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The American Lawyer reports that recent data released by Working Mother Media reveals that the legal industry is showing promising growth when it comes to gender equity among big law firms. Now in its 13th year, the annual Working Mother “Best Law Firms for Women” ranking highlights the top 60 law firms that define and implement best practices in recruiting, retaining, promoting and developing women lawyers. To compile the list, Working Mother assessed applications which included more than 300 questions about attorney demographics at different levels, schedule flexibility, policies for paid time off and parental leave, and development and retention of women lawyers.

Law firms selected for the list on average accounted for 23% of equity partners, up from 20% five years ago, the report notes. In addition, the number of female lawyers promoted to equity partner has increased by almost 25% over the past five years. When looking at other advancement statistics, multicultural women represent nearly 14% of the equity partnership, up from 11% five years ago. The number of multicultural, female associates also jumped to 33% from 27% in the same time period.

According to the report, all firms on the list offer women-specific mentoring programs and 50% of mentees are women. Two-third of the firms on the list have formal sponsorship with 62% of participants female, the report notes. Additionally, 36% provide gender-neutral fully paid parental leave in 2020, an increase from 35% in 2019; 36% provide gender-neutral paid parental leave with extra maternity leave, an increase from 24% in 2019; and 28% provide traditional maternity leave, an increase from 20% in 2019, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

Working Mother also pointed out that flexibility has increased in the legal industry. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, all firms on the list offered reduced hours and remote work opportunities, with 39% of female lawyers working remotely in some capacity in 2019. “Law firms on this year’s list were better prepared to respond to the effects of the pandemic because of their continued support of flextime and remote work for working parents and caregivers,” notes Subha Barry, president of Working Mother Media. “We are proud to recognize their resilience and steadfast commitment to supporting gender equality.”

See more highlights from the rankings on The American Lawyer.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

In a recent article, “The Rise of the Non-Equity Partner: Short Term Gain for Long Term Pain?,” James Willer, writing for Law.com, reports on the rise of non-equity partnership in today’s lateral market. According to ALM Intelligence, the number of non-equity partners across the Am Law 200 over the past ten years has increased by 36% from 17,086 to 23,166. On average, non-equity partners now represent a 44% share of the overall partnership at Am law 200 firms. This contrasts with 38% in 2009. In 2018 alone, 46% of Am Law 200 firms increased the proportion of non-equity partners within their overall partnership. By increasing non-equity numbers, while keeping equity partners relatively flat or at least growing incrementally, firms can maintain high-levels of Profits Per Equity Partner (PEP) and therefore bolster retainment of its top-performing equity partners, the article notes.

Accordingly, law firms in the top echelons of the legal market have come to realize how useful PEP can be as a competitive advantage in the lateral hiring market. For these firms, PEP is now not only one of the most important metrics at their disposal but provides the primary means to maintain a business model built largely on talent management, recruitment, and retention. This weaponizing of PEP has since trickled down to the rest of the market, as more firms begin to grapple with issues of retainment and retention of top performers. The result has been a market-wide shifting of the partnership model. Partnership adjustments are one of the few remaining mechanisms at the disposal of firms that can be reliably utilized to increase PEP expeditiously, (as quoted in Law.com).

The shift towards more non-equity partners is only likely to accelerate as the lateral hiring market’s requisite need for strong PEP growth intensifies, Willer notes. However, Willer cautions that firms should be wary of placing too much short-term emphasis on tweaking partnership structures. To do so runs this risk of losing sight of the need to ensure that more organic measures of long-term sustainability such as RPL growth and costs management still need to be adhered to. According to Willer, firms need to have in place clear strategies from the outset to secure and retain talent not just at the equity level, but across the full spectrum of partnership. This could include ensuring contributions to firm profitability or business development are effectively incentivized or having in place clear pathways of professional development, (as quoted in Law.com)

See highlights from the full article on Law.com.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

The American Lawyer reports that more than 3,100 lateral partners moved between Am Law 200 firms in 2019, with corporate partners accounting for 25% of those moves, according to recent data released by ALM Intelligence. The total is 14.5% higher than last year’s lateral total of 2,754, largely as a result of an improved methodology used to collect this year’s data, which affects the year-over-year comparison. Over the past two decades, the number of lateral partner moves, tracked by The American Lawyer since 2000, has ranged from just above 2,000 to more than 3,000 a year, the article adds.

