The  2019.10.03 blog quoted below suggests that BigLaw partners and counsel need to have "a clear-eyed view" of their future prospects.  Those who sense any vulnerability to their position should act quickly to take an objective look at the full spectrum of their rights, benefits, risks, and alternatives.  There is no reason not to have a personal strategic plan ... one that includes both protective measures and a well considered "Plan B" for a soft landing if needed. 

Relevant Articles

2020.01.24  "ABA Rules For Departing Attys Set Unprecedented Limits" (by Amy Richardson and Hilary Gerzhoy January 24, 2020, 4:53 PM EST

Law360 (January 24, 2020, 4:53 PM EST). This article begins with these two paragraphs:

  • On Dec. 4, the  American Bar Association’s  Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility published  ABA Opinion 489.[1] The opinion imposes new — and significant —  restrictions on firms’ ability to require departing lawyers to abide by  fixed notice periods before transitioning to a new firm.
  • ABA  Opinion 489, titled "Obligations Related to Notice When Lawyers Change  Firms," is bold: It states that fixed notice periods can be  unenforceable, and that firms cannot prohibit a departing lawyer from  contacting clients absent client consent.

2020.01  "Why Law Firms Collapse" (by Yale Law Prof Morley, The Business Lawyer, Winter 2019-2020) singles out one main reason why law firms cannot seem to escape a death spiral once they begin to fail, namely (quoting from his article):

  • "Partner ownership makes a law firm fragile by exposing it to an accelerating  spiral of decline that I call a partner run. Like a bank run, a partner run operates through a self-reinforcing spiral of withdrawal. When one partner leaves, she damages the firm. This causes other partners to leave, which further damages the firm, causing still more partners to leave, and so on. "

2019.12.09  [Age Discrimination] "When is a Partner Not an Employee? According to the Eighth Circuit, Equity Partners in Law Firms Not Employees Under the ADEA" - by Gordon Rees Law.

2019.11.13 "Law Department Leaders Bracing for Recession" (Bloomberg Law) reports that 76% of chief legal officers expect a recession within two years, and that they are preparing "by cutting back on internal hiring and what they spend on outside counsel."  A reduced spend for BigLaw will be a domino that inevitably leads to downsizings aimed at service partners. That leads to the next blog . . .

2019.10.03 [Blog] "Memo to Exiting Lawyers: You’re Not Part of the Firm’s Strategy"   Look in the mirror for the best insight from  this Bloomberg BigLaw Blog because individual partners (and other senior lawyers) should heed its warnings, and develop a personal strategy the moment they fall out of step with their firm's billable hour or rainmaking expectations. As noted in this blog:

  • It is a rare firm that is going to say, ‘Starting tomorrow, we’re going to do this instead of that,’” Brumbaugh said. “The ships don’t turn that quickly. But the information is there if you are willing to take a clear-eyed view as to where your firm is going.”

2019.08.09 "Being a Law Firm Partner Was Once a Job for Life. That Culture Is All but Dead" (Wall Street Journal).  This article gives a realistic assessment of BigLaw 2020, noting for instance: 

  • "In the new paradigm, lawyers are expendable, and partners may jump to a competitor for the right amount of money, taking as many clients as possible with them on the way out.  Junior lawyers always worked long hours for years before being promoted, but that meant a kind of lifetime tenure. Today, making partner can take more than a decade and still requires scraping for new business. Becoming a partner, the industry saying goes, is like winning a pie-eating contest only to find the prize is more pie."

Next Steps

Unfortunately, "divide, isolate, and conquer" is a time-tested law firm (and employer) technique for shedding attorneys in a cost-effective manner.  Those who face the storm alone should heed the old adage: if you take your boat out into a squall, you may survive but the odds are you will perish. In the employment world, the message is more suitably "you may get what you are entitled to receive, but odds are you will not." It is better to seek help at an early time, in order to plot a smart course.