Monday, April 30, 2007

Produce or Perish - the new mantra

The AmLaw 100 is out, and the surprises are few and far between. It was nice to see that real estate is mentioned as a very busy practice.

Part of me is discomforted by the "Produce (at an attractive rate) or perish" mentality of the big law firms. But as a good portion of our profession is becoming more like a business, it is a reality, and maybe not a bad one for those who choose to take that track. And it is not like deequitization of partners, two-tier partnerships, permanent non-equity partners and the like have not been around for a while. Heck, I saw its effects a decade ago, and not even at firms you expect to be associated with that type of bloodletting. And the reality of it made me do some hard thinking about my future career.

My impression (or perhaps it was a dream) years ago -- however naive it was -- of how I wanted things to be in the legal profession was not unlike that of tenure in academe (where the saying, of course, is publish or perish). You bust your hump for x years (used to be 5-7, now more like 10ish), if you are good you make partner and you have what amounts to tenure.

Once you make partner, just like a good associate or full professor with tenure continues to teach, do research and publish, you don't stop working and feed off the fat because that is (a) immoral, (b) unfair to your partners and (c) not a way to be a productive member of society. It is just the right thing to do. But maybe you bill a little less in order to write or generate business or train associates in how to be a good lawyer. (I know many partners who equal or out-bill the associates regularly.)

I guess I'm also an anachronism when it comes to compensation issues as well. Most of the legal world these days is in an "eat what you kill" mode. I disagree with this model and stick to the principle that compensation should be lockstep with points accumulating over time, perhaps with a little leeway for major rainmaking activities or for other compelling reasons. I may be old fashioned, but anything good enough for Wachtell or Cravath is good enough for me. It also creates the culture of clients belonging to a firm rather than any specific client, and largely eliminates the terror of many BigLaw firms: the dreaded Compensation Committee.