Partner Profits

Last week I wrote about some aspects of client service in today’s Biglaw. Today I want to focus on Biglaw’s embrace of partner de-equitizations and layoffs. These tactics are one of the ways Biglaw has been dealing with the fallout of the Black Death that has struck our industry.

Unfortunately, it seems like this year has gotten off to a bad start Biglaw-wise, in terms of both demand and a continuing lack of creativity by management at nearly every single firm. That brings consequences. Stay tuned. I have already said that I don’t mind if the paunchy mid-section of the Am Law 100 starts embracing a “bottom’s out” approach to the partnership — but at least have the guts to embrace it, not spin it.

I am really starting to dislike the tone that managing partners are starting to adopt when they talk about eliminating partners. Yes, I said eliminate. You may have seen them. Public statements where managing partner X almost gleefully informs the public of the elimination of nearly ten percent of his “partners” in the face of falling revenues. And looks for applause because his firm’s PPP went up $17,000 as a result. Go read some of the recent Biglaw “report cards” for a taste of this rancid stew.

We should be clear about the consequences of such a practice….

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* If you’re looking for an easy résumé line, then consider joining the Supreme Court bar, an elite organization that doesn’t check to see if its members are still alive. All you need is three years of practice, two signatures, and $200. [Associated Press]

* Stanley Chesley, the master of disaster himself, was disbarred for his “shocking and reprehensible” conduct in a fen-phen case. His wife, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Dlott of the Southern District of Ohio, must be oh so pleased. [Courier-Journal]

* Howrey like dem apples now? Some of Howrey’s former partners, including ex-chairman Robert Ryuak, all lined up to make deals to delay lawsuits from the firm’s bankruptcy trustee, Allan Diamond. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* This Biglaw firm’s future was just a little bit dimmer in 2012, with a 4.9 percent dip in profits per equity partner. This is unexpected from Milbank, a number 3 seed in our March Madness competition. [Am Law Daily]

* The NRA’s New York affiliate filed suit challenging the state’s new gun laws, claiming that a ban on assault weapons violates the Second Amendment — because this is clearly what the founders intended. [Reuters]

* Raj Rajaratnam’s younger brother, Rengan Rajaratnam, was indicted yesterday in a federal insider-trading scheme tied to the Galleon case. You can’t fault the guy, he was just trying to keep it in the family. [Bloomberg]

* Sorry, Dean Boland, but you’re not going anywhere. A judge denied the attorney’s request to withdraw from Paul Ceglia’s Facebook case. He must be wishing there were a dislike button now. [Law 360 (sub. req.)]

Continuing our annual tradition honoring March Madness, Above the Law is running a law-related bracket, advancing law firms or law schools based on the outcome of reader polls. If you’ve been around for a while, you know the drill. But remember, I’m the new guy, so I’ve made a couple changes to the format this year.

Last year, you hoisted the Lantern of Diogenes to find the Most Honest Law School, and determined that the University of Michigan Law School was the most on the level. And they backed your faith by admitting that one of their graduates had become a shepherd.

This year, it’s time to talk about law firms. Specifically, your collective editors pose this question: Which law firm has the brightest future? The economy is still fragile and people are writing books with scary titles like The Lawyer Bubble: A Profession in Crisis (affiliate link). The firms in our competition may look healthy today, but we all could have said the same thing at one time about Howrey, Brobeck, Heller, or Dewey.

What firm’s future is so bright their senior partners gotta wear shades?

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It’s an interesting question, right? If you know of a managing partner who could use some medication, please email us or text us (646-820-8477).

What prompted the question on our part? Here, we’ll tell you….

UPDATE (5:30 p.m.): Now with added commentary from Anonymous Partner.

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As we recently mentioned, 2012 was a banner year for O’Melveny & Myers, in terms of legal work performed and the resulting financial rewards. According to Am Law, “the firm set new records in profits per partner and revenue per lawyer, with the former surging 19.4 percent, to $2.06 million, and the latter rising nearly 10 percent, to $1.1 million.”

O’Melveny’s gross revenue grew by 5.1 percent, to $818.5 million. It’s great to see a law firm with top-line growth. Many firms these days can’t grow total revenue or revenue per lawyer; they just try to cut expenses, resorting to layoffs and similar tactics, to improve profits per partner.

Did OMM’s improved PPP trickle down to associates, in the form of bonuses? Here’s what sources report….

