Lawyer Makes Good on Royalties

September 30, 2010

Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp’s recently hired standout lateral Greg Olaniran makes a good amount of money the same way Mr. T. does: syndicated television royalties.

Mr. Olaniran practices in that little-known but highly specialized, and very lucrative, area of the law which deals with the $200 million paid annually by satellite and cable television companies to use previously copyrighted television broadcasts. His past and current clients include Disney, Paramount, WWE, Sony, Universal, Lion’s Gate, NASCAR, and Animal Planet.

The specialty is known a “compulsory licensing” and Mr. Olaniran got into it by working up patent infringement cases against upstarts like Napster, which is representative of a class of technology start-ups which he thinks take illegal liberties with the property of copyright owners for the sake of quick profits.

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Justice Is Blind, Decorum Is Not

September 7, 2010

There’s a place, the Wall Street Journal reports online today, where first impressions are even more important than at job interviews: court.

Doctors have, the author says, appeared to testify in their own malpractice trials wearing blue jeans, and one anonymous California judge admits to wardrobe considerations in her rulings: sloppy dress might bolster a case against a father accused of child neglect, she says; likewise, expensive shoes and earrings might undermine a lady claiming financial straits.

Jurors are likely even less judicial. Juries pass their service by hearing evidence, considering facts, and observing participants. That means demeanor, attitude, posture, and wardrobe. Is the alleged drug dealer in a coat and tie… or does he look like a drug dealer?

“Jurors notice everything,” says Patricia Glaser, a prominent attorney who counts Kirk Kerkorian and Conan O’Brien among her clients. “They notice the wedding ring, they notice if your hair is parted on the right or left, they notice if it’s an Italian-cut suit or a Brooks Brothers, they notice if your shoes are scuffed every day, just like they notice if you’re on time or not.”

Though it’s nice to see this article written, it’s disheartening that it had to be. If nowhere else, a courtroom in which your interests are being decided seems the place to look your best, or to at least do your best to look better than your worst. If not out of respect for the courtroom and the American judicial process, do it for yourself and your case.

John Gotti: Gambino boss looked the part.


The Rainmakers

March 8, 2010

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.


Coca-Cola Lawyer to K&L Gates

November 6, 2009

Attorney Ken Glazer has landed at K&L Gates after serving as chief competition counsel to Coca-Cola; Mr. Glazer has also worked as No. 2 at the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition.

The anti-trust lawyer is an expert on Section II of the Sherman Anti-trust Act, and expects to see increased litigation in that area in coming years. Legal Bisnow reports Mr. Glazer is anticipating an increased workload in emerging anti-trust practice areas like healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and technology.

Before jumping ship to K&L, Mr. Glazer took a summer vacation to practice yoga.

Ken Glazer, via Bisnow.

Ken Glazer with client. Image via Bisnow.


Firms “Fix” Billing

October 2, 2009

Businesses hit hard by our recession have had their hands forced in re-evaluating the way they operate; how do they hire, how do they pay, how do they borrow, how do they bill? Of those re-tooling the ways in which they bill, perhaps none are more notable than law firms because of their slavishly traditional adherence to the “billable hour.”

The concept of the billable hour is simple: firms charge different rates for different attorneys (partners are billed at a higher rate than associates, etc.), and several attorneys of several levels may work on a project and the client is billed per hour, per attorney, per respective rate. Thought it’s held steady for over a century, the system stands in stark contrast to the efficiency of a flat schedule, in which one piece of work is performed in exchange for one agreed-upon price.

Now firms are playing catch-up. As corporate clients feel the recessionary pinch, their legal budgets are shrinking and they’re less inclined to pay their old lawyers their old hourly rates (often in the neighborhood of hundreds of dollars per hour). Legal Bisnow reports that of those venerable bastions doing the best job of adapting, Skaden Arps, Kirkland & Ellis, and Akin Gump are leading the pack. Those firms, plus CitiGroup and Arent Fox, recently sat down at Bisnow‘s “Breakfast and Schmooze” event in Washington, D.C. to discuss the future of their respective invoices.

The result? Arent Fox chairman Marc Fleischaker says alternative billing, like fixed fees, already accounts for one-third of that firm’s business. The rest agree, and note other long-term changes in their business models: improved client communication, especially with regard to billing details; fewer employees doing duplicative work; a shift to already-existing in-house counsel at some large corporate concerns; and more contingency fee work. Notably absent from the discussion: the prospect of reduced partner compensation.