Tag Archives: AmLaw

Will We See A Wave Of White-Collar Litigation?

…And what implications might that have for lateral hiring in the white-collar world?

When we talk about practice areas that might actually benefit from the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout, bankruptcy tops the list. And this makes sense, given the big-name bankruptcies that have been filed in recent weeks, including J. Crew and Neiman Marcus.

Here’s another practice that might benefit from current events: white-collar work, both criminal and civil. The space has been a little sleepy in the past few years, as the more robust enforcement agenda of the Obama Administration gave way to a more pro-business, less aggressive approach by the Trump Administration. Just last year, Jack Newsham wrote in the New York Law Journal about a “white-collar slowdown,” fueled by a dip in white-collar criminal prosecutions to their lowest level in 33 years.

(Note: although pundits love to blame President Trump for what they view as an overly lax pursuit of white-collar criminals, it should be noted that the downward trend in white-collar prosecutions began under the Obama Administration. Federal white-collar cases peaked in 2011 under President Obama, and they’ve been declining ever since.)

In the wake of the pandemic, is white-collar work poised for a boom, or at least an increase? From a piece by Tom McParland for the New York Law Journal:

New York lawyers are bracing for a surge of white-collar criminal and civil cases stemming from market volatility caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, former prosecutors told the New York Law Journal this week….

David Miller, a partner at Greenberg Traurig and former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, said investigations of pandemic-related misconduct were likely already underway, but additional cases also would arise from prior acts that are just now being brought to light.

“I think you’re going to see a combination of both criminal and civil law-enforcement actions,” Miller said. “Either way, I think you’re going to see an uptick in civil and criminal enforcement work later this year.”

Growth areas could include prosecutions of False Claims Act and fraud cases related to government aid programs launched in response to the pandemic, insider trading stemming from bigger swings in the stock market, hoarding and price-gouging of personal protective equipment (PPE) under the Defense Production Act (DPA), and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) cases resulting from attempts to procure PPE in foreign markets.

We are already seeing increased activity on these fronts. As reported by Law 360:

U.S. Attorney General William Barr in March directed the creation of a task force to focus on COVID-19-related market manipulation, hoarding and price-gouging, to be staffed by an experienced attorney from each U.S. attorney’s office.

New York federal prosecutors made waves in recent weeks with a number of criminal cases brought against individuals as part of the nationwide crackdown, including the first-ever charges under the DPA since President Donald Trump signed an executive order invoking the law in response to the pandemic.

And it won’t be exclusively federal. State prosecutors play a significant role in pursuing white-collar crime, and defense lawyers told Law360 that they expect to see increased state prosecutions as well.

(A caveat, though: the pace of these new cases could be a bit slow. Prosecutors are working from home, agents aren’t making as many arrests as usual, and although grand juries are still meeting in some jurisdictions (like the Southern District of New York), jury trials and sentencings are generally on hold.)

What could a pickup in prosecutions mean for the market for white-collar lawyers, both firm-to-firm laterals and lawyers coming out of government, such as U.S. Attorney’s Offices and Main Justice? Once firms return to recruiting as usual, the market should be better than it has been. That might not be saying much — in 2019, the market was so challenging that even assistant U.S. attorneys from the legendary S.D.N.Y. had a tough time of it — but any improvement would be welcome.

But white-collar lawyers should keep their expectations modest, and not pop open the champagne just yet. To borrow a term from the real estate market, there’s a lot of “shadow inventory” in white-collar — lawyers who aren’t on the market right now, largely because it hasn’t been a great market, but who will put themselves on the market once it improves. I predict it will still be a buyer’s market, at least for a while.

Which white-collar litigators will be best positioned to get hired? For partners looking to switch firms, the two top factors will be book of business and actual trial experience. For prosecutors looking to enter private practice, trial experience is also critical; it’s a big part of why firms hire former prosecutors, who tend to get far more trial experience than Biglaw attorneys.

Other important factors include a supervisory title and experience, since this helps in garnering clients and press coverage; expertise in the right areas, such as securities, FCA, or FCPA work (more valuable than, say, drug or gang experience); and diversity, which firms are, to their credit, focusing more on in hiring. Having worked on a famous case also helps a lot. See, e.g., the lawyers who worked on Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, who landed at such firms as Gibson Dunn (Zainab Ahmad), Paul Weiss (Jeannie Rhee), Cooley (Andrew Goldstein and Elizabeth Prelogar), Jenner & Block (Andrew Weissmann), and WilmerHale (Bob Mueller, James Quarles, and Aaron Zebley).

If you’re a white-collar lawyer at a firm who’s thinking of a move or a government lawyer thinking of entering (or returning to) private practice, please feel free to drop me a line. I’m happy to chat with you about the market in general and what you can do to position yourself best for a move once hiring returns to normal and the white-collar market (hopefully) picks up.

