An Excellent Opportunity For New York Litigators

There aren’t a huge number of opportunities out there for senior associates in litigation, but here is an excellent one.

If you’re a litigation associate in Biglaw, I commend to you this excellent essay by Joshua Libling of Validity Finance, Up or Out: Why Litigation Associates Need to Make a Decision by Their Fourth Year.

You should read the whole piece, but here’s the core of Libling’s argument:

The litigation associate track at Big Law firms is badly structured to the detriment of associates…. The key structural problem is the combination of two facts: (1) You will find out if you are going to make partner somewhere in your seventh to 10th year out of law school; and (2) you are at your most marketable somewhere around your fourth or fifth year out of law school.

The problems those two facts create should leap off the page, but here are two big ones. First, you need to make the decision about whether you want to try to make partner before you have a good sense of what that even means or how likely you are to get it. Second, every year beyond the fourth or fifth that you are committing to try to make partner at your firm is a year you are decreasing the ease with which you can transition to another job if you do not make partner. Put differently, as your job security decreases because you get closer to an up-or-out decision, your flexibility in replacing that job also decreases.

This is why, when I recently wrote about what elite litigation boutiques are looking for, I mentioned “[b]etween two and four years of experience at a top Biglaw firm” — i.e., not less than two and not more than four years of experience.

Fifth-year litigation associates are still somewhat marketable, but for litigation associates at large firms, your best window of opportunity for a lateral move is as a third- or fourth-year associate. There are relatively few opportunities for litigators who are more senior than fifth-years (unless they happen to be litigation partners with seven-figure books of business).

But if you happen to be a senior litigation associate (or counsel) with superb credentials, here at Lateral Link we have an opportunity that might be of interest. It’s an unposted opportunity — not on the law firm’s website, not on LinkedIn or any other job site, not on Leopard Solutions — at a firm with whom we have an excellent and longstanding relationship.

This Am Law 200 and NLJ 500 firm seeks a litigator with at least seven years of experience, for a position in its New York office as a senior associate, counsel, or (non-equity) partner, with compensation and title to be determined based on the qualifications and experience of the candidate. It’s a superb firm where litigation is the largest practice group and core to the firm’s success and profitability, i.e., not playing second fiddle to the transactional practices. This means that litigators at the firm have a real chance at partnership — which is unfortunately not the case at many of the top Wall Street firms, where litigators often make up 20 percent or less of new partners.

There’s no shortage of senior litigation associates in New York who are looking for exit options. So a competitive candidate for this rare opportunity will have credentials like the ones sought by elite litigation boutiques:

  • A very good academic record from a top 14 law school, or an excellent academic record from a non-T14 law school (e.g., Latin honors, Order of the Coif, Law Review).
  • One or more clerkships with federal district or circuit judges — the more prominent the court or the judge, the better (e.g., S.D.N.Y. or E.D.N.Y. or D.D.C. for district judges, SCOTUS feeders for appellate judges).
  • Seven or more years of experience at a top Biglaw firm (e.g., a Vault 10 firm).

If you have all of these credentials and would like to learn more about this position, please email me at .

And if you’re a junior to midlevel litigation associate, read Joshua Libling’s piece if you haven’t done so already. You have an important choice to make — so choose wisely.

Up or Out: Why Litigation Associates Need to Make a Decision by Their Fourth Year []

Earlier: New Opportunities For New York Litigators (Including Outside NYC)

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. This post is by David Lat, a Managing Director in the New York office, where he focuses on placing top associates, partners, and partner groups into preeminent law firms around the country.

A New And Interesting Opportunity For Litigators

And no, it’s not at a law firm; instead, it’s a chance to enter an exciting and dynamic new field.

In my work as a legal recruiter, I speak every day with lawyers looking for new opportunities. Because of my background and contacts in litigation, many of the candidates I connect with are litigators.

As law firms continue to roll back their austerity measures and even announce fall bonuses, they are starting to pick up their hiring as well. For litigators with superb credentials — a strong academic record from a top-14 law school, one or more federal clerkships, and experience at a top-10 law firm — opportunities can be found.

