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    February 22, 2008  

Join us for lunch with two of America's top General Counsels: Ed Ryan of Marriott and Beth Wilkinson of Fannie Mae. Wed, Mar 5, at the delicious Il Mulino in DC. Sign up here. Special thanks to great sponsors Studley, Gilbert Randolph, and The Lansburgh.

For our latest powerhouse roundtable discussion, we met up with chieftains of three of the region’s top law firms—Bill Perlstein, co‑managing partner of WilmerHale; Mike Rogan, head of Skadden’s D.C. office; and Stuart Pape, managing partner of Patton Boggs—over some fine eats at Zola.
Dan Mesches, left, of the Star Restaurant group (that owns Zola) laid out the red carpet for our panel:  Tom Doughty (chair of the global law firm practice at Jones Lang LaSalle); Stuart Pape, Mike Rogan, John Niehoff (head of the law firm practice of accountants Beers & Cutler), and Bill Perlstein.  We’ll take a moment here to thank Tom and John for sponsoring, and Dan for the truffled sheep ricotta tortelloni.  Confusing to say, delicious to eat.
Our own Mark Bisnow led the discussion.
Bisnow: Anything new in the way you evaluate partners?
Rogan: One thing that continues to surprise me is how tight the market is for experienced, talented lawyers.  So we’ve started to evaluate partners on how well they do in associate retention and morale. 
Bisnow: And that’s new?
Rogan: In the last year or so, yes.  As we’ve put more emphasis on keeping our people longer.
Bisnow: What are your retention rates?
Rogan: In New York, our attrition is comparable to our peer firms.  In Washington, it’s somewhat lower—in the low teens
Bisnow: How does a partner demonstrate the ability to retain associates?
Perlstein: We’ve done upward reviews for a number of years now.  They pick up things like mentoring and feedback, which we’ve explicitly started to take account in compensation.  It’s a wide middle, but very strong upward reviews or troubling ones have an impact.  And I think it clearly affects behavior.  When we suggest that people get coaching, they’re open to it.
Bisnow: Are you referring to internal coaching or do you hire outside professionals?
Pape: We do both.  We find the outside folks are better because you get some distance.
Bisnow: And what if someone declines to be coached?
Pape: The coaching arises because there is a problem, so the issue is how they’re dealing with it.  Management has some tools, the simplest being to tell people, I’m having trouble staffing your matters because I can’t get anybody to work for you. We’re not going to keep hiring people and then run them off after three months.
Bisnow: What’s the coaching consist of?
Perlstein: It depends on what the need is.  If you’re talking about somebody with a temperament issue, they might be learning how to react less visibly to stress.  Or it could be organizational issues. If it’s something they want help with, we’ve seen significant improvements from coaching. 
Rogan: You have to train your partners. We have part-time lawyers, working a certain number of days a week or doing lumpy part-time, where they work full time for nine months and take the summer off.  Those alternative arrangements, they have a cost to the partner. But you have to be flexible.  If a partner can’t get that, you say well, okay, but your alternative is not having anyone to work your matters.
Pape: Partners also have to realize that just because people have firm-provided BlackBerry, sending an email at two o’clock in the morning doesn’t mean you’ll get a response before eight.
Mike started at Skadden in January of 1980—within two weeks, it turns out, of Stuart’s first day at Patton Boggs.
Rogan: If I were a young lawyer, the BlackBerry thing would give me pause in terms of what kind of personal life I could have. One of the things we say is, don’t send a message on the weekend unless it’s required.  Put it in the “Save” file and send it Monday.  Let people have some time off. 
Bisnow: Skadden is telling people that?  Aren’t you known for working weekends?
Rogan: We do work weekends and our clients expect that.  But some email that comes across the BlackBerry isn’t client-related and doesn’t have to be done on the weekend.
Bisnow: How do you get the message out about this?  How do people know you’re doing this coaching and you have people turn their BlackBerries off on weekends?
Rogan: The important thing is what associates say when they go back to their law schools.  Even though summer programs are a lot of fun, these are smart people and they get a sense of what the real atmosphere is like.
Pape: I think it’s a filtering.  You can’t apply to 100 firms, so they use surveys and word of mouth to narrow down their choices.  The best associates are the ones who know a lot about our firms before they show up in the building. It’s a weird experience if you’re talking to a prospective associate and they ask you to tell them about the firm’s practice.
Gilbert Randolph
Cardinal Bank
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