Partners

If you think that making partner is like winning the Biglaw race, you haven’t actually been paying attention to what’s been happening to partners over the past few years. Sure, Biglaw partnerships overall are enjoying higher profits now than they were during the darkest days of the recession (while associate salaries remain stagnant, of course). But average “profits per partner” numbers can be misleading.

Steven Harper, the former Kirkland & Ellis partner turned law professor, writes that the income gap between the top earning partners and everybody else is “exploding.” It’s never been more lucrative to have a nice book of business.

And to keep it for yourself….

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The “commenters” at Above the Law are — as you know if you’ve ever looked — a tough crowd. If you’re a partner at a big firm, then you’re a loser, because you’re a workaholic stiff with no life. If you’re a partner at a small firm, then you’re a loser, because you couldn’t succeed at a big firm. If you’re an associate at a big firm, you’re a loser, because you’re a lifeless drone who doesn’t have the courage to pursue your dreams. If you’re a scholar, then you’re a loser: Those who can’t do, teach. If you’re a judge, then you couldn’t cut it in private practice, so you had to bail out.

You get my drift.

The correspondents who choose to write to me personally (by clicking on this link) are an entirely different breed. (Perhaps it’s because they’re not anonymous.) My correspondents have been consistently civilized and reasonable, and often quite thoughtful. But I recently received a well-crafted, nicely written email from a law student who utterly missed the boat. I devote this column to that correspondent, and to others who might be suffering from a similar misconception.

Here’s the backstory: I wrote a column about how improving the quality of law firm interviews might improve the quality of associates that a law firm hires. A law-student-correspondent suggested that law firms might in fact not care about the quality of associates. To paraphrase: “Law firms count on having high attrition in the associate ranks. So you need a fair number of associates who will either leave on their own or have to be shown the door. And law firms make very few partners, so, after an entering class has been winnowed down over the course of a decade, the firm is likely to have one or two remaining candidates who can be offered partnership. That’s true regardless of the quality of the entering class.”

That email is proof that insanity can be made to sound plausible . . .

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This is not the case for Biglaw partnership (and hasn't been for quite some time).

As mentioned yesterday in Non-Sequiturs, the white-shoe law firm of Milbank Tweed, in a recent press release about its new partnership class, gave a special shout-out to Atara Miller. It identified Miller as “likely the only Orthodox Jewish woman partner at a major Wall Street firm” (emphasis in the original).

The release continued: “Milbank has four other Orthodox partners who cope with the same issues, but each of them has a wife to run the household and children, while Ms. Miller takes on those duties at home.”

A big shot in Biglaw, and a baleboste to boot — that’s nice, very nice. But is it accurate to assert that Miller is unique?

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Tom Wallerstein

I was talking to a friend who is a junior partner in a large firm, and who is thinking of starting her own firm. She knew what practice area she would focus on, and she had at least one client who she felt sure would go with her. But she still had two critical questions to resolve. First, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to open a solo practice, or if she would try to recruit someone to form a partnership. Second, she wasn’t sure if she would form a “virtual” office, or try to start a traditional “brick and mortar” shop.

With regard to her “solo versus group” decision, we talked about the differences in tax treatment, liability exposure, etc. But I offered her my opinion that another important consideration is the practical, day-to-day differences between running your own shop and being in a partnership….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “From Biglaw to Boutique: Come On Along, or Go Alone”

New partners, jumping for joy.

Is making partner at a major law firm as desirable as it used to be? In an interesting article in the New York Times about the growing trend of lawyers leaving large firms to start their own boutiques, Margie Grossberg, a partner at the legal recruiting firm of Major, Lindsey & Africa, offered these observations: “In the past, associates found if they worked really hard and did the right things, they made partner. That’s not necessarily the case anymore. The odds are a lot slimmer, and it’s also not as coveted as it once was.”

These are all fair comments. Note also the number of partners who leave Biglaw behind for other opportunities, such as in-house posts, or government or judicial service.

