Friday, November 1, 2013

How Much Do Corporate Lawyers Really Make? Partner Edition!

 42. The answer is 42. Oh, wait, that was for a different, probably less important question.  The question at hand, is, of course, the only one why people may find themselves sticking extremely tumid, pestilent, putrid and possibly cancerous pineapples up their lawyerly buttholes for a number of years: how much green can extract from this pineapple before my ass is completely ripped apart?  Well! Ladies and gents, as you know, I have attempted to answer this question in a previous post at least for associates. And that answer is well known more or less, given that at most "big law" firms or elsewhere, the variance in associate salaries is minimal. In short, it's enough to keep you stuffing shit up your ass for usually at least a few years (depending on your tolerance for citrus I guess), but not enough to keep you from bitching about it incessantly like a 5-year old girl with the great barrier reef up her vagina.

Now on to the bigger question - and this one is a bit funny - because for all the griping and moaning I hear from most lawyers, it seems many are confused about what the answer actually is and accordingly, whether this is something that justifies why they don't care about pursuing a lifelong career in anal citrus storage or why they absolutely do.

So, how much do the boss monkeys make?  The problem in answering this is that, a lot of this just isn't public - as far as I can tell.  And partners I am sure aren't going to open their yaps and start blabbing about this, lest the IRS take notice and come after them for all the cash they are hiding. Ha.  But really, you hear about "PPP" - or profits per partner - and people often use this as the the proxy for the take-home amount for partners.   This is misleading: a PPP value, which you see widely used by the various rankings to sort law firms is an average number derived from taking total profits and number of partners that are self-reported largely by law firms and then doing the division.  It does not take into account skews due to outliers, types of partners (maybe), the range of actual compensation across the board (the spread), etc.  If you have been basing your decision to join the legal work force based on that one firm that will pay you 2 bucks a year to be sit on your ass and command associates around, you may be in for a surprise to learn that you may only get that 2 bucks if you are a 20-year partner. If you are unconvinced, look at the study below that shows the graph of average compensation sorted by firm PPP, which shows that the average compensation is usually less than PPP - shouldn't they really be about the same.... or at least in some cases higher and some cases lower in about equal proportions?

So, I did some looking around, and talked to some friends who have recently become partners are close thereto.  It's hard to comment on this exactly and precisely, but MLA does a pretty good job here.  I think, in general, I would make the following general suppositions or presuppositions or whatever they are called about law firm partner compensation based on this study and chats with friends:
  • Average annual compensation for partners is reported to be $681,000/year based on the MLA study.  This sounds about right. But this is across the board. Let me break it down a bit more.
  • Equity partners make more than salaried partners, period (.).  (. )( .) haha i forgot about that one. Salaried partners I think max out probably around 500-600k, if that, and probably start around 200-300k, or lower for lesser firms. Let's say this - if you are a fifth or sixth year working at a top NY or international firm (and especially if you have some other bonuses like expat gigs or something) you are probably making more than junior salary partners at a lot of shops.
  • "Spread" is important.  And by "spread" I mean the multiple between the lowest earning partner and the biggest rainmaker. A spread of about 3 I think is the narrowest you'll get.  So first year partners get 1 buck. 20+ year partners get 3 bucks.  And each year in between you get a 100k increase in your salary or something like that (but really who knows how it is adjusted!). At a lockstep place - it is more or less exactly like this - and you will basically be forever that associate - waiting until the next year to go find your dream. Guess what - you're living it! :D!!  At eat-what-you-kill or other places, who knows.  I heard once that at one shop partners were reviewed biweekly for hours and pay adjusted accordingly. Wowza.
  • The MLA study gives you some insight into how the pay increases work according to tenure - average (across ALL partners) for years:
    • 1-5 is $400k, 
    • 6-10 is $633k, 
    • 11-20 is $790k, 
    • 20+ is $926k.  
    • Again, this does not adjust for firm type or whatever.  So probably seems more deflated than what you may be used to seeing - but this is your reality check too.
  • If you are at a big / top law firm, I'm talking like bags to riches wall street baller type, as a first-year partner, you may stand a good chance at making close to a buck, but this depends entirely on the firm and all the other stuff above - equity partner, good spread.  There's a counsel at my firm that makes north of 500, which is a really good deal, and makes me think that first year partners here probably make around 800 at least.  I know a first year partner at a decent firm (not a big wall st firm but well-known in regional circles and an international player) that makes 600-700 - so right in that sweet spot. These of course do not consider the buy-in I am assuming, which is probably significant. (There is a 'buy-in' at most places. Your capital investment into the partnership. duh.)
Yes; you can be a baller too.
Food for thought.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Dreaded All-Nighter

