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  • Partner Compensation reality

    September 2023 it was announced that three Kirland & Ellis partners would move to Paul Weiss. According to people close to the matter, the trio would each receive $20 million in annual compensation at their new firm. This is quite exceptional as today at Am Law 25 firms, only a handful of partners have comp in excess of $20 million. The news will undoubtedly leave a number of partners elsewhere in town feeling all at once very unhappy and under-rewarded. Modified lockstep For compensating its partners, most firms today have a system that includes elements of merit based compensation as well as seniority based. Some well-known firms with pure lockstep have introduced merit based differentiators in order to retain and attract star partners. What the modified lockstep looks like varies wildly. Most firms have adopted a set of – sometimes very detailed and complicated – rules for calculating each partner’s profit share. Others involve a compensation committee or have the managing partner decide. Compensation for yardstick Why is partner compensation such a hot topic in many law firms? Partners in business law firms invariably earn more than 99% of the population, so why not just be happy with it and focus on clients and family? One reason is that partner compensation is used as a yardstick for the success of the firm. Partners always compare PEP with other firms, seeing a close competitor have higher comp will trigger a heated debate on the firm’s strategy and sometimes results in star partners leaving. Also the opposite is true: a highly competitive partner compensation is a prerequisite for lateral hiring of rainmakers, which in turn could help the firm become even more successful. This is what’s happening at Paul Weiss. Which compensation model is best? Ideally in a firm, all partners are equally successful in the market and are happy to cooperate with each other. If the bandwidth between partners is narrow, there will be no need for merit based differentiation and lockstep will help avoid partners starting to compete with each other. Each partner will always act with the interest of the firm in mind. Unfortunately there is no ideal world in which each partner is equally successful and also partners are inclined to prioritize self-interest before firm-interest. This will even happen in lockstep firms as each partner is under pressure to meet his/her target. Partners start monopolizing client relationships and are trying to get files in which also other partners are active, to be administered under their name. Now the solidarity which underpins the lockstep is compromised, cracks will start to appear. Collaboration will suffer and star partners will demand action against slackers. One could also start from the other end assuming that self-interest is the norm and make the compensation fully merit based. This could even go as far as partners charging internally for helping out in another partner’s file. Such ‘eat what you kill’ compensation systems will allow for a very large bandwidth in partner performance, but provide no incentive for collaboration. Fully merit based systems also give young new partners a difficult start as in order to make an income they will have little alternative than working in other partners files at a reduced rate and without quickly growing a client base of their own. Since both lockstep and ‘eat what you kill’ have their problems, it comes as no surprise the hybrid modified lockstep has become the most popular. In reality the modified lockstep suffers from the same issues: collaboration remains an issue and the weak partners irritate the star partners. “There is no evidence to support that compensation impacts partner performance” Carrot and stick As stated, in our practice we have seen a great many different partner compensation models. Most of them have a few things in common: they favor a small group of partners and they aim to influence partner behavior. Let’s examen both in more detail. Mostly compensations systems favor the more senior partners with an established practice. One argument could be the firm must prevent such rainmakers to leave. While there certainly is some truth in that, it also creates problems, notably when it comes to succession. Also this group is typically also involved in the leadership of the firm whether it be formal or informal. Granting themselves the largest cut can in a way be self-serving. And I have not even mentioned ‘origination credits’, which also disproportionately favors this group. Over there years we have done multiple in depth analysis and never have we found any evidence that individual partner performance and behavior can be significantly influenced by compensation. Never have we seen a weak partner show better performance after his/her compensation was cut. Receiving less money will not transform a weak partner into a strong partner. This is similar for other aspects that are part of a partner compensation formula: rewarding collaboration hardly increases real world collaboration. Partners that feel comfortable collaborating will collaborate regardless and those that prefer to work on their own will continue to do so even it this means they will miss out on a small percentage of their compensation. As a rule of thumb: partner compensation is not the right tool to change the status quo. Only culture can do that. The bigger picture Partner compensation is one of those topics that we come across a lot when working with our clients. Many law firms spend disproportionate amounts of time discussing how to divide the profit among the partners. The problem I see is that having lengthy conversations on how to distribute profit does not make the firm as such more profitable. These discussions are just inward looking and a time and emotions consuming energy drain. We have found there are typically two triggers for discussing partner comp. The first is heavy lifters complaining about partners that seem to enjoy a free ride and don’t put in the effort. The other trigger is the wish to change partner behavior, typically this means stimulating collaboration. As mentioned before, there is no evidence that partner compensation changes partner performance. Taking away money from a weak partner will just legitimize their weakness. Giving more money to a top performer will only keep him/her happy for so long. We have looked in depth at lateral movements of partners across a number of markets. In some markets lateral movements are common in other markets they remain rare and are frowned upon. One thing partners that move firm have in common: the primary motif for moving is rarely money. Typically, they have lost confidence in their firm’s strategy or have developed cultural or interpersonal issues. A partner that likes the firm culture, gets along with other partners and feels supported, is unlikely to leave for more money. Using PEP as a yardstick for performance also has its flaws. Generally we at TGO Consulting prefer to look at profit margin, revenue per lawyer and a number of other indicators more relevant to a firm’s performance. Bottomline Law firms are well advised to have a permanent focus on performance and profitability on a firm level and not so much on an individual partner level. Partners should spend less time discussing internal matters and more time identifying and sharing business opportunities. Firms should invest in creating or maintain a result driven, inclusive, collaborative culture. Partner compensation should not disproportionally favor a small group and should be supportive for young partners who are still developing their practice. Any system that meets these criteria will do. Writing this article I noticed there is so much to cover when it comes to partner compensation, that it is impossible to squeeze it all in 1000 words. Potentially this is a good topic for my next book, what do you think?

