Law Firm Soap Operas

I’ve been silent on a couple of law firm soap operas playing out very publicly in the press lately. But for the benefit of any readers who may not be wired into the rumor mill, let me try to sum them up for you…

Pillsbury Winthrop and Latham & Watkins

  • Frode Jensen, a partner in the NY office at Pillsbury Winthrop, left to join Latham & Watkins. On September 3, Latham put out a press release (courtesy of Google’s cache; the release is no longer on Latham’s site) announcing the move. From the press release: “We know Frode well from the opposite side of the table,” said Kirk Davenport, Chair of the New York Corporate Practice. “He is a very capable lawyer, and his extensive contacts and experience in several industries, including the biotechnology sector, will be an asset to our New York corporate practice.” (For those keeping score, Pillsbury is an 800 lawyer law firm with offices around the globe; Latham has nearly 2000 lawyers worldwide.)
  • The following day, Pillsbury’s chairman Mary Cranston issued her own press release. In the press release, Cranston indicated the firm had investigated sexual harassment claims against Jensen and “concluded there was a reasonable likelihood that harassment had occurred and responded with a variety of measures.” (How’s this for the most duplicitous comment ever made in a press release: “It is always sad to lose a friend and colleague to another firm, however, under the circumstances of the past year, Mr. Jensen’s move is probably in the best interest of all concerned, and we wish him well with his new firm.”)
  • The day after that, Pillsbury’s managing partner admitted in an interview that the reason for their action was that a recruiter had advised Pillsbury’s management that lateral hiring would be negatively affected by Jensen’s departure.
  • Shortly thereafter, Jensen dropped his bid for partnership at Latham and sued Pillsbury for $45 million.

Clifford Chance

  • On October 15, six associates drafted a memo to the New York Partners at Clifford Chance. The Memo, available here, is a thirteen page (single-spaced!) memo outlining just how bad things have become at Clifford Chance.
  • The memo is a response to CC’s dismal showing in the latest American Lawyer Associates Survey. (The full list of firms and their rankings is here.) (Side note: CC beat Pillsbury Winthrop by just two spots.)
  • The memo identifies seven specific complaints:
    • the 2420 hour billable hour requirement for all associates (I’ll save you the calculator: assuming just five holidays and no vacation, that’s 9.5 billable hours per working day for an entire year.)
    • the assignment system
    • performance reviews
    • poor internal communications
    • the pro bono program (“pro bono” is where lawyers volunteer their time for clients who can’t afford legal representation)
    • partner indifference
    • insufficient training
  • Supporting claims of how bad the billable hour requirement is, the associates indicated that lawyers felt pressured to pad their bills to meet the requirement. This got picked up in this past weekend’s Financial Times and this week’s Forbes, both of which comment on clients’ fears that their bills are being padded.
  • Slate ran an unsympathetic article by Dahlia Lithwick yesterday titled “Free the Baby Lawyers!“ in which she concludes:
    Consider their final suggestions for improving quality of life at their firm:
    • “Put plates and utensils in the pantries, so that people working late can avoid eating out of containers”
    • “Get an online food delivery system … so that people working late can order food easily”
    • “Set up a recreation room with a TV”
    • “Get concierge service for things like dry cleaning”
    • “Free shoeshines”
    • “Give out corporate accessories and toys”

    Do these people even understand that one could eat dinner, watch television, or shine one’s shoes at home? And wouldn’t it be fun for them to socialize with real people instead of malevolent bosses? The absurdity of the Clifford Chase memo isn’t that these associates regret their Faustian bargain. It is that they just want shiny shoes for their troubles.

  • As a result of all of this press, clients are demanding explanations from CC. Partners have called “war councils” on both sides of the Atlantic to address morale, client retention, and damage control in the press.
  • As if you didn’t know what the discussion would be, feel free to stop by The Vault’s discussion board about the issue. And then swing by Greedy Associates for even more.

And you thought life in the legal profession was boring!

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