Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Howrey's Greatest Hits: The Honorable Mentions

Thanks to everyone who contributed additional bits and pieces to the Howrey's Greatest Hits post.  The contributions were so good that I had to compile them.

The Power of Focus

Oh, dear.  Where to begin?

Circa 2002, Howrey had been using the slogan "Where Leaders Go" in its advertisements.  Although I assume Bobby interpreted this slogan to mean "the law firm that is hired by business leaders," the slogan was also susceptible to several unfortunate double entendres.  Howrey will rarely let a bad idea die, and note that when you type www.whereleadersgo.com into your web browser, you will be automagically redirected to Howrey's home page.

So Howrey decided it was time to develop another slogan.  Howrey hired an (undoubtedly high priced) firm to cook up a new slogan and advertising campaign.  The new slogan?  "The Power of Focus."  The supporting print advertising featured pictures of celebrities (I use that term loosely, see below) who ostensibly possessed "The Power of Focus" to achieve great things, and since Howrey said that it possessed "The Power of Focus," it would also enable its clients to also achieve great things.  Howrey developed a new graphical look and feel for its website, which used a lot of yellows and reds and looked vaguely like an Asian fusion cuisine restaurant.  Howrey even commissioned six video ads, which was somewhat prophetic considering that the previous law firm that had made a splash with video ads was...Brobeck.

This use of random celebrities to promote the Howrey brand was a blatant rip off of Apple's Think Different campaign.  But the massive difference between "Think Different" and "The Power of Focus" was that while Apple paid the big bucks on instantly recognizable A-List celebrities such as John & Yoko, Lucy & Ricky, Bob Dylan, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Jim Henson & Kermit, and Martin Luther King, Howrey went cheapie and used C-to-Z-List celebrities, such as Duke Ellington, Judge John Sirica (i.e., the judge for whom Bobby Ruyak clerked), Monet (probably in the public domain, and impressionists aren't exactly known for being "focused" in their works, but never mind), and some chick who did something while playing a game of softball (seriously).  So that must mean that Howrey is a C-to-Z-List law firm by association, right?

What happened next does indeed suggest "yes."  Before launch, you would think that a law firm promoting itself as the world's best intellectual property practice would have run a trademark search to make sure that no one had already registered "The Power of Focus," right?  Wrong.  And it turned out that a law firm in Miami had already done so.  Whoopsie.

Setting aside that minor trademark clearance problem, Bobby (R) took "The Power of Focus" and its videos on the road to each of Howrey's offices and handed every Howrey employee a pair of miniature binoculars in a metal case, emblazoned with "Howrey Simon Arnold & White:  The Power of Focus."  It's quite the collectible.

Soon after Howrey discovered it was infringing the trademark OF ANOTHER LAW FIRM, it adopted a new slogan: "The Advantage of Focus."  And that law firm in South Florida has had "The Power of Focus" ever since.

Tsunami Relief

We all remember the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.  Throughout the world, many companies donated money and supplies and many charitable organizations rushed to provide emergency aid.

Giving to a charitable cause is a great thing.  But giving to a charitable cause for the sake of generating publicity about your charitable proclivities is disgusting.  And that's where Howrey stepped in (it).

In January 2005, Bobby announced that Howrey would be donating $1,000,000 to tsunami relief.  Here's the press release, in which Bobby explained that he wanted Howrey to set an example for other law firms and that a donation of this magnitude would require "belt tightening."  Unsurprisingly, few other firms rose to Bobby's challenge, and the financial source of the donation was quite troubling...and creative!

One would expect that the "belt tightening" would have meant that Howrey's partners all participated in the the donation by tightening their belts.  But no, this is Howrey!  Mere weeks after the tsunami donation was announced, Howrey was required to pay profit sharing bonuses (about $15K - $20K) to its senior associates.  Howrey solved its belt tightening dilemma by skipping the senior associate bonuses in 2005.

Lavish Partner Retreats

Howrey has a reputation for having lavish annual partner retreats in South Florida (usually at a Ritz), Grand Cayman, and even Puerto Rico.  Howrey does not have offices in any of these locations.  The closest might be South Florida, where a law firm registered "The Power of Focus" before Howrey could run a trademark clearance (see above).

