nickelanddime wrote:I'm starting to think that it is a unique situation that such a firm successfully navigates a leadership transition and remains elite following the retirement of its founding partners. If you're looking for a place that you can get exceptional experience and a gold star on your resume before moving on to the government or academia, then this won't really affect you. But if you're looking for a place to practice forever, then you should recognize that it may not be the same place when you're up for partner that it is now.
Really interesting post. Do you mind elaborating on this aspect a bit?
I should start out by saying that I think Susman Godfrey operates differently than my prior firm, and I don't fully understand its business model or vision for the future. So, my insight may or may not be applicable to SG.
At my firm, 3 partners were responsible for originating about 60% of the firm's business, including every single matter that has gotten press over the last half decade or so. My friends tell me that this pattern was not unique to just my firm. Will the firm continue to get those sorts of matters when those partners retire or step back? It's unclear.
I think there are a number of factors that contribute to these firms not being particularly sustainable--at least in their current incarnation--past one generation. First, in order to set up a boutique that competes with the big players, you need a few truly excellent lawyers. The types of lawyers that are among the five or so best lawyers in the city, and more importantly, are recognized as being among the very best. Even assuming that boutiques can transform people with elite credentials into elite lawyers, there's a lot of luck that does into gaining that sort of recognition.
Second, boutiques are more likely to have junior partners that are probably great lawyers, but are not great at drumming up business. (This is why, at least at one point in the boutique's history, partnership chances were relatively good.)
Third, biglaw lit departments have opportunities for junior partners to develop client relationships that boutiques do not - namely, internal referrals from other departments and relationships with institutional clients that are repeat customers.
Fourth, boutiques are unlikely to be able to attract big-name lateral partners because biglaw upside is higher (as I mentioned above, in general, lightly-leveraged litigation firms are probably less profitable than biglaw) and the downside is more limited. At one point in the not too distant past, the exception to this was white-collar crime because biglaw did not do white-collar crime and because prosecutors were more likely to seek out the boutique practice environment. But now biglaw is also getting every single big-name former regulator or prosecutor - Neal Barofsky, Khuzami, Pat Fitzgerald, Kathryn Kenneally. (As an aside, the fact that boutiques have been unable to get these attorneys--and trust me, they've tried--is a little surprising because my sense is prosecutors are culturally more likely to dislike the restraints of biglaw practice. But I suppose that money trumps all when you're talking about lawyers.)
Take a look at this list: http://www.vault.com/company-rankings/l ... RankID=276
Which of these firms has been elite for more than a generation? Which of these firms do you see staying elite past this one? KHHTE and Bancroft are relatively young, so I suppose we don't quite know yet. How many times in the recent past has KVN had a major, non-patent matter that didn't involve John Keker? How many times has Morvillo made the headlines for a matter that didn't involve Elkan Abramowitz?