Fucking. the all-nighter.  I pulled more all-nighters in this stupid fucking job in my first year than I did during the rest of my life combined.  I was never the type to stay up all night studying for a test or preparing for something - better to be fresh and rested than not I say.  But what is up with staying up to wait around for bankers, to fix stray periods or, i love this one - to turn someone's hand-written comments.  I really don't get the point of this one.  If the comments are from a client, okay maybe fine. If it's from a senior associate who wants to "involve" you be saving a few minutes so he can write sloppy and shit so that he can send it to you rather than to word processing (read: he's a dick) or because he thinks that's just how it's supposed to be done (read: he's a retard), the whole thing is pointless.  I remember one time there was one person who gave me some comments on an agreement that were so messy I had to write them every few minutes to figure out what was written, and they'd just write it back in an email. At that point, isn't it just more efficient to write the damn thing into the document yourself?  Seriously.  The worst is when the person tells you to stay in the office, until they are done writing up their stupid comments, so they can hand it to you, only to find out at 3AM that they are not going to finish.  If there were an emoticon for shooting myself in the head, I would use it here.

Now, in my "sunset" years, I don't really have any different perspective on what made me stay late as a junior.  In fact, I still think it was all exceedingly retarded. Like, down syndrome jellyfish retarded. And I have those endearing memories into account when organizing my own team. I would advise anyone who does find himself or herself commanding the troops to cut them some fucking slack.  For example, whenever I can, I go out of my way to tell people to work from home if they want to, and to not leave people waiting for me to do things (when I was younger I even used to run closings from my living room couch, PS3 controller in hand, without telling the seniors, and lo' and behold, no one died - which is of course what some may have you think if you did such a ghastly thing). It is your job as a more experienced professional and the manager to not put people in that position.  Of course, there are still times when shit hits the fan and you end up again staying up, or have others stay up, but at least for me, now, it hasn't been the "waiting around" type - but actually working throughout the night / morning because of some deadline.  Now, whether or not these "deadlines" will really make you "dead" if you don't cross that "line" in time is another matter altogether.  And I should write something about managing clients and their ridiculously titanically unrealistic expectations at some point. Some point later.

Anyway, enough gripe. If you're ever in a situation where you have to be in the office until it's time to eat breakfast, or worse, lunch, or really fucked up, dinner, then there are a few things that i think really keep me sane and refreshed:
  • comfy shoes/slippers - ditch the dress shoes and keep some slippers under your desk, or just walk around in socks or your bare feet or on your hands with socks on your hands; who cares no one's around.
  • toothbrush, toothpaste, face wash - people make fun of my mobile pharmacy, but brushing after meals saves your teeth and freshens you up, washing your face is a great way to get a revitalization etc. even when you're not there late, i use these.
  • pillow/blanket - sounds sad, but if you can't go home, and want to crash somewhere, having a pillow and blanket so you can curl up on the floor is awesome. just like home. i also keep an eyemask in my desk for afternoon naps when i didnt sleep much the night before. nowadays, i use the pillow more around the 3PM time slot than anything else.
  • chat - if ur up all night waiting (and are not busy trying to burn down the office), take advantage of your free long distance and call up ur buddies in different time zones to help kill time and commiserate.
  • plan ahead - if you know you're gonna be late and can't help it, wear or bring some comfortable clothes to work.  i hate wearing work clothes, especially when i don't want to be at work. I now keep a cache of t-shirts and similar wear around for all sorts of 'emergencies'.
  • have fun - if u have to be up for something stupid like a pricing and everything's set but ur just waiting...have some fun rather than waiting around at ur desk like a chump. i used to grab beers and go out on the town while bankers haggled over price the whole night. it was thursday after all! depending on ur firm policy, u can probably bill this waiting time anyway. cha-ching.
  • go home - if you can, go home for a bit, shower and change and come back. don't tell anyone if you can, maybe you can even stay there. you can always say you went out to get something to eat and that you'll be back shortly. that tends to be the universal default acceptable excuse. (if you are the senior lawyer on the deal - i.e., no one directly managing you, i don't think there should really be any reason you should be in the office all night - but if there is a partner or senior team all in the office, this becomes more relevant.)
  • work remotely - if you are subordinated, and you have a nice senior, talk to them and see if you can get your work markup sent by email or just ask if there's anything you'd need to be in the office for.  come up with a better excuse than you just want to go home - like you're not feeling well, or your kid is not feeling well, or something. if you're lucky enough to have seniors that also like to work remotely, you can most likely be gone too. if you are more senior, just make sure you know how to work your remote tech. i once ran a closing from home - we had problems with our dial-ins but was able to conference relevant parties in on my blackberry - so no issues. 
Ultimately, though, the best is not be in the office at all and not have to do that all-nighter. understandably, sometimes you are at the printer and it's not "appropriate" for you to just get up and leave (i have done that though, when others are there, because really, how much gets done at the printer? - this is for another post). but i digress, sometimes u r too junior or too inexperienced to know how to avoid this ridiculously stupid concept. but if u r efficient enough, smooth enough with your seniors / clients, generally avoid cap markets, and just a little bit bold enough, i think you can get by without really having to do this - or at least, do it in a fun way.