Even in the spring of 2005 (when there was supposed to be "belt tightening" in the wake of the tsunami relief donation and Howrey Senior Associates were forced to forfeit their profit sharing bonuses), Howrey jetted all of its partners to a tropical island for several fun filled nights of Howrey hurrahs and self congratulations.

Does it really make any sense for a firm, while trying to justify its high billing rates to its clients, to fly all of its partners to Grand Cayman, Puerto Rico, or South Florida for some back slapping?  These retreats had to cost at least $1M each, and wouldn't partners have simply preferred to have that cash, instead of Bobby blowing it on a firm imposed vacation with coworkers?  Or maybe partners would have preferred to have had time with their actual families, to have attended to billable client matters, and to have allowed the firm to pay its senior associate profit sharing bonuses?

The Runaway Jury

For some reason that made sense to someone in marketing, Howrey paid to have its name inserted into the script of the movie "The Runaway Jury."  In the relevant scene, an assistant to Dylan MacDermott's character announced that he must leave a conference room to attend "a conference call about the antitrust approvals with Howrey at 11." Needless to say, most people who watched the film probably misheard the assistant, and thought he was about to speak with "Howie."  But it didn't matter much, anyway, because said assistant character was killed a few moments later.  So much for those antitrust approvals.

Anyone know how much Howie paid for this?

Partial Equity Partners

You either hold equity in something, or you don't.  It's kinda like pregnancy or being married -- there's a binary "yes" or "no" answer.

A couple of years ago, Bobby developed a radical new scheme to raise revenue.  He imposed a tariff on non-equity partners, in which they would have to contribute 10% of their income (on a post-tax basis) back to the firm.  For this contribution of EQUITY investment, non-equity partners would receive none of the benefits given to equity partners, like contingency payments.  Ruyak often dubbed this class of partners as "partial equity" partners.  A large amount of downside, and none of the upside.

But no real worries, because partial equity partners will receive their equity back when they leave the firm.  ... Oh. ... Sorry.

Do Leaders Go To New York?

Before Howrey launched its "Power/Advantage of Focus" campaign and shortly after the firm's "merger" with "Arnold White & Durkee," Howrey had new business cards printed with the "Howrey Simon Arnold & White" logo.  On the back of these cards was a glossy photo of the skyline of Battery Park City and the World Trade Center in New York.  Of course, Howrey did not have a New York office at that time.

In fact, I remember Bobby once saying that Howrey would never have a New York office because of the complexities and idiosyncrasies of the New York Market.  I guess he changed his mind.

Ghost Stories

In a vanity project, Howrey commissioned a film (including professional actors) in which current Howrey attorneys consulted the ghosts of dead Howrey partners for advice.  I really wish someone would obtain a copy post it on YouTube.  I'm not equipped to handle video, but I bet the folks at Above the Law would proudly show it off a la "Everyone's A Winner At Nixon Peabody."  Anyone interested in stepping up to the plate?

I think that pretty much covers it.  It's all I can take today.

Howrey Doody


  1. I can't remember all the details, but about three years ago Ruyak publised a self-congratulatory brochure for all at the firm called "Succeeding Against All Odds" or "Success Against All Odds" or close to that. It made the point that when he became Managing Partner in about 2000, he had some grand plan and that "everyone" was "betting against" his "plan" but that the Firm had "succeeded against all odds." Cue applause for heroic overperformance. The joke was that there never had been some big plan. At that point he was just following the path of "focusing" on IP, antitrust and litigation and his predecessor had done the deal with Arnold White and Collier Shannon. No one was "betting against" anything at that point.

    Someone ought to find that little jewel of a joke and post it somewhere. I think it went to all lawyers and staff at the firm. It captures all in one place his vanity, pretension, and a classic re-invention of history all in the servivce of self adoration and aggrandizement.

  2. binoculars are great. I still use them frequently; nice, compact, etc. Firm sucked, but at least I got something out of it.