  • Preferring Profits over People

    Above image generated by using Dall-E artificial intelligence Although vast amounts of students graduate each year from law schools and universities, the talent pool for top law firms remains limited. Most graduates have no interest in working in Big Law, and of those who do, a number does not meet the quality criteria. As a rule of thumb less than 10% of all law graduates falls within the Big Law target group for recruitment. It seems that with Gen-Z this number is declining. This means that in most jurisdictions, there is more demand than there are talented graduates entering the market. Hence the ‘war for talent’. Law firms go through great lengths trying to identify top talent early on and spending substantial budgets (including offering salaries up to $190.000) luring them to their firm. Look at the ‘Careers’ sections of the websites and one could be inclined to believe that joining a top-law firm equals working in paradise. There is just so much emphasis on individual career paths, mentoring, diversity, personal development and super interesting work, that it is easy to forget that in reality it is just hard work, like it was pointed out in a presentation that transpired from Paul Hastings: It is hard work Although the prevailing sentiment after publication of this slide was outrage and denial, I don’t see much wrong with it. Anyone pursuing a career at the top end of the legal market can only succeed by putting in a lot of effort. If you cannot stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Having said that, this does not mean unfair and unhealthy working conditions. In February 2021 trainees at Goldman Sachs humbly requested management to be allowed to work slightly less than the about 100 working hours a week against an average of 5 hours of sleep: Fortunately, working conditions in law firms are nowhere near those at Goldman Sachs. However increasingly young lawyers are quitting the industry because of Uncaring Leaders, Unsustainable Performance Expectations and Lack of Career Development (McKinsey: Great Attrition, Great Attraction survey 2021) Generation Z Young lawyers entering the legal profession today are mostly born after 1997, the year that marks the beginning of Generation-Z. The first started during the Pandemic when there was hardly anyone in the office and at the same time workload was very high. Law firms, like other industries, seem to be confused and spooked by this new generation which is believed to have different priorities-in-life and no ‘old-school work ethos’. While it remains questionable if this is a fair characterization, many law firms struggle with how to ‘manage’ these young professionals. It is hard to count the huge number of reports, articles, conferences and workshops that have been devoted to Gen Z in the legal industry alone. This can probably be traced back to the perceived gap in the mindset and values of the partners – Baby Boomers and Generation X – and those of the new recruits. The former claim they had to work hard for their achievements, the latter were allegedly born with a silver spoon in their mount. Although this characterization is largely a caricature, Gen Z is different in at least one crucial aspect: young people resent being ‘just a cog in the billing machine’. For them the purpose of life is not helping the partners make millions. They are in it for themselves, not for the partners. Law firms are increasingly aware of this, hence the wordings on the career sections of their websites: “we value you as a person”, “we will invest in your personal growth and development” Preferring Profit over People During the Pandemic, profits soared across the legal industry. Demand was plentiful and costs were low. For most law firms 2020 and 2021 have been the