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Dewey Shoot the Lifeboats as Our Partners Seek Safety From Our Law Firm in Stormy Seas?

Telegram from SS Amerika via SS Titanic on loc...

Telegram from SS Amerika via SS Titanic on location of two large icebergs 14 April 1912 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jerome Kowalski

Kowalski & Associates

April, 2012

I recently wrote about a major global law firm which now appears to be very publicly flaming out or perilously close to doing so.

The media trouncing this law firm is going through is, quite simply of its own making. But, we need to learn from all of our experiences and observations. Thus, some observations, as this high drama, cum tragedy, unfolds:

  • Do not publicly grossly overstate your financial condition. You will get caught and  it will be embarrassing, let alone impair your credibility. As previously reported, this law firm reported to The American Lawyer that its 2011 gross revenues were a robust $935,000,000 and a nanosecond later advised its partners that gross revenues for 2011 were actually only $780,000,000.  Sure, everybody puffs their AmLaw numbers, but $155,000,000 is well beyond mere puffery.
  • When you lose about 50 partners in a matter of weeks, including practice leaders and office heads, don’t heap excrement on your former partners or the law firms they are joining. Shooting at these partners as they board their life boats does nothing to enhance the firm or its financial vitality. To suggest that losing these lawyers will have no economic impact on the firm and was all for the best of the law firm, sends pretty abysmal messages: The firm has no loyalty of any kind to its partners of many years; management of the firm fell short in discharging its management duties in not realizing that all of these practice leaders and other escapees contributed nothing to the firm’s profitability; and the AmLaw 100 and magic circle law firms these folks are joining are pretty dumb in not conducting adequate due diligence on the lumpen masses leaving the Titanic seeking safety. This sniping at the lifeboats lacks credibility and shows your mean and vindictive side.

When Chico Marx was caught by his wife en fragrante delicto  in Duck Soup he violently protested his innocence and fidelity even as his wife peered down upon him in bed with his paramour. He famously said “Who are you going to believe, me or your eyes?” Phineas T. Barnum said that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the average American.  But, nobody ever saved a floundering law firm by denying what is in plain sight and underestimating the intelligence of a firm’s partners, associates, clients, lenders and competitors.

© Jerome Kowalski, April, 2012. All Rights reserved.

Jerry Kowalski is the founder of Kowalski & Associates, a consulting firm serving the legal profession exclusively. Jerry is a regular contributor to a variety of publications and is a frequent (always engaging and often humorous) speaker to a variety of forums. Jerry can be reached at jkowalski@kowalskiassociates.com or at 212 832 9070, Extension 310

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18 Responses

  1. What surprises me is that the remaining influential partners haven’t staged a coup to depose this “leadership” that has eradicated the firm’s credibility so completely. Maybe they’re all too busy trying to make their own exit deals.

    Start the requiem.

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  3. Couldn’t agree with you more. A lot of this goes back to points you’ve made earlier about firms making special deals with laterals to attract them. When your lateral hiring program is primarily based on acquisition of clients, rather than talent, you’re asking for trouble.

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