America's Lawyers Are Screwing Over Their Own Colleagues To Get Ahead

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The New Republic's withering article on partners at Chicago law firm Mayer Brown "aggressively" competing with one another other highlights a huge problem plaguing BigLaw — partners screwing each other to get ahead.

The problem is that many huge corporate law firms compensate partners based on how many new clients they can bring in. This incentive spurs lawyers to hoard clients and try to beat out their colleagues to get to them first.

(At Mayer Brown, for example, partners in the Chicago office would fly to New York to steal clients from their Manhattan colleagues, Noam Scheiber writes in the TNR piece called "the last days of BigLaw.")

Lawyers hoarding their precious clients is nothing new, but it's gotten worse since the recession. Baby Boomers are putting off retirement and holding onto their clients, and there's just less work for lawyers these days.

"As a consequence, many partners build client silos and guard them jealously, even from their fellow partners," legal industry expert Steven J. Harper told Business Insider.

This hoarding has also gotten worse since partners tend to jump from job to job these days instead of staying at one firm for the duration of their careers. "Where's the incentive for a partner to share a client with a fellow partner who might leave and try to take that client along?" Harper said.

This "eat what you kill" mentality is a "stupid way to develop business" and can be terrible for law firms, Orrick partner and legal industry expert Patricia Gillette told BI. For one thing, it just looks bad to potential clients when multiple lawyers from the same firm try to get their business without coordinating with one another.

Greedy partners also take a toll on young associates, who are rarely given the chance to take the lead with a client. Many partners don't "think about the next generation" because they're intent on keeping their clients to themselves, Gillette told us.

"What you have is people looking out for themselves and no one else," she said. "That is extremely damaging to the firm."



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