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Legal Commentary

Adam Smith, Esq. Adam Smith, Esq.

An inquiry into the economics of law firms.

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Last Entry: May 16, 2009 at 12:58:52

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Rumors of Its Demise

Posted on December 21, 2008
"Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." —Mark Twain, in a cable from London to US publishers, who had mistakenly printed his obituary. And so, for the entirety of my career, has it been the case with predictions of the demise of the billable hour...

"Structural Breaks" and Other Timely Phenomena

Posted on December 12, 2008
A smart friend of mine, in a conversation apropos the financial meltdown, recently wondered if people "aren't reading too many newspapers and not enough history."  He has a point. So forthwith, a little history. According to McKinsey in "Financial crisis and reform: Looking back for clues to the future," the...

What's Your Attrition Rate Lately?

Posted on December 08, 2008
An unspoken, and certainly uncelebrated, aspect of the law firm associate personnel model is built-in attrition. "Built-in" can have two traditional meanings, and one new one: Traditional A: They wash out of their own accord, because of a variety of factors: they've paid off their student loans, and so the...

Greetings from London

Posted on December 03, 2008
I'm here in The City for the week, having arrived Sunday morning and going home to New York Thursday evening.  The purpose is essentially a series of meetings with various firms I'm having with my partners Ward Bower and Tony Williams, but that doesn't mean I haven't been able to...

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Practical Law Company Crosses the Pond

Posted on December 02, 2008
Last week I had a chance to catch up with Jeroen Plink, the CEO for the US operations of Practical Law Company. Jeroen has been with PLC for over 6 years and, in a previous life, worked as an attorney for Clifford Chance and Latham & Watkins. Unfamiliar with Practical...

In Search of Execution (And, Happy Thanksgiving)

Posted on November 27, 2008
Twenty-six years ago Tom Peters and Robert Waterman published In Search of Excellence, and to some extent the genre of writing for business managers hasn't been the same since.  If for no other reason, it's worth taking a moment to revisit Peters' thoughts on the current state of the art of...

Lessons From Citi

Posted on November 23, 2008
Consider a nonrandom selection of headlines from The New York Times, The Financial Times, andThe Wall Street Journal: Citigroup Pays for a Rush to Risk Citigroup Tries to Steady Stock Turmoil Continues in Banking Sector Citigroup: You Can't Step Into the Same Crisis Twice, Right? Citi crisis deepens as shares...

"Globalization of the Legal Profession" Conference at Harvard Law

Posted on November 19, 2008
I'll be attending the "Globalization of the Legal Profession" conference at Harvard Law School this Friday (21 November), put on by HLS' Program on the Legal Profession.  Here's the  agenda, with some notables on the program including a keynote by Ben Heineman, and commentary across four panels from many other...

BigLaw & The Big Three

Posted on November 15, 2008
Consider Detroit's Big Three. Having made what  turned  out to be bad bets on  over-investing in now shunned product lines, they've been  conspicuously laying people off, downsizing, attempting to  renegotiate credit lines, and furiously trying to revamp their product offerings to align to and conform with the world's new reality...

New York Today and Tomorrow

Posted on November 11, 2008
Our texts for today come from (in inappropriate order) the New Testament, as it were, and Peter Kalis, the chairman of K&L Gates: "The metaphysical question is whether you can have bulge-bracket Wall Street firms without Wall Street," says Kalis...

A Short Tour of 225 Years

Posted on November 04, 2008
1789: US Constitution, Article I, Section 2: Representatives ... shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, ...

Why You're Reading This Online

Posted on November 01, 2008
Sometimes there's no substitute for being there. This couuld be the introduction to a column about why technology, Web 2.0, and collaboration at a distance all add up to precisely zero threat to places like New York and London--making them, in fact, more important than ever--but I have a different...

Think Again About Globalization--A Guest Column

Posted on October 28, 2008
In the nearly five-year history of "Adam Smith, Esq.," you could have counted the number of guest columns on one finger.  As of today, make that two. The following comes from E. Leigh Dance (see immediately below), who has a strong perspective on what globalization means for our industry...

New Industry Economic Indicator

Posted on October 23, 2008
News Release I am happy to re-publish the press release issued this morning by ThomsonReuters reporting on a new alliance we have struck. For my purposes, the value of this will be being able to offer you, my readers, an additional perspective on legal industry market conditions at a...

Manic-Depressive? Take a Deep Breath

Posted on October 22, 2008
We are surely living in times of manic-depressive equity and fixed-income markets ("We've made the future safe for Western financial institutions!"  "No, we haven't!). New York City itself can seem to be suffering from one gigantic case of whiplash: Even last month, those of us who don't work in finance...

