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March 2, 2009 2:44 PM

Laid-Off Associate Starts Partner Rating Site

Posted by Nate Raymond

Samsmith Meet Sam Smith. Back in 2007, he landed a job at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft's Charlotte office as an associate in its capital markets practice. "I got in right at the peak," he says. "They were just doing tons of deals at the time. And then things slowed down."

Securitizations disappeared, while Cadwalader's principal Charlotte clients, Bank of America and Wachovia, strained under the weight of the credit crunch. Cadwalader began laying off associates. Among them was Smith, 34, who lost his job along with the 95 other lawyers Cadwalader said it would cut in July.

Unable to find a job, Smith got entrepreneurial and opened a Web site, Rate a Partner. The site, which launched in late February, describes itself as a destination for clients, lawyers, staff, and law students to critique partners at the biggest law firms. Visitors can rate partners on a five-star system and write comments about them.

We touched base with Smith to talk out about his new site, associate-partner relations, and being laid off in Charlotte.

Where did you get the idea for the site?

I'm a laid off lawyer, so I have a lot of time on my hands. I always thought there should be an upward review process for partners, because big law firms are always doing review processes for associates, so there's not a lot of this upward review. And so basically what Rate a Partner does is it takes the conversation to the next level. The business model is pretty simple. The more lawyers talk about each other, the more ads we sell. Good partners will attract good reviews, bad partners will hopefully be exposed. It's not scientific, but it's a gauge.

It seems similar to a popular college Web site, RateMyProfessor.com. Are you basing your idea on that?

I hadn't remembered Rate My Professor until after I started developing this. I have a sister-in-law who's on there, and she was like, oh, there's this Web site, Rate My Professor, you've got to check it out.

That site has received criticism over the years for how they conceal the identities of the students doing the reviews of professors, making it impossible to know who is saying what about a person. Are you worried about attracting similar criticism?

At this point I'm not really concerned about that. If it turns out to be a problem, I'll deal with it, but that's going to be a bridge I'll cross when I get to it.

What's been the feedback so far for the site?

Right now what I know is we launched last [week] and there was an over 1,000 percent spike in traffic over that one-week period. The server went down twice, so we transferred everything to a new server, and since then, it's humming along pretty nicely. And then I had a lot of people, users, signing in to do the ratings and give reviews.

Any particular partners getting a lot of reviews over night?

It's interesting. I think your magazine published that Yolanda [Young] is going to be issuing a lawsuit against [Covington & Burling]. And I actually worked with her; I was a staff attorney at Covington the same time she was. I know Pat Davies, the person named in the lawsuit, and then I saw there was a review of him on our page. I've looked at the stats, and I've seen hundreds of searches for [former Cadwalader chairman] Bob Link. [No reviews yet for Link, though.]

You mentioned that you've been laid off. Is the job market so bad that you have to come up with something other than law to do right now?

It is that bad, yeah. I'm in Charlotte, and as far as I can tell, there are no law firms hiring, at least none in my practice area or in any of the alternative practice areas that I could potentially move into. I was doing securitizations in capital markets. The office here, they laid off people in January [2008], and I got laid off in August. It's everybody. In fact, every firm you call, they're very apologetic because it's just like, we're kind of in the same mode, we're going to be cutting jobs, too, soon. So it is kind of an alternative.

What happened to your friends who have been laid off? Are there others starting new businesses?

I know another guy who's starting a job search-type company for lawyers. And then I know a lot of people who've gone into just business and left the law and gone into management side. Most of these people have actually left Charlotte, though.

(Photo by Neil Krauss.)

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For almost a decade Susman Godfrey has encouraged all of its associates to evaluate its partners on an annual basis. The evaluations are done anonymously and the feedback has been extremely helpful to the partners.

Great idea. Is advertising the revenue stream?

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