The article reported that at least 580 corporate partners joined the ranks of the Am Law 200, while 469 departed, which adds up to a net gain of 111 partners. Litigation partners accounted for another quarter of the past year’s laterals. Banking and Finance partners were the third-most-transient practice, comprising nearly 14% of all laterals. Interestingly enough, given the warnings of a recession, bankruptcy attorneys were the least transient, accounting for just a small fraction of the year’s lateral moves, at 2.4%, ALM Intelligence reports.

According to the report, Philadelphia-based Fox Rothschild saw the greatest percentage growth via lateral moves, as its partnership ranks grew by 60, or roughly 18%, on the back of 102 lateral hires, offsetting 42 departures. The firm has been growing steadily since it first cracked the Am Law 200 in 2015, the article notes. Additionally, the article noted that Winston & Strawn saw the greatest net defections among the Am Law 200, losing 52 partners and adding 17, for a net loss of 35, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

Nearly three-quarters of Am Law 200 firms have had a lateral partner leave within the past five years due to an issue with personality or law firm culture, according to data released by ALM Intelligence. A lawyer’s business is easier fixed than their character, notes Polsinelli’s CEO Chase Simmons. And while there’s no one lateral partner who can affect a law firm’s revenue numbers on their own, a toxic partner could ruin a firm’s culture, he adds. “Culture is more permanent. Everything derives from the culture,” Simmons says. “If you mess with that, the dollars aren’t going to follow.”

“Law firms are constantly on the hunt for top talent, and they have recently began building programs focused on lateral integration. The reasons for doing so are interconnected. For one thing, firms use their programs as a selling point in their recruitment efforts. They also lead to better retention rates. Nearly every law firm The American Lawyer spoke with for this story touted a higher five-year retention rate than the 60% average that ALM Intellection reported last year among Am Law 200 firms,” (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

See highlights from the full article on The American Lawyer.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

In a recent article, “Being a Law Firm Partner Was Once a Job for Life. That Culture Is All but Dead,” Sara Randazzo, writing for the Wall Street Journal, reports on recent trends in Big Law partnership and profitability over the past decade. According to data collected by ALM Intelligence, the percentage of equity partners across the Am Law 100 has been declining for the past ten years, with the percentage of nonequity partners steadily increasing. ALM Intelligence’s data revealed that the equity tier was roughly 78% larger than the non-equity tier in 2008. Now, it’s only 27% larger. The conventional explanation for the growth of the two-tier system is that it produces higher profits per equity partner, thus solidifying the prestige of the law firm and improving its ability to attract the best legal talent, the article highlights.

As Randazzo reports, the newly demanding and data-driven model of the law firm has changed the culture of the business entirely. “Being named a partner once meant joining a band of lawyers who jointly tended to longtime clients and took home comfortable, and roughly equal, paychecks. Job security was virtually guaranteed, and partners rarely jumped ship. That model, and the culture that grew up around it, is all but dead. Law firms are now often partnerships in name only,” Randazzo notes. “At the modern law firm, not all partners are created equal, and data and billings rule. In the new paradigm, lawyers are expendable, and partners may jump to a competitor for the right amount of money, taking clients with them on the way out,” Randazzo adds.

According to the article, the rise of non-equity partnerships has been criticized on a number of grounds. Most significantly, as noted in the article, it lets equity partners jack up the billing rates of non-equity partners, often to north of $1,000, without having to share the wealth with them (or take a hit in their “profits per partner” rankings, which consider only equity partners). “No firm embodies the changes more than Kirkland & Ellis,” Randazzo reports. “Over the past decade, Kirkland has become known for making high-price offers to rising stars at competitors, for $10 million a year or more in some cases. It has embraced the two-tiered partner system, made up of a junior class paid a set salary and an inner circle of equity partners, who split the firm’s profits. The changes have pushed the spread between Kirkland’s highest- and lowest-paid partners to 43-to-1. Among its equity partners, the spread is nearing 9 to 1,” (as quoted in The Wall Street Journal).

