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….
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….
* 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]
* 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]
* 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…..
* Aside from writing powerful opinions that will last the ages, being a mentor “is the most valuable thing” this Supreme Court justice can do. Sonia Sotomayor: motivational speaker? [New York Times]
* Aww, poor Biglaw partners. You want bigger cuts of your firm’s profits, but according to the latest Peer Monitor report, expectations like that are incredibly “unrealistic.” [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]
* This actually isn’t something women like to shop for: the $200 million class action suit over the Greenberg Traurig “boys club” is currently being held up in two federal courts by arbitration and forum shopping issues. [Am Law Daily]
* With news that the legal industry is shedding jobs faster than the ABA can accredit more unnecessary law schools, career services officers must be hanging their heads in shame. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]
* Dear law schools, your crappy business model is making us take a look at all crappy higher education business models, and we don’t like what we’re seeing here. Pls hndle thx. XOXO, Moody’s. [Washington Post]
* This is justice, Texas style: District Attorney Mike McLelland says the reward fund for tips in the brutal slaying of ADA Mark Hasse will grow to an “astronomical amount” until the killers are found. [Dallas Morning News]
* This lawyer allegedly had a fling with his sister-in-law out of the goodness of his heart, and in return, she accused him of sexual assault. Now he’s suing her for $7 million. You can’t make this sh*t up. [New York Post]
* In trying to get $700 in tickets dismissed, this lawyer says the U.S. Postal Service is immune from state and local traffic regulations. Other USPS immunities include not losing my mail on a regular basis. [USA Today]
* Congratulations to Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft! The firm saw its first revenue increase in three years, with profits per partner jumping up 11.6 percent, yet they didn’t top Cravath’s bonuses. Rude. [Am Law Daily]
* Thanks to the firm’s association with Ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro, Shook Hardy & Bacon was accused of aiding and abetting in securities law violations and is facing a multimillion-dollar suit. [Miami Herald]
* Lawyer glut? What lawyer glut? Let’s open some new law schools, yayyyy!!! Despite the fact that applications are at their lowest in a decade, new schools are still throwing their doors open wide. [Wall Street Journal]
* With the dean of Seattle University School of Law stepping down, Annette Clark, she of the most epic St. Louis University Law resignation letter, may get a second bite at the proverbial deanship apple. [National Law Journal]
* “Flattery doesn’t get you anywhere in this court.” Wooing the judge won’t work, so Lindsay Lohan’s new lawyer has a tough row to hoe — he had to pick up Shawn Holley’s pieces AND deal with his client. [Fox News]
* Ed Koch, former mayor of New York City and judge of “The People’s Court,” RIP. [New York Times]
Is lateral partner hiring a game of musical chairs that law firms can’t win? Anecdotes about unsuccessful lateral hires abound. You hear stories about high-profile partners moving from Firm A to Firm B, often lured by huge guarantees, only to leave Firm B a few years later, after failing to integrate or deliver the expected business.
And some of the most successful firms in all the land, places with immense prestige and sky-high profits, do very little lateral hiring. Their refusal to engage in the lateral market hasn’t seemed to hurt them.
When it comes to lateral hiring, should firms “just say no”? Well, that’s not what’s actually happening in the marketplace. Last year, lateral partner hiring climbed, suggesting that it must be working out — at least for some firms….
It’s hard to get a good read on the direction of the economy these days. And the same could be said about the direction of Biglaw.
It seems that every week brings a new survey, report, or set of predictions. And they often point in different directions. Sometimes they are pessimistic, claiming that layoffs (including partner layoffs) are just around the corner. Sometimes they are positive, noting that despite the challenging economy, legal spending is up. And sometimes they fall somewhere in between.
Today brings news about past performance — which, while not a guarantee of future performance, can sometimes offer hints. It’s about how large law firms fared in the year just ended. And it’s good news….
Over the last three weeks, we have heard from an In-House Insider, an opinionated source of insight into Biglaw-client relations — see here, here, here, and below. As with the three prior installments, the only changes I made to the Insider’s words were those done to protect their identity, and Insider was given the opportunity to revise their points once I added the questions and commentary. Again, I thank Insider for the candid observations and thoughtful opinions on these core issues….