best years on record. Last year, 2022, could not have been more different. The world entered in a global economic crisis. Inflation became high and money tight. At the same time costs substantially increased. All this impacted partner profits and that is where problems arise. Unlike other entrepreneurs and businesses, partners in law firms have for decades only experienced a steady growth in profit. To the extent that even slowing growth would lead to ‘panic’. A decrease in profit, in the minds of many partners, would be totally unacceptable. Now this is the reality for the first time. Welcome to the world I’d say. For a growing number of law firms, the prospect of slightly lower partner profits, compared to the year before - but still above 2019 - became unbearable. To ‘rescue’ the profits, law firms have started to layoff junior associates. The trend is to quietly make cuts through the review process. This year’s "aggressive" performance reviews* are resulting in an increasingly blurry line between layoffs and review-time cuts. On social media associates are buzzing with chatter about layoffs and cuts at many firms. No need explaining that for Gen Z social media carries more weight than law firms’ website ‘career’ pages. The Profit is in the People I have said it before and I will say it again: for a law firm people are the most important asset. The business of law is people’s business before anything else. No law firm can gain an advantage over the competition based on legal knowledge. It is the non-legal skills and attributes that make the difference. The law firm that is the best in attracting, retaining and developing talent is the one that is going to win. The knee jerk reaction to cull talent to save the profit might turn out to be a costly mistake. These firms might save some pennies on the short term, but they will suffer reputational damage for the years to come. There is a ‘war for talent’ and Gen Z does not want to be just a cog in the partners’ money machine. There is no better way to highlight that is ultimately what they are as by firing them at the first signs of headwind. Layoffs are short sighted and selfish. The same thing happened after the 2008 Banking Crisis and it became something those firms bitterly regretted. When the economy picked-up they found themselves understaffed and unable to attract new talent in a buoyant market. The difference is that at that time it were the Millennials, who tend to be more forgiving than Generation Z… Invest in talent development For commercial companies it is normal that revenue and profitability show variations over the years. Even Goldman Sachs has good years and bad years. Law firms partners must understand and accept that the legal industry cannot remain an exception and that sometimes a decline in profit is just a consequence of the economic reality. Like other entrepreneurs and businesses, law firm partners are well advised to focus on cumulative profit over the years. In today’s economy it is probably smarter to invest in talent, even though it impacts this year’s profit. Those law firms that retain their talent and invest in developing legal and non-legal skills will be tomorrow’s winners. Taken over a number of years these firms will have a better average profitability. TGO Consulting has developed a methodology that helps law firms with setting up a sustainable talent development program for all lawyers, juniors and partners alike. *Note: Structural periodical performance reviews are essential and should be standard practice at any law firm. The purpose of such reviews is to provide the associates with open, honest and constructive feedback, aimed to learn and improve. Feedback should never come as a surprise or ‘out of the blue’. Associates should get sufficient time and coaching.

