Listen, it’s a weird time in Biglaw. Sure, (most) firms are coming off of an epically good year… but there is also plenty of talk about industry layoffs spurred by a downward tick in M&A deals. Most massive firms are also struggling with what post-COVID (or at least post- most Americans caring about COVID) offices look like. Yes, associates and partners can easily bill from home (see, the aforementioned good year in Biglaw), but training brand new associates remotely? That’s another matter entirely. And in a business model that revolves around burning and churning through associates, it’s vital that the younger generation of attorneys is as clued in as to the firm’s way of lawyering as possible.
This long preamble is a way of framing the tensions swirling around Biglaw, and by the looks of an internal email sent to Above the Law, that’s certainly the case at Akin Gump.
Partner Stephen Baldini heads the firm’s litigation practice and he’s not pleased with associates in the group. Seems partners have had some trouble staffing matters, as he writes in the email, “Too many calls for help are either ignored or met with ‘I’m too busy.’”
The problem with the overextended excuse? “These responses simply do not synch with our productivity, which for 2 months has been extremely low.” He goes on to link that dip in productivity to folks eschewing the office in violation of the firm’s attendance expectations. (I’m not sure that particular correlation holds much water, since, you know, everyone *had* to be home for the better part of two years and the firm took in over a billion dollars in revenue last year. Regardless, it’s clear there’s at least frustration at both of those things.)
Baldini continues with a plea:
We need engagement and intensity from everyone on the Lit team across the firm — we also need to act like a team. We need to help each other by easing the burden that is falling on colleagues, and we need to work together to meet our clients’ needs. So when you are asked to help out, please promptly respond, and if you have any capacity please say “yes.” And, if you have capacity, proactively reach out and let others know. We are all professionals and we need to practice with a high degree of commitment to our clients and each other.
As a lapsed Catholic, I appreciate the how thickly the guilt is laid on here.
Fundamentally, who gets the sympathy in this story probably depends how “capacity” is defined. If associates are on-track to bill 1,500 hours… well, you’d best start begging to be staffed on cases. If you’re on-track for 2,000 but partners would really like if you could squeeze out 2,400… then you probably deserve to take advantage of the slow months. Though I’ll note the firm’s previously said 1,950 hours is in line with their expectations.
Only associates’ timesheets know the truth. But again with layoffs — and the dreaded stealth layoffs — being discussed in the industry, perhaps it isn’t the worst idea to show a little enthusiasm — or intensity, if you will — for your next matter.
Read Baldini’s full email on the next page.
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).