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PLP Pulse: News from the Frontiers of the Legal Profession
January 2013


Slow Progress for Women’s Representation in Law Firm Leadership
The American Lawyer

Women are still “very much the minority” in the power structures of the top US firms, as illustrated in a recent survey of the Am Law 100. Of the 93 responding firms, governing committees had an average of 17% women and compensation committees had an average of 18% women; only 20% of practice group leaders and 15% of office managing partners were female. The top two firms for women in leadership positions were Fulbright & Jaworski, with women occupying 50% of the seats on the executive committee, and Reed Smith at 38%. Both firms took advantage of their own governance rules allowing for appointments in order to reach diversity goals. In the case of Fulbright, the chairman appoints the executive committee and department heads. At Reed Smith, an open election process is supplemented by three “at-large” seats filled by nominations made by the executive committee.

Lack of Female Partnership not Due to Attrition
The Lawyer

Ashhurst, Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, and several other law firms (called the 30% Club) participated in a project to advance the leadership roles of women in law firms. The findings of an online feedback survey conducted as a part of a 10-week project indicate that attrition and prioritization are not the root causes of the limited progress of women to senior positions in law firms. Instead, the limited progress is an outcome of partnership promotion processes that fail to evaluate abilities and leadership styles of women in an equitable manner. A senior partner from Ashurst, Charlie Geffen, said that the peer pressure of the 30% Club could help to create effective social norms to ensure the goals of gender diversity are accomplished.

Socio-Economic Diversity in British Law Firms
The Guardian

In response to a May 2012 report by Alan Milburn, the UK’s social mobility tsar, as well as a 2012 mandate from the Legal Services Board that law firms begin collecting socio-economic data on their staff and recruits, law firms are exploring ways to reach out to low-income students. Indeed, firms are keen on advertising themselves as agents of social mobility and shaking off the perception that law is merely for Oxbridge elites. For example, Linklaters recently joined with Hackney primary schools to bring 750 children and teenagers to their offices each year to experience life in an international law firm. Moreover, recognizing the limitations of a firm-by-firm approach, 23 firms joined to create the PRIME initiative, which obliges members to provide work experience and mentorship opportunities to disadvantaged youth equal to half the number of traditional training contacts offered. Similarly, the Law Society created a Diversity Access Program and offers grants to the Black Lawyers Directory.

Declining Percentage of Women Associates Threatens Gender Equality at Law Firms
The National Association for Law Placement

For the third consecutive year and only the third time since The National Association for Law Placement (NALP) started keeping track in the early 1990s, representation of women among law firm associates declined. From 2009 to 2012, the percentage of associates who are women fell from 45.6% to 45.0%. This contrasts with continued gains in the percentage of women and minority partners, as well as an increase in the percentage of minority associates—a group that, like women associates, had struggled in the wake of the recession. Said James Leipold, NALP’s Executive Director, “The continued loss of women from the associate ranks, at a time when far too few women make up the partners of U.S. law firms, is a problem that firms must begin to address head-on.”

NYC Bar Association Report Highlights “Stagnation” in Diversity
ABA Journal

According to a new report released by the New York City Bar Association, diversity among the city's law firms has stagnated in recent years. The survey shows that women and minorities are making up a smaller percentage of new hires and that those two groups have much higher attrition rates than their respective male and white colleagues. One piece of good news for women contained in the report is the gains they have made in partnership and other leadership roles during the same period.


Smaller Australian Law Firms Look for Growth Amid Mega Mergers
The Asian Lawyer

Several opportunities have emerged for medium and small law firms in Australia, following recent international mergers by four of the big six law firms. Some are recruiting lawyers voluntarily leaving the new mega firms or hiring entire practice teams that want more independence than they can get in the largest firms. Middle-sized firms have been buying some smaller firms but do not feel the pressure to merge with each other to compete. Instead, many are focusing on domestic business and acquiring clients that cannot be served by the mega firms due to new conflicts of interest generated by the mergers.

International Community Critical of Proposed Vietnamese Law Change
Seattle Times

The international legal community has issued a stern warning to the Vietnamese government regarding their proposed changes to the country’s law on legal services, cautioning that it would restrict foreign firms and deter investors. Proposed changes would mandate that only Vietnam-based firms provide legal services in the country. Critics say this will make investment in Vietnam less attractive to foreign firms and will unnecessarily constrict the flow of legal services.

Law Firms Flock to Singapore as a Springboard to Southeast Asia

Law firms looking to establish a foothold in Southeast Asia have turned their eyes away from China and are looking to Singapore as an ideal place to establish offices. The country’s central location within the region, proximity to emerging economies, and friendliness to business have led nearly two dozen firms to apply for licenses to practice in recent months. Singapore provides easy access to Indonesia’s growing economy, as well as Australia and India, making the country a huge growth spot for international firms looking to expand their practices.

Asia’s Largest Firms and the Presence of Foreign Firms Among Them
The Asian Lawyer

Increased interest has been generating around Asia’s growing legal market in recent years with firms choosing to maintain large numbers of lawyers. Both China and Australia have the largest firms in all of Asia making up almost 30 of the 50 largest firms. The trend can be partly attributed to British influence and colonization over the years, making the establishment and success of major British firms a more palpable idea in Australia. Figures show that American law firm presence is growing but still does not match that of the UK, especially not in large Asian markets.

