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    February 25, 2008  

Join us for lunch with two of America's top General Counsels, Ed Ryan of Marriott and Beth Wilkinson of Fannie Mae, who'll talk about trends and issues that in-house counsel face in dealing with outside law firms. Wed, March 5, at the delicious Il Mulino in DC. Special thanks to great sponsors Studley, Gilbert Randolph, and The Lansburgh. Sign up here!


We continue with our roundtable at Zola, starring the heads of three of D.C.'s leading firms:

  • Stuart Pape, managing partner of Patton Boggs;
  • Bill Perlstein, co-managing partner of WilmerHale; and
  • Mike Rogan, head of Skadden's D.C. office

Two of our favorite Bisnow sponsors, Tom Doughty, chair of the global law firm practice at Jones Lang LaSalle, and John Niehoff, head of the law firm practice of accountants Beers & Cutler, came for the caramel nut tort dessert...er, insightful discussion.

Clockwise from center: Bill Perlstein, Tom Doughty, Stuart Pape, John Niehoff, and Mike Rogan savoring some good discussion.
Bisnow: What things do you want partners to be more sensitive to?

A simple thing is, don't schedule meetings for six o'clock at night, especially if somebody wants to be with their kids. And does that assignment really need to go out at 5:00 Friday evening?  Is it going out then because you just weren't attentive enough to get it out earlier?  Do you really need it back by Monday? The most annoying thing for an associate is to get the work in Monday, then not hear about it for 10 days.


For new partners, we do a multi-year program, with training and new-partner coaches. I was just interviewed by an outside coach about a fifth year partner: How is he doing? Could he do better?  What's your perception? We've tried to build a whole development process to help people become better partners.


Skadden has offices in three different buildings, all on the same block with connected interiors. Mike (center) is waiting for a government tenant to vacate some space at 1440 New York Ave., which Skadden will use for summer associates.  


Our head of professional development, Steve Armstrong, is a former university professor who teaches at the Federal Judicial Center, and he's been spectacular. We put a number of our partners through a two-day program at Harvard Business School—it's a version of their executive training curriculum. It's great in terms of teaching lawyers about management.


We all have a huge investment in our intellectual capital, and we're all being creative with associates and staff because it's enormously expensive to replace them. Of course, we'll all lose people. Lawyers get married and move to Timbuktu—there's nothing you can do. But when someone should have had a good experience and doesn't because of a partner who's not as sensitized as you'd like, you've lost all that training, all that client exposure, and everything else you invested.

Bisnow: How do you deal with the tight market for good attorneys?  Are you leaving business on the table?

If we need help in the Washington office, we borrow. I'm using an associate from the Wilmington office to help me out on a matter right now.  So it's not that we're turning down business, we're just working harder than maybe everyone would like, which gets back to the work-life balance.


Patton Boggs may have made their name with public policy work, but it's now actually the third-largest practice area at the 550-attorney firm, behind their business and litigation groups. 


How much is legal practice being viewed as "just another business" today?  Is that affecting the cultural respect lawyers get?


In 1970, I almost went to business school, but I couldn't figure out what it meant to go to business school, so I went to law school. I think the impact lawyers can have on policy and government is still quite substantial. Look at the Guantanamo cases, which all of us caught tremendous flack for doing. Yet when we were attacked, I got emails and letters from core clients saying we back you and think it's extremely important.


At the same time, there's no question we're more like businesses now. Not everybody will use the word "profession" to describe law firms anymore.  We try to operate more like businesses.  And we're all subject to much more scrutiny.  In the old days, things leaked out about law firms and it was a big deal.  Now we report our finances.

Perlstein: I just got a call from a Wall Street Journal reporter about that same question.

But what you're saying is accurate.  All the big partners are active in the community, they serve on boards, they're active in pro bono work.  And with the Washington firms, they're involved in campaigns and formulating issues for candidates and hosting fundraisers.

Bisnow: Lawyers aren't losing any respect in the community then?

I don't see any diminution of our standing in this town.

Andrews Kurth
Cardinal Bank
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