Partners With Issues

Steven Guynn

Back in March, we wrote about Steven Guynn, who at the time was a corporate partner at King & Spalding. Above the Law readers who work at K&S are happy campers, giving the firm a solid grade of B+ in our Career Center. Alas, the allegations against Guynn would seem to merit an F. As you may recall, Guynn was accused of assaulting his alleged mistress, Jeannette Schaefer.

Today we have some updates about Steve Guynn (all via Teri Buhl). First, Guynn is reportedly getting divorced from his wife, Kristie Guynn. Second, the criminal case against him no longer appears in the online docket for the Connecticut courts (perhaps because it has been moved to a domestic violence docket). Third, he is no longer at King & Spalding.

(We reached out to King & Spalding to confirm Guynn’s departure from the firm. They did not respond to our inquiry, but Guynn’s bio has been pulled from the firm website. Here is a cached version, which shows Guynn’s impressive educational and professional background, including the two other top firms where he was once a partner.)

The allegations against Steven Guynn have never been proven. But here is one thing established beyond a reasonable doubt: his multimillion-dollar mansion is fit for royalty. Shall we take a peek?

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I told careful readers six months ago that I would soon be moving to London. I made the move on September 1, and here’s the local news:

Senior partners at major London law firms can’t afford to live!

Well, not quite: But senior partners at many major London law firms can’t afford to live in London itself.

I recently had lunch with — prepare yourself — a senior partner at a major London law firm. When I told him where I was now living, he said that it was nice that my commute would be so short:

“Twenty years ago, the senior partners at most big law firms lived in London. But today, unless you have inherited wealth or bought your home long ago, most senior partners at London firms can’t afford to live anywhere near the City. Partner pay just won’t cover the cost.”

As an expatriate American, this startled me: I’m confident there’s no American city where senior partners at major law firms can’t afford local real estate. But in London, this has the ring of truth to it. From an American’s perspective, everything in London is nauseatingly expensive (or “quite dear,” as the locals so quaintly put it). But the cost of housing goes far beyond “nauseatingly expensive”; it’s eye-poppingly, grab-your-chest-and-drop-to-the-ground, out of sight. It leaves partner pay in the dust. Here’s what I mean . . . .

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The most shocking result of the recent survey on partner compensation conducted by Major, Lindsey & Africa was how much better the average partner does in firms with open compensation systems — almost $350,000 better on average, year in and year out. To me, that is the difference between retiring at 55 or 65. A big deal.

Have some fun. Tell your average law student that the average compensation for Biglaw partners at closed compensation shops (irrespective of equity status and seniority) was only $465,000, and see the reaction. Or pop an associate’s bubble. And realize that with demand for Biglaw services trending down, there is only so much time left before partner compensation generally starts to take a hit. I always knew about the disparity between open and closed firms, and I had heard about it anecdotally (I think Lat mentioned in an article a few years ago a personal friend who saw his comp climb dramatically after lateraling away from a closed comp firm). But I never really appreciated the scale until this survey came out.

I would think that anyone (especially younger partners with growing books) who could get out of such a firm would at least be trying to (ergo the need for a growing book). Even if your numbers are stellar, and your book is growing along with your traditional working collections, it is too easy for a closed comp chieftain to declare that you need to repeat the performance to make sure its sustainable. Whereas in a open system, you have leverage right away, and can convincingly argue to the compensation committee that failing to reward you would risk discouraging other potential achievers. And that you will leave — but one needs to be subtle on that front. Threaten to leave a closed comp place, and if they really like you, they’ll offer to match whatever new offer you get (thereby confirming they have been skimping on you all along)….

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The recent survey on partner compensation conducted by Major, Lindsey & Africa, which I discussed last week, is full of interesting information. First off, I never really knew how many Biglaw partners there are. The answer? Around 75,000, which includes partners from all firms ranked on the Am Law 200, NLJ 350, or Global 100 in the last five years. Throw in another 1,000 or so partners who were Biglaw partners but left to form high-end boutiques — not included in the survey, but I consider them Biglaw partners since they typically work for similar clients — and you still have a pretty small number relative to the number of lawyers in the world. The figure of 75,000 amounts to less than two years’ worth of new U.S. law school graduates.

Very interesting, especially considering the forty-year-or-so age spread between active partners. Seriously, how realistic is it for any one law graduate (irrespective of pedigree) to think they will beat the odds and eventually make partner? So many things need to go right — it is amazing.

Here’s one surprising aspect of the MLA survey….

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Lat had it right last week. There is a big, and growing, partner compensation spread at nearly all Biglaw shops. And as I mentioned in an earlier column, it is not uncommon to make partner and not see a bump in guaranteed pay at all. Factor in the additional expenses Lat references, such as tax and insurance outlays, and the first few years of partnership can be a net loss for some partners. Even if you finance your buy-in. And especially if you were the beneficiary of some big bonuses, for the suicidal hours you had just put in (big profits for your Biglaw firm!) as a counsel or senior associate in order to get elected.

So please don’t assume that every one of the people you see named as new Biglaw partners (usually in a breathless press release, and sometimes even with an ad in the American Lawyer) are signing contracts for their dream “lawyerly lairs” straightaway. If they are, it’s because they have family money or are a two-professional, no-kid type-family. Otherwise, they are headed for some tight times once they realize that they have to pay federal taxes (including Medicare and Social Security), state taxes (often in every state their firm operates), local taxes (for their beautiful new property), and a real accountant who can figure the whole mess out for them.