According to another article by Law.com, some law firms are still holding on to the old partnership ethos even as the world changes around them. A handful of law firms including New York-based Cleary Gottlieb and Cravath Swaine & Moore still operate under a lockstep compensation system, which pays partners in a relatively tight band based on seniority, rather than how much revenue they bring in. At the same time, some law firms are new to the idea of a two-tier partnership. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Willkie Farr & Gallagher both reported the presence of non-equity partners—seven and 10, respectively—for the first time this year. Law firm leaders said the move is intended to reward promising young lawyers earlier and make the firm more competitive in recruiting,” (as quoted in Law.com).

See highlights from the full article on The Wall Street Journal.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

Buoyed by a strong economy and expectations of continued growth in demand, the increasingly dynamic lateral market shows no signs of slowing in 2019, Law360 reports in a recent article. According to a report released by Citi Private Bank Law Firm Group and Hildebrandt Consulting, the lateral market had been the “primary driver of consolidation in the legal industry” in 2017 and 2018. During both of those years, the report found, lateral recruiting outpaced internal promotions, and that trend was unlikely to reverse in the near future.

In the article, Law360 reflects on the most effective hiring and integration strategies for attracting and retaining top talent at the fastest growing law firms in 2018. According to the article, law firm leaders at the most actively hiring firms identified a variety of strategies aimed at improving lateral hiring including seizing on opportunities from potentially flagging firms and building a competitive platform that integrates new talent and retains them for the long haul. Managing Partner of Akerman Scott Meyers weighs in on the success of the firm’s tactical lateral hiring strategies, which attributed to 47 lateral partners last year. According to Meyers, “None of this growth has been in the mold of, ‘If we build it, they will come,’ It’s been going to places where there is existing client demand, both in terms of geography as well as subject matter expertise,” (as quoted in Law360).

Another firm featured in Law360’s article was Kansas City-based Polsinelli, which also brought on 47 lateral partners in 2018. Polsinelli chairman and CEO Chase Simmons attributes its lateral growth to the firm’s 10-year focus on growing its bench in certain core practice areas, namely, real estate, financial services, mid-market corporate work, intellectual property and health care, as well as adjacent litigation and labor and employment matters. “We’re looking for people that fit culturally. If we see an opportunity that’s off-strategy, we’ll consider it,” notes Simmons. “We’re large enough as a firm that we can always be considering a few things that are maybe not right down the middle of what we’ve done in the past, but we know that that’s a different process,” (as quoted in Law360).

See highlights from the full article on Law360.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

The American Lawyer reports that law firm profitability is at a record high, according to a recent report released by ALM Intelligence. The report revealed that the average equity partner, at an Am Law 200 firm, received $1.8 million in profit sharing compensation last year. This is higher than any point in recorded history (the Am Law 200 data goes back to 1984). In addition, average profits per equity partner are nearly $500k dollars more, in nominal terms, than they were at the peak in profitability experienced before the past downturn. Even after adjusting for inflation, profits per equity partner are $125k per year more than they were a decade ago.

Given the myriad of obstacles law firms are currently facing, this raises an obvious question — how are law firms doing it? Director at ALM Legal Intelligence, Nicholas Bruch investigates, positing that there are four ways to increase firm wide profitability. The most straightforward path is to focus on increasing revenue per lawyer, notes Bruch. This can be achieved in several ways. Firms can increase worked hours by, for example, increasing hourly targets on associates. They can also increase utilization rates or realization rates. While these “levers” can boost a firm’s revenue per lawyer the most potent lever is rate increases. Increasing prices – which most often means increasing hourly rates – is the most rapid and straightforward path to increasing revenue per lawyer, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

The next, most obvious, path to higher PPEP is to reduce costs. Again, there are multiple ways to accomplish this goal. According to Bruch, firms can reduce salary costs. This can be accomplished by cutting salaries or, more realistically, by shifting work to lower cost resources – either less skilled individuals or individuals who are based in lower cost locations. While these strategies have been pursued by some firms, Bruch notes that the more common route to lower costs has been to reduce both direct and indirect expenses, or more broadly speaking, “overhead”. Bruch adds that the last two paths to boost a firm’s profits per equity partner are to increase the firms’ leverage by either hiring more associates or by shifting the structure of the partnership to include more non-equity partners and fewer equity partners, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

