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    December 22, 2008  
Salary Trends;
Clifford Chance;
Drinker Biddle


If you pay attention to salary news (and we know you do), you've seen reports of Latham freezing lockstep associate raises for 2009 and simultaneous reports that O'Melveny is going ahead with its standard bump in associate pay. What's going on? That's the question we put to one of Bisnow's experts, Norm Rubenstein, with the law firm strategy pros at Zeughauser Group.


Here are the quick thoughts we got from Norm over coffee at Cosi:

  • Latham is a firm that "tops everyone's list of well-managed, strategically run" operations. Coming from a place with its prestige and brand strength, the salary freeze step smacks of prudence rather than weakness.
  • Many firms have been waiting for a market leader to take some action they can either follow or respond to, and now "the gate has been opened" for other firms to implement freezes. As for O'Melveny, while Norm has no personal knowledge of the salary decisions there (or Latham), he notes that it has put a heavy emphasis on talent development.

  • Salary expectations among associate classes have become "more elastic," which will temper ship-jumping from firms that freeze salaries (provided they're doing other things right).
  • You'll see lots of firms taking a hard look at their mix of equity and non-equity partners. Associate development gets stifled at firms with non-equity partner ranks so large that even senior associates get only grunt work. Firms may see present conditions as an opportunity to correct that.

  • The downturn will cause firms to look at production "across all levels," and will increasingly address under-productive equity partners.

  • Many firms are far too invested in the transactional side (especially structured finance) not to have down years in 2008 and 2009. Relative winners in the market blowup could well be regional firms that are less tied to structured finance.

New MP for Clifford Chance

After nearly 20 years at Clifford Chance, David DiBari is taking the reins as DC office managing partner. Some firms do these appointments by fiat, but the 50-attorney DC office held an election among its 11 partners to name a successor to Leiv Blad (who went to Bingham in November). Much as we love a tale of intra-office politicking, there wasn't much drama surrounding the selection of David, a litigator who began at Clifford when it had only 23 lawyers, working under the tutelage of Bill Rogers (former AG under Eisenhower and Secretary of State under Nixon). Sounds like good preparation for the courtroom: "You had about three seconds to get to the point with him," David says.


David tells us Clifford Chance in DC emphasizes export control, FCPA, bank regulatory, and other DC-centric areas for the firm's international clientele. (DC and NY are Clifford's only two domestic offices among 29 total.) Cross-border transactional work is also in their strike zone, and earlier this month DC partner Chris McIsaac led a team representing the Inter-American Development Bank (plus other government banks) in the $2.3 billion financing of a project to widen the Panama Canal.

Labor Group to Drinker Biddle

Anita Cicero, center, partner in charge of Drinker Biddle's DC office, found something under the tree a little early this year: a group of six labor lawyers coming over from Thelen. From left: associate Nimesh Patel, counsel Jennifer Persico, associate Mary Brown, and partners O'Kelly McWilliams, Edmund Cooke, and Darlene Smith. Drinker Biddle has been growing its labor and employment group aggressively—adding 20 lawyers over the last two years—and the Thelen crowd adds expertise in diversity assessments for Fortune 500 companies. Edmund just served on a task force overseeing Coca-Cola's compliance with a consent decree that resolved a class action race discrimination suit.

John Ford, Bisnow's Legal Editor, will be playing lots of tennis in North Carolina over the holidays. In the meantime, lob some story ideas to john@bisnow.com.

Andrews Kurth
Cardinal Bank
Tradition Homes

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