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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….

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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?

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The people who regulate rich white guys in basketball are way tougher than the people who regulate rich white guys in banking.

Kevin Roose, author of Young Money: Inside the Hidden World of Wall Street’s Post-Crash Recruits (affiliate link), commenting on Twitter about N.B.A Commissioner Adam Silver’s harsh punishment of Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.

(Both Silver and Sterling are lawyers. Check out their backgrounds, and find out which elite firm conducted the NBA investigation of Sterling, after the jump.)

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The book that everyone’s talking about right now is Capital in the Twenty-First Century by French economist Thomas Piketty. In his bestselling, critically acclaimed, 600-page tome, Piketty documents and diagnoses the growth of income inequality in the United States and around the world.

What’s true for the global economy seems to be true for law firms as well. As we mentioned in Morning Docket, the American Lawyer just released the latest Am Law 100 rankings, the biggest rankings in the world of Biglaw. Here’s the key takeaway, captured in the magazine’s headline: “The Super Rich Get Richer.”

How rich are the “Super Rich” these days? Let’s peek at those profits per partner….

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