And for litigators looking to explore non-firm opportunities, there are options as well. These opportunities are also highly competitive, but the required credentials and background are quite different from those sought by firms.

Here’s an excellent example — and an excellent opportunity.

A rapidly growing litigation finance firm is looking for a director of business development to help the firm find high-quality investment opportunities. The focus of the role is on originations — sourcing new matters to invest in, as well as building long-term relationships with deal sources — and so the successful candidate will have a strong background in both litigation and sales.

Here are the requirements for the role:

  • 10-plus years of total work experience
  • a law degree (J.D.)
  • experience with complex litigation
  • at least three years of experience in sales or business development in the legal sector, ideally with the marketing and selling of sophisticated, big-ticket products or services to lawyers or law firms
  • experience with frequent business travel in the past and a willingness to be on the road at least 50 percent of the time
  • integrity, enthusiasm, and a team-oriented approach

Because of the travel involved, a somewhat central location in the United States would make the most sense (e.g., Chicago, Dallas, or Houston). But the fund is flexible on location as long as the candidate is willing to travel to both the East and West Coasts on a regular basis.

This position represents a superb opportunity to join a successful, growing player in an exciting and dynamic new field. It offers geographical flexibility as well as flexibility with one’s schedule; the firm is not particular about where or when the hire works, as long as the individual delivers results. The compensation is excellent: a six-figure base salary, plus the potential to earn multiples of that through incentive-based compensation tied to performance.

If you have both the litigation and sales background to be a competitive candidate for this position, please feel free to reach out to me to learn more. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. This post is by David Lat, a managing director in the New York office, where he focuses on placing top associates, partners and partner groups into preeminent law firms around the country.

Cadence Corner with Monique & David

Monique Burt Williams, CEO of Cadence Counsel, speaks with David Lat about what to look for in a chief diversity officer (CDO) and best practices for ensuring the CDO’s effectiveness once hired.

Welcome to Cadence Corner. In this occasional series of informal conversations, I will interview Monique Burt Williams — CEO of Cadence Counsel, the in-house division of the Lateral Link consortium of legal recruitment firms — about timely topics in the world of legal hiring and recruiting.

Episode 1:

Episode 2:

What Should I Use For A Writing Sample?

There’s no perfect answer — but here are a few guidelines, from veteran recruiter Abby Gordon.

In addition to your resume, representative matters sheet, and J.D. transcript**, as a lateral litigation associate candidate, you will need to include a writing sample with your application materials. Candidates often ask me for guidance on what type of writing to use.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect answer, as each reader is different. But here are a few guidelines:

  • There must be absolutely, positively NO typos or grammatical errors in the writing.
  • The writing should be very clear and not convoluted. Do not confuse complex writing with good writing. Stay away from overly academic writing.
  • The closer the writing is in terms of style and industry focus to something you’d be writing in your new position, the more helpful it will be in terms of assessing your abilities. That being said, good writing is more important than subject matter.
  • You must be able to say honestly that you were the primary drafter of the work, with limited edits/revisions from others. But everyone understands it’s unrealistic if you’re producing work you did for a firm that NO ONE else has given any input.
  • Most firms are looking for something in the 8-15 page range — give or take. I wouldn’t get hung up on exact length unless the firm specifies. If needed, you may send something longer and direct the reviewer to a specific 8-15 page section.
  • Be sure the writing is redacted for any confidential information, if necessary. In particular, redact the client/parties’ names and any other key identifying items. It’s often best to play it safe by using a brief, motion, or other writing that has been filed publicly — if you don’t have to redact, the writing is likely to flow better. But client memos are just fine if properly redacted.
  • Be sure you can talk about the subject of the writing articulately (after refreshing your memory at least). Be prepared to discuss the writing and the matter in an interview.
  • Some decision-makers will give the writing sample more weight; others will not read it at all. We don’t always know the reason why a candidate is not selected for interviews, but I’d be shocked if the writing sample makes or breaks it. Don’t overthink it!

My best advice? Go with your gut. What do you feel (not think) is the best example of your best writing?