  3. And now all of those equity and partial equity partners alike will enjoy the pleasure of paying the enormous undiscounted hourly rates of bankruptcy lawyers throughout DC to wind down the affairs of the firm. The subject of creative alternative fee arrangements will move up the priority scale.

  4. At some point, partial equity partnes had upside to the extent of their equity, which might have been small, but it was not nothing. Don't know when PEP's become NEP's but at some point, and then they were "asked" in 2009 or so to contribute capital, but with no upside other than a way above market interest rate on their capital. Why would anyone put in capital at something like 7% to a firm? If the banks won't lend at far lesser rates, they surely kknew something. I guess Ryak and Boland did not want the non-equities to know that they were suckers, er lenders, of last resort.

  5. I also note that Ruyak encouraged "partial equity" partners to contribute more than the mandatory 10% because he thought it was a great investment opportunity.

    It reminds me of the scene in "The Smartest Guys in the Room" in which an Enron higher up at an all employees meeting encourages Enron employees to place more of their retirement money in Enron stock.

  6. "And Chicago's Levenfeld Pearlstein has announced that veteran litigation partner Michael Padden, 54, has moved there. His practice focuses on IP, antitrust and business litigation."


  7. Actually what happened with the "Power of Focus" boo-boo is a little different than stated above. A trademark search was performed beforehand. The Miami firm, which hadn't yet used its slogan yet, did not come up. Then there was a delay before the roll-out of the Howrey "Power of Focus" campaign. In the interim, the Miami firm filed an ITU ("Intent to Use") application to register the mark. The mistake, which is not that rare in these sorts of situations, was to not do a follow-up search once a few weeks had passed between the initial search and the roll-out.

  8. Oh, I see. Only partial malpractice by the biggest IP firm in the ocuntry. That makes it all OK?

  9. @6:54 -- If true, Howrey should have filed an ITU application promptly after the initial trademark search revealed that "The Power of Focus" was unregistered. I don't see how this changes the fact that Howrey was epically stupid.

  10. Trademark geeks, take it outside.

  11. Would love to see a Howrey superlatives list... Anyone have any ideas???

  12. Howrey actually did run a follow-up trademark search - that is how it found out about the Miami firm. So as not to annoy 9:56 AM, I won't even get into the fact that Howrey still could have established its superior rights in the POWER OF FOCUS mark by using the binoculars as evidence of "use analogous to trademark use." Instead, I'll just be grateful for my piece of "Dewey Defeats Truman"-esque Howrey swag and move on to other things that I think deserve an honorable mention:

    1. This probably can be grouped with the "Ghost Stories" entry, but do you remember the video with Mark Wegener playing a Dick Cheney character and offering to go hunting with Howrey billing partners? The point of this video was to encourage partners to get their time entered and bills sent out quickly,(or else beware of Cheney's/Wegener's errant shot) but Howrey could have gotten that same message across more cheaply and effectively by just holding billing partner paychecks until their bills went out. I don't know how much was spent on that video, but it seemed like a waste of money to me. There was also a video with Bob Ruyak and Ralph Allen playing roles, but I really can't remember that one too well. Anyway, it seems that the leadership of Howrey had a penchant for wasting money on unnecessary movies.

    2. The purchase of several large flat screen TVs for the lobbies/reception areas of the offices. This was done in the early 2000s when flat screens (especially large ones) were expensive. And what did the flat screens end up showing anyway? Pictures of Howrey's offices. How many clients did Howrey get or keep because of those flat screens? The money could have been much better spent elsewhere.

  13. Here's a dishonorable mention for you: one year the Howrey holiday party had a jungle theme, complete with an African dance troupe performing in the center of the hall (I think it was the Building Museum but time and free martinis have obscured that) while throngs of uptight white people watched from the upper levels.

    Those parties were way over the top in general. I think they outspent many of the more profitable firms in town.

  14. The money for the Tsunami relief came directly from the Equity partners' bonuses. Bob himself put in 500k. It in no way effected any other financials of the firm.

    And the reason, since you obviously are not familiar with law firm workings, that equity partners get large bonuses is because they have stakes in the firm, and actually bring in the bucks.

    But keep crying about how your incredibly important position was eliminated and you decided to take to blogging. It's very impressive indeed.

