Partner Profits

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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Mary Jo White

Mary Jo White? More like Mary Jo Green. President Obama’s pick to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission is deliciously rich, as revealed in her financial disclosures.

Although she’s barely five feet tall, making her a little litigatrix, Mary Jo White wears big shoes. In the words of my colleague Elie Mystal, a former Debevoise & Plimpton associate, she’s “one of those alpha dog partners…. the kind of partner that makes other partners stammer, shuffle papers, and try to look really busy and intelligent when she’s in the room.”

The sizable net worth of Mary Jo White shouldn’t surprise anyone. Not only is she a longtime Debevoise partner, but her husband, John W. White, has been a partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore for more than 25 years (interrupted from 2006 through 2008 by a stint at the SEC, actually, where he served as Director of the Division of Corporation Finance).

Let’s get a sense of Mary Jo White’s fortune….

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The legal economy right now is not unlike the economy writ large. People with small or non-existent paychecks are suffering, but those at the top are actually doing just fine for themselves.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it might just be reality. As David Brooks put it in a recent New York Times column, “[t]he meritocracy is overwhelming the liberal project.” He argues that in our current, rapidly changing economy, people who are smart, well-educated, and hardworking just end up doing better and better for themselves — and there are practical limits on how much redistributive policies can “fix” this situation.

Sorry for that digression — back to Biglaw. Let’s take a look at how the rich are getting richer….

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It looks like the trusts and estates department at Debevoise & Plimpton needs a last will and testament. As we mentioned in Morning Docket, the firm is pulling the lifeline on its T&E department.

The move surprised some, given the kind of place that Debevoise is. As Peter Lattman put it, “it seemed to run counter to Debevoise’s reputation for a strong partnership culture. At a time when many large law firms have discarded the traditional partnership model and embraced a more bottom-line approach, Debevoise has been seen as retaining an old-school ethos — a genteel law firm known for its camaraderie and decency.”

We have some additional information about the wind-down process. On the bright side, it’s being conducted in a genteel, decent, Debevoise sort of way….

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* Oh my God, Debevoise & Plimpton is dropping its entire trusts and estates practice. Was the economy the cause? What about the eight soon-to-be-unemployed lawyers? And most importantly, what would Josh Lyman’s father think?! [DealBook / New York Times]

* Major props go out to everyone at O’Melveny & Myers for hitting an all-time high in terms of both profits per partner ($2.06 million) and revenues per lawyer ($1.1 million). Here’s hoping the bonus situation reflected those incredible numbers. [Am Law Daily]

* We probably should’ve known when Pepper Hamilton acquired the Freeh Group back in August that exciting things would happen. Say hello to Louis Freeh, the firm’s new chair. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* Are we supposed to be surprised that the Millennials who are considering applying to law school are more self-confident than those who preceded them? They’re all special little snowflakes! [National Law Journal]

* If you’re taking the LSAT on Saturday, here are some tricks to keep yourself focused. But don’t worry, it’s only one of the most important tests you’ll ever take. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News & World Report]

* Sorry, George Zimmerman, but even though you’re poor, your trial isn’t going to be delayed. Perhaps Judge Nelson made this announcement to serve as a poetic birthday present for Trayvon Martin. [Orlando Sentinel]

The 2012 Biglaw numbers are starting to trickle in. The American Lawyer (and the rest of the legal press) follows a near-uniform format in reporting them. Revenues — up or down x percent. Profits per partner — slightly to moderately up (if your executive committee was unable to generate higher profits, via financial sophistry or good-old de-equitizations or stealth layoffs, I am very sorry). Revenue-per-lawyer, slightly up. Feel-good comment by managing partner. Slightly passive-aggressive commentary by a “legal consultant.” Repeat, on a daily basis for about a month, until the Am Law 100 (and “interesting” Am Law 200 firms as well) is covered.

As a partner, you obviously hope your firm is reporting good news, even though the likelihood of that news reflecting on your personal situation is pretty low for most Biglaw partners. No one wants to be associated (or own the obligations of) a loser, and when everyone is proclaiming “modest” or “respectable” growth, the peer pressure can be tremendous. Especially where the Biglaw death spiral is a recognized phenomenon, and firms who report poor performance in a generally positive climate are quickly judged negatively, like a figure skater stuck doing double lutzes when everyone else is knocking out triples. Outliers, for good, but mostly for bad, stick out, and their ignominy is frequently paraded on these pages. With bonus Lat commentary for additional effect.

I for one, enjoy reading this kind of reportage…..

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