AP: Any serious observer of Biglaw can see that firms continue to struggle adapting associate development to the new state of Biglaw-client relations. What can Biglaw learn from corporate clients like yourself on that front?
* “[W]e cannot continue as a nation with 11 million people residing in the shadows.” And we especially can’t have all those people in the shadows without hundreds and hundreds of drones in place. Civil liberties be damned! [Huffington Post]
* According to this Wells Fargo survey, Biglaw did quite well in terms of revenues last year. Given that PPP was up nearly five percent, it’s now appropriate to bitch about why your bonuses weren’t even bigger than they were. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]
* “Being a lawyer is a damn good profession.” To be fair, it could be an even better profession if things in legal education were subjected to some serious change, and Hofstra Law’s new dean seems to understand that. [New York Law Journal]
* Stoners everywhere would like to know when the federal government is going to legalize marijuana, but to be frank, they should thank their Lucky Charms they’re not getting prosecuted in states where it is legal. [TIME]
* Russia is officially trying to prosecute a dead man — a dead lawyer, no less. That said, we’re pretty sure it’s safe to say that not even Yakov Smirnoff himself could come up with a reversal for this one. [New York Times]
* Oh my god, some of Lat’s pop culture prophecies are coming true: Casey Anthony wants to become a paralegal. Nancy Grace is in the process of birthing a herd of cows over Tot Mom’s ambitions. [ABC News]
* The grand jury in the JonBenet Ramsey murder case thought there was enough evidence to indict the Ramseys on child abuse charges. This would’ve been a great thing to be outraged about in 1999. [CBS News]
* I’ll be tweeting from the LegalTech show today. Follow me on Twitter to get all the latest updates. [Twitter]
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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 six years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deal flow has clearly picked recently up for most US associates, counsels and partners in Hong Kong/China and Singapore. We are on the phone with a lot of these folks on a daily basis, many of whom we have known for years. Further, the head of our Asia team, Evan Jowers, and Kinney’s founder and president, Robert Kinney, frequently meet in person with leading US partners in Asia to assess their needs and keep on top of the inside scoop at as many firms as possible. The need for legal recruiting help in Asia from experienced recruiters appears to be live and well. In March, Evan and Robert were in Beijing at such meetings, in April, Evan was in Hong Kong, and for half of June Evan will be in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Thus its pretty easy for us to tell when there has been an across-the-market pick up in capital markets and corporate work.
On an average day in Asia when Evan and Robert visit firms, they typically have 5 to 9 meetings a day, mostly with US partners in the market. The reason they have these meetings is not simply because Kinney makes a lot of US attorney placements in Asia and that a particular firm may have openings; instead these are just visits with friends. After years of working together as business partners, the folks at Kinney are actually these peoples’ friends. The firms Kinney work closely with in Asia (which is just about every law firm – call us if you want to know the one firm in the world we will never place anyone with again, ever, and why) look forward to the visits, or at least act like they do. After seven years in the market, many of the client partners are former associate candidates. Also, these US partners see Kinney as a very good source of market information as well, because they know how deep their contacts are in the market and how frequently they are speaking to counterparts at peer firms.
In a land that is right here and in a time that is right now, a technology has arisen so powerful that it can replace basic human document review. Is it time to bow down before our new robot overlords?
First, here’s a little story about me: my life in the legal world began as a paralegal. My first case was a GIANT patent infringement case that was already six years old and had involved as many as five companies, multiple US courts, the ITC and an international standards committee. I knew nothing about any of this.
On my first day, my supervisor (a paralegal with at least eight other cases driving her crazy) sat me down in front of a Concordance database with a 100,000+ patents and patent file histories. “Code these,” she said. I learned that “coding”, for the purposes of this exercise, meant manually typing the inventor’s name, the title of the patent, the assignee, the file date, and other objective data for each document. I worked on that project – and only that project – for at least the first six months of my job. After a week or so, time began to blur.
What I know, in retrospect and with absolutely certainty, is that as time began to blur, so did my judgment. So did my attention to detail. If you could tell me that I did not make at least one mistake a day – one inconsistent spelling, one reversed day and month, one incorrectly spaced title – I frankly would need to see your evidence. I would not believe it. The human mind is trainable but it is not a machine.
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