Patrick Daugherty, a partner at Foley & Lardner, has a corporate, M&A, finance and regulatory practice of national scope.
He graduated from Cornell University Law School in 1981. Except for a one-year clerkship in federal district court, he has spent his entire career as a corporate lawyer, focusing on SEC matters. He said that in good times this means stock offerings, “M&A” and other “liquidity events” in which clients and their business partners make money. In bad times it means bankruptcies, “restructurings” and enforcement defense — these are basically “loss avoidance” engagements. He said like other lawyers of a certain age, he gets drawn into meetings to counsel directors and other fiduciaries in both good times and bad. He tries to read and write a lot in his field in order to stay as sharp as possible.
What do you find the most interesting about your practice?
The creativity inherent in development of a new financial product is what stirs me to action and concentrates my attention. For that matter, no two corporate transactions are identical. In each case a thoughtful lawyer will apply learning from prior assignments while introducing, or perhaps navigating, subtle differences that, in themselves, generate a continuing education for the lawyer. And so it is that fine lawyers are intelligent people: They concurrently use knowledge and create knowledge.
What makes a good lawyer?
In the past it might have been said that good lawyers were those who knew well the “craft” of lawyering. As Dean Van Zandt points out, there are “guilds” among lawyers that have valued craftsmanship very highly. Today, however, while solid skills are necessary, they are not enough. Today, good lawyers are always thinking about clients — those they have, those they want. They educate themselves about client needs, circumstances and expectations. They identify what it is that clients want, in addition to applied legal skills, and they deliver it. The best lawyers are committed to doing everything they possibly can to advance the business and personal interests of their clients.
What is the biggest legal news right now, and what is its impact?
Without question, the biggest news in the profession right now is the impact on lawyers of the Great Recession — Judge Posner calls it a Depression — felt by their clients. The severe slowdown in economic activity has created an imbalance between demand for legal services (too little) and supply of such services (too much). This imbalance threatens the livelihood of many lawyers and is especially problematic for newly-minted lawyers and law students. Many will practice in fields other than those that they most desire. Some will find too little demand regardless of field and will be driven to pursue another line of work entirely. I’ve been practicing law for 28 years and haven’t seen anything like this in all that time. Others who are older than me say the same thing.