  • ChatGPT in the legal industry

    There is a new hype: ChatGPT version 3.5. First launched 30 November 2022 this publicly available natural language processing tool immediately caught the attention of the media and the public. It allows to have high quality human like conversations with a chatbot, which I must admit is pretty cool. Up till then, conversations with chatbots were invariably cumbersome, frustrating and stupid. Natural Language Processing consists of two main elements: the language + the content. ChatGPT is impressively good when it comes to the language. The algorithm has been trained to predict which words are most likely to be used and in what order. The language and grammar of the tool could indeed be mistaken for real. This as such is a major technological achievement. The second element is the content. This is where things get a bit obscure. Even though ChatGPT responds like a human, unlike a real person it does not have any knowledge or understanding. ChatGPT sources its information on the internet, and that spells trouble. ChatGPT runs a high likelihood of producing bullshit in a very convincing and coherent manner. ChatGPT will always sound plausible, but could be totally wrong. So, while the Natural Language Processing part is groundbreaking, the content part is far from perfect. Training AI is not straightforward Algorithms need to be trained with vast amounts of data. The quality of these datasets will have a huge impact on the end product. It is tempting to use the internet as a source, but that invariably is a bad idea. In December 2022 Melissa Heikkilä (she/her) published an article in MIT Technology Review. She tried viral AI avatar app Lensa to make an avatar of herself. For her male colleagues at MIT the app generated realistic and flattering avatars —think astronauts, warriors, and electronic music album covers. However for Melissa, being a woman, Lensa created tons of nudes. Out of 100 avatars she generated, 16 were topless, and another 14 had her in extremely skimpy clothes and overtly sexualized poses. Only after she told the algorithm she was a male, Lensa produced flattering avatars like it had done for her colleagues. This is a great example of how the data used to train the algorithms affect the results later on. Lensa relies on a free-to-use machine learning model called Stable Diffusion, which was trained on billions of image-and-text combinations scraped from the internet. One just need to look at Instagram to recognize that women often place ‘sexy’ images of themselves. The internet is not a good source to train AI on. This is as true for Lensa as it is for ChatGPT (or any other tool). ChatGPT in the legal industry Lawyers use and process language a lot. Perhaps with the exception of writers, journalists and academics, no profession has language at the core like the legal profession. With that in mind the question arises if ChatGPT will disrupt the legal industry? Personally I think it will not. Let me explain: 1. Where will the content come from? Obviously lawyers at a law firm will not use Google as a source, so in order to use ChatGTP or a derivative, law firms need to feed it with their own datasets. These datasets need to be clean, meaning that every bit of data needs to be vetted before. Data must also be updated on a permanent basis. For many law firms this will be a hurdle they cannot take. 2. Will there be a return on the investment? Purchasing the AI tool and preparing the dataset will require a substantial investment. Further licensing fees and maintenance will add to the cost. Such an investment will only make sense if it will help the law firm to make more money. The question is will it? In this context I would like to point you towards an analysis by Lexoo which was recently shared by its CEO Daniel van Binsbergen. Lexoo analyzed how AI and Machine Learning could speed up contact review. It started with the assumption that such tools could save 50% of a lawyer’s time. It turned out to be 5% in reality! So AI/Machine learning would have very little real-world impact. Side note: this is why inhouse teams that have adopted machine learning have not magically freed up 50% of their time… Even in the unlikely event that the employment of ChatGPT would lead to substantial time savings for lawyers, this still wouldn’t mean there is a business model. If lawyers spend less billable time, this needs to be compensated for by higher rates or more work volume, otherwise it will be a lossmaking operation. The third option would be to employ fewer lawyers, but that would assume the ‘idle time’ could be pinpointed to one or more individuals, which will not be the case. 3. The Technology Paradox Once technology is introduced to simplify our lives, we humans get less experience. Today we have to drive our own cars. In the future there might be fully autonomous cars that do the driving for us. This will make us less experienced as drivers, so when something goes wrong, it will go dramatically wrong because the human lacks the experience to intervene. The legal profession runs the same risk. The present generation of lawyers already has the experience and will probably save little or no time using a ChatGPT based tool. The future generation of lawyers using such a tool will have less experience and will likely struggle to assess the results and identify issues, omissions or mistakes produced by the tool. Parting Shot While lawyers and the legal industry are well advised to remain open to change and new (technological) developments – maybe even more so than today – technology by itself is highly unlikely to fundamentally disrupt the legal industry. Its impact will always be marginal. The legal profession is first and foremost a human profession. Law firms are well advised to prioritize training and development opportunities for lawyers and partners over investment in technology. We do not need faster lawyers, we need ‘better humans’.

