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    May 12, 2008  
 
 

HOW THE ECONOMY
WILL IMPACT
DC LAW FIRMS


Join us for lunch with three of America's top General Counsels: Freddie Mac's Bob Bostrom, the Washington Post's Veronica Dillon, and American Capital Strategies' Sam Flax (largest publicly-held private equity firm in the US). Wed, May 28, at Il Mulino in DC. Sign up here. Thanks to great sponsors Studley and IMC.


 

Clouds over the economy: Time for another managing partner roundtable!  Cherie Kiser was brought on as Managing Partner of Cahill Gordon’s DC office a mere week before representing her new firm at our latest, held at the great Zola. We actually wanted it to be her first official act, but oh, well.

 

Our panel: Sheppard Mullin managing partner Ed Schiff,  McGuire Woods managing partner Melissa Glassman,  Beers + Cutler global law firm practice head (and sponsor) John Niehoff, Cahill Gordon managing partner Cherie Kiser, Drinker Biddle managing partner Mike McManus, and Jones Lang LaSalle global law firm group co-chair (and sponsor) Greg McCavera.

Bisnow: Is the economic downturn affecting your firms?
   
Mike: I would say it’s a matter of defensive thinking.  We’re fairly diverse—12 offices and 700 lawyers—but you don’t want to overextend into an area severely affected by a bad economy. Luckily we have a strong bankruptcy practice. Those guys are licking their chops.  Healthcare probably isn’t going to be too affected, and litigation goes up as the economy goes down.
   
Bisnow: What’s an area that you might hold back on?
   
Mike: It depends on what you’re doing in real estate, but that’s one area to be careful about expanding.
   
Bisnow: What about hiring?
   
Ed: A big concern is lateral partner recruiting, because of the cost and energy that goes into it.  You don’t want to be part of the study, from 2005 I believe, that said 16% of lateral transfers left after three years.  In a weaker economy, avoiding those costs becomes more critical. 
   
Cherie:

On that point, consumers of laterals may need to do even more due diligence. In the past five years people have been moving for better platforms, but as things soften, more people may be in the market for a new place to land because their firms have become more rigorous about the performance of their partners.

 
   
Bisnow: Are you changing your associate hiring?
   
Melissa: We’re really focused on associate retention. One thing we’ve implemented is a very good paternity leave policy. Male associates whose partners have had a baby get six weeks paid off so, and we reduce their hour requirements to 80% when they come return. We hope that it’ll pay dividends because the cost of replacing associates is astronomical. 
   
Bisnow: When they come back, is the 80% for the rest of the year?
   
Melissa: It’s for the first sixth months.
   
Bisnow: Do you encourage associates to diversify their practices?
   
Cherie: Cahill encourages diversity of practice through its general structure. Instead of having lots of different departments, there’s corporate and there’s litigation. Under those umbrellas we have real estate, antitrust, securities, First Amendment, etc., and associates work in a number of areas. The diversity of practice gives associates and the firm better leverage as market demands shift.
   
Mike:

We’re going from a structure like Cahill’s, essentially three practice groups, to 14 discrete practice groups through which we’re managing the firm. The practice groups are being given more and more responsibility for law school hiring, for mentoring, for training.

 

Formerly of Mintz Levin, Cherie says Cahill’s five-lawyer DC office may be moving from 1990 K before the end of the year. Despite having 300 attorneys (most in NY), Cahill reportedly has hired only three lateral partners in the last 30 years.

Melissa: I like the generalist model. I’ve always said to associates, if you’re down on your hours, reach out to partners in some other groups. Later on in your career, that breadth really helps you. You might meet people at events and you can speak the real estate speak or the IP speak or what have you, because you’ve been exposed to it. The ability to engage is so much greater.  
   
Ed: We’re run by practice groups also, and I’ve seen it put substantial pressure on practice group leaders to coordinate workload distributions among practice groups and offices. You have to have good communication among the practice group leaders, and between the practice group leaders and managing partners, or you get a real up-and-down graph for associate hours. 
 
 
 
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