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.?
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.
Last month, when we covered BuckleySandler’s midyear bonuses, we included a shout-out to Cahill Gordon. Cahill has paid out generous summer bonuses to its associates dating back to 2010, and we wondered whether the firm would continue the streak.
The answer: yes. Cahill just announced its latest summer bonuses. The timing is good, since rising 2Ls will soon be picking which firms to interview with during on-campus recruiting. (Note Cahill Gordon’s nice rise in the latest Vault 100 rankings, which are widely consulted by law students during the OCI process.)
How big are the Cahill midyear bonuses this time around?
Complaining about profits per partner as a metric is a favorite pastime of Biglaw partners. Sometimes it can look like sour grapes by partners at firms that don’t excel in the PPP department.
But, to be fair, there certainly are things to complain about when it comes to profits per partner. For example, PPP is an average that can sometimes conceal a great deal of variability. It tells you exactly what its name suggests — average profits per partner, i.e., total profits divided by the number of partners – but it doesn’t tell you what the average partner takes home in a year.
To get a better sense of compensation for an average partner, we’d need to know the “spread,” i.e., the ratio between the compensation of the highest-paid partner and that of the lowest-paid partner. Thankfully, there is (some) information on that.
How do partner compensation spreads look these days at leading law firms?
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….
Certain firms are, in my opinion, routinely underrated in the Vault 100 rankings of law firm prestige. One of them is Williams & Connolly, currently #16, which strikes me as a top 10 firm. Another is Munger Tolles & Olson, which is all the way down at #34.
Munger is an amazing firm. Its attorneys work on major matters, including great pro bono cases, and its lawyers boast incredible pedigrees, with more Supreme Court clerks than you can shake a gavel at (wooed by $300,000 signing bonuses). At the same time, MTO gets top scores for diversity. These commitments to diversity and pro bono helped propel Munger to the #1 spot in the American Lawyer’s A-List rankings, which measure overall firm fabulosity (based on revenue per lawyer, pro bono work, attorney diversity, and associate satisfaction).
In light of all this, I’m still wondering why Munger doesn’t fare better in the Vault rankings (for whatever the Vault rankings are worth, and you’re free to argue about that). Perhaps MTO is hurt by its relatively small size and tight geographic focus, with offices in just two cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Or perhaps prestige is tied partly to partner profit, and Munger doesn’t hunger enough for money.
How much do MTO partners earn? Financial disclosures for two younger Munger partners, both nominated to the Ninth Circuit, shed a little light on this question….
As law students gear up for fall recruiting season — yes, the Biglaw gravy train still accepts new passengers, even if not as many as before — some rising 2Ls might start to think, after researching firm after firm, “All of these places sound alike! They all have cutting-edge practices in bet-the-company litigation or cross-border M&A. They all have collegial cultures and ‘no screamers.’ They’re all committed to diversity and pro bono.”
But there are real differences between law firms. If you doubt this, just check out Above the Law’s Law Firm Directory. You can see the different letter grades we’ve assigned to firms, based on reports from lawyers who work at each firm and on overall industry reputation.
Further proof that law firms aren’t all the same: while some firms are giving out pink slips, others are issuing bonus checks. And we’re in the middle of July, not exactly peak bonus season. What gives?
Overcapacity. The Biglaw word du jour. Too many lawyers working in Biglaw to meet demand. Or is it too many lawyers in Biglaw to foist on that subset of clients still willing to pay those rates that guarantee profits-per-partner increases? Either way, the word is out. Biglaw is suffering from overcapacity. Something must be done.
Some firms will undoubtedly send out the message that every single one of their lawyers is in great demand. Debate among yourselves whether or not these firms are “stealth layoff” candidates.
Other firms have already taken action (e.g., Weil Gotshal) — sweeping, public action. Hopefully they did not enjoy what they were “forced” to do too much. The first cut is the hardest, as they say, and who can say that one of these firms won’t decide to wield the layoff katana like a sake-infused samurai?
We have partner profits on the brain here at Above the Law. Earlier today, we wrote about a law firm that instituted a 20 percent holdback on partner pay — a move that was met with anger by some.
In that story, we noted the “continued expansion in the gap in power and pay between what we’d call ‘super-partners’ — partners in firm management and major rainmakers, who are often one and the same — and rank-and-file partners.” You can see this yawning chasm in the disparities in partner pay that exist within the same firm. As partner turned pundit Steven Harper has argued, partners aren’t true “partners” when they are paid and treated so differently.
New information from the American Lawyer shows how extreme some of these gaps between partners have gotten….
One firm just started pocketing 20 percent of partner pay.
Many lessons can be drawn from the collapse of Dewey & LeBoeuf. We’ve learned, for example, that it’s dangerous to have a law firm name that’s highly susceptible to puns. (Dewey know why that is? Howrey going to find out? Heller if I know.)
Another lesson: avoid excessive dependence upon bank financing. When a firm starts to spiral downwards, that spiraling can be accelerated by a bank calling a loan, not renewing a credit facility, or otherwise taking steps to protect itself that, while reasonable for the bank, can be damaging to the firm.
Professor Joel P. Trachtman has developed a unique, practical guide to help lawyers analyze, argue, and write effectively.
The Tools of Argument: How the Best Lawyers Think, Argue, and Win is a highly readable 200-page book, available for about $10 in paperback or e-book. Chapters focus on foundational principles in legal argument: procedure, interpretation of contracts and statutes, use of evidence, and more. The material covered is taught only implicitly in law school. Yet, when up-and-coming attorneys master these straightforward tools, they will think and argue like the best lawyers.
For most attorneys, time spent managing the books is a necessary evil at best. Yet it is undeniably a crucial aspect of running a successful practice. With that in mind, we invite you to view or download a free webinar by Above the Law and our friends at Clio to learn how to better manage your finances.
Take this opportunity to learn what it takes to streamline your accounting and get the most out of your time. The webinar agenda:
● The basics of accounting for lawyers.
● How legal accounting differs from regular accounting.
● Report and reconciliation issues surrounding trust accounts.
● How to pick and integrate the best accounting tools for your practice.
● Steps to prepare your tax return for your firm’s income.
Do not miss this crucial chance to optimize your accounting practices. Save time and get back to billing!
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
Please note that Evan Jowers and Robert Kinney are still in Hong Kong and will stay FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS WEEK. We still have a handful of available slots for meetings with our Asia Chronicles fans. If we have not been in touch lately, reach out and let us know when we could meet! There is no need for an agenda at all. Most of our in-person meetings on these trips are with folks who understand that improving a legal practice through lateral hiring is an information-driven process that takes time to handle correctly.
Regarding trends in lateral US associate hiring in Hong Kong, we of course keep much of what we know off of this blog. Based on placement revenue, though, Kinney is having one of our most successful years ever in Asia. We are helping a number of our law firm clients with M&A, fund formation, cap markets, project finance, FCPA and disputes openings. These are very specific needs in many cases, so a conversation with us before jumping in may be helpful. As always, we like to be sure to get the maximum number of interviews per submission, using a well-informed, highly targeted, and selective approach, taking into account short, medium and long-term career aims.
Making a well informed decision during a job search is easier said than done – the information we provide comes from 10 years of being the market leader in US attorney placements at the top tier firms in Asia. There is no substitute for having known a hiring partner since he/she was an associate or for having helped a partner grow his or her practice from zip to zooming, and this is happily where we stand today – with years of background information on just about every relevant person in all the markets we serve, and most especially in Hong Kong/China/Greater Asia. So get in touch and get a download from us this week if we can fit it in, or soon in any case!