Lawyers See Coming Surge in White Collar Criminal, Civil Cases Stemming From Pandemic [New York Law Journal]
COVID Crimes: White Collar Cases To Expect From The Crisis [Law360]

Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. David Lat is 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.

The American Lawyer Discusses Lateral Link's Innovative Business Model

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American Lawyer

The American Lawyer Discusses Lateral Link's Innovative Business Model

Will New Legal Recruiters Succeed With Pay-to-Place Business Model?

Zach LoweThe American LawyerJune 19, 2008

When Lateral Link launched in the spring of 2006, traditional recruiters criticized the upstart firm for paying $10,000 to each associate it placed in a firm. Rather than disappear, the unconventional business plan has spawned a challenger, with a nearly identical business model, who has raised the stakes. Legal Recruiting Authority is offering a $20,000 sweetener to associates it places.

LRA launched last December. Founded by two Northwestern University law graduates, the company hopes to be part of what its founders see as a much-needed transformation in the legal recruiting sector.

Like Lateral Link, partners Gerald Lam and Rihan Javid say they operate just on the Web — and only through “membership.” The members are junior to midlevel associates from the nation’s top law firms who are considering a move. Instead of cold calls — the method of choice among the legal market’s more established recruiters — LRA, just like Lateral Link, will offer members access to a database of available positions.

When a lawyer/member finds herself with a bit of downtime in this downturn, she can log on, peruse the postings and let a recruiter know which position(s) she’s interested in. And if all goes well, the associate won’t just get a new job. She’ll also pocket $20K from LRA. At least that’s the promise that splashes across LRA’s homepage.

The payments have rankled traditional recruiters, who say the practice is unethical.

“It doesn’t sit well with me, and it doesn’t sit well with my fellow recruiters,” says Marina Sirras, founder of Marina Sirras & Associates and current president of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants. Sirras said she was commenting as an independent recruiter and not as president of the association, whose code of ethics bans such payments.

Sirras is not alone. Eric Sivin, co-founder and principal of New York-based Sivin Tobin Associates, considers the payments a kickback. “There are ethical ramifications here,” he says.

Ethical considerations aside, can this pay-to-place system work as a business? Lateral Link’s co-founders –three Harvard Law School graduates, all former associates at Am Law 100 firms — dismiss both the criticism and the questions about their business model.

Co-founder T.J. Duane calls the NALSC payment ban “anti-competitive.” Also, he insists that there’s nothing wrong with paying a placement bonus. “It has never once come up with [the law firms we work with],” Duane says.

Duane and his partners David Dorfman and Michael Allen argue that the basis of traditional recruiting — trolling for leads by cold-calling associates — is simply inefficient. They say that their advantage lies in their “exclusive membership” model. Associates interested in changing jobs apply to Lateral Link. Duane says that to be admitted as members, associates must be “high-achieving” graduates from top 25 law schools who also have big-firm experience.

If they’re accepted as members, they gain access to Lateral Link’s database of jobs, which consists of listings from public sources and tips and postings sent by law firms. The “members” flag jobs that interest them, and Lateral Link recruiters refer them to the law firms.

Lateral Link pays associates earning $160,000 or more a $10,000 bonus. The bonus comes from the commission the law firm pays LL, according to Duane. Placed lawyers making less than $160,000 receive $5,000.

Placement firms typically earn commissions of 25 percent to 30 percent of a placed attorney’s base salary –for a fourth-year associate earning $200,000, that’s $50,000 to 60,000. According to Sivin and Sirras, the firm then pays a chunk to the recruiter who made the deal — the amount varies from firm to firm — and keeps the rest to cover overhead and maintain profits per partner.

With the pay-to-place model, the firm’s margins are less. “I question whether this is a sustainable business model,” says Sivin. “If you’re paying $10,000 or $20,000, you’re going to have make a lot of placements.”

“That’s the question we’re grappling with ourselves,” LRA’s Javid says. So far LRA has about 100 members and has placed about 10 candidates since December. The firm won’t disclose which law firms it has worked with. “Our current policy is not to release names of firms and candidates where we’ve placed associates,” Javid wrote in an e-mail message.

Lateral Link’s Duane says he has about 6,000 members and has placed about 100 lawyers. He says he’s relying on Web-based “efficiencies” to make his business work. And so far he doesn’t feel any pressure to increase his bonus payments to $20,000.

Lateral Link pointed us to clients and customers who said they were pleased with the results. “I enjoyed the fact that I could peruse listings at my leisure as opposed to speaking to a recruiter on that person’s schedule,” says Katherine Todd, an associate who used Lateral Link to move from Loeb & Loeb to Winston & Strawn.