Nobel Prize in Economics/2008

Posted on October 18, 2008
Not every day do we get a new Nobel Prize winner in Economics, not to mention one whose name, Paul Krugman, might actually be familiar to more Americans than the few of us who are poor closet economists. Krugman is of course not only a Princeton professor (we pause to...

Sand Hill Road Brings You The Head of a Pig

Posted on October 14, 2008
Making the rounds is a  presentation by Sequoia Capital on "startups and the economic downturn," which constitutes a sort of come-to-Jesus meeting for that storied VC firm's portfolio companies.  It tells a tale of radical gloom, with "multiple problems" in the world economy including: over-leveraged financials falling  asset prices frozen...

"Clients Are Extraordinarily Understanding"

Posted on October 10, 2008
Today's Wall Street Journal profiles H. Rodgin "Rodge" Cohen, Chairman of Sullivan & Cromwell.  Here at "Adam Smith, Esq.," we're not into gossip and we're not into profiling celebrities (well, celebrities in our world, anyway) for the sake of same—unlike some sites doubtless familiar to you...

Yes, But What Does It Mean for Us?

Posted on October 07, 2008
A few weeks ago I posed the question to you all:  Will the realignment of the top financial services institutions fundamentally alter the long-term demand for legal services? Here's how you voted: A couple of aspects of these seem worth commentary:  There seems near unanimity that, regardless of what happens...

(New York) City's End?

Posted on October 04, 2008
With all the body blows the New York City financial services industry and its attendant handmaidens (BigLaw, that would be you) have taken in the past couple of months, it may be time to remind ourselves that for the past two centuries or so, ever since New York's emergence as...

Pretend Your Firm Were an Investment Bank

Posted on October 01, 2008
Analogies are imperfect (that's why they're called analogies), but here's an interesting thought experiment tying together the wild rides investment banks have had on Wall Street during the past few weeks and the potential impact of the Legal Services Act in the UK, permitting law firms to go public and...

Heller Ehrman (1890-2008)

Posted on September 26, 2008
It's all over for Heller Ehrman. One of the best single pieces of coverage comes from The San Francisco Chronicle. Heller was founded in 1890, rode through the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (in the aftermath of which the nascent client Wells Fargo Bank set up a temporary headquarters at the...

How Big & How Bad Is It?

Posted on September 22, 2008
Now that Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs will be converting into traditional bank holding companies, the landscape has changed for keeps: "With the move, Wall Street as it has long been known -- a coterie of independent brokerage firms that buy and sell securities, advise clients and are less regulated...

E-Billing Survey: Reminder

Posted on September 21, 2008
Reminder: If you haven't taken our quick (3-minute) survey on e-billing, please do so. You can sign up at the end to get a free copy of the complete, aggregated, anonymized results. Take the survey! Thanks....

Stop the Insanity

Posted on September 21, 2008
Sometimes in the midst of turmoil all around us, with the landscape of the financial services industry--for many of us, our lifeblood--reforming under our very eyes, it's worthwhile to take a step back and reflect upon some enduring business verities...

What's Going On?

Posted on September 19, 2008
Nothing less than a generational transformation of investment banking and the financial services industry at large.  Its implications for, among other things, the economies of New York City and London, the structure of global capital markets, and our own dearly beloved industry, are impossible to predict with any high degree...

Lehman Bros. RIP; Merrill, Meet BofA; ??AIG??

Posted on September 15, 2008
Pete Peterson, former head of Lehman Brothers, co-founder of Blackstone, and secretary of commerce under Nixon, described this weekend's events on Wall Street with what almost amounts to understatement:  "My goodness. I?ve been in the business 35 years, and these are the most extraordinary events I?ve ever seen...

Lessons from JP Morgan Chase

Posted on September 13, 2008
This is how the cover story of the current issue of Fortune starts out: It was the second week of October 2006. William King, then J.P. Morgan's chief of securitized products, was vacationing in Rwanda, visiting remote coffee plantations he was helping to finance...

Take a Brief Survey on E-Billing

Posted on September 11, 2008
"Adam Smith, Esq." is conducting research into the market penetration of e-billing of clients by law firms—as opposed to the old-fashioned paper billing (even if it's emailed, "pdf"'ed, etc.) and what analysis, if any, is actually performed against that data...

IQ Is A Commodity: Now What?

Posted on September 11, 2008
More futile ink has been spilled on the issue of "leadership" than, I would wager, any other topic in the managerial literature. But the topic is irresistible. Why? Because deny it as you might, leadership matters. It consistently distinguishes the leading firms from the "chasing pack," it transforms firms over...

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