** Generally, when applying to a firm as a lateral associate, you will need to provide a resume, representative matters sheet (a “deal sheet” for corporate associates), a J.D. transcript, and a writing sample for litigation candidates. Very few positions will also require an undergrad transcript. For more senior positions, a business plan might be helpful. Of course, it’s also essential to convey to a firm your reasons for wanting to make the move, but when applying through a recruiter, it’s the recruiter who drafts the cover note; you do not need to draft a formal cover letter.

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. This post is by Abby Gordon, Senior Director at Lateral Link, who works with attorney candidates on law firm and in-house searches, primarily in Boston, New York, and Europe.

A Deeper Dive Into The Vault 100 Rankings Of The Most Prestigious Law Firms In America

Where does your law firm fall — and is it time for you to upgrade your platform?

Biglaw prestige is what economists (or law-and-econ types) would call “sticky,” i.e., resistant to change.

(Why is this the case, and is it a good or bad thing? For a detailed discussion, see this excellent post by the always insightful Joe Borstein — who will be interviewing me over at at 12 p.m. today.)

If you question the stickiness of Biglaw prestige, just take a look at the new Vault 100 ranking of the most prestigious law firms in America, which Vault issued last week. Let’s start with the top 10:

  1. Cravath, Swaine & Moore (no change)
  2. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom (+1)
  3. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (-1)
  4. Sullivan & Cromwell (no change)
  5. Latham & Watkins (no change)
  6. Kirkland & Ellis (no change)
  7. Davis Polk & Wardwell (no change)
  8. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett (no change)
  9. Gibson Dunn & Crutcher (no change)
  10. Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison (no change)

Eighty percent of the top 10 firms stayed in exactly the same place as last year — and that’s not unusual. The general rigidity of the Vault rankings, especially near the top, is why Wachtell Lipton and Skadden Arps trading the #2 and #3 spots, to Skadden’s advantage, constituted “historic drama,” to quote Staci Zaretsky.

Until this year, the #1 and #2 spots went back and forth between just two firms, Wachtell Lipton and Cravath, this year’s #1. Cravath has occupied the top spot since the 2017 Vault rankings, when it ended Wachtell’s 13-year reign at the top. (June 2016, when those 2017 Vault rankings came out, was also the month in which Cravath announced the $180K pay scale — but Cravath’s taking the #1 spot can’t really be attributed to gratitude from Biglaw associates for the pay raise, since the surveys used for calculating the 2017 rankings were completed much earlier in 2016.)

And it’s not just the top 10. Looking at the entire ranking of 100 firms, only 34 firms moved two or more spots in either direction — meaning that two-thirds of the firms in the Vault 100 either saw no change in ranking or went up or down by just a single spot (at least by my count; please correct me if I’m wrong).

There’s enough gloomy news out there in the world right now, so for purposes of today, let’s look at the positive side of the ledger: the biggest gainers in the 2021 Vault 100 rankings. Here are the 17 firms that moved up by two or more spots this year, ranked by the size of their jump (with the two newcomers listed at the end):

What can we say in general about these firms? The Vault Law Editors made this observation:

The 2021 Vault prestige rankings saw the rise of West Coast firms—more than one-third of firms that moved up two or more spots in the Vault Law 100 were based in either California or Washington state: Cooley LLP (No. 24); Perkins Coie LLP (No. 43); Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP (No. 72); Fenwick & West LLP (No. 73); Davis Wright & Tremaine LLP (No. 87); and Gunderson Dettmer Stough Villeneuve Franklin & Hachigian, LLP (No. 90).

I would expand upon this observation by noting that many of the firms with the most momentum, at least as reflected in the Vault rankings, are forward-looking and future-focused, no matter where they are located. They tend to be strong in growing and vibrant sectors like technology, life sciences, and healthcare. This is true of the West Coast firms mentioned by the Vault editors, but it’s also true of some of the firms on the list that did not originate on the West Coast — like Mintz and Goodwin, both Boston-founded firms, but known across the nation (and beyond) for their expertise in healthcare and life sciences.