    Tuesday, August 13, 2013

    What is the future of Big Law?

    Is the prognosis doom?  Does the ailing economy and the fact that you have spent more time in the last six - twelve months playing iPhone games  sitting on the crapper than at your desk portend a literal shitstorm in your neck of the woods sooner rather than later?

    Personally, I have my doubts about where this giant cruise ship filled with monkey cages is heading.  It's quite possible that our cruise ship driver is drunk and is just going to crash us into a huge barnacle off the coast of some European country, or maybe our cruise ship owner will forget to pay his bills and we'll all be stuck in the middle of some beautiful paradise peeing over the side of the deck and sleeping on bags of shit as fetid garbage piles up around us.  If you don't get  my metaphors, don't worry, I've basically lost myself anyway - I haven't been working for so long my brain is practically a pile of ooze barely good enough to turn baby turtles into tai bo amateurs let alone ninja masters.

    In all seriousness, though, I have spoken to a few people who are "in the know" - or at least think they are "in the know" - at least they are partners so they can think they can think whatever they want to think, so they think.  But anyway, the consensus is that there's a significant oversupply of monkeys, and a noticeable dearth of demand for monkeys at the number of bananas that they are demanding.  I've been thinking this for years.  I mean, who in their right mind is going to pay some first year dumbass monkey $550 / hour to pick his nose over some stupid prospectus?  We're just way overpaid, there's too many of us, and most of us, I think, probably myself included, are retarded.  Is there going to be a rebalancing in the professions I wonder.  Should I have tried to be a computer engineer? Or an astronaut like I always said I did? I mean, if they had paid engineers and scientists the fat $160k/yr entry salaries they do to first year associates, they would be a good way to incentivize positive growth for our civilization, but of course, no one thinks like that.

    Anyway, here's an article about this topic that's more thought out and well-written than mine. You may have seen it.  Starts from the recent layoff at Weil and draws some conclusions about where we are heading in the industry.  I've heard that the Weil layoffs were in large part due to the over-expansion or over-dependency on their bankruptcy group post Lehman (perhaps evidenced by the lack of concurrent layoffs from other Big Law firms), but that could just be speculation and it's just a matter of time for the rest of the crew.

    So what do you think?

    By the way, sorry it's been like over six months since my last post. I've been busy....

    Tuesday, February 5, 2013

    Do you want to be a Capital Markets Lawyer?

    You must be fucking (i) out of your mind, bat-shit crazy, (ii) retarded, (iii) both (i) and (ii).  I don't intend to offend anyone who has consciously and purposefully entered into the profession, and said to himself/herself, "Boy, I really do enjoy working on junk bond offerings and IPOs - it's just so exciting and fun", but I just don't understand why.  What are the redeeming qualities of the substantive work...if one can even call it that...?  Please, enlighten me.  If your reasons are: (i) money, (ii) no other job opportunities and no other qualifications, or (iii) you are under a spell from an evil wizard, like your boss, Saruman or Count Dooku, then I understand.  I would never call myself a capital markets lawyer, and having naively been exposed to it once, I made a conscious decision to not do that type of work anymore - and if it is to be forced upon me, then I will gladly just swap my cage. Cages are a dime a dozen.  I liken it to...being at a company that offers several types of work, let's say: (1) software design, (2) computer system engineering, (3) strategy and (4) cleaning the shit from clogged toilets.  Can you guess which one of those I equate with the subject of this gripe?  For those that don't have a clue about what capital markets attorneys do, let this be a cautionary tale -- beware!!

    Meanwhile, I am finding ways to defeat Saruman and resume my normal life.

