The Rainmakers

Dan Binstock manages the D.C. offices of BCG Attorney Search, an attorney search/placement firm headquartered in California. It’s Mr. Binstock’s job to find unhappy lawyers, seduce them away from their professional homes, and settle them in nicer quarters elsewhere. He follows the trends in big firm hiring religiously.

Mr. Binstock recently discussed those trends with the editors of Legal Bisnow: whereas once it took an attorney seven to eight years in the salt mines to make partner at the name-brand firms, the average is now closer to a decade, he said, if at all.

Mr. Binstock also noted an institutional preference for lateral hires, and the established books of business they bring with them, over internal promotions. Between fee-generating “finders,” who bring in business, “minders,” who manage workers, and “grinders,” who churn out billable hour upon hour, the upper echelons prefer to take on finders. Their logic is simple; any green lawyer can crank out hours and any slightly less green lawyer can supervise their cranking, but producing new dollars is what keeps any business afloat. The established finders, Mr. Binstock says, are at the top of the hiring lists.

“Great attorneys don’t always make great partners,” Ann Ford adds. Ms. Ford is the managing partner of legal giant DLA Piper and serves on that firm’s partnership committee. Last year, her firm promoted 12 lawyers to partner, out of over 1,200 working stateside.

The shifting valuation, from grinders to finders, is likely driven by the advent of fixed-rate firm billing: as more matters are handled for a flat fee on behalf of corporations who have lost patience with inflated invoices, the ability to spend as many hours as possible on a project no longer means bigger fees for firms. Now, it means wasted time. Also, it often means losing clients to a leaner, more efficient firm which won’t rack up so much expensive time per project. The challenge to associates is no longer ‘how thoroughly can you do this job,’ but ‘how quickly?’ Assuming, of course, the quality of work is consistent.

Boiled down, there’s nothing new here. Young lawyers with a foot on the bottom rung need to work quickly and thoroughly. And they need to find new business. Anybody with a law degree can bill hours; the tricky, and valuable, part is finding somebody to bill them to.

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2 Responses to The Rainmakers

  1. Cantab says:

    Oh my. I could not imagine any more dispiriting news for anyone considering a legal education, let alone career.

  2. Andrew Eastman says:

    Thanks for your time, and comments.

    It’s certainly not heartening news, but it’s not anything awful, either. Firms have always hired recent graduates to manufacture billable hours and billing a lot of hours has always been a steady, if slow, path up the ladder (although not all the way up).

    To reach the top of a firm, like any business, employees have always needed to bring in new business. New clients are what keep companies going, so there’s nothing too revolutionary here. It’s a similar situation as college presidents, who are hired less for their abilities as administrators and more for their fundraising prowess.

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