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  • a new dawn | tgo-consulting

    MANIFESTO We believe that now, in a time of crisis, teamwork is more important than ever. Law firm partners need to closely cooperate instead of internally compete, in a quest to find the best possible answers to the unique challenges companies (clients) are facing. Only if we combine all intelligence, knowledge, creativity and expertise available in the firm, we can find the innovative solutions needed. Swarm Intelligence outperforms any individual. We believe that the value of a lawyer is not primarily in the knowledge of the law, but in the knowledge of best market practice (risk distribution), strategic insight, empathy, moral standard, creativity and personality. The value of a good lawyer is primarily in the human skills. To the client, these human qualities are far more valuable than the production of legal documents as a consequence thereof. There is no linear relationship between time spent and value. We believe that, for the years to come, companies will only be prepared to spend money on legal services that directly help them protect their bottom-line. There will be tremendous price pressure on legal services that are considered being just part of the costs. Understanding your clients’ business model is more important now than ever.​ ​ ​ ​ ​ This book - A New Dawn - is a Quick Read Edition. The book will become a more elaborate, printed book (Regular Edition) in the months to come. ​ Right now you do not need a lengthy and theoretical book. You need to-the-point, easy to implement, practical advice. You also need it today and not in a year's time. ​ A New Dawn, has been made available for free until the end of May and is now available through Amazon only. order at your local Amazon site

  • Request form report 2 | tgo-consulting

    Ordering the report If you are interested in a hard copy of the report, please fill in your details below and we will send it to you. Thanks! Message sent. Send

  • Legal market insights - Reports

    Reports TGO Consulting conducts research into aspects of the legal market worldwide and publishes reports that provide insights into both clients’ buying behaviour as well as the organisations of legal service providers. We collect and analyse market data, conduct in-depth interviews as well as quantitative surveys, whichever will be fit for the purpose at hand. ​ We are currently, amongst other, working on a report on legal markets in Africa, as well as a report jointly with a Fortune top-10 company that will examine current and future tools in buying legal services. Partner mobility in the German market This is the first report that presents an in-depth analysis of lateral partner moves in the German market over a longer period of time. It covers the hiring activity of the 25 top-ranked law firms in the German legal market since the start of 2011. For the first time, it is revealed that the German lateral hiring market has evolved to reach an unprecedented high and that partners are shifting across the board. An analysis of the data provides an insight into the practice areas that are most concerned and which type of firms are hit the hardest by equity partners seeking opportunities elsewhere. In a sector where the hunt for talent is fierce and law firms are scrambling to shape themselves for the opportunities to come, top lawyers are simply in too high demand to be loyal. The results of this report can be seen as a sign of the times we can expect ahead. With Brexit on the horizon firms will jostle to position themselves in order to benefit from a shifting market. In an ever more competitive playing field the fittest will survive. ​ A PDF version can be downloaded for free by clicking on the report. If you are interested in a complimentary hard copy please do not hesitate to request one here . ​ Commoditisation of legal services Few of us have failed to notice how clients are changing the manner in which they purchase external legal services and their efforts in putting pressure on pricing. At the same time, law firms are reporting more or less business as usual. How can this be? TGO Consulting undertook a quantitative survey amongst lawyers aimed at canvassing to which extend there is a real downward pressure on the price of legal services. Senior lawyers from over a 100 business law firms across Europe were invited to participate on-line, on an anonymous basis. Further, 15 general counsel, or persons in charge of managing outside legal services, were interviewed face-to-face on the subject of commoditisation of legal services. All interviewees represent internationally operating companies that are large buyers of legal services. The results presented in this report are thought-provoking and we hope that our conclusions stimulate a further debate. A PDF version can be downloaded for free by clicking on the picture of the report on the left side of this text. If you are interested in a complimentary hard copy please do not hesitate to request one here . ​

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