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Biglaw reporting season continues. But this year we have an interesting twist: K&L Gates decided to share (covered by Lat and Bruce MacEwen, among others). Thankfully, the sharing is not of the “we overstated our revenue by a couple hundred million, and owe a bunch of old and retired partners way more than that anyway” variety. Rather, the firm released financial information that goes a little beyond what you see in your typical Biglaw firm reports (which I previously discussed).

While I have seen the firm hailed as courageous in some quarters, I am reluctant to declare this a huge leap forward towards Biglaw financial transparency. For one, there are other firms that put out even more complete “annual reports,” like Allen & Overy (thanks to an ATL commenter for that reminder), a firm that seems to be hanging on to a lockstep compensation model for partners. Second, as Lat pointed out, there are even internal sources within K&L Gates asking the types of questions that the firm’s “enhanced” report does not answer.

Personally I find a few things about this whole to-do interesting and a bit frustrating….

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As we mentioned this morning, preliminary reports suggest that profits and revenue at large law firms were up in 2012. As we noted yesterday, some firms — e.g., litigation powerhouse Quinn Emanuel — enjoyed double-digit increases in gross revenue and net profit.

Of course, these firm financial reports, reported to and compiled by the American Lawyer magazine, are not as detailed as they could be. They certainly aren’t as detailed as the quarterly and annual reports filed by publicly traded companies, even though a fair number of Biglaw firms have revenues and profits that exceed those of public companies.

And they probably never will be, at least as long as U.S. law firms are private partnerships rather than publicly traded companies. But at least one firm is opening the door a crack and letting more light in….

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PPP at one top law firm?

* Law School Transparency? Nay, Biglaw Transparency! Peter Kalis, global managing partner of K&L Gates, just opened the kimono wide on his firm’s financial performance in an “unusually detailed” fashion. [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]

* Talk about a pain in the pocketbook: although profits per partner and revenues are up overall, one firm saw shrinkage of 16 percent in PPP. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* The ABA is just now thinking of trying to find someone who will audit the graduate employment data that law schools release each year. Gee, it only took 15 fraud lawsuits to get the ball rolling. [National Law Journal]

* Oh my God, you guys, carrying six figures of law school debt on your shoulders is “unsustainable” in the long run, especially when your salary sucks. This is new information that no one’s heard before. [News-Gazette]

* Former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten is now Tulane Law’s new assistant dean for experiential learning. For the school’s sake, hopefully he’ll be able to control his students better than he did his AUSAs. [Tulane Hullabaloo]

* “You’re a cold-blooded murderer and I’ll stare you down until I die.” Drew Peterson was sentenced to 38 years in prison for the murder of his third wife. A sequel to the Lifetime movie is likely forthcoming. [Reuters]

The weather here in New York City has turned quite cold. How can one deal with the brutally frigid temperatures?

Well, if you’re a partner at Quinn Emanuel, maybe you should buy yourself a fur coat. Or fill a fireplace with hundred-dollar bills and get a nice toasty blaze going.

Given the firm’s financial performance in 2012, these options lie within the realm of possibility. CHECK YOU EMAIL for direct deposit notification.

Let’s take a look at 2012 financial reports concerning Quinn Emanuel, Bingham, and Perkins Coie. There’s some good news in each firm’s numbers….

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Our friend Bruce MacEwen has written a trenchant analysis of the predicament currently facing the large law firm business model: Growth is Dead: Now What? In the words of Paul Weiss chair Brad Karp, the book “is an extraordinary body of work that reflects enormous insight and ought be required reading by managing partners of law firms,” as well as “a much-needed wake up call for our profession.”

Originally a twelve-part series on Adam Smith Esq., Growth is Dead will soon be released as a paperback. Next Tuesday, February 26, ATL will host a salon-type event for law firm partners in celebration of this release, at a sleek new venue in a convenient area of Manhattan. Peter Kalis, global managing partner of K&L Gates and author of the foreword for Growth is Dead, will introduce Bruce, who will then (briefly) discuss his book and take a few questions. This will be followed by a free evening of cocktails and thought-provoking conversation. We’ve had a robust response so far, but limited spaces are still available. Law firm partners, please join us; you can RSVP here.

By way of preview, we spoke with Bruce about his book. How did it come about? What did he find out in the course of writing it that was most surprising? Encouraging? Discouraging?

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