At the same time, however, let’s face it: being a partner at a top law firm is still highly desirable. The pay, prestige, and perks are tremendous. In a recent survey of new partners by the American Lawyer, over 80 percent of respondents said their new jobs were either what they expected or better than they expected. As Aric Press of Am Law noted, “new partners are basking in the land of more: more money, more responsibility, and more information about their firms.”

This is especially true of partners at firms near the top of the Biglaw hierarchy — places like Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, with profits per partner in 2010 of $3.17 million and $2.64 million, respectively. They both announced new partnership classes this month.

Let’s learn about the new partners at CSM and STB. Maybe you know some of them — from college, or law school, or a case or matter you’ve worked on….

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Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Associates are hoping that Cravath will kick off this year’s bonus season with news that engenders gratitude.

We’re also entering the season when major law firms announce their new partners. As we did last year, we’ll keep track of some of this action. Feel free to email us with information about the new partners at your firm and what the picks say about the firm’s direction and priorities.

At Wachtell Lipton, which announced its new partners on Tuesday afternoon, three lawyers can give thanks for being named to the powerhouse firm’s partnership. With profits per partner in excess of $4 million, they are the 1 percent.

Who are the new WLRK partners?

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It’s no secret that the legal market is still in the tank. Unemployed associates have grown accustomed to scrounging the Internet for any and all job openings that might materialize – even sketchy postings offering $35,000 salaries to sharp dressers.

Just how bad has the economy gotten? Bad enough that Craigslist isn’t just for associates anymore. That’s right, now even partners are lowering themselves to the point of hawking their wares on this oh-so-prestigious platform. In the last week, we’ve seen not one, but two ads on Craigslist aimed at the upper echelon of law firm life.

One poster is an aspiring partner seeking the right law firm to take on his or her amazing legal talent. The other is a solo lawyer seeking a partner to start a law practice.

Are these two a match made in Craigslist heaven? Keep reading to see if either of our contestants has the goods to succeed in the partner matchmaking game.

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Ed. note: Have a question for next week? Send it in to advice@abovethelaw.com.

Dear ATL,

One of the partners in my practice group is very involved with a charity. About once a month or so, we get hit up with various updates on the cause, requests to donate, attend charity events, subscribe to newsletters, etc. He’s even made a few presentations about the charity during practice group meetings. This charity has absolutely nothing to do with legal work and frankly it’s getting really annoying.

As an associate, is it OK to unsubscribe from his charity’s email (not sure how I was signed up in the first place)?  Will he know?  Will it affect my partnership chances?  Am I obligated to donate?  Will he know?  Will the other partners know?

-Hit ‘Em Up Style

Dear Hit ‘Em Up Style –

Part of the reason they pay you associates so much is that your exorbitant salaries already factor in the bullsh*t expenses that come with the job: student loan payments, business wardrobe, personal training, late night online electronics purchases, therapy, top shelf alcohol so as not to be totally incapacitated when you get a work email the next day… and partner pet projects. And yes, they’re watching….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Pls Hndle Thx: The Panhandling Partner”

Recently I talked to a fourth-year-associate friend of mine who’d been working at a new small firm for several months. When I asked him how it was going, he said “great” in a way that suggested anything but. So I pressed him for more. The work was fine, he insisted. The clients were fine. His associates were cool. Great, I said. So what was the problem?

Well, he finally let on, there was this partner.

OK, I said. What about this partner?

Well, he said, he’s making my life a living hell. In fact, my friend said, it was so bad, he was thinking of leaving the firm.

What made this partner so horrible?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Small Firms, Big Lawyers: Supervising Partners and Teaching Partners”

It’s that time of year again, when most Biglaw firms announce their partnership promotions. But this year, it’s not only the senior associates who are on edge. As shown in our recent associate morale survey results, 62% of associates at all levels attributed the decline in morale at their firms to poor partnership prospects.

Please take this short survey and tell us if and how partnership prospects have changed at your firm since last year, and what really happens to senior associates who don’t make the cut. We’ll bring you the results next week.

In the meantime, head over to the ATL Career Center, powered by Lateral Link, to find out more about partnership prospects at each of the top law firms.

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