Weil Gotshal & Manges

Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time with us.

Earlier this week, the good folks over at Vault released their annual list of the nation’s 100 most prestigious law firms. As we noted in our analysis of the list, the top 15 for this year don’t look very different from the top 15 from last year.

Wachtell Lipton topped the list for the 12th year in a row. But as Vault noted, Cravath isn’t far behind — and could retake the crown that it relinquished to Wachtell back in 2004.

Yes, that’s right — Wachtell hasn’t always been #1. On this “Flashback Friday,” let’s look back at the Vault rankings from 2008 and 1998 and see how things looked in the past….

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It pains me to say this, given my own predilection for prestige worship, but here’s a question: does prestige matter as much as it used to? In an era of greater access to information, a law firm’s overall prestige arguably matters less than it once did.

If a client is looking for an excellent firm in a particular practice area, it can now easily access information about which firms, and even which individual lawyers, excel in which niches. It no longer has to rely on a firm’s brand name as a proxy for a specific strength. And other factors matter to the public as well. Is a firm a good place to work? How stable is its partnership, in this era of increased lateral movement? Is the firm growing or declining?

But make no mistake: prestige is still hugely important. Which is why the Vault law firm rankings are so eagerly anticipated each year.

The latest rankings from Vault of the country’s 100 most prestigious law firms just came out. How do they look?

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Congratulations to Weil Gotshal on securing a significant role in the big Grupo Corporativo Ono / Vodafone deal. The firm is representing Ono’s principal shareholders, a group of private equity firms, in the $10 billion transaction. This comes not long after news of Weil’s representation of Facebook in the company’s $16 billion acquisition of WhatsApp.

At the same time as it handles eleven-figure deals, Weil Gotshal continues to lose partners. Are these defections wanted or unwanted by Weil? If the latter, how significant are they?

Let’s find out which partners are leaving, and where they’re going….

(Please note the UPDATE added to the end of this post.)

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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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“But otherwise you’re good to serve on this jury, right?”

* What’s a good excuse for getting out of jury duty? Apparently not “having a heart attack RIGHT NOW!” [Lowering the Bar]

* The hits from the CATO amicus brief keep on coming. They commit a footnote to mocking Chief Justice Roberts. [Election Law Blog]

* The Attractive Convict is suing over the use of her mugshot in banner ads. Your redemption is coming, Scumbag Steve! [IT-Lex]

* David Healey, formerly of Weil Gotshal and currently of Fish & Richardson, is filming a movie based on his earlier book. And it stars Sean Young! That’ll work well. [Times of Sicily]

* Does a public-school donor’s request to thank God in an inscription constitute an Establishment Clause violation? [Chronicle of Higher Education]

* Supreme Court will hear the case of the NC Dental Board’s efforts to limit the teeth-whitening industry to dentists. Will this ruling spell trouble for state bar associations applying a death grip to all legal services? [WRAL]

Back in December, some associates at Kirkland & Ellis expressed some displeasure about their bonuses. Now, make no mistake, the K&E bonuses still beat the market by a healthy amount; they just didn’t beat the market by as much as they usually do (at least according to some sources; under an individualized bonus system, reactions will vary).

In our bonus post, we wondered about K&E’s financial performance in 2013. Could the firm — which could very well be the nation’s finest law firm — have had a less than stellar year?

Associates might not be the only ones dissatisfied with their compensation. Sources point to a fair number of prominent partner departures over the past few months, in one of K&E’s top practice areas….

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Partnership: Biglaw’s ultimate brass ring.

Becoming a Biglaw partner does not necessarily mean you’ll live happily ever after. It doesn’t even guarantee financial security. Indeed, some partners end up filing for personal bankruptcy.

But that’s an anomalous case. Partnership at a major law firm might not guarantee you happiness — sometimes you have to leave the partnership to follow your bliss — but it generally brings with it tremendous pay and prestige.

That’s especially true of partnership at the nation’s 10 most prestigious large law firms. Most of them have only a single partnership tier — equity or bust, baby — and sky-high profits.

Who are the new partners at these 10 firms, and what do their selections reveal about Biglaw today?

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The guy in today’s story didn’t dress up like Gumby, but it’s still an amazingly stupid disguise.

* Man tried to rob a convenience store so he could go back to prison. And he almost screwed that up… [KMOV]

* The CIA’s former lawyer explains how torture came to be a go-to national policy. According to John Rizzo, author of the forthcoming Company Man (affiliate link), George W. Bush basically had no conception of what was going on, which makes a lot of sense anyway. [The New Yorker]

* Brooklyn Law’s Dean Nick Allard makes predictions for law schools in 2014. “[P]eople will look back at 2014 and say it marked the start of the new world of law: a renaissance where the respect and reputation of lawyers and law schools began to rise by measurable benchmarks.” Go ahead and laugh, I’ll wait. [TaxProf Blog]

* Paul, Weiss picks up tax partner Scott Sontag from Weil Gotshal. (Congrats to both firms, by the way, on tying for the #9 spot in our list of top-ranked law firms for 2013.) [Paul, Weiss]

* Nooooooooooooo! Judge Richard Kopf is ending his blog. [Hercules and the Umpire]

* And the hits keep on coming. Professor Kyle Graham is also leaving the blogosphere. [Non Curat Lex]

* The Ninth Circuit will start streaming all of its oral arguments next week. If you want to help them out, tune in. No promises that the panel will excoriate any prosecutors this time. [Ninth Circuit]

As 2013 draws to a close, let’s look back at the 10 biggest stories in the legal profession over the past year. This is an annual tradition here at Above the Law, which we’ve done in 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009. We’ll fire up the old Google Analytics machine to get data on our most popular posts, based on pageviews, and share the results with you.

Before turning to specific stories, let’s look at the top general discussion topics here at ATL. For 2013, our most trafficked category page was Biglaw, which bumped Law Schools out of the top spot — a spot that Law Schools held from 2010 through 2012. Now that the word is out about the perils of getting a law degree, leading to plummeting applications, perhaps it’s time to move on from the “don’t go to law school” narrative.

After Biglaw and Law Schools, our third most-popular category page was, as usual, Bonuses. This wasn’t a terribly exciting year for bonuses — there were no spring bonuses, and Cravath and its many followers paid out the same bonuses as last year — but people still want to know the score.

Our fourth most-popular category page was small law firms. Small firms, including boutiques, are an area of increasing focus and readership for us — and also where many of the job opportunities are these days.

Moving on from the topic pages, what were the 10 most popular individual posts at Above the Law in 2013?

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As we’ve chronicled in these pages, the powerhouse firm of Weil Gotshal has been experiencing some upheaval. The big summer layoffs have been followed by a steady stream of partner departures, mainly from offices outside the power center of New York.

Many of the defections have taken place in Texas, but Weil’s Washington outpost has also been hard hit. Last month, that office lost three IP litigators to Greenberg Traurig. Said one of our sources, “IP was one of Weil D.C.’s most profitable practice groups. Expect downsizing or partner acquisition from another firm to compensate for loss.” And that wasn’t all. Earlier this month, BuckleySandler snagged Walter Zalenski, a prominent player in financial services regulatory law, from Weil.

Today brings news of another departure from Weil in Washington. Who is leaving now, and where is he going?

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