Partnerships

Bruce Stachenfeld

Bruce Stachenfeld

Many years ago in college I was a math major. Today I remember absolutely none of it; however, I remember why I liked it. It is because, if you don’t mess up your calculations, math tells you the truth.

Today, much has been written about the concept of “making partner” for an associate. I believe there was an article (I don’t remember where) that talked about the fact that at some firms 100 first-year associates are hired and the long-term process of “making partner” is like the Hunger Games (affiliate link), where associates are winnowed out until only a very few actually make the cut at the end.

The thought that some of the most brilliant people in our country would work themselves incredibly hard in high school to get into a great college – then work themselves even harder to get into a top law school – then work themselves even harder still to land a job at a top law firm – only to play the Hunger Games against other people who are as brilliant as they are for nine years to “make partner” defies logic. Why would any super-smart person do that? It also defies logic why major law firms, which have achieved the holy grail of any industry (namely, the ability to attract the greatest talent in the world), would squander (winnow) that talent away.

I will put those questions aside for the moment (and maybe address them in later articles) and here just talk about the math of “making partner” — and how there is really no reason for either of the foregoing issues to exist….

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Ed. note: Gaston Kroub is on vacation this week. Today’s column is written by one of his partners, Zachary Silbersher.

When my partners and I sat down to form our new law firm, I savored the opportunity to string our names together and add the letters “LLP” at their end — for so long, “LLP” has been the quiet emblem of the professionalism and studied judgment embodied in law firms throughout the country (whether that is true or not). To my chagrin, albeit for tax reasons, we decided to forego forming a limited-liability partnership in lieu of a PLLC. In structure, we would be a corporation rather than a partnership. Yet, corporate structure aside, our experiences so far have embodied the ups and downs of working together as a real partnership.

True partnership is not something that many associates, counsel or even junior partners have likely experienced at Biglaw. Be it corporate or litigation, real estate or tax, matters are typically staffed hierarchically. Having practiced litigation for several years, I have undoubtedly felt extraordinary camaraderie with the attorneys on the cases on which I have been staffed. Yet, there are always clear lines. Lines between the attorneys to whom I was delegating work, and those from whom I was assigned work. Those lines demarcate disparities in income, responsibility, work, expectation. I am not saying that the system does not work. However, except for select senior partners, the idea of working in a partnership is not typically a sentiment shared among most Biglaw attorneys.

Being part of a partnership has already changed the way I think about my work….

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Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending the New York holiday party of Susman Godfrey, one of the nation’s most impressive — and most feared — litigation boutiques. The mood was celebratory (and not just because of the delicious food, provided by celebrated chef Daniel Boulud, and free-flowing drink).

The associates I spoke with — who all enjoy their own private offices, no small perk in the New York law firm world — exhibited a great esprit de corps. Unlike so many other associates I meet, they seemed genuinely glad to be at their firm and enthusiastic about their work.

The fact that bonuses were just around the corner surely helped. We’ve covered Susman Godfrey’s generous bonuses in the past, and they never disappoint.

I recently chatted with founding partner Stephen Susman about what he described as his firm’s “unique approach” to bonuses. Here’s what we discussed — including how big his firm’s bonuses are this year….

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Another day, another round of Biglaw bonuses. Today is Hump Day, so why not pair our bonus news with some exciting lateral partner moves?

Earlier this week, Ropes & Gray announced its 2013 year-end bonus scale. It’s no Boies Schiller $300K bonus, that’s for sure, but it’s a tad more interesting than your run-of-the-mill Cravath match.

Keep reading for all of the details on the Ropes & Gray bonus, news on the firm’s latest partner class, and the announcement of a very recent lateral pick-up from a firm that’s bleeding partners….

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One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do. Two can be as bad as one, it’s the loneliest number since number one.

Three Dog Night

Even for those who’ve always fantasized about hanging a shingle, the reality is that going solo can be a tough, lonely experience. From bringing in business, handling clients’ matters and paying rent and other bills, you’re completely and entirely on your own. No one else around to share the burden or expenses, to have your back, to listen to your complaints, or to blame. Still, as challenging as it is for a lawyer to start a firm solo, as the song goes, two can be as bad as one.

On the surface, partnering up to start a firm seems like a no-brainer. Partners can share costs for office space, legal research, fancy stationery, and maybe even an assistant or an associate, so you can start out in style, with much more than you might be able to afford on your own. Plus, firms are often able to get better bulk deals from vendors and thus, avoid the solo tax. On the practice side, a partner may contribute strengths that you may lack. For instance, you may be a legal genius, but also an introvert who’s afraid to ask a colleague to lunch. A partner with marketing or networking skills can compensate for your deficiencies. And a partner can also be a selling point for a small firm since you can also assure clients that you have back-up who can cover if something happens to you.