    Thursday, January 17, 2013

    Becoming the Indispensable Cog Pt. 2

    This is the second part in my um somewhat delayed but decidedly ongoing series in posts of how to make yourself an indispensable cog in the machine that is your slave-driving machination of treachery known as the firm.

    Before we get to the actual quip, let me mention: (1) okay sorry my posts have been so delayed, for anybody who happens to be reading this blog with any regularity, but I suspect that number is low, (2) if any of you are wondering why it is worthwhile any beans to try and be an indispensable anything at a law firm, given that I can confidently say very few anythings are indispensable, the reason an earlier post...but really it's about for those times when you want to bugger off and do your own thing when it's not busy and some partner is calling you to find you and always finds you gives you a buffer zone to do that kind of monkey shit. Really it does.

    Okay, so this is like a lawyering level 2 lesson, or maybe 3. It's some advanced shit right here, but it pervades a lot of different aspects of the law firm experience, from when you pick your cage to when and how you escape.  And the crux of it is: presence.  You may have heard that as a buzzword thrown around a bunch, or maybe not, but I have, and you could be deaf (sorry), but that's it.  So I was talking to a friend's dad not too long ago - he is a senior name partner at his own firm, or was, which has been merged successively with other large firms, and is soon to retire.  And he told me, as other partners (who are friends because they used to be associates with me) have mentioned to me as well, that at most jobs, like this one, the learning curve will plateau after a while.  Law is no different, and in fact, is more or less part of that big bulge in the middle of the bell curve when it comes to being prosaically non-singular.  Most people who dawn that boring black suit and become a CML will learn what it takes to be a competent CML within a few years, and will learn what it takes to be a mid-level and senior CML within a few years of that, respectively. And while the variation can be slight - some people are seen as "super stars" or "smart" - by getting there maybe a year or so earlier, we all plateau.  Why?  Because the subject matter of our job is the stuff of brainless monkey slaves.  You don't have to be a rocket scientist or a neurosurgeon to be a lawyer.  Literally, you don't.  You don't have to have any major to go to law school.  You don't have to pass a very specific or reasonably difficult to get into or even get out of law school, or even go to law school for that matter. And you really don't have to do that much to get into a decent law firm.  You don't have to do much of anything.  So, how, then, do firms differentiate between "rising stars" who will join their brethren and those that will waste away in the gutter?  If being "smart" is just a difference in timing, and given the timing to get to the end of that road is getting longer and longer, then you can pretty much expect you will be even with everyone else.  So what do they look for?  The key is, just like with anything else in any normal society in the world (except may be socialist russia or communist china), stick your head out, get noticed, and command some fucking presence.  That's because, if you are remembered by them, you will be by clients too, and that's what important.  If you can get a client to say, "hey, I want that guy to work for me", then you will be on E-Z street (no, E-Z street is not a real street, it's another way of saying "easy street", dildo brain).  Okay, so that's it.  You can be diligent, hardworking, plenty smart, but at some point (I'd say after 2-4 years), you will not be in the eyes of your up and ups worthwhile if you do not command any presence.  Different firms may have different cultures, so this is where picking your firm is important.  When you pick some place, you should pick some place that accentuates your ability to thrive and make an impact - this will benefit you in the short and long-term.  When you eventually leave (say 5-6 years), you will have had a nice ride down E-Z street rather than a rough ass-raping down A-R railroad. 

    In terms of what you need to do to "command presence" I leave up to you, but it could mean any of the following: (i) speaking when not spoken to, (ii) speaking up in front of a client or partner with something helpful, e.g., on a conference call when everyone has forgotten you are there, (iii) talking to people normally whether they be clients or partners or whoever (like, when you talk to someone nice, you are nice to them and exchange pleasantries meaningfully), (iv) becoming the commander of a mutant army made up of gift-wrapped boxes with bows on top.  So pick what you like. A little bit goes a long way.

    command the shit outta these guys. do it.

    Friday, January 4, 2013

    Market Check: Billable Hours

    So yes, I've had a slow year. Who hasn't??  I guess it hasn't been that uneventful...Gotham nearly averted nuclear catastrophe, which seems like peanuts compared to the Mayan's proselytized cataclysm being thwarted by the avengers...but it was kind of for me.

    For those wondering about how much we really work in this type of environment, here are my hours for the past two years, rounded (just in case).

    If you're curious, my hours in 2010 topped 2400, so market hasn't been that active, let's say.  In other words, I'm almost ready to join the Tour (any of them).

    what i'd pay buckets to see: Gogeta vs. Avengers