Profits

As we mentioned in the Labor Day edition of Morning Docket, there’s some interesting news on the Dewey & LeBoeuf front. The one former Dewey partner being sued by Citibank for allegedly defaulting on a capital loan — energy lawyer Steven Otillar, now a partner in the Houston office of Akin Gump — is opposing Citi’s attempt to collect on the debt, by arguing that he was “fraudulently induced” to borrow the money in question.

How much are we talking about? How does the debt compare to Otillar’s compensation while at Dewey? And what are Otillar’s specific allegations about “fraudulent inducement”?

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Last year, one of my columns explained how I went about developing a new practice at a large law firm. Now that ABA Publishing has repackaged some of my old columns as a book, I’m hearing new reactions to some of those older columns. One of my recent correspondents — a partner at an AmLaw 100 firm — raised a good issue about my column on business development. He gave me permission to crib from (and slightly revise) his long e-mail (without attribution to him), so that’s what I’m doing here:

“In your case study of business development, you ask whether the business development game is worth the candle. But you seem to presuppose that the game is really worth playing in the first place. My problem isn’t with the premise that if you want to develop business you must work hard at it and be lucky. My problem is with the assumption that the only goal worth achieving in law is success in business development. I think you are correct in saying that law firms under-appreciate business development efforts and over-appreciate business development successes. But I think they over-appreciate both compared to good lawyering . . .

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The current CEO of Greenberg Traurig, Richard Rosenbaum, recently gave an interview to the Daily Business Review in which he discussed the firm’s recent capital call (among other subjects). We mentioned the interview in Morning Docket, but because it contains a lot of grist for the mill, it merits a second look.

The subtext of the interview — and, at one point, the explicit text of the interview — could be summarized as, “Look, we are not like Dewey!” The bad news is that such statements should even be necessary. The good news is that they seem to be true (at least based on the information currently available).

Let’s hear what Richard Rosenbaum had to say….

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Today at 5 p.m. is the deadline for former partners of the bankrupt Dewey & LeBoeuf law firm to sign up for the “Partner Contribution Plan.” Under the terms of the Plan, which in its latest iteration seeks $90.4 million in “clawbacks” from ex-partners, participating partners would contribute specified amounts to the Dewey bankruptcy estate in exchange for releases from future liability (to the Dewey estate, to other participating partners, and to Dewey lenders, thanks to recent revisions to the PCP).

When talk of the Plan first surfaced, I opined that “[s]uch a deal sounds reasonable in principle.” I later observed that even if the PCP might not be perfect, “[i]f you’re a productive partner, happily ensconced at a new and stable firm, and just want to forget the D&L debacle and return to serving your clients, this deal may Dewey the trick.”

But now, after numerous revisions to the Plan, seemingly endless extensions of the deadline to join, and a still-insufficient amount of participation, I’m beginning to think that maybe it just won’t fly — and Dewey should just be allowed to die, i.e., slip into a straight-up liquidation. Perhaps Dewey’s bankruptcy advisers should stop trying to flog a product that nobody seems interested in buying.

UPDATE (4:35 PM): It looks like the Dewey estate’s perseverance has paid off. The $50 million participation threshold has been reached.

Here’s one good thing about the Partner Contribution Plan: thanks to the PCP, we now have detailed information about how much each of Dewey’s partners received from the firm in 2011 and 2012. And yes, we’re willing to share the data for the top earners with you, in spreadsheet form.

Some people are big believers in the virtues of black-box compensation. But here at Above the Law, we’re all about transparency….

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Law firm consultants have endless advice about how best to compensate partners at firms. The consultants analyze the extremes: Lockstep compensation avoids quibbles about pay, but it may reward less productive older partners at the expense of the young turks. Eat-what-you-kill compensation rewards people who bring in business, but may cause bitter fights over client origination credit or cause partners to hoard their clients.

Various permutations on those extremes have their own advantages and disadvantages. But riddle me this: Why don’t we see consultants debating the pros and cons of pure black-box compensation? Under this system, the managing partner (or a small committee) sets compensation for each partner in the firm. There is no specific formula for allocating the spoils, and partners are forbidden from discussing their compensation with each other. Each partner is told what he’ll make in the coming year (either as an absolute number or as a projected draw assuming the firm hits 100 percent of budget), and the process is over.

At least a few large firms use black-box compensation systems, so this subject surely deserves a moment’s thought. What do you think of a black-box compensation system — good, bad, or indifferent?

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David Bernick

As we just noted in Non-Sequiturs, the litigation powerhouse of Boies Schiller & Flexner has managed to fill the — possibly peep toe? — shoes that were recently vacated by Elizabeth Wurtzel. Trading one famous name for another, the firm just hired celebrated litigator David Bernick (as reported earlier today by Thomson Reuters).

So it seems that there will be two David B’s in the building. Boies Schiller was founded, of course, by the legendary David Boies, one of the greatest litigators of our time — known for his work on such marquee cases as Microsoft, Bush v. Gore, the Perry / Prop 8 case (which could end up in the Supreme Court), and too many others to mention.

Let’s take a closer look at David Bernick’s résumé, and analyze what his arrival means for BSF….

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As businesses go, the business of law isn’t extremely capital intensive. Most of the capital in Biglaw is really human capital. As one bankruptcy lawyer put it, “It’s incredible how fragile law firms are. Unlike a company, the principal assets walk out the door every night.”

But law firms do need some capital. Those fabulous offices — and fabulous associates, at $160,000 and up — don’t come cheap.

Firms can obtain the capital they need to operate through borrowing; but credit needs to be used judiciously, lest a firm go the way of Dewey & LeBoeuf. And partners make capital contributions to the firm, most notably when they buy into the partnership.

But sometimes that capital isn’t enough. So firms issue capital calls to their partners, which brings us to today’s topic….

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Ed. note: This is the second column by Anonymous Partner based on his interview of a more-senior partner, “Old School Partner” (“OSP”). You can read the first column in the series here.

“It was a nice profession,” Old School Partner told me, especially for a senior partner at a white-shoe firm. Collegiality, interesting work, and a good living were his. Despite occasional internal dust-ups about compensation within the partnership, partners were generally content with what they were making.

But things were about to change, and what had been a guarded and close-knit segment of the legal profession was soon thrust into an unwanted spotlight. It was a “watershed” moment for partners.

The “watershed” that mucked things up? The launch of American Lawyer magazine….

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Earlier this week, we wrote about the lavish payments that Dewey & LeBoeuf made to its former executive director, Stephen DiCarmine, and its former chief financial officer, Joel Sanders, in the year leading up to the firm’s bankruptcy filing. Each man received almost $3 million in salary, bonuses, and expense reimbursement. (There’s additional detail and number crunching over at The Lawyer.)

Today we bring you additional interesting information from — and speculation about — the Dewey bankruptcy filings. For starters, who are the two Dewey partners who received more than $6 million each in the year leading up to the Chapter 11 petition?

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(Plus additional tidbits about Dewey partner compensation.)

Photo (no, not a photoshop) by ATL reader 'Anna.'

As we reported over the weekend, it’s looking like Dewey & LeBoeuf will soon find itself in bankruptcy (perhaps voluntarily, perhaps not). The specter of bankruptcy raises a question for the many former partners of Dewey: dude, where’s my car capital contribution?

Let’s find out — and get the latest dispatches on the Dewey death spiral, including news of a new home for former vice chair Ralph Ferrara….

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(Plus more partner moves, including Ralph Ferrara.)

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