Monday, September 22, 2008

The BigLaw Squeeze - finding lateral partners in Chicago

Dear Law.com: Tell me something I don't know. The "scoop?"

National law firms have rushed into Chicago during the past decade, especially in the past three years, but many are finding now that their collective arrival is fueling intense competition to fill those offices with lawyers.
I'd like to chalk it up to that old line from Meredith Willson's The Music Man: "But he doesn't know the territory!" Maybe so. But there's more.

Everyone and their mother seems to have decided to open a Chicago office, either by starting fresh with a few partners, by poaching from another firm, or by acquiring another firm. But, except for the larger players, then they cannot seem to grow it with lateral partners.

Some of it is just plain loyalty to an existing firm rather than jumping to a perceived greener pasture.

Sometimes you have good talent but a lack of a book necessary for BigLaw. To be perfectly honest, I am in that category. I neither have nor, more importantly, need, a big book of business right now. Some may find that awful; I actually find it comforting. If I go to one of the firms to which I am talking, great. If not, so far I'm better on my own than I thought I would be a month ago.

Others have good books, but lack something else that BigLaw might be seeking.

In other words, finding a partner (in the true sense of the word) isn't all that easy. So patience is a major league virtue. (BTW, I am patient, at least in this respect.) And some firms, simply stated, may lack that out of necessity, planning, money or otherwise.

My good friend Chris Percival hit the nail on the head (as usual):

There are about 75 national firms that have migrated to Chicago since the 1980s, and many of them seek the same types of lawyers -- those with books of business of at least $1 million and, likely, more than that. The firms often aim for offices of at least 100 lawyers and consider 30 to 50 essential to justify the cost of the office, said Chris Percival, a recruiter for Chicago Legal Search.

"I can't tell you how many firms have told us that's what they want to do," Percival said, referring to the 100-lawyer mark. "It's just not that easy."

Bingo! After all, you gotta know the territory.

Chris is awesome, by the way, if you need a legal recruiter. And she didn't even pay me to say that.

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