Profits Per Partner

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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Bingham new logoOver the past few months, we’ve offered extensive coverage of Bingham McCutchen, the once high-flying law firm that’s now struggling to survive. Bingham has remained mainly mum during these trying times.

This week, however, managing partner Steven Browne — who took over earlier this year from Bingham’s longtime leader, Jay Zimmerman — has been on a charm offensive. He gave interviews to the Boston Globe and the Wall Street Journal, which along with the American Lawyer ran long pieces on the state of affairs at the firm. We’ll share with you the new and most notable material from all three stories.

Before we get to the substantive stuff, though, let’s check out the Wall Street Journal’s interesting choice of a photo for its Bingham piece….

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Bruce Stachenfeld

This is a continuation of the past three articles I published in ATL over the past month or so. My first article argued that Profits Per Partner is a great servant for a law firm but a bad master. In my second article, I set forth our Profits Per Partner Emancipation Plan as an alternative. In my third article, I set forth what I believe is the highest level in law firm profitability analysis, which is to “embrace” the volatility inherent in the practice of law. In this final article, I will give some thoughts on how a law firm could indeed Embrace Volatility.

Before getting to that, I will mention as an aside that I wrote a few weeks ago in this column an article entitled “Are Lawyers Only Happy When They’re Miserable?” That article largely dealt with how an individual might in fact Embrace Volatility. This article is directed not at individuals but at law firms.

If you have been reading my past articles, you may be open to at least considering how Embracing Volatility might be a good thing for a law firm. But is this whole concept just a fantasy, like it would be nice to not be afraid of snakes but you can’t help it and just reciting “I am not afraid of snakes” isn’t going to work? I don’t think so. I think the following simple steps would do it quite nicely:

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In our last report on the beleaguered Bingham McCutchen, we predicted that its partners would vote in favor of the proposed merger with Morgan Lewis — even if some of them might get de-equitized as a result. Why? Because “it’s not clear that Bingham has better options.”

Talk about understatement. Maybe this is fearmongering to get Bingham partners to approve the deal, but check out what management is saying might happen if this deal doesn’t go through….

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Bruce Stachenfeld

This is a continuation of the past two articles that I published in ATL over the past month. My first article gave my view that the profitability metric of Profits Per Partner is a good servant but a bad master and, as a master, it is a root cause of serious problems for Biglaw. In my second article, I put forth a Profits Per Partner Emancipation Plan as a different way of doing business that I hope will eventually be adopted. Now, here I am giving my theory on what I think is a higher level of law firm profitability analysis, which is to “Embrace Volatility.”

Let me start by asking you: what is it that we all crave in our hearts? I mean, we all want money and power and fame and to be cool and good-looking and talented at sports or music or acting — but in addition to that — I think it is one of the basest human emotions to crave:

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Earlier this month, we reported on Bingham McCutchen and Morgan Lewis & Bockius’s agreement to merge. The 750-lawyer Bingham firm has been going through a rough patch lately, so news of the deal with 1,200-lawyer Morgan Lewis sounded like a rescue to some observers.

But rescues come with terms and conditions. What are the ones at issue here? There’s good news for some Bingham partners, and bad news for others….

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Ed. note: Stat of the Week is a new feature that pulls data points from ATL Research as well as noteworthy sources across the web.

Rumors of a Bingham McCutchen/Morgan Lewis merger were confirmed this week when news broke that the two firms had reached an agreement to combine. The firms have a lot in common in terms of financial metrics: for 2013, Bingham came in at $1.48 million for profits per partner and $960,000 for revenue per lawyer, while Morgan Lewis posted similar numbers, $1.57 million and $945,000, in those categories (according to Am Law).

Something the two firms don’t have in common? The direction they’ve been heading in….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Stat Of The Week: The Bingham / Morgan Lewis Merger”

Bruce Stachenfeld

This is a continuation of the article I published in ATL two weeks ago. My previous article gave my view that the profitability metric of “Profits Per Partner” becomes in effect a master (rather than a servant) and is destructive and a root cause of some serious problems for Biglaw. In this article, I put forth a different way of doing business.

A long time ago, we at Duval & Stachenfeld decided that we would not make partnership decisions in our law firm based on a “numbers game.” Instead, we would look at the quality of the associates, and if they were qualified, we would make them partners irrespective of the effect that had on our firm economics. We have stuck to that view rigorously.

Over time we came to some realizations:

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Bruce Stachenfeld

This is the first of a four-article series focusing on the following matters:

  • First Article – Profits Per Partner: A Good Servant But A Bad Master
  • Second Article – A Profits-Per-Partner Emancipation Plan
  • Third Article – Beyond Profits Per Partner – Embracing Volatility
  • Fourth Article – How to Embrace Volatility as a Law Firm

Those of us running law firms have two sets of clients:

  • Clients – parties that hire us for legal work.
  • Lawyers – parties that do the legal work for the clients.

One without the other is pointless, obviously – they are yin and yang. However, despite this almost symbiotic relationship, most law firms are set up to attract great clients a lot more than they are set up to attract great lawyers. That is how law firms define “marketing.” The other function is called “recruiting.”

Indeed, let me ask you — in your firm, which is cooler: to be on the marketing committee, or to be on the recruiting committee? Which one is more likely to result in success at your firm, including money, power, fame, a big office, etc.?

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According to the latest Am Law 100 rankings, Wachtell Lipton had profits per partner of nearly $5 million in 2013.

Meditate on that for a moment. Breathe in through your nose. Breathe out through your mouth.

Five million bucks per year.

Breathe in through your nose. Breathe out through your mouth.

I lost the slidy-thing from my slide ruler so I have to do this in my head, but I think that’s about $100,000 per week per equity partner. A little less than a newbie associate makes in a whole year outside of the major metropolitan areas.

Imagine all the things you can buy with that kind of money. A mansion that looks somewhat familiar every time you visit it. Luxury vehicles for your nanny. Dream trips for your spouse. The finest private schools for your kids. An iPhone for your son so he can talk to you every day. A high-end camera your wife can take to your daughter’s soccer game so you can watch her play through live streaming video. Oh, the joy that kind of money you can bring your family. It’s not Powerball, but it’s most certainly a lottery win per year.

How much do Canadian law partners earn?

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