The Vault Law Editors gave a special shout-out to Cooley, noting that “[i]n addition to its Top 100 jump, the firm also launched seven spots in the New York regional ranking to settle at No. 33 and moved into the top 30 in the Washington, DC, ranking.” And this isn’t the first year in recent memory that has been good for Cooley. In 2014, for example, Cooley climbed 10 spots, more than any other firm, to break into the top 50. Now, just six short years later, Cooley is a top 25 firm.

And I’d expect Cooley to continue climbing next year. Associates tend to reward compensation leaders when filling out Vault surveys; last year, for example, after leading the way to $190K, Milbank jumped 15 spots and entered the top 25. So Cooley, which just led the way in announcing both “appreciation bonuses” and 2020 year-end bonuses that won’t be lower than 2019 year-end bonuses, should be shown some love by associates filling out Vault surveys next year. (Even if Cooley’s scale was subsequently exceeded by other Biglaw firms, like Davis Polk and Milbank, as well as elite boutiques, like Hueston Hennigan, it’s not clear that any of these other firms would have acted if Cooley hadn’t kicked things off.)

So that’s a look at the Vault 100 rankings from the firms’ perspectives. What do these rankings mean for associates who work at these firms?

In general, the more prestigious firms enjoy higher profits per partner, for those who make partner, and better exit opportunities (including in-house opportunities), for those who don’t make partner. So if you’re a star associate in a busy practice area, working long hours for lower pay at a firm that’s lower down on the prestige totem pole, you might want to consider lateraling to a firm that’s more prestigious and pays top-of-the-market compensation.

If you’re a star associate at a Vault 100 firm who’s interested in an “upgrade” in terms of pay, prestige, and exit options, please feel free to reach out to me by email at . In a time when some firms are paying mid-year bonuses while other firms are cutting compensation, the difference between the Biglaw haves and have-nots is only growing — and you want to be on the right side of that divide.

P.S. Biglaw prestige might not change much, but it seems that everything else in our world is changing, and quite rapidly at that. To learn about “change management” — defined as “the process, tools, and techniques used to manage the human side of change for the achievement and sustainment of a desired business outcome” — and how it can help you and your organization navigate these tumultuous times, please register for this free webinar I’ll be moderating next week. It will take place this coming Tuesday, September 22, and it features an impressive panel of general counsels, chief executive officers, and other leaders. Hope to see you there!

2021 Vault Law 100 [Vault]
Introducing Vault’s 2021 Top 100 Law Firms! [Vault]

Earlier: Vault 100 Rankings: The Most Prestigious Law Firms In America (2021)

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. This post is by David Lat, a managing director in the New York office, where he focuses on placing top associates, partners and partner groups into preeminent law firms around the country.

Introducing Lateral Link’s Newest Team Members

In a time when many other legal search firms are retrenching, Lateral Link is expanding, adding great new talent to its ranks.

In the world of Biglaw, things are getting better. Many law firms are reversing their Covid cuts, in whole or in part, and are expecting 2020 to be better than they expected (at least during the dark days of March).

As Zeughauser Group consultant Kent Zimmermann predicted to Dan Packel of the American Lawyer, while maybe 20 percent of Am Law 100 firms will see a significant hit to revenue and profits, more than half will be within 5 percent of last year’s numbers (in either direction). And a small group of firms, perhaps those with busy bankruptcy and restructuring practices, could see profits per partner increase.

Besides the reversal of austerity measures, another sign that law firms are faring better than many expected in the spring is the uptick in lateral hiring. Here at Lateral Link, we have been meeting with more and more firms to discuss their return to the talent market — and no, it’s not just all bankruptcy. (For example, if you’re a midlevel capital markets associate interested in joining a thriving, top-tier practice in New York, please drop me a line.)

With fall just around the corner, and with firms getting a better sense of their priorities for both the rest of this year and next year, new lateral searches are opening up. Some of these are publicly posted on firms’ websites, and some are needs that firms have mentioned to select recruiters whom they trust (and here at Lateral Link, we are lucky enough to be trusted by many top Biglaw firms and boutiques).

