In a Bloomberg interview last October, Citi's Dan DiPietro, chairman of the bank's law firm group, said that he maintained a "somewhat robust watch list" of firms in potential trouble, ranging from "very slight concern to oh my God!"
Here's a summary:
Culture is important, but associates' productivity is a function of the hours they bill.
Culture is important, but associates face diminishing chances that years of loyalty to a single firm will result in promotion to equity partnership.
Culture is important, but lateral hiring to achieve revenue growth has become a central business strategy for many, if not most, big firms. It has also exacerbated internal equity partner income gaps.
Culture is important and, if a firm loses it, the resulting instability may cause that firm to disappear.
As you try to reconcile these themes, you'll understand why, as with other Hildebrandt/Citi client advisories, the report's final line is my favorite: "As always, we stand ready to assist our clients in meeting the challenges of today's market."
Steven J. Harper is an adjunct professor at Northwestern University and author of the forthcoming book, THE LAWYER BUBBLE A Profession in Crisis (Basic Books, April 2, 2013). He recently retired as a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, after 30 years in private practice. His blog about the legal profession, The Belly of the Beast, can be found at http://thebellyofthebeast.wordpress.com/. A version of the column above was first published on The Belly of the Beast.