The top-tier law firms in this country are great at many things. They can clear cross-border mergers of antitrust and tax issues on one day and secure a multi-million dollar settlement in a billion-document litigation over thousands of pages of overlapping contracts the next. Practicing law at this level requires not just good lawyers, but great lawyers.
That said, with great lawyering can come great arrogance. For example, when a top-flight firm decides to take on a family law matter, what happens next should not surprise anyone: the firm approaches the case with an aloof passive-aggressiveness, as though something that doesn’t involve millions of dollars cannot possibly require their full attention.
Ed. note: This post was originally published on July 17, 2007. We republish it today, with a few updates added, to remind our readers taking the bar exam later this month that even though you surely won’t fail — especially if you’re having fun studying — even failing the bar won’t stop you from having a spectacular career, in the law or elsewhere. Good luck!
We recently wrote about Paulina Bandy, that poor creature who failed the California bar exam thirteen times, before finally passing it on try #14. Her story seems to have freaked out some of you who are sitting for the bar exam later this month.
Relax. Take a deep breath. You won’t wind up in a 365-square-foot shack in your mom’s backyard. Chances are, you will pass. And even if you fail the bar once or twice, you’re still not on your way towards Paulina Bandy-dom.
As it turns out, a number of well-known individuals — some famous for their accomplishments in law, and others for different reasons — didn’t pass the bar on the first (or even second) try….
A famous criminal defense lawyer was asked about how to hire a lawyer for a criminal defense case. Imagine, he was asked, that a relative was charged with a serious crime in a place where he didn’t know anyone. How would he go about finding a lawyer for his friend?
The answer — hire the best lawyer in the next town over.
A good criminal defense attorney will have relationships with the local prosecutors. She’ll know the local judges. And when you hire a criminal defense attorney, you assume that one thing you’re getting is a favorable presentation to those prosecutors and judges. The trouble is, that lawyer may have more of an interest in her professional standing in the community than in your case.
If you’re really in trouble — life is on the line kind of trouble — that criminal defense lawyer’s advice was to hire someone who knows what they’re doing and is willing to ruffle feathers on your behalf. Everyone is a little beholden to their own community. Find someone from another community.
There’s a nice example of that principle in action in a complex white-collar case in the Wall Street Journal this week.
Although Am Law and ATL covered the story first, the long spread in The New York Times alerted the whole world to the woes of Gregory Owens, a former Dewey partner who’s now a bankrupt non-equity partner at White & Case.
The legal blogosphere naturally lit up over this story, with Scott Greenfield dispensing his usual simple justice and the Volokh Conspirators (and their many commenters) debating Owens’ personal and professional worth.
But my emailbox filled up, too, with assorted reactions from people at all levels in the law. The most interesting rant — and the one I’m sharing with you today — came from a person who looks a lot like Owens; he or she is a non-equity partner at a Vault 50 firm who’s in his or her 50s. This person disagrees violently with the conventional wisdom about non-equity partners. My correspondent sings their praises and insists that both law firms and many law firm consultants terribly misjudge the value that non-equity partners provide to their firms. . . .
Let’s be honest: despite being the Biglaw version of the Titanic, the collapse of Dewey & LeBoeuf could have been worse. Even though the Dewey dissolution constituted the largest law firm collapse in history, many D&L lawyers and staff were able to find new employment. Even Steve Davis, the disgraced ex-chairman of Dewey, landed a new gig.
But not everyone emerged unscathed. Some attorneys and staffers never got back on their feet professionally. Many Dewey partners scored new positions, but not all of them took all of their people with them to their new firms.
And even some partners are still suffering. In fact, one former Dewey partner, now a partner at another major law firm, recently filed for personal bankruptcy….
(Please note the UPDATES at the end of this post.)
In an era when “disruption” is celebrated, the world of large law firms is one of the last redoubts of conventional wisdom. For a uniquely rule- and precedent-bound profession, this makes sense. Biglaw’s conventional wisdom has the added virtue of being reliable. For example, we can count on Cravath taking the lead — at least chronologically — on bonuses, and for DLA Piper to have the most random Third developing-world offices.
Another reflection of conventional wisdom is the way in which Biglaw lends itself to — and revels in — superlatives and rankings. There tends to be a generally acknowledged and perennially dominant player (or a few) in most practice areas: Wachtell Lipton for M&A, Weil Gotshal for Chapter 11 work, Patton Boggs for lobbying, and so forth. There’s no doubt that many worthy firms get overlooked.
Last year we took a look at which firms’ practice groups were considered “underrated” by peers in the field. Among the notable 2012 nominees: Cahill for corporate law, Arnold & Porter in litigation, and Proskauer for its bankruptcy and tax practices.
We wondered whether the same practice groups were still considered by practitioners to be unfairly underrated. Or are there other firms deserving more recognition?
Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Today’s post is written by Michael Allen, the Managing Principal of Lateral Link, who focuses exclusively on partner placements with Am Law 200 clients.
Near the entrance of the Calyon Building, the previous headquarters of Dewey & LeBoeuf, lies Jim Dine’s “Looking Toward the Avenue,” a triumvirate of headless statues inspired by the Venus De Milo. Where lie the visages of this homage to the prototypical form of Venus and furthermore, in the aftermath of Dewey, where have the pieces of this former empire landed?
Since May of 2012, there have been numerous articles inciting gossip and foretelling the troubles of Biglaw, but few have offered a retrospective of the overall trends in lateral moves from Dewey since the closure of the firm. The “largest winner” of the Dewey sweepstakes was Winston & Strawn, which added 23 partners (about 11% of those who moved in the final month), including Jeffrey Kessler, a titan of antitrust law who has represented every players’ union in the “big four” sports in the United States. Approximately seventy lawyers followed Kessler’s group.
Which other firms fared well in picking up Dewey lawyers?
We’ve just entered August, so you know what that means: the start of on-campus interviewing season. If you’re a law student researching firms or a lawyer involved in your firm’s recruiting efforts, check out Above the Law’s law firm directory, where law firms get letter grades in different categories. Law firms might look alike on the surface, but there are very real differences between them, as our grading system reflects.
For example, law firms diverge when it comes to diversity. While every firm gives lip service to diversity, some firms have the goods to back up their claims, while others do not.
Let’s check out the latest diversity rankings, from two different news outlets, to see which firms are truly diverse….
When my late grandmother heard I was going to law school, she recommended that I go into matrimonial law. It was her view that in a divorce, the real winner isn’t the husband, or the wife, but their attorneys: “The couple ends up with nothing, the lawyers end up with everything!”
That’s not exactly true. My grandmother — who worked as a doctor and not a lawyer, in a country that doesn’t have divorce — was hardly an expert on family law.
But there’s no denying that some divorces are very expensive for the couples — and very lucrative for the lawyers. One Biglaw partner and his (soon to be former) wife have racked up seven figures in legal bills. And they’re not even done yet….
So far, the idea has gained little traction, probably because companies like Aetna really like all that compound interest earned on the backs of treating human beings like chattel, thank you very much.
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!
The legal industry is being disrupted at every level by technological advances. While legal tech entrepreneurs and innovators are racing to create a more efficient and productive future, there is widespread indifference on the part of attorneys toward these emerging technologies.
When the LexisNexis Cloud Technology Survey results were reported earlier this year, it showed that attorneys were starting to peer less skeptically into the future, and slowly but surely leaning more toward all the benefits the law cloud has to offer.
Because let’s face it, plenty of attorneys are perhaps a bit too comfortable with their “system” of practice management, which may or may not include neon highlighters, sticky notes, dog-eared file folders, and a word processing program that was last updated when the term “raise the roof” was still de rigueur.