To take advantage of the lateral hiring that we are already starting to see, which we expect to continue to the end of this year and into next year (knock wood), we have made a number of great additions to our team. Without further ado, we proudly present:

1. Melissa Cohen (Atlanta). Melissa specializes in placing general counsels, other in-house lawyers, and equity partners, domestically and internationally. Like many of Lateral Link’s consultants, she is a former practicing lawyer and a seasoned legal recruiter, with a track record of success in both Australia and the United States. She earned her law degree from Florida Coastal School of Law and lives in Atlanta with her husband, Sam, and mini-Schnauzer, Tory (her true love).

2. Stephen Damato (Washington, D.C.). Before entering recruiting, Stephen practiced as a corporate associate in Gunderson Dettmer’s Boston office and an M&A and private equity associate in Jones Day’s New York office. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown University Law Center, cum laude. He is an avid D.C. sports fan (Washington Capitals above the rest) and is forever working on his golf game. (For more on Stephen, read my earlier interview with him.)

3. Michelle Fassberg-Lush (Los Angeles). A graduate of USC’s Gould School of Law and a member of the California bar, Michelle focuses on partner placements at leading law firms, while also handling in-house and associate placements. A former law firm and in-house lawyer herself, Michelle leverages her knowledge and experience to make successful placements.

4. Jennifer Lemberger (Miami). Jennifer, a South Florida native, earned her law degree from Nova Southeastern University Law, passed the bar, and worked in real estate for several years. She then began her recruiting career in Washington, D.C., placing attorneys, contract managers, and paralegals into law firms and corporate legal departments. She resides with her husband and daughter in Miami, where in her free time she enjoys playing tennis and cheering on her Florida Gators.

5. Megan Penrod (Washington, D.C.). After earning her J.D. from Saint Louis University School of Law, where she received a certificate in health law from the nation’s premier health law program, Megan lived and worked in Washington, Houston, and Austin, before starting her legal recruiting career in 2017. Outside of work, Megan enjoys writing, reading, spending time with her golden retriever, perfecting new recipes, and playing the piano.

6. Karen Wenzel (Minneapolis). Karen is a Midwest-based recruiter with a background as a corporate attorney in both private practice and in-house. She graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School, where she served as a Managing Editor of the University of Minnesota Law Review. Karen practiced at the law firm now known as Lathrop GPM in Minneapolis, then worked in-house with two Fortune 500 companies, also in the Twin Cities. She and her husband are the proud parents to a son and a daughter.

And we are very proud of the newest additions to our team. Please feel free to reach out to Melissa, Stephen, Michelle, Jennifer, Megan, or Karen. They are eager to hear from and work with you, whether you are an employer seeking great talent or a lawyer seeking a new opportunity. Despite all the turmoil in the world, today is actually an excellent time to be in the market — so don’t let it pass you by.

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. This post is by David Lat, a managing director in the New York office, where he focuses on placing top associates, partners and partner groups into preeminent law firms around the country.

An Open Letter To Incoming First-Year Associates

Biglaw: it may be a sprint at times, but it’s also a marathon.

Dear Class of 2020 Associates,

After three years — actually 25+ years — of hard work, you’re finally beginning your legal career. Some of you will start in a new office, and some of you will be starting remotely. These are weird times, and no one can fully prepare you for the months to come within this new paradigm. But certain themes will hold true no matter what the physical set-up may be.

Fifteen years ago, I was in your shoes, starting out as a first-year associate at Cleary Gottlieb in New York City. Here are 10 of the most important takeaways I can share from my seven-plus years as a Biglaw associate and seven-plus years (and counting) as a legal recruiter:

  1. Pick your practice area intentionally and wisely, thinking ahead about where you see yourself in terms of industry, lifestyle, and geography, five, 10, and 20 years down the road.
  2. Trust that the little stuff counts more than you now know. Be responsive and organized, meet deadlines, and pay attention to detail, appreciating that no job is too menial.
  3. Take extra time — no matter how busy you are or late it is — to understand the bigger picture. Force yourself to answer the underlying “why?”s and “how?”s on every matter you work on.
  4. Request, appreciate, and work with constructive feedback.
  5. Keep up on the latest law firm and industry news, and make an effort to learn your clients’ businesses.
  6. Keep your eyes open and be the ardent guardian of your professional development.
  7. Start developing your own business plan from Day 1.
  8. Be proactive in your career planning. Don’t trust the firm and your supervisors blindly. Recognize that career planning is a continuous and thoughtful process, not a one-and-done crisis management tool.
  9. Develop a relationship with a recruiter you trust so that you understand the legal market and your options at all times.
  10. Develop authentic relationships — with partners, peer lawyers, administrative staff and janitorial staff, and in your networking efforts. Treat everyone with equal respect and positivity.

