3/15/11

The Dangerous Life of the Service Partner


An unspoken, unasked question of the Howrey dissolution is: Who will be left holding the bag? It’s the old “last one out, turn off the lights” situation. Only in this scenario, the last ones out also get stuck with a very expensive light bill.
There has been of a feeding frenzy by other law firms to swoop in and scoop up the best lawyers from Howrey. And by best, I mean those with profitable practices. Even Winston & Strawn did not appear willing to take on the whole Howrey package (although some of that was related to conflicts).
My counsel to any firms that were looking at lateral groups from Howrey would have fallen right on this approach.
The result of all this activity is that the partners with no “books of business” will not be courted much by other firms. Acquiring firms likely already have an existing contingency of “Service Partners” who may be great at practicing law, but have no substantial clients of their own. These partners have value in firms, but nowhere near the value of rainmaker partners with transportable books of business.
So what is very likely, is that these partner are in trouble. Two to three years ago they were riding high, with excellent incomes and no worries. Now, with few suitors in the market, they will struggle to find a place to land.
The lesson here for service partners is: Don’t get too comfortable. If your fortunes are dependent on another rainmaker partner or on the benevolence of your firm’s management, it’s time to pay attention. More firms will follow in Howrey’s footsteps. Better to be doing something about your role as a service partner now, than when your firm closes its doors or gets acquired by another firm and you get stuck with the bill.

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You would think that the attorneys, after announcing the dissolution, would hold back any funds from those jumping ship early. Sure they get to go to another firm; but they are just as culpable to demise of the firm. holding back a small percentage from their last check should help the poor folks left behind.

brian said...

If the aggregate need for partner-level work doesn't decrease, shouldn't a market for lateral service partners develop? I suspect that even if it does, compensation will be lower.

 

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