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(This article originally appeared in the May 2006 issue of The American Lawyer.) I laughed the first time I heard Cesar Alvarez’s joke. To paraphrase, Alvarez, the president and CEO of Greenberg Traurig, likes to say that the Am Law 100 numbers come from his marketing department, and the numbers for the Citigroup financial survey come from his finance department. I confess that after the first dozen or so times I heard this bon mot, I began to hope it was just this sort of humor that had helped Greenberg recruit Jack Abramoff into its Washington, D.C., office. The implication of Cesar’s joke is that the numbers we get are puffery, while the numbers he gives the bank are accurate. As some of you know, Citi serves some Am Law 100 firms as their banker and surveys as many of the others as it can. In return, Dan DiPietro, the public face of Citi’s law firm group, provides cooperating firms with a benchmarking analysis. He also uses the data in talks to law firms and in articles for me. To my surprise, Dan now offers an unfavorable comparison to the Am Law numbers as part of his warm-up act before law firm audiences. And otherwise-respected consultants who travel the circuit with him like to foment the message: Citi, right; Am Law, wrong. Why? There are a host of reasons, which I suspect boil down to this: They think the marketplace is better served when they control the data. Are the Citigroup numbers better than ours? According to DiPietro, many of the numbers are virtually the same. The gross revenue numbers are so close that he didn’t bother to compare them last year; he told me that the difference was 1.5 percent the last time he checked, more or less a rounding error. He can’t comment on our revenue per lawyer (RPL) numbers because Citi’s head count is an average computed over a year, and ours is a number fixed on each August 31. We’ve never had reason to suspect that firms fudge their head counts. So it’s a simple matter of dividing gross (which, according to DiPietro, is accurate) into head count (which we believe is also accurate). Absent an arithmetic calamity, then, our RPL numbers are correct�or, to be fair, at least as correct as Citi’s. That leaves the profit numbers, and this is where Dan likes to start flicking his jab. As part of his show he has a slide that purports to reveal the differences between Citi and The American Lawyer, the implication being that he has the real goods. Thanks to a friend’s intervention, I have a copy of the slide. And here’s the big news: The American Lawyer’s report of profits per partner is essentially the same as Citi’s for 47 percent of the firms to which he has access. For another 22 percent, the difference is 10 percent or less. So, Citi and The American Lawyer are within the same range, give or take 10 percent, on slightly more than two-thirds of the firms. Not bad for a bunch of reporters and editors who don’t have subpoena power or the ability to choke off credit. But what about the rest? It turns out that we don’t use the same definition of equity partner. Our definition is stricter; therefore, Dan reports more equity partners than we do. Rather than state clearly on his slide that his denominator is different, Dan uses an ugly word to describe our figures: “overstated.” That’s an unfriendly characterization, and an unhelpful one, too�for both of us. The great weakness in Dan’s enterprise is that his numbers aren’t susceptible to public confirmation; all his numbers are reported as aggregates. We have to take everything on faith because Citi says so. Rather than jab at us, Citi would be better off declaring that its numbers generally agree with ours; his value-add comes from probing areas we don’t and providing proprietary analysis. As always, there’s an elephant in the room. There’s more at work here than a struggle over definitions. There are a few firms that mislead us or flat-out lie. We work hard to try to catch them, and sometimes we do. Thank goodness for scorned spouses. What good this falsifying does eludes me. Even the dimmest lateral candidate knows that our profits per partner number is but an average. And if the only way a firm can maintain its status in front of its partners and peers is by exaggerating its numbers, just who is impressed? And for how long? A few law firm managers whisper coyly to me that they have to inflate their numbers a bit because “everyone” does it. But, according to Dan, most don’t. And even if everyone did, as a matter of self-respect, why dilute the value of your word? Now, here’s the wicked part: The few liars have started lying to Dan, too. As you’ll see in his analysis in this issue, he refers to the odd results at one firm that appears to be very profitable, but notes that the rest of its numbers don’t match. Dan says he can’t fathom why anyone would mislead him, since his numbers are not attributed to individual firms. What to do? Consider four things: First, stop obsessing about profits per partner and start paying more attention to our revenue per lawyer and value per lawyer statistics. They are proxies for judging clientele and efficiency, and, as such, are better measures of law firm health. Second, understand that these numbers�ours and Citi’s�are the results of human endeavors. Despite Herculean efforts, both are susceptible to error. They are magnificent tools to give direction and assess progress; but, if you really need to know if you’re earning more than your long-ago coclerk�just call her. Third, embrace transparency. We’re long past the debate over whether The Am Law 100 ruined the profession. We think that you’re better off running businesses that don’t operate out of dimly lit caves. We publish our numbers, and you’re free to question them. Citi remains a black-box venture. Why any professional skeptic would prefer to trust numbers that the wizard keeps behind the curtain is a mystery. Fourth, as important as the Am Law 100 numbers are, the true merit of a law firm is not its profitability rank. We think it’s the firm’s rank on our A-List, which measures revenue, pro bono, associate satisfaction, and workforce diversity. We’ll publish those numbers in July. Until then, consider this: The Am Law 100 proves that hardworking, smart people can make a lot of money. But, if you think the profession is all about money, then which one of us has ruined the profession?

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