For additional tips for getting your legal career off to the best possible start, see my articles on 25 Things All Young Lawyers Should Know In Order To Not Screw Up Their Legal Careers and Lessons For Success From A Former Biglaw Associate.

I urge you to reach out to me — not just when you’re planning an imminent move, but as you’re navigating your first year, deciding on a practice area, grappling with any other professional development questions, or seeking to just open a dialogue.

I wish you all the very best of luck in your new careers. Work hard, all the while learning and taking care of yourselves, mentally and physically. It may be a sprint at times, but it’s also a marathon.

Yours sincerely,

Abby Gordon

Cadence Counsel Presents: A Series on Change Management

What do lawyers, especially in-house counsel, need to know about change management in these rapidly changing times?

If you’ve been feeling stressed out, anxious, or depressed over these past few months, you are not alone. When the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), a leading organization for in-house lawyers, surveyed its members in June, it found that almost 20 percent are experiencing depression, more than 40 percent suffer anxiety, and almost 75 percent have moderate to severe burnout.

It’s not hard to understand why, given that our nation is suffering through a pandemic and a recession at the same time. Our country, our economy, and our legal profession are going through a huge amount of turmoil and change — much of the change bad, but not all of it — and dealing with change is difficult, even during good times.

If you are a lawyer looking for guidance and support as you help your organization navigate all this change, consider looking to the principles of change management. For those of you who are not familiar with it, change management consists of “the process, tools, and techniques used to manage the human side of change for the achievement and sustainment of a desired business outcome.” Change management has revolutionized the business world — and it’s now being adopted in the legal world as well.

Part 1: Change Management for In-House Counsel

Part 2: Change Management & Corporate Culture

Part 3: Change Management & Technology

Some Cautious Optimism About Biglaw — And A Prediction On 2020 Biglaw Bonuses

Bonuses will be down this year — but in these trying times, that’s no cause for complaint.

Over my years as a commentator on the legal profession, I have made many predictions. And many of my predictions have turned out to be wrong.

But sometimes I am happy to be wrong. And this is one of those times.

Back in April, when law firms were truly reeling from the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn, I predicted that we were only at the beginning of the bad times. I predicted that the list of law firms enacting COVID-19 austerity measures would continue to grow for quite some time.

And for a while, I was correct. In April and May, more firms continued to tighten their belts, engaging in salary cuts, layoffs, furloughs, and other money-saving steps.

But then we got a pleasant summer surprise. Finding that things weren’t as dire as they expected, firms started to reverse some of their salary cuts and other cost-cutting measures, at least in part. As reported yesterday by Christine Simmons and Dan Packel at, about a dozen Am Law 100 firms have reversed, at least partially, their compensation cuts for lawyers and staff. Just this week, three firms joined that happy club. (You can track developments by following ATL’s coverage of salary cuts, which includes their reversal.)

Of course, we aren’t out of the woods just yet. I have written before about the significant perils posed by the pandemic to the world of Biglaw. If the economy gets worse, if the (seemingly unstoppable) stock market takes a tumble, or if we get the second spike in COVID-19 cases that many fear, we could see a reversal of the reversals — or worse.

But right now — based not just on the publicly reported news, but also on the many conversations I have each week as a legal recruiter with partners and associates around the country, in many different practice areas — I’m cautiously optimistic. In the past few weeks, I’ve spoken to a partner whose firm is down in revenue year to date by just low single digits, another partner whose firm isn’t down at all (flat is the new up), and an associate who has hit two of his record months for billables during the pandemic.

Lawyers remain busy — and not just bankruptcy lawyers. Even with many courts closed, in whole or in part, litigators have been doing their thing — and elite litigation boutiques are even busy enough to be in hiring mode.