See highlights from the full article on The American Lawyer.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

How do successful leaders and firms manage their compensation expectations in a record financial year? A recent article by The American Lawyer investigates, positing that some of the most effective means for managing the compensation expectations of partners include structural elements in their compensation system, leadership techniques, and talented, communicative leaders. Blane Prescott, a consultant for legal consulting firm, MesaFive LLC, notes “some firms suffer morale and trust issues because their compensation process fails to manage expectations. Compensation isn’t just about setting a number and then defending one’s decisions. There are many firms for whom setting partner compensation is a surprisingly easy and smooth process, regardless of whether profits are up or down, because they focus on managing expectations and helping partners to succeed.”

Most firms understand the benefits of talking with partners about performance and compensation, but one important question is, is it better to do that before or after setting compensation? It may sound illogical but talking to partners before setting their compensation produces dramatically better engagement, improved performance in the following year, and more effectively manages expectations. But they only work if firms do those interviews well, and unfortunately, perhaps only a quarter of all law firms meet that standard. Good interviews are two-way conversations, focused on helping the partner to be more successful. They explore each partner’s strengths and weaknesses and include a focused discussion of priorities for the coming year, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

It is often said it is rare to find great leaders who lack great communication skills. Not all communication skills are the same—some leaders are gifted at talking to groups, while others are fabulous at counseling individuals. The key question for managing expectations is, do firms have leaders (at the firm, practice and office level) routinely communicate substantive information and meaningful analyses (not just highly filtered, quantitative data) to partners all throughout the year?  Are they honest about telling partners when the firm is doing well, and when the firm isn’t? Are they skilled at accurately describing what the challenges are and how to address them? Are they open about the financial data they share, or does it constantly feel like they are just spinning selected facts?, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

See highlights from the full article on The American Lawyer.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

The American Lawyer released a recent report, conducted by LexisNexis’ legal pricing data service, CounselLink, which revealed the gap between partner hourly rates for firms with 750+ lawyers and firms with 501-750 lawyers continues to grow. According to the report, the gap between the two groups widened by 11 percent over 2016, with the bigger firms now demanding a whopping 45 percent higher rate on average than their less gigantic counterparts.

The report also revealed rate increases were higher and more widespread than in previous years. The report showed that Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston all rivaled New York for partner billing rate increases. The Big Apple firms still led the pack, with a 5.7 percent growth rate. But firms in those other cities experienced greater than 4 percent annual growth in their rates. Nationwide, partner rates increased an average of 3 percent, with Minnesota, Georgia, Oregon and California seeing the highest increases on a statewide basis, (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

See highlights from the full article on The American Lawyer.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.

The American Lawyer released results from its annual Lateral Report, which tracked lateral movement strategies among the nation’s largest and most successful law firms. The report, conducted by ALM Intelligence, reported 2,895 lateral moves among Am Law 200 firms in 2017, decreasing 2.3% from 2016. According to the report, law firm leaders reported a variety of strategies aimed at improving lateral hiring such as geographic expansion, spending top dollar on superstar partners, hiring lateral groups, recruiting experts in other fields, and expanding lower cost-firms in larger markets.

Chicago-based Winston & Strawn hired the most lateral partners of any Am Law 200 firm, the report revealed. The firm brought on 73 partners, representing nearly 22 percent of its partner ranks. DLA Piper hired the second-most partners, 69—a mere 5.7 percent of its partnership. The next three firms to grow their partner ranks by more than 10 percent through lateral hiring included Cozen O’Connor, Fox Rothschild and Hogan Lovells opening new offices in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Seattle, respectively (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

Kansas City, Missouri-based Polsinelli is another firm to see recent growth in the lateral partner market. Much of the firm’s recent growth has been in Chicago, where it has grown from just six lawyers in 2006 to 99 as of last December. The firm has found success recruiting from some of the city’s legacy firms, many of which have pursued a more international, higher-profit model (as quoted in The American Lawyer).

See highlights from the full article on The American Lawyer.

Contact Bill Sugarman for more information.