Law firms are relatively secretive institutions. Since they’re not public companies — at least not here in the United States, in the year 2014 — they aren’t required to reveal that much about their internal workings. Here at Above the Law, we do what we can to shed light on how law firms work, but there’s only so much we can do.
Every now and then, public filings disclose information about law firm operations — including information about one of the most sensitive subjects, partner pay. Sometimes we learn about partner compensation when a partner files for bankruptcy. Sometimes we hear about it when a partner goes through an ugly divorce.
That’s once again the case today. A complicated divorce, complicated enough to spawn ancillary litigation in the form of contempt proceedings, sheds light on how one white-shoe law firm pays its partners….
Today, the American Lawyer released its Am Law 200 law firm rankings — a closely watched list of the law firms that are rich and prestigious, but not quite rich and prestigious enough to become a member of the elite and influential Am Law 100. If this were law school rankings, you could think of the “Second Hundred” as the institutions that came in just a step below the lauded T14.
As we noted when the Am Law 100 rankings came out in late April, the key takeaway was that the super rich were continuing to get richer. When it comes to the Am Law 200, flat performance is still very much the new up. There were some outstanding performances, though, and 20 firms out of the Second Hundred were designated as “super rich,” just like their Am Law 100 cousins.
While some firms came out on top, others were merely surviving. How did the Am Law 200 stack up?
Last week, the American Lawyer announced its eagerly anticipated Am Law 100 rankings, reflecting the financial performance of major law firms in 2013. On the whole, the news wasn’t bad. The elite firms did great, and most other firms eked out “modest, hard-won gains.” Am Law suggested that the big vereins underperformed, but that indictment might have been too harsh.
The Am Law data focuses on last year. What about last quarter? How are law firms doing in 2014 so far?
A new report from Citi Private Bank, a leading provider of financial services to leading law firms, has some answers….
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….
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.
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?
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….
Over the past year or so, we’ve heard a steady trickle of negative news out of Dickstein Shapiro. The trickle has turned into a stream, so it’s now time to share what we’ve learned.
Let’s start with the numbers — grim numbers. Yesterday the Legal Times reported on what it described as Dickstein’s “worst year in more than a decade.” Revenue fell by 20 percent in 2013, and net income dropped even more sharply, by 35 percent. According to the Legal Times, the firm’s 2013 net income of $36 million is the lowest the firm has seen since before 1998, its first year on the Am Law 200.
Chairman James Kelly tried to spin this performance as “restructuring” and “investment,” as the firm focuses on its core practice areas. According to Kelly, “We made a strategic commitment to be a market-leading specialty firm. We decided we’re not going to be everything to everyone.”
“Everything” would appear to include “employer.” Let’s hear about the firm’s headcount cuts — affecting partners, associates, and staff — and check out the severance agreement that one source leaked to us….
* The federal judiciary is hiring for staff and public defender positions lost during the government’s sequestration throughout the better part of last year. Ready, aim, fire those résumés! [Legal Times]
* New York Biglaw firms always manage to find their way to the top of the Am Law 100 rankings. When all’s said and done, being so close to Wall Street definitely has its perks. [Bloomberg Businessweek]
* Absolutely no one should be alarmed about the fact that Kasowitz Benson’s profits per partner have dropped by 15 percent — well, no one but the equity partners, that is. Have fun with that. [Am Law Daily]
* The managing partner of Jacoby & Meyers is worried people will think his personal injury firm is going under, not Jacoby & Meyers Bankruptcy. Either way, those commercials won’t die. [New York Law Journal]
* A professor at George Mason University Law was pepper sprayed IN THE FAAAAAACE by an unknown assailant in his classroom yesterday afternoon. We’ll obvious have more on this story later. [ARLNow]
* La Verne is the first law school to offer flat-rate tuition. There will be no scholarships and no discounts. Students will pay $25K/year, nothing more, nothing less. This is, dare we say, wise. [National Law Journal]
* “Passion over pension.” Mekka Don, the Weil Gotshal corporate lit attorney turned rapper, just released his first CD, and it’s all about leaving Biglaw to follow his dreams. Go buy it here (affiliate link). [MTV]
* Valerie Ford Jacob, leader of Fried Frank since 2003, is stepping down from her post prior to her official 2015 departure date. At least she’s leaving on a high note, with the firm’s highest profits per partner ever. Yay. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]
* Ralph Lerner, the ex-Sidley Austin partner who billed extra car charges to his clients, claims he went into work on weekends to do work for free to make up for it. Aww, how nice of him. [Am Law Daily]
* Many New York law schools moved in the recent U.S. News rankings, but not necessarily in the right direction. Four out of 15 schools moved up; the rest stayed the same or slipped. [New York Law Journal]
* Would you like damages with that? McDonald’s corporate and its franchisees are facing lawsuits filed by employees over their allegedly “stolen wages.” Class actions have been filed in three states. [Bloomberg]
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Things have changed recently in Korea – a few of our US and UK client firms are looking, very selectively, for a lateral US associate hire. Until just recently, there was not much hiring like this going on in Korea, since US and UK firms started opening offices there. We have already placed two US associates in Korea in the past month at top firms. Most of the hiring partners we work with in Korea do not actively work with other recruiters.
If you are a Korean fluent US associate in London, New York or another major US market, 2nd to 6th year, at a top 20 firm, with cap markets or M&A focus (or mix), or project finance background, and you are interested in lateraling to Korea to a top US or UK firm, please feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Our head of Asia, Evan Jowers, was just in Korea recently, and Evan and Robert Kinney will be in Korea in a few weeks. We are in the process of helping several firms open new offices in Korea (a number of which are interviewing our partner level candidates) and also helping existing offices there fill openings.
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