Transactional lawyers are doing fine too. M&A is a bit slow — the pandemic and downturn complicate many parts of the process, including coming up with valuations and doing due diligence — but other practice areas, including finance and fund formation, are busier than you might think.

Just because times aren’t as terrible as some expected, however, doesn’t mean that they’re good. So associates who are hoping to see bonuses on last year’s Cravath (or should we say Milbank) scale are probably going to be disappointed.

The current bonus scale, starting at $15,000 for first-years and going up to $100,000 for seventh-years, has been with us for six years (during which associates also saw two increases in base salaries, the Cravath-led move to the $180K scale in June 2016, and the Milbank-led move to the $190K scale in June 2018). The current bonus scale dates back to 2014, a very exciting bonus cycle in which Simpson Thacher (not Cravath) led the way, then got beaten by Davis Polk — and the Davis scale then got adopted by pretty much everyone else, including Simpson.

What about this year? As discussed, some firms — including many of the firms at the top of the profitability charts, who tend to set the pay scales — are doing just fine. They could definitely afford to pay the same bonuses as last year. And keeping bonuses at the same level could yield some advantages for them, such as putting the screws to the less profitable firms — and causing the star associates at those firms to seek more prestige and pay by “trading up” (a trend we saw in lateral associate hiring for the past few years, until this year).

But I don’t think we’re going to see that — not because of firm finances, but because of optics. In dark times for the country — COVID-19 deaths closing in on 200,000, millions of Americans out of work, companies filing for bankruptcy left and right — it might strike some as unseemly for Biglaw to take a “business as usual” approach.

General counsels who are seeing their companies suffer — well, at least if their companies aren’t named Apple or Amazon — probably won’t take kindly to seeing associates at their outside law firms taking home the same amount of money as last year. In fact, keeping bonuses the same would mean that many associates at firms that didn’t cut salaries would actually fare better financially in 2020, since many of their expenses — dining out, entertainment, commuting costs, gym memberships — have disappeared or dipped dramatically during the pandemic.

How much lower will bonuses go? It’s anyone’s guess, but if I had to guess — which I suppose I do, since it’s kinda my job — I’d say that 2020 bonuses will clock in at 2013 levels. In that scale, first-years got $10,000 and seventh-years got $50,000, meaning that bonuses were half to two-thirds of the 2014-2019 scale. It’s a significant cut, but not a cataclysmic one — and in these trying times, it’s no cause for complaint.

Of course, a consequence of lowering bonuses for associates by that much could mean that at some firms, we could see partners take less of a financial hit than their associates, thanks to lower compensation costs — the biggest expense of a law firm. And at some firms, especially ones with strong bankruptcy and restructuring practices, we might even see profits per partner increase. But we won’t find out about that until, well, the Am Law 100 numbers come out in spring 2021 — by which point things might be better (or at least improving), meaning that clients might not be as upset.

But spring 2021 is still a long time away, and a lot can happen between now and then. The year 2020 has been full of surprises, many of them quite awful — and it is far from over.

In addition to reversing their cost-cutting measures, some firms have picked up their hiring, at least in select practice areas. Here at Lateral Link, we are quite busy (and even in hiring mode ourselves).

Right now, despite a generally slow market, I have multiple associate and partner candidates interviewing at top Biglaw firms and elite boutiques. If you’re a candidate who might benefit from working with a recruiter — and the best way to tell is if you’re already getting emails and calls from other recruiters — please feel free to reach me by email at . I have extensive knowledge of (and deep connections within) Biglaw, from having worked in and written about this world for some two decades, and I’d be happy to have a confidential conversation with you about your career, the state of the market, and possible new opportunities.

More Firms Are Partially Restoring Pay, but Full Salaries May Wait Until 2021 []

Earlier: ATL coverage of salary cuts (and reversals of them)

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. This post is by David Lat, a managing director in the New York office, where he focuses on placing top associates, partners and partner groups into preeminent law firms around the country.

4 Tips For Navigating The COVID-19 Crisis

Helpful advice for these troubled times from six managing partners.

How are law firms and their leaders navigating the COVID-19 crisis?