Finally, starting a firm with someone else to share the experience can be more fun. All of the cool kids in the start-up world have partners — though in that universe, partners go by the hipper title of “co-founder.” Apparently 2.09 team members is the ideal number for a start-up — and, in fact, co-foundership is so popular in the start-up world that there are several websites that function solely as matchmakers for entrepreneurs looking for to team up.

Still, just as partnerships don’t work all the time for entrepreneurs — in fact, 62 percent of businesses fail due to co-founder conflicts — the same is true for lawyers. And often for the same reasons….

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Is thirteen an unlucky number? Apparently not at Quinn Emanuel, the high-powered litigation firm that just went for a baker’s dozen in naming new partners.

This past weekend, the Quinn partnership gathered in California for their partner retreat. Agenda items included selecting new partners and setting the bonus scale.

Does a large partner class bode well for bonuses? Because this is the biggest partner class Quinn has named in several years….

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When we sit down at Thanksgiving this year, we’ll give thanks for Weil Gotshal. Over the past few months, the highly prestigious and profitable firm has generated a cornucopia of tasty news to cover.

And the drama isn’t over yet. Instead, the soap opera continues.

Soap operas feature ups as well as downs; they’re not all bad news (because that would be boring). Births and marriages balance out deaths and divorces.

So for today’s Weil Gotshal update, we’ll start with the happy stuff — new partners! — before moving on to the gloomier news….

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Partnership at Cravath: Biglaw’s ultimate brass ring.

Working at Cravath, Swaine & Moore offers many advantages. The work is interesting and cutting-edge. The exit opportunities are unmatched. The pay and prestige are great (even though, as we’ve repeatedly emphasized, Biglaw isn’t all about the benjamins).

One of the distinctive features of Cravath is the “Cravath system,” in which associates work closely with a particular partner (or small group of partners) before rotating into another area to work with a different partner. This system produces well-rounded and well-trained lawyers. According to the results of our associate survey — please take it if you haven’t already done so — Cravath is the #1 firm for training corporate lawyers and the #2 firm for training litigators.

Of course, Cravath has its downsides; the firm is not for everyone. The hours are long, even by Biglaw standards. The atmosphere is intense; it’s not a laid-back sort of place. And historically partnership prospects haven’t been great, due to the sheer selectivity of the CSM partnership.

But are partnership prospects improving? For the third year in a row, Cravath has named a large number of new partners. How many of them are there? Might you know some of them?

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“Being a partner at an elite law firm isn’t what it once was,” as I recently wrote in a Wall Street Journal book review, but “while the brass ring might be tarnished, it still gleams brightly for many.” And with good reason: even if it’s harder than ever to become (and remain) a partner, for those who do manage to make it, the pay, perks, and prestige are plentiful.

The American Lawyer just released its latest New Partner Survey. The magazine heard from almost 500 lawyers who began working as partners between 2010 and 2013. About 60 percent of the survey respondents are non-equity or income partners — which makes sense, given the proliferation of two-tier partnerships, as well as how junior these partners are — and the rest are equity partners.

What are the most notable findings from the survey? Here are five:

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Ed. note: This post is sponsored by NexFirm. At NexFirm, we see dozens of new firms launch each year, and we seem to bond with both the people and the practice every time around. Their accomplishments feel like our success, and their disappointments, our failures. It makes for a great professional relationship, but it can also be painful when we see them repeat the same, predictable, new firm mistakes — especially ones that can be avoided with some guidance and forethought.

Attorneys who are launching their own firms tend to wring their hands over every small decision and miss the big picture. You feel overwhelmed, so you want to work feverishly to tackle your to-do list. After a long day full of “doing” without much “thinking,” you feel like you’ve really accomplished something. It’s an easy trap to fall into. It’s crucial to be thoughtful about the big things, set time aside to think about them, and treat them like the other action items on your list.

Start with these, the low hanging (albeit important) fruit:

1. Leave, Don’t Quit.

Focused on the unpleasant task of giving notice, worrying that you might piss someone off or — worse yet — be impeded from transitioning matters, you can easily miss the best marketing opportunity you will ever get. Use your resignation to ask your employer to give you business. Beg them, guilt them, scare them, do whatever you need to do, but make it happen. There is no one that knows you and your work better. If you can’t convince them to help you, in at least some small way, you are in trouble…

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