  15. 7:20: hey matt wolf, since you make "the big bucks", have you considered investing in the jenny craig program? Your fat ass makes a poor impression. At least your personality makes up for it....oh, wait. Nevermind.

  16. Did it effect the financials or affect the financials?

  17. "Bob himself put in 500k."

    I absolutely do not believe that.

  18. Hello, 7:20! Gotta address you.

    1. Howrey gave $1M (without partner vote) to tsunami relief, held a lavish and expensive retreat in Puerto Rico, and bailed on its annual senior associate bonuses, all in a matter of months. You tell me where it looks like the money for the Puerto Rican vacation and tsunami relief donation came from. If your argument is that Howrey was entitled to misbehave this way, you may well be correct but should be banned from having any managerial responsibilities anywhere.

    2. If it is true that Bobby paid $500K for tsunami relief, that is nothing other than a reflection of how much he overpaid himself at the expense of his partners. As a result, it would be a donation devoid of sacrifice, which is not very admirable. But like 9:09, I also refuse to believe it, anyway.

    3. I never said that equity partners are not entitled to large bonuses. Indeed, their financial investment in the firm entitles them to financial rewards, as well as their fair chunk of the enormous debt when their firm collapses. I hope that didn't hit a nerve.

    4. Your final paragraph? Wrong. Dead wrong-o. You seem likely to enjoy suffering of people you perceive to be below you. Again, you should be banned from having any managerial responsibilities anywhere.

  19. @7:20: Bob did not contribute his own money to the tsunami fund, although he did cause the firm to contribute a million dollars with minimal consultation with the partners. Also, U R a moron.

  20. @7:20: Here's a quiz to help you with your effect vs. affect:


  21. I have another Honorable Mention. Does anyone remember Bob's poem? Please enjoy.


    A leader is not a concept,
    But the defining characteristic of
    A person or organization.

    One not content to stand on familiar ground,
    Or master the known,
    But compelled to explore the unexplored,
    Grasp for the untouched, and
    Keep the unthinkable firmly in mind.

    One who embraces Risk as the price of success,
    Change as the fuel of progress,
    Dreams as the window to the future,
    And Creativity as a sacred obligation.

    One who believes that the Extraordinary is ordinary,
    Goals have no limits,
    Values cannot be compromised, and
    Total Commitment is a way of life.

    Leaders are often misunderstood,
    Frequently criticized, sometimes derided,
    But never ignored.

    The world doesn’t always agree with them
    And they like that.

    Some think they are a little crazy,
    But that’s the human side of genius.

    For all of this they have earned our respect,
    Our confidence and a following.

    That’s why we call them Leaders.

    -Robert F. Ruyak
    Managing Partner & CEO

  22. Hallucinations of Grandeur for sure. Where did this come from?

  23. Wow. *slow claps*

    That didn't really do it for me. But I admit that I'm partial to poems that rhyme, not to poems that suck.

  24. 10:28 here, responding to 11:12. It was included with some Bootcamp materials from the early 2000s.

  25. That poem must have been Ruyak channeling Susan Polis Schutz . . . sort of, and badly.

  26. Bob Koenon played the Pope in a video and Ralph Allen was a Cardinal or vice versa had to do with getting billing in on time They even rented costumes to look the part. Pathetic

  27. @4:29-You're about 2 years behind me. I vividly remember sitting in a Howrey staff meeting in 2008 or 2009 when the economy was tanking. Firms were laying people off right and left. Ruyak was telling staff members how good things were at the firm. I looked at he person next to me and said, "why do I feel like I am watching Ken Lay in a scene from the Smartest Guys in the Room?"

  28. Companies always lie about how they're doing. I was dating a woman at Quinn Emmanuel at about the same time (2009) as in the prior post. John Quinn had just made a statement in ABA Journal or some such magazine about how the downturn wasn't affecting Quinn Emmanuel and they weren't experiencing layoffs like everybody else, because Quinn Emmanuel was such hot stuff. About 2 weeks later Quinn Emmanuel began significant layoffs.

  29. The world doesn’t always agree with them
    And they like that.