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The pending merger between my alma mater firm, San Francisco-based Pillsbury Madison & Sutro, and New York’s Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts is a watershed event in the local bar. The Pillsbury of old disappeared some time ago, but it is now official. Many will lament the loss of what was once a genteel fraternity of professionals. In its place is a culture that demands uninterrupted performance of its partners and associates. Those seeking to earn or maintain a tenured partnership are no longer welcome. Although I am one of the many beneficiaries of the old culture at Pillsbury, I’m the first to admit that it had to go. I arrived at Pillsbury in 1992, fresh from law school with few useful skills and plenty of bad work habits. When I received an intellectual property assignment that I found interesting, my work was always sufficient to keep partners happy. Don’t ask about my performance in other assignments. Work on a weekend? Sorry, I’ll be mountain biking. That memo I promised you? You wanted that last week? Goodness, I thought you said next week. I didn’t meet the billable hour goal again? I’ll try harder next month. Document production? I’d love to handle it, but I’m just so busy with [fill in name of powerful partner]‘s urgent project. Amazingly, such performance didn’t result in my immediate termination. My supervising partners only gave me that Ward Cleaver look that said, “C’mon, Andy, we know you can do better.” I could do better, but on my own, not in a law firm. For three years, Pillsbury put up with me while I learned the skills needed for my solo practice. I doubt very much that associates today could get away with such behavior longer than a month — especially at such high salaries. Of course, the slacker mentality at Pillsbury was not limited to associates. I often asked partners for advice on how to get clients. The usual response: “The best way to get your next case is to do a good job on your last one.” This was hardly a surprising answer, since for decades Pillsbury had the luxury of a stable of blue-chip clients. Business development was unnecessary — business was fully developed. As its clients merged out of existence or spread their work among other firms, being able to generate new business became a critical necessity for the firm. Unfortunately, only a minority of partners knew much about getting new business. These rainmakers became increasingly less satisfied with the fraternity structure that did little to reward them for their contributions to the firm’s bottom line. It was inevitable that Mary Cranston, or another top rainmaker, would lead the firm. Otherwise, those rainmakers would have left Pillsbury, leaving behind little food and many mouths to feed. With the rainmakers in charge, the fraternity dissolved. Some partners left with strong practices. Partners with disfavored specialties, insufficient business, or both left involuntarily. To be sure, a few very talented partners could offset their dearth of clients with their skills and hard work. In other words, Pillsbury became like the other large firms in town. So Pillsbury attorneys of the past and present are left to ponder: is this change good or bad? The answer is immaterial, for the change was inevitable. In today’s legal market, partner compensation must be closely tied to rainmaking. If it is not, the rainmakers will quickly move, with clients in tow, to a more rewarding firm. Last fall, a job-seeking Hastings law student asked me for my thoughts on Pillsbury. Would it be wise for him to join a firm that might go under, he wondered. I assured him that Pillsbury was making the changes necessary to maintain its strong reputation for excellent lawyering and to improve its bottom line. In retrospect, I should also have warned him that the downside of these changes is an inhospitable environment for slackers like me.

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