International News Roundup: US economy shows improved job prospects…but not for lawyers

Plus: Patton Boggs and Squire Sanders could vote on a merger as early as this week, while the legal team at General Motors comes under scrutiny over a major vehicle safety defect linked to 13 deaths

Patton Boggs and Squire Sanders potentially voting on merger proposal this week
Partners at Patton Boggs and Squire Sanders could vote on a proposed merger as early as this week.
Reuters and Wall Street Journal say the combined entity would result in an approximately 1,700 lawyer firm that would be known as Squire Patton Boggs. The Wall Street Journal reports that the management committee at Patton Boggs—which has nearly 400 lawyers firm-wide—has already approved the merger proposal. The publication also reports that it’s not clear whether the management committee at Squire Sanders—which has approximately 1,300 lawyers firm-wide—has approved the proposal.
The firms have been in talking about a merger for months. The Journal reported in February that Patton Boggs has been reducing its size and cutting expenditures in an effort to land a merger partner. In 2012, the firm held talks with now-defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf about a possible merger before Dewey ultimately filed for bankruptcy.
GM legal department under scrutiny
General Motors' (GM’s) legal department is the focus of an internal inquiry into how the company handled a vehicle safety defect linked to 13 deaths, according to the New York Times.
The U.S. government hit the automaker with a US$35 million fine last week for its delayed response to an ignition switch defect in millions of vehicles.
The country’s largest automaker originally noticed the defect more than a decade ago but failed to issue the first recalls until February of this year, despite years of consumer complaints.
In an article published over the weekend, the Times said a review of internal documents, emails and interviews showed that high-ranking officials "particularly in GM's legal department, led by the general counsel Michael P. Millikin, acted with increasing urgency in the last 12 months to grapple with the spreading impact of the ignition problem."
The newspaper said a number of GM departments stepped up efforts to fix the switches when depositions threatened to ensnare senior officials and company lawyers moved to keep its actions secret from families of crash victims and others.
GM's internal investigation is expected to be completed within the next two weeks. The U.S. Congress, Department of Justice, Securities and Exchange Commission and several states are also conducting investigations.
US economy shows improved job prospects…but not for lawyers
The latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that during April 2014 the country's job growth exceeded economists’ expectations.  However, one line item included in the BLS' latest jobs report indicated the future may not be so bright for the country’s legal professionals.
Even as the economy added 288,000 new jobs in April, the legal services sector (which includes lawyers and non-lawyers) lost 1,200 positions. Over the past year, total legal services employment has increased by only 700 jobs.
In fact, the net number of legal services jobs in the US has shrunk by 37,000 since December 2007. Meanwhile, US law schools have been awarding 40,000 new J.D. degrees annually for more than a decade, according to the American Bar Association.
Chinese firm Longan opens in Hong Kong
Beijing-headquartered practice Longan has become the latest Chinese firm to venture into Hong Kong, after launching an office in the special administrative region.
The Hong Kong office will be Longan’s second location outside of mainland China, following its Ulaanbaatar base that was established in 2009.
The new office is headed by the firm’s chairman Xu Jiali. It currently has three other registered foreign lawyers, Liu Xiaoming, Cui Huanfu and Zhao Bosheng, all of who are partners of the firm.

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