Law Firms & Practice Management

The Rise of the Mega-Firm
Inside Counsel

Industry experts are seeing an increasing trend of cross-border mergers and the creation of mega-firms comprised of thousands of lawyers. The Wall Street Journal reports that in late 2012 there were three major deals on the books, the largest of which would create a mega-firm of over 3,800 lawyers (London-based Norton Rose with the Houston-based Fulbright & Jaworski). One of these mergers, between the Pittsburgh-based K&L Gates and the Sydney-headquartered Middletons, creates a firm of more than 2,000 lawyers. Experts expect these sorts of cross-border mega-mergers to continue, particularly in areas outside the traditional financial centers of London, New York, and Hong Kong.

Law-Firm Partners Pressured to Bring in More Money or Else
The Wall Street Journal

In an American Lawyer magazine poll, 55% of 113 managing partners and chairpersons said they would be asking between one and five partners to leave the firm in 2013. With the recent reduction of junior lawyers and staff in the years after the economic downturn, many big firms are raising expectations as to how well their partners should be performing by closely watching how much business lawyers bring in and how many hours they bill. Much of this pressure comes from the downsizing of bigger firms and cuts to many of these firms’ partner corps. With fewer high-paid partners bringing in more business, savings and profits will increase dramatically.

Transatlantic Divides: UK versus US firms
The Guardian

The traditional magic circle of A-list UK law firms faces increasing competition from major US firms for newly graduated British legal professionals. Brand name remains important, and while US firms often enjoy high levels of prestige in the States, it takes time to build up a strong, independent UK reputation. British firms are seen as offering more niche options, whereas US firms are focused on business and financial. Pay is an important determinate and, in this category, US firms tend to offer junior lawyers the best remuneration. US firms are also seen as topping UK firms when it comes to corporate transparency and prospects for partnership. Both UK and US elite firms demand high hours, with junior lawyers frequently being expected to bill 1,800 – 1,900 hours per year.

Legal Education

As Demand for JD Degrees Declines, Law Schools See Jump in Non-JD Program Enrollment
The ABA Journal

Enrollment in non-JD programs at ABA-approved law schools has increased significantly as law schools try to broaden their revenue streams in the face of declining demand for JD degrees. From 2005 to 2012, schools reported a 39% increase in enrollment in non-JD programs. Over that same period, enrollment in JD programs declined slightly. Non-JD programs at law schools typically attract lawyers who seek to expand their knowledge of a specific practice area, as well as individuals whose work demands knowledge of law and the legal process. 

The ‘Law &’—Diversity in Legal Education
Huffington Post Op-Ed

In an op-ed in the Huffington Post, Hastings College of Law Dean Frank Wu argues that the frequently derided law school electives—what he dubs as “Law &” courses—in reality serve a vital purpose in the training of well-rounded legal professionals. While he accepts that the ability to perform legal analysis is critical for any law graduate, Wu argues that legal reasoning alone is no longer sufficient to be a leader in the profession. He notes there is an increasing need for interdisciplinary, strategic, and technically proficient legal thinkers. Using the examples of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and business training, he argues that legal professionals require a similar kind of diversified and highly technical preparation to lead the profession into the future.

Attorney Regulation & Ethics

Misleading Law School Ads May Violate ABA Ethics Rules
Wall Street Journal Law Blog

University of Missouri School of Law Professor Ben Trachtenberg’s forthcoming Nebraska Law Review paper “Law School Marketing and Legal Ethics” outlines several marketing tactics employed by law schools that may be considered ethical violations by the ABA. According to Trachtenberg, on law school websites that are designed to appeal to prospective students “the seemingly straightforward recitation of statistics… still paint[s] an unduly rosy picture of the legal employment market.” If these statistics are found by bar officials to be manipulated or intentionally misleading, they may violate the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct; law school employees who are members of the bar and who engage in dishonest marketing practices would be at risk for disciplinary action.

Corporate Counsel

Oversupply of Bengoshi
The Asian Lawyer

In-house recruitment of Bengoshi, or Japanese-qualified lawyers, has been on the rise in Japan. The economic downturn after Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami has led companies to hire more in-house counsel in order to cut costs. However, according to Yasushi Murofushi, the president of the Japan In-House Lawyers Association, the rise in in-house positions is due to an oversupply of young lawyers looking for jobs.

SEC Bounties for Whistleblowers a Growing Concern for GCs
Wall Street Journal and Wall Street Journal Law Blog

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s whistleblower program, as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, guarantees that whistleblowers will collect a bounty of up to 10% to 30% of penalties if their information leads to an enforcement action resulting in penalties in excess of $1 million. According to the Wall Street Journal, this can create a major issue for GC as they work to create internal programs and a corporate culture that encourages the reporting of offenses such as bribery and fraud. Don Liu, general counsel for Xerox Corp states, “The law provides people big incentives to ignore internal compliance programs and rush straight to a regulator.”

Innovation & New Models

LPOs Evolving Right Alongside the Legal Profession
The Asian Lawyer

Co-CEOs David Perla and Sanjay Kamlani relinquished control of Pangea3 LLC in November 2012 after selling the company to Thomson Reuters Corporation for what some estimate to be $40 million. Their exit has led to speculation about whether the outsourcing industry has reached its peak. Deepti Krishnan, an analyst at the Indian research company ValueNotes Database Private Ltd., says that outsourcing will produce huge changes in the culture and business processes at law firms, but only after a significant pushback.

Editor: Daniel L. Ambrosini
Managing Editor: Nicola Seaholm
Contributing Editors: Nathan Cleveland, Bryon Fong, Rachel Gibson, Nicholas Haas, Hakim Lakhdar, Pavan Mamidi, Erik Ramanathan

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