Partner Profits

For the past eight years, the National Association of Women Lawyers has tracked women’s progress at the 200 largest firms in the nation by comparing their careers and compensation with similarly situated men. We snidely remarked last year that reviewing the most recent report was like “drinking a fifth of gin, then watching Requiem For A Dream: it’s really freaking depressing.”

Keeping that in perspective, we — perhaps over-optimistically — thought that in a year’s time, Biglaw firms would have realized that women have a rightful place in this profession, and deserve to be treated as fairly and as equally as their male counterparts. We were clearly and painfully delusional.

Sure, the percentage of female equity partners rose from 15 percent to 17 percent, and that’s great. But we’ve found out that an “unprecedented” number of Biglaw firms refused to participate in the survey. Was it because they’re sick of surveys, or was it because firms “are generally less interested in the subject of advancing women lawyers and/or are hesitant to share, even on an anonymous and confidential basis, statistics that show that their women lawyers lag behind their male counterparts”?

Let’s find out….

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Smokey Bear, please report to Patton Boggs.

Is Patton Boggs on fire — and not in a good way?

The prominent lobbying and law firm recently announced the closing of its office in Newark, New Jersey. Discussing the move with Politico, managing partner Edward Newberry said, “We’ve lit intentionally a forest fire, we’ve controlled that forest fire. While we’ve lost a few people over the last year, who are good friends and good partners, our firm is much stronger today than it’s been in a long time.”

The firm has lost “a few people” over the last year? How about roughly 100 attorneys, representing 20 percent of lawyer headcount, plus an unknown number of staff? With additional prominent partners said to be eying the emergency exits?

Somebody call 911, law firm fire burnin’ on the dance floor….

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On our recent post about bonuses at Bingham McCutchen, some commenters complained about our coverage of the firm. Here’s what one said: “What this article fails to mention is that NO ONE made their hours, it’s THAT slow. Good job, ATL, for eating whatever it is Bingham pays you to NOT report [on bad goings-on at the firm].”

Actually, we’re perfectly willing to report on negative developments at Bingham (or any other major law firm). Just email us or text us (646-820-8477), and we’ll investigate.

There’s certainly a lot to cover over at Bingham: tumbling profits, partner departures, and unfortunately timed staff layoffs. We’ve collected some reporting from around the web, which we’ve combined with inside information from ATL tipsters at the firm. Let’s have a look, shall we?

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Earlier this month, we asked: What’s Going On At Kirkland & Ellis? Some observers wondered whether K&E, arguably the nation’s best overall law firm, was experiencing an unusually high number of prominent partner departures.

We received some interesting responses from Kirkland sources, some defending the firm and some more critical. Let’s hear what these readers had to share with us….

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Interesting things are afoot at Kasowitz Benson these days. Last month, we wrote about the prominent litigation firm’s “benchmark” bonuses — which some tipsters told us were bogus, but other sources defended (see the updates to the post).

Over the weekend, we received a cryptic tip about KBTF: “Kasowitz will be laying off a large number on Monday. From staff all the way up to partner.”

It’s now the end of the business day. Has this prediction come to pass?

(Please note the multiple UPDATES added to this post after its original publication.)

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Wendy Davis

* According to the latest Citi report, the Am Law 50 outperformed the rest of their ilk in terms of net profits and profits per equity partner. As for the rest, ha ha ha, enjoy all of your “modest” returns. [Am Law Daily]

* The ABA’s Standards Review Committee is close to a decision on its bar-exam passage standard for accreditation. It’s tough to protect students and law schools at the same time. [National Law Journal]

* Oh my! Professors at Albany Law are incredibly pissed the school would dare imply they suggested lowering academic standards to put asses in seats and stave off faculty layoffs. [New York Law Journal]

* Wendy Davis has left her position at Cantey Hanger, one of Fort Worth’s largest law firms, to dedicate herself fully to her bid to become Texas’ Next Top Governor. You stand, girl! [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]

* Yuna, a Malaysian pop star with a law degree who’s worked with artists like Pharrell, doesn’t think she’ll be able to fall back on her J.D. now that she’s in America. Funny, because many Americans feel exactly the same way. [Pittsburgh City Paper]

Law firms have been in a “slow growth” phase ever since the nation began its recovery from the Great Recession. As we mentioned when we discussed the 2013 Am Law 100, “success now comes in the form of single-digit returns with regard to key financial metrics,” with Biglaw gains described as “modest” and “spotty” across the board.

Big-name lateral hires can sometimes bring in enough positive publicity and fanfare to make even the sickest of firms seem like the very picture of health and vitality. According to the latest American Lawyer Lateral Report, those lateral moves can be likened to a peacock’s tail: they offer “no advantage” for a firm’s ultimate survival, and may hinder the firm in the future. It happened at Dewey, and it can happen at other firms if they’re not careful. If only partners’ attentions weren’t so easily grabbed by the promise of higher profits.

So if this growing reliance on lateral hiring is truly capable of destabilizing law firms, wouldn’t you like to know which firms did the most lateral hiring over the past year? We’ve got the details for you….

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Back in December, some associates at Kirkland & Ellis expressed some displeasure about their bonuses. Now, make no mistake, the K&E bonuses still beat the market by a healthy amount; they just didn’t beat the market by as much as they usually do (at least according to some sources; under an individualized bonus system, reactions will vary).

In our bonus post, we wondered about K&E’s financial performance in 2013. Could the firm — which could very well be the nation’s finest law firm — have had a less than stellar year?

Associates might not be the only ones dissatisfied with their compensation. Sources point to a fair number of prominent partner departures over the past few months, in one of K&E’s top practice areas….

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I’ve just celebrated my fourth anniversary working in-house, and I’m now officially out of touch with law firm life.

I thought I knew all the law-firm-partnership tricks. For example, when law students ask at interviews what percentage of firm partners hold equity status, some firms answer: “At this firm, all partners are partners.” That’s true, of course, but tautological; it says nothing about the equity and non-equity ranks.

On the other hand, this non-responsive answer serves a useful purpose. It may help to convince law students (or lateral associates) that they have a real chance at making partner at the firm, even though the equity partnership ranks are tiny and getting thinner every day.

But I recently learned about a new game that law firms play. This one is aimed not at deceiving law students or lateral associates, but rather the granddaddy of law firm rankings: The American Lawyer’s profits per partner calculation.

I thought I knew all the ways law firms could try to mislead The American Lawyer. There’s the possibility of outright lying, of course, and then there’s using funky methodologies that inflate profits per partner from $1 million to $1.8 million for the year 2011. But there’s a new game in town. It may well be widespread, but I heard about it only recently….

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Partnership: Biglaw’s ultimate brass ring.

Becoming a Biglaw partner does not necessarily mean you’ll live happily ever after. It doesn’t even guarantee financial security. Indeed, some partners end up filing for personal bankruptcy.

But that’s an anomalous case. Partnership at a major law firm might not guarantee you happiness — sometimes you have to leave the partnership to follow your bliss — but it generally brings with it tremendous pay and prestige.

That’s especially true of partnership at the nation’s 10 most prestigious large law firms. Most of them have only a single partnership tier — equity or bust, baby — and sky-high profits.

Who are the new partners at these 10 firms, and what do their selections reveal about Biglaw today?

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