Most people don’t realize this, and Biglaw is in no rush to pop the fantasy bubble. Better to have associates motivated by dreams of what Lat referred to as “instant riches.” Better to maintain the prestige of the profession by pretending that making partner at a Biglaw firm is a tremendous achievement, regardless of what firm, practice group, or locale. It’s an achievement, sure. Just like getting elected to some political office. But there is a big difference between getting elected to the U.S. Senate and getting elected as deputy tax commissioner somewhere….

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Is Biglaw all about the benjamins?

Is being a partner that different from being an associate? Contrary to popular belief, becoming a law firm partner is not a path to instant riches. In the early years, your compensation might not be that much higher than it was when you were an associate or counsel. Your taxes might go up, you might have to pay for your own health insurance and other benefits, and you might have to buy into the partnership. Sure, you might be able to borrow the capital contribution from a bank — but remember, you’re liable on that loan, and the bank might pursue you if it doesn’t get repaid.

Our partner readers sometimes complain about the stereotype that they’re all fat cats. As one of them recently wrote, “[Please don't write] about being admitted to partnership and instantly becoming rich…. At virtually every firm, you become a partner and then start to hope that, over the course of a career, your income will increase to ‘average partner income’ and your hours will decrease to ‘average partner hours.’ Rainmakers reach that goal quickly, but many partners — perhaps a majority in most firms — spend a lifetime waiting for, and never reaching, those goals.”

Of course, that’s the subjective experience of one reader. What does the big picture show? There’s a new report out about partner pay that contains lots of interesting information….

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Many of our readers get highlights from Above the Law in their inboxes every day. Our ATL Newsletter spotlights our top content from the day, so you’ll never miss the story that everyone is talking about.

But what if you just can’t get enough of our partner-level coverage? From partner issues to partners with issues, from law firm implosions to notable lateral moves, we’ve got lots of content for — and by — partners at leading law firms. So that’s why we’re rolling out another newsletter that’s dedicated entirely to partners.

What are you waiting for? Just click here to receive the latest and greatest news du jour from the world of Biglaw partnerships.

When people leave the Chicago office of Sidley Austin, they do it in style. Remember the humorous departure memo of partner David B. Johnson, who left the firm to pursue a career as a novelist? Or the epic farewell message of associate Tyler Coulson, who left to hike across the country with his dog?

(And write a book about the experience, with a great title: By Men or By the Earth: A Corporate Lawyer Walks Out on Law, Love, and Life, and Walks Across America With His Adopted Dog (affiliate link).)

Today we have news of another lawyer leaving the Chicago office of Sidley. But this departure reads more like a mystery novel than a memoir. Let’s find out who’s leaving, even if we don’t yet know why….

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Biglaw lawyers behave badly sometimes. And Biglaw lawyers sometimes use travel as an excuse to behave badly. But no one likes to talk about the bad things they see their colleagues do. It is bad for business, especially since it is the rainmakers that usually behave the worst. Bad behavior is usually just ignored, and only gets revealed as confirming evidence of a former colleague’s failings — if and when the firm decides enough is enough and cuts ties with the evildoer. Sometimes that never happens, and the sociopath becomes a “firm leader.” Biglaw is a business, after all, and powerful people need to get away with the things powerful people decide they are entitled to do. So Biglaw lawyers and staff generally keep quiet.

When I was an associate, I was lucky enough to work with pretty decent people. Even though I did a lot of work traveling, with a variety of senior attorneys, I was never exposed to any behavior that was out of line. Back at the office, there usually was a spate of gossip following partner retreats, but that was tame stuff. To be honest, a group of pasty old partners hitting a strip club, or some millionaire partner sitting at the ten-grand-a-hand blackjack table, did not strike me as that scandalous. Especially when I was exposed in the office to blatant overstaffing of matters, do-nothing partners and associates “reviewing” things, and similar other profit-drivers that normal people would consider theft. (My firm was not so bad on the padding front; other firms I saw from cases I was on were far worse. But that is a discussion for another time.)

There was one time, however, when I saw openly unprofessional behavior, perpetrated by a pretty important Biglaw figure no less. And I kept quiet about it, despite the temptation to email Lat and expose what I saw. Now that I have this platform, I still intend to protect the identity of the Biglaw figure that I saw with my own eyes publicly debase his or herself and our shared profession. Why? For the sake of his or her family, clients, and firm. And for Biglaw — we don’t need more scandals, especially stale ones. And when there is innocent collateral damage to consider, I think it best to keep my mouth shut. If this person’s fate is to be exposed for other indiscretions, it will happen. Going by the lack of discretion they exhibited publicly (which I witnessed with my own eyes), there is a good chance they feel immune. Maybe they are. We’ll see — and I have no doubt that if things ever catch up to them, ATL will be there to capture the happenings.

So what did I see? First, some background….

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Fair is fair: I wrote last week about “what drives partners nuts.” Having armed associates with the ammunition needed to drive partners crazy, it’s only right that I arm partners with ways to drive associates nuts. (I realize that many partners are quite good at this even without my help, but I figure a stray few could use some guidance.)

Come on, partners, how can you drive associates nuts?

First: Give associates disembodied projects!

If you wanted someone actually to be interested in a project, you’d tell that person what the project was about. You’d explain what the transaction entails, what the client needs, and the critical issues likely to arise. In litigation matters, you’d explain who’s suing whom for what, the path the case is taking, the client’s main concerns, and the likely endgame. That would put a person’s brain in gear, and the person might actually care about his or her work.

So don’t do it!

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