Profits Per Partner

This week has been a big one for rankings. On Monday, the American Lawyer released the 2014 Am Law 100 rankings, chronicling how Biglaw fared in 2013. Last night, we released our top 50 law school rankings, based on the latest employment data from the ABA.

The process of getting measured causes people to modify themselves toward the metric; just ask any bride trying to fit into her wedding dress. So it shouldn’t be surprising that, with rankings on the brain, law firm leaders have been cutting headcount to boost profits.

Which major law firm just announced double-digit cuts, perhaps in an effort to get into fighting shape by Memorial Day, before the arrival of summer associates?

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The book that everyone’s talking about right now is Capital in the Twenty-First Century by French economist Thomas Piketty. In his bestselling, critically acclaimed, 600-page tome, Piketty documents and diagnoses the growth of income inequality in the United States and around the world.

What’s true for the global economy seems to be true for law firms as well. As we mentioned in Morning Docket, the American Lawyer just released the latest Am Law 100 rankings, the biggest rankings in the world of Biglaw. Here’s the key takeaway, captured in the magazine’s headline: “The Super Rich Get Richer.”

How rich are the “Super Rich” these days? Let’s peek at those profits per partner….

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Over the past year or so, we’ve heard a steady trickle of negative news out of Dickstein Shapiro. The trickle has turned into a stream, so it’s now time to share what we’ve learned.

Let’s start with the numbers — grim numbers. Yesterday the Legal Times reported on what it described as Dickstein’s “worst year in more than a decade.” Revenue fell by 20 percent in 2013, and net income dropped even more sharply, by 35 percent. According to the Legal Times, the firm’s 2013 net income of $36 million is the lowest the firm has seen since before 1998, its first year on the Am Law 200.

Chairman James Kelly tried to spin this performance as “restructuring” and “investment,” as the firm focuses on its core practice areas. According to Kelly, “We made a strategic commitment to be a market-leading specialty firm. We decided we’re not going to be everything to everyone.”

“Everything” would appear to include “employer.” Let’s hear about the firm’s headcount cuts — affecting partners, associates, and staff — and check out the severance agreement that one source leaked to us….

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(Plus a leaked severance agreement.)”


* The federal judiciary is hiring for staff and public defender positions lost during the government’s sequestration throughout the better part of last year. Ready, aim, fire those résumés! [Legal Times]

* New York Biglaw firms always manage to find their way to the top of the Am Law 100 rankings. When all’s said and done, being so close to Wall Street definitely has its perks. [Bloomberg Businessweek]

* Absolutely no one should be alarmed about the fact that Kasowitz Benson’s profits per partner have dropped by 15 percent — well, no one but the equity partners, that is. Have fun with that. [Am Law Daily]

* The managing partner of Jacoby & Meyers is worried people will think his personal injury firm is going under, not Jacoby & Meyers Bankruptcy. Either way, those commercials won’t die. [New York Law Journal]

* A professor at George Mason University Law was pepper sprayed IN THE FAAAAAACE by an unknown assailant in his classroom yesterday afternoon. We’ll obvious have more on this story later. [ARLNow]

* La Verne is the first law school to offer flat-rate tuition. There will be no scholarships and no discounts. Students will pay $25K/year, nothing more, nothing less. This is, dare we say, wise. [National Law Journal]

* “Passion over pension.” Mekka Don, the Weil Gotshal corporate lit attorney turned rapper, just released his first CD, and it’s all about leaving Biglaw to follow his dreams. Go buy it here (affiliate link). [MTV]

* Valerie Ford Jacob, leader of Fried Frank since 2003, is stepping down from her post prior to her official 2015 departure date. At least she’s leaving on a high note, with the firm’s highest profits per partner ever. Yay. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* Ralph Lerner, the ex-Sidley Austin partner who billed extra car charges to his clients, claims he went into work on weekends to do work for free to make up for it. Aww, how nice of him. [Am Law Daily]

* When we first covered this in January, it was just a rumor, but now it’s officially set in stone. The deed is done: Buchanan Ingersoll is picking up Tampa firm Fowler White Boggs. [Pittsburgh Business Times]

* Many New York law schools moved in the recent U.S. News rankings, but not necessarily in the right direction. Four out of 15 schools moved up; the rest stayed the same or slipped. [New York Law Journal]

* Would you like damages with that? McDonald’s corporate and its franchisees are facing lawsuits filed by employees over their allegedly “stolen wages.” Class actions have been filed in three states. [Bloomberg]

* Want to know what’s happening at Attorney@Blog today? Check out our Twitter feed! [Attorney@Blog]

We’ve all been so transfixed by the Patton Boggs meltdown that we’ve temporarily lost track of some other law firms that are facing challenges right now. The most prestigious name on the list: Weil Gotshal & Manges.

After last summer’s layoffs and partner pay cuts, WGM experienced a rash of partner defections. Some of these were true losses for the firm, but others were chalked up to Weil’s strategy of becoming leaner, more capital-markets-centric, and ultimately more profitable.

Has this revamping of the firm manifested itself in the form of higher partner profits? Not yet. In fact, in 2013, revenues and profits at Weil fell….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Michael Allen is Managing Principal at Lateral Link, focusing exclusively on partner placements with Am Law 200 clients.

The “Legal” world versus the “legal” world. The actual practice of law versus the construction of practices and firms. These are diametrically different disciplines, and while the demand for “Legal” work influences the “legal” world phenomenon of lateral hiring, many other market conditions dictate demand and compensation for partners.

Partners are often sequestered from the tedious details of the lateral market and, consequently, they often undersell themselves to firms and subsequently become underpaid. If you’re a partner looking to make a move, here are 5 beginner’s tips to maximize your lateral partner compensation package:

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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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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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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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