'Anxious season' for partners as initial law firm earnings reports show modest gains

It’s the “anxious season” for partners awaiting news of how their BigLaw firms did financially last year.

And that anxiety hasn’t been helped by recent news reports about struggling partners and firms, according to the Am Law Daily (sub. req.).

Such developments include the Chapter 7 bankruptcy of a BigLaw partner, due in part to a $10,000-a-month alimony and child support payment, and the planned dissolution of a storied 500-attorney Canadian firm—whose co-founder said it was doing fine financially, just not as well as partners wanted it to.

Early financial reports from some firms show modest financial gains, or even losses, writes Aric Press, who serves as ALM’s editor-in-chief, in an article that discusses how the legal publisher puts together its annual survey of major law firms based in the U.S.

Most partners, even some who are underperforming, have secure jobs, Press says. But the lackluster market for legal services ever since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 kicked off a global recession suggests that it may be time for partner pay adjustments.

“Given the uneven nature of the recovery, are some wage packages ripe for a reset? This inquiry should not be limited just to income partners,” he writes. “For these purposes it’s not the title that’s the issue; equity or income, no one outside a firm cares what modifier is put before the word partner. For everyone inside the firm it’s the contribution and how it’s rewarded. We know that most equity partners came of age knowing only good times; six years after Lehman died, it may be time to stop living in the past.”

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