Partner Profits

We all dream of a world in which collegiality matters.

Partners at law firms are . . . well . . . partners. They look out for each other. They build each other’s practices. They work for the common good.

Perhaps that firm exists. I wouldn’t know.

From my perch here — as the guy who left a Biglaw partnership for an in-house job, and on whose shoulder other Biglaw partners now routinely cry — the view is pretty ugly. (Perhaps my perspective is distorted because of an obvious bias: Partners happy with their firms don’t come wailing to me.) What I hear these days is grim: Guys are being de-equitized or made of counsel; they think they’re being underpaid; they’re concerned that they’ll be thrown under the bus if they ever lose a step.

Several recent partners’ laments prompted me to think about something that I’d never considered when I worked at a firm. (Maybe that’s because I’m one of those guys who was perfectly happy laboring for the common good. Or maybe it’s because I’m a moron.)

In any event, here’s today’s question: I want to wrestle effectively with my own law firm. I don’t want to be nasty; I just want to be sure that I have implicit power when I negotiate with the firm. I want the firm — of its own accord, without me saying a word — to treat me right. How do I wrestle my own law firm to the ground? How do I pin my partners?

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We’ve been hearing rumblings about it for weeks, and now there’s something to report: Locke Lord and Edwards Wildman Palmer have signed a letter of intent to merge.

Some folks at Edwards Wildman must be breathing sighs of relief (and hoping that nothing scuttles the deal). The past year or so has been challenging for the firm. In the spring, the firm laid off 52 lawyers and staff. In 2013, the firm experienced lots of partner defections and a significant dip in gross revenue.

It’s nice to see a troubled firm get rescued through a merger — e.g., Patton Boggs — instead of suffer the fate of Dewey. What do we know about the possible Locke Lord / Edwards Wildman deal?

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Observers of the legal industry have been wondering about the future of Bingham McCutchen for the past several months. In the wake of a rocky 2013, which triggered some lawyer departures and staff reductions, there has been a fair amount of merger talk.

Some have wondered whether Bingham might “fall victim to its own strategy” — i.e., whether the firm, which grew in power and profitability by swallowing up other firms, might itself get eaten up by a rival.

So what’s the latest on the Bingham merger talk front? And what might happen if the talks go further?

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Bruce Stachenfeld

This is the first of a four-article series focusing on the following matters:

  • First Article – Profits Per Partner: A Good Servant But A Bad Master
  • Second Article – A Profits-Per-Partner Emancipation Plan
  • Third Article – Beyond Profits Per Partner – Embracing Volatility
  • Fourth Article – How to Embrace Volatility as a Law Firm

Those of us running law firms have two sets of clients:

  • Clients – parties that hire us for legal work.
  • Lawyers – parties that do the legal work for the clients.

One without the other is pointless, obviously – they are yin and yang. However, despite this almost symbiotic relationship, most law firms are set up to attract great clients a lot more than they are set up to attract great lawyers. That is how law firms define “marketing.” The other function is called “recruiting.”

Indeed, let me ask you — in your firm, which is cooler: to be on the marketing committee, or to be on the recruiting committee? Which one is more likely to result in success at your firm, including money, power, fame, a big office, etc.?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Reinventing The Law Business: Profits Per Partner — A Good Servant But A Bad Master”

When a firm starts losing partners to its rivals and slowing down their hiring (or even conducting layoffs), it’s usually a bad sign. But one Biglaw firm that’s lost a number of high-profile partners over the last year is touting its new, streamlined approach. You see, they meant to suffer all those defections and lose some of their biggest clients. It’s all part of reinventing the firm for the modern business climate.

Is this just good public relations, or are they on to something?

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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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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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We posed this question earlier today. The answer, according to a recent news report, is yes.

The past few months have been bumpy for Bingham. In February, we reported on falling profits, partner defections, and staff layoffs. In June, we covered additional partner departures. (By the way, the two “unidentified partners” who went to Skadden turned out to be tax partners Rajiv Madan and Christopher Bowers; they left Bingham due to a client conflict.)

In recent weeks, Bingham conducted a management shake-up. And now comes word that it might be looking for a merger partner.

Keep reading for our review of the reports, plus an internal email that just went around the firm commenting on the speculation….

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Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time with us.

In our two most recent Flashback Friday posts, we looked at associate compensation in the 1990s. Today we’ll take a break from that topic and mix it up a bit. (We’ll return to cover associate comp in the remaining batch of legal markets at some point in the future.)

Last week we looked at associate pay in New York in the 1990s. Let’s stay in that city and that decade and examine another subject: NYC’s top law firms, circa 1991.

Some of these firms remain on top today. And some of them are six feet under….

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With this year more than halfway done, let’s look in the rear-view mirror and survey managing partners’ confidence in the legal industry during the second quarter of 2014. Wall Street investors seem generally optimistic, at least based on the state of the stock market (despite today’s turbulence). Are law firm leaders similarly hopeful?

Survey says — well, nothing terribly exciting, but let’s have a look anyway….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Managing Partners Take Survey; What Happens Next… Won’t Amaze You”

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