Last week, in a webinar for the New York State Bar Association moderated by my colleague Craig Brown, Managing Principal of Bridgeline Solutions (Lateral Link’s temporary staffing arm), these six managing partners offered excellent insights and advice:

  • Adam T. Klein, Esq. – Outten & Golden LLP
  • Wayne N. Outten, Esq. – Outten & Golden LLP
  • Gregory S. Katz, Esq. – Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP
  • Lawrence T. Gresser, Esq. – Cohen & Gresser LLP
  • Alan Hoffman, Esq. – Blank Rome LLP
  • Dauna Williams, Esq. – The Williams Group

1. Protect your people.

A law firm’s most valuable assets are its people. The panelists repeatedly emphasized how they put the health and well-being of their own lawyers and staff first.

Doing everything possible to make sure employees don’t contract the coronavirus is just the first and most obvious goal. The social isolation created by remote working can give rise to loneliness, depression, and anxiety. The managing partners talked about measures they took to make sure that their lawyers are staff remained healthy in the most holistic sense, including hosting virtual events like town halls and happy hours to promote community and connectedness.

Many lawyers found themselves taking on additional responsibilities during the pandemic, such as child care, elder care, or care for sick family members. Adam Klein said that at Outten & Golden, he and his partners told their associates and staff to put those priorities first.

2. Connect with your clients.

During times of crisis, lawyers need to let their clients know that they’re there for them. The panelists talked about the myriad ways they tried to remain connected to their clients, including email updates, check-in calls from practice group leaders, and even virtual wine tastings.

At Blank Rome, clients signed up for email updates that would inform them about important developments related to the coronavirus crisis, such as changes to government programs. These updates helped clients navigate the tumultuous times while also keeping Blank Rome top of mind, explained Alan Hoffman.

The wine tastings hosted by Cohen & Gresser have been a huge hit with clients, according to Lawrence Gresser. The firm would have wine shipped to clients ahead of time, followed by online tastings led by professional sommeliers — who in normal times would be very difficult to book, but who are more readily accessible during the current crisis.

3. Leverage technology — thoughtfully and carefully.

Law firms moved online so smoothly and successfully thanks to an array of sophisticated systems and advanced technological tools, such as VPN, Citrix, and Zoom. Lawyers learned how to use numerous new technologies, whether they wanted to or not — and this knowledge will stay with them even after the pandemic is over.

The increased use of videoconferencing has been a highlight, as Wayne Outten of Outten & Golden noted. Depositions, hearings, and arbitrations are all being done remotely during the pandemic — and even after the current crisis is over, expect videoconferencing to be used more often than it was pre-COVID-19, now that lawyers (and clients) have seen the money and time that can be saved.

But technology needs to be implemented with thought and care. For example, as Dauna Williams pointed out, you need to make sure that your tools all play well with each other. Certain applications or platforms don’t interact well with one another — and can even compromise each other’s security. Law firms should work with experienced technologists to make sure they avoid such pitfalls.

4. Have a standard reopening procedure.

Moving to remote operations was no small feat for law firms, and reopening offices will also pose a challenge. This is especially true for large law firms with dozens of offices and hundreds, if not thousands, of employees.

The key to successful reopening — according to Gregory Katz of Lewis Brisbois, which has some 3,000 employees working in 52 offices across 22 states — is to have a standard reopening procedure. Each office will reopen at a different pace, reflecting conditions on the ground, but all offices will pass through the same stages of the same process. That process must be carefully designed to consider such factors as who can return and when, where workers can sit in the reopened offices, when visitors can be allowed, and what signage should be erected.

Law firms closed down and moved online with surprising success, and law firms can and will reopen successfully as well. But reopening can’t be taken for granted or handled haphazardly. Instead, firms much approach reopening with all the intelligence, ingenuity, and innovation that they apply to solve the problems of their clients. If lawyers take reopening seriously, they will reap substantial rewards.

Managing Partner Response To COVID-19 [New York State Bar Association]

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. This post is by David Lat, a managing director in the New York office, where he focuses on placing top associates, partners and partner groups into preeminent law firms around the country.