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Size Matters: From Big to Small to the Paralegal Who Made It Clap

Ed. note: This is the first installment of Size Matters, one of Above the Law’s new columns for small-firm lawyers.

Who am I? I graduated from a top law school in Chicago. (Okay, there’s only two.) From there, I went to work for Biglaw for several years. Or, maybe it was only a year and a half. I am pretty sure that time passes more slowly in Biglaw than in the rest of the world.

Then, I took the path well traveled and went to a small law firm to “get hands on experience,” “more client contact,” and “mentoring.” After almost three years — in real time — at my small firm, I have come to appreciate the unique aspects of practicing law at a small firm and these insights I hope to share with you.

While I do not want to give away the milk for free, I will give you a snapshot of what is to come. Small law firms have actual holiday parties. The holiday parties at my Biglaw firm took place in the lobby which was shared with other tenants when the other employees in the 40+ floor office building were attempting to exit. They served cheap wine and had a cheese tray and hired a high school band called “The Cats” to jam out for the partygoers.

At my current firm, where all employees could fit comfortably in a single floor of the 15-floor office of my former firm, they really throw a party….

One was on a cruise where a paralegal got a little too drunk and made it clap. And everyone brings family members to these functions. I am telling you, small law firms are a whole new world.

Why am I here? I have lived the small-firm life for a few years now, and I have some things to say. And, I sold plasma to David Lat.

(Note: I am saving my few remaining eggs in case I decide to apply to write the Non Sequiturs column. But for now, I am your queen of small law firms.)

Where did Little Richard aka Josh Dickinson go? The official story is he joined the JAG Corps. But, for the sake of full disclosure, I got him ousted so I could have this plum post for myself.

(And, it is only fitting that I should take over for Little Richard. You see, when I was studying for the Illinois Bar, I had a recurring nightmare that I was in a cab