LL’s law firm clients say the placement firm produces solid candidates. And the firms don’t seem troubled by the payments.

“We know about it, and the firm is paying the same commission anyway,” says Selene Dogan, national director of recruiting for Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges. Quinn Emanuel is among the nearly two dozen large law firms — including Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Hogan & Hartson, Morrison & Foerster, and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom — that Lateral Link counts as clients.

The payments also aren’t a problem for the National Association of Law Placement, an association of law firm and law school recruiters, says Michael Gotham, NALP’s current president and director of recruiting at Heller Ehrman: “I’m interested in what they’re doing, and I plan to stay in touch.”

Michael Allen Quoted In The American Lawyer

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American Lawyer

Michael Allen Quoted In The American Lawyer

New Venture to Focus on Partner Placements

Posted by Drew Combs

In a combination that brings together a member of the legal recruiting world’s old guard with some of the profession’s young Turks, Frank Kimball and the principals at Lateral Link Group LLC have announced the establishment of Kimball Partner Group.

The newly formed venture, which debuts Tuesday, will focus on partner placements. It marks the first comprehensive foray into that segment of the market for Lateral Link, a recruiting firm founded in 2006 and best known for associate level and in-house placements.

“Some of the candidates in our pipeline are maturing and we see an opportunity to help them as they move into partnership ranks,” says Michael Allen, a principal at Lateral Link who has run the company since 2007 with T.J. Duane, a schoolmate from Harvard Law School. Allen, 31, adds that a partner placement practice also provides an opportunity for the company to strengthen its relationships with dozens of current law firm clients. The company has worked on placements for several Am Law 200 firms including Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, Cooley, and Proskauer Rose.

With a career as a lawyer and legal industry recruiter that spans 33 years, Kimball has an equally long list of law firm client relationships. Prior to becoming a legal recruiter in 1992, Kimball was the hiring partner at McDermott Will & Emery. Under the banner of Kimball Professional Management, the Chicago-based recruiter has placed partners and associates at law firms as well as advised law firm leaders on various issues, including lateral integration, attorney compensation, and entry-level hiring. Kimball, 57, also is routinely hired by law schools, including Duke and the University of Michigan, to make presentations to students about legal industry hiring trends.

Kimball was delivering just such a talk to Lateral Link recruiters at the company’s November 2010 retreat in Las Vegas when the idea of forming a joint venture to target the lateral partner market first came up.

“We sat down and sketched out a plan to do business together,” Kimball says. “It came together fairly quickly.” Kimball adds that he was attracted to the prospect of going into business with Lateral Link because, “they have a good sense for the business and are way ahead of any other headhunting firm in terms of technology.”

Lateral Link, with 17 recruiters based in most major legal markets in the U.S. and in Shanghai, provides job seekers access to a database of available jobs and alerts about jobs as they become available. The company has made some waves in the legal recruiting industry by providing job seekers with placement bonuses of as much as $10,000. In a 2008 article about the company posted here, Duane dismissed criticism from other recruiters about the payments, noting that the practice had never come-up as an issue of concern for the company’s law firm clients.

Alan Miles, a Santa Monica-based legal recruiter who is not involved in the venture, says that the partner placement side of the business is far more nuanced and relationship driven than the associate placement side. He predicts that the venture’s success will be based on the ability of Lateral Link’s leaders (he describes them as “smart guys”) to adapt to that difference.

In combining with Kimball, Allen and Duane seem to be admitting that success in this area won’t be about pushing the industry in a new direction but learning current practices and norms. “[Kimball] has the experience, knowledge, credibility and relationships,” Allen says, “but most importantly, he has the willingness to teach and lead us.”

Kimball Partner Group has 10 recruiters; some of them double as recruiters for Lateral Link. Kimball Partner Group and Lateral Link will operate as separate companies. Allen says the fist order of business for the newly formed company will be to boost its recruiting ranks with new hires.

Although there have been signs of recovery for legal recruiting, like much of the legal industry and the economy as a whole, the placement business has been hard hit by the downturn. As law firms looked for ways to thin their associate-heavy ranks, those recruiters focused on associate placement became especially superfluous.

In 2009, Lateral Link experienced its worst year, but in that period the number of partners at Am Law 200 firms making lateral moves actually rose nearly 11 percent, according to The American Lawyer’s 2010 Lateral Report (the 2011 Lateral Report will be published in the February issue of the magazine and will go live at AmericanLawyer.com on February 1).

Allen says Lateral Link was able to weather the downturn by growing the company’s in-house placement practice. That part of the business rose from 33 to 50 percent of placements. Now the company hopes a partner practice will further buttress it from future downturns.