Partner Profits

The Am Law 100 average spread is 11.1 to 1.

* If you’ve been dying to know what the partner compensation spread looks like at your firm, then we’ve got your fix. Check out the insane 23 to 1 spread over at Perkins Coie. [Am Law Daily]

* “It’s a complete structural change, and it’s not going away. The end result is fewer graduates, and fewer law schools.” With enrollment still dropping, the end seems near. [Boston Globe]

* “I predicted the collapse of legal education, but I didn’t quite predict how bad it would be.” Dean Frank Wu of UC Hastings Law is fighting his way out of a rankings slump. Good luck. [The Recorder]

* Widener is the latest law school to roll out a solo / small firm incubator. Only grads from the class of 2014 may apply. Earlier grads are ineligible because they presumably have jobs… maybe. [PennLive.com]

* You may think Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia are “stuck in the past” and “disconnected from the real world,” but you may be wrong. You can read Uncertain Justice (affiliate link), by Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz, to find out why. [New York Times]

* A judge has denied bail for the Georgia man accused of sending sext messages during his seven-hour work day while his 22-month-old son was left to die in his hot car. Ugh, this is terribly sad news. :( [CNN]

On Monday, we noted the surprising news of a young partner leaving Wachtell Lipton to start his own boutique firm. Given the rarity of partner departures from the super-lucrative Wachtell, my colleague Staci Zaretsky described the news as “basically like seeing a unicorn.”

Why did Jeremy Goldstein, a 40-year-old partner in the firm’s executive-compensation practice, leave WLRK? The American Lawyer piece about Goldstein’s move painted a happy picture of a lawyer striking out on his own to be more entrepreneurial and to run his own business.

But we wonder if there’s more to this story than meets the eye….

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“No, I’m cool that you might be making twice as much even though you skipped out to go to the Katy Perry concert.”

Propaganda is only partially about justifying horrible things to the masses. It’s also about salving the doubts of the oppressors. How can they be wrong when there’s a 70-foot statue dedicated to their divinity right there?

The slow march to opacity is one of the single worst developments in the Biglaw model over the last several years. Whether in the name of some half-baked strain of libertarian idealism or just to keep from being publicly judged by ATL readers, a few firms have increasingly moved compensation packages into a black box, starting with complex bonus award structures, then hiding even those frameworks, and now some even hide base compensation.

It’s an awful practice, and while some have the reputation to get away with it, it’s certainly frowned upon by lawyers and prospective lawyers steeped in the notion that this is a collegial profession.

So one firm put their public relations flaks on drafting a spirited defense of their black box so they can sleep better at night….

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Minnesota is beautiful this time of year.

Is having your back-office functions handled on-site — i.e., in the same location as the lawyers being serviced — now a luxury? More and more law firms are adopting the model of sending their administrative support functions to lower-cost locations.

Thanks to advances in technology, it’s no longer necessary to have your back office in the same pricey place as your lawyers. And it’s not surprising that firms are going in this direction when you consider the cost savings involved.

Which law firm expects to save millions of dollars a year by sending support staffers to the land o’ lakes?

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The current discussion regarding the decision by Dentons not to report its average profits per partner (“PPP”) to the American Lawyer is interesting. While I was at Greenberg Traurig, then-CEO Cesar Alvarez used to have a pithy statement on the whole PPP issue, along the lines of: The only thing partners really care about is “profits per me.” There is a lot of wisdom in that statement. In my experience it is true for existing Biglaw partners, potential laterals, and those (fool?) hardy associates aspiring to partnership.

At the same time, the popularity of the American Lawyer’s various charts and rankings can’t be denied. And PPP is one of the catchier columns on those charts. It is used as a proxy for determining everything from firm prestige, to strength of client relationships, to how well a firm is managed.

Savvy associates can and do use it to determine associate quality of life at a particular firm. Your firm has a blazing PPP and no big contingency windfalls feeding the flames? Good chance you are looking at a never-ending flow of “interesting work,” coupled with the partnership prospects of a diminutive drone buzzing around hoping to get noticed by the queen bee. In contrast, you might enjoy a better lifestyle if employed as associate #614 by a Biglaw 2.0 monolith, but you also run the distinct risk of making partner only to realize that the financial gulf between you and the “real” partners is a broad one….

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* In defense of its PPP metric, the editor-in-chief of the American Lawyer revealed a shocking statistic about Dentons: the firm’s PPP was likely down about 20 percent year over year. [Am Law Daily]

* A judge dismissed many of defunct firm Heller Erhman’s remaining unfinished business claims in the case against its former partners. Dewey know some partners who are thrilled? [WSJ Law Blog]

* From 2012 to 2013, NLJ 350 firms saw the rise of “other” attorneys — staff attorneys, of counsel, and lawyers who were neither associates nor partners. We’re living in lean times. [National Law Journal]

* “No one predicted there would be this kind of huge drop in applications.” Apparently law school deans thought prospective students would be thrilled about their lack of job prospects. [Hartford Business Journal]

* Shelly Sterling has asked a judge to rule that she can sell the Los Angeles Clippers over her husband Donald Sterling’s protests. We’re very eagerly awaiting their impending divorce train wreck. [Bloomberg]

[A] focus on profit undermines the differences between the practice of law being a profession rather than solely a business. It is easy to anticipate the assertion that we choose not to report aggregate annual average profit numbers because they are not as high as some other firms. But that assertion simply assumes that the way things have been done in the past is the way they should be done in the future.

– Global chief executive officer Elliott Portnoy and global chair Joe Andrew of Dentons, explaining in a letter to the American Lawyer the reasons why the firm will no longer report its average profits per equity partner.

(Dentons, a verein that recently merged with two firms, had PPP of $625,000 in 2013, which put the firm in 96th place on the Am Law 100 when ranked by PPP.)

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.

Alliteration aficionados are bemoaning the tongue-twisting fusion of Squire Sanders and Patton Boggs into Squire Patton Boggs. I prefer the feudal-esque Squire Boggs, but then again, I was not on the naming committee. Aside from this rebranding exercise, Squire Patton Boggs makes it clear that mergers (or acquisitions) are easier to execute in principal than reality.

Many of the firms in the Am Law 200 are the result of previous mergers including WilmerHale and DLA Piper. Most of these mergers were consummated before the recession, and since then, the parity between Am Law 200 firms has been dwindling.

The race for supremacy in the legal market has created a system with far less parity than before and consequently, a greater degree of difficulty for mergers. For example, the spread of Profits Per Partner in 2003 is right-skewed — and this will likely always be the case — but overall, there is little variance in spread of PPP in 2003 when compared to the spread in 2014…

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To quote a recent headline, Midyear Bonus Bonanza Unlikely In 2014. We’d agree with that, at least as a general matter. Midyear bonuses are so “unlikely,” in fact, that we haven’t received any emails from anxious associates asking us about the possibility of midyear bonuses.[1]

But there are exceptions to every rule. Which highly profitable, finance-focused law firm just announced bonuses for both lawyers and staff?

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Now that Patton Boggs is safely in the hands of Squire Sanders — minus a few notable defectors, such as Ben Ginsberg’s high-profile election-law team, which is leaving for Jones Day — observers of Biglaw are looking around for other possible trouble spots. And some of them are focusing on Bingham McCutchen.

Back in February, we covered some less-than-positive developments at Bingham: “tumbling profits, partner departures, and unfortunately timed staff layoffs.” What has happened since then?

As we mentioned earlier today, partner departures continue at the firm. Who are the latest partners to leave Bingham, and where are they going?

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