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08/15/06

Law firms look for fewer equity partners


In recent days, there has been a new trend among law firms of offering partnerships without equity. Equity partners share the firm's profits. Profit per equity partner is the benchmark used by law firms to calculate both earnings and profitability. The list of such firms is growing steadily as evidenced by last week's announcement by Baker & McKenzie, offering 39 partnership promotions without perks.

There appears to be a growing reluctance to grant equity to any but the most notable figures within a firm. This was evident from the case of DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary International, whose audited financial accounts for the fiscal year 2005 showed 407 partners outside U.S., with only 127 of them employed as full-time equity partners. Similarly, Allen & Overy, the UK's fourth-largest firm, has 342 full-equity partners but 82 more using the "partner" title. Baker & McKenzie has 80 UK partners, 62 of them full equity.

According to legal experts, a partnership at a top-20 firm, under ideal circumstances, translates to significant promotion in terms of salary offered. The average salary for these conditions is $238,000, with a performance-based bonus of up to $94,500. Additionally, fixed-share partners recruited in one of the top-five law firms can further earn $190,000 with equity points tied to profits.

Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs opens office in Florida
In line with the firm's expansion strategy across the U.S., the primarily Ohio-based firm of Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs, LLP has opened a new office in West Palm Beach, Florida. The law firm is looking to consolidate and build up its operations in the region, taking advantage of South Florida's rapid growth and providing a full range of legal services to its clients.

Four attorneys, including shareholder and managing partner Brian J. Cooke, have been appointed at the new office to handle cases covering corporate and transactional, mergers and acquisitions, securities, stock and assets allocations and dispositions, employment law, family law, intellectual property, and litigation law. Their clients include sole proprietors, multinational corporations, governmental bodies, foundations, and public organizations.

Cooke joins Buckingham from Arnstein & Lehr, as does attorney John A. Turner. Joseph L. Ackerman, Jr., from Boose Casey Ciklin Lubitz Martens McBane & O'Connell, and Carina Leeson, formerly of Stuart R. Manoff and Associates, also hold positions at the new office.

Ballard Spahr continues to expand
Traditionally cautious in geographical expansion, in recent months Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll has been aggressive in working on its expansion strategy across U.S. The firm opened new offices in Las Vegas and Phoenix in July this year, and bizjournals.com reported its plan of opening another office by Labor Day. The firm's previous strategy was to concentrate on the mid-Atlantic region, maintaining only seven offices elsewhere in the country. However, offering stiff competition to its rivals and believes that this initiative will provide more depth, geographic diversity, and national recognition.

Currently, the firm has 300 lawyers in its New Jersey offices, about 50 in Washington, DC, 40 each in Baltimore and Salt Lake City, and 35 in Denver. The firm is also exploring possibilities to increase attorney strength at its Phoenix office, with the projected addition of 25-30 lawyers. Recruiter fees are a notorious drain on the resources of new firms, but Ballard Spahr claims interest in the Phoenix office is more than sufficient to meet personnel needs without depending on recruiters.

Robbins Palmer Allen closes operations in California
California-based law firm Robbins Palmer Allen LLP closed business operations in July. Four prominent partners at the Oakland firm, William Robbins III, Robert Allen, Richard Logan Jr., and John Ricksen, returned after the closing to Knox Ricksen LLP, where some of them had worked together since the 1970s. All four had left in 1997 their real estate and business law positions at Knox to form Robbins Palmer Allen as an offshoot.

The closing of Robbins Palmer Allen's operations was inspired by the expiration of its office lease, with many lawyers at the firm found hesitant to commit to another long lease, especially with a lack of young associates interested in taking over the task of caring for the firm for years to come. After nearly a decade as a firm and over three decades for the name partners practicing law together, the time came for each partner in the firm to re-evaluate his future practice of law.

With the return of these four business lawyers, Knox intends to build up its practice areas, which include transactional, real estate, and business litigation for a number of clients. Knox Ricksen LLP is a civil trial and litigation firm serving the needs of clients throughout California. Established in 1972, the firm's lawyers have extensive experience in the areas of insurance law, fraud, unfair business practices, environmental and toxic torts, product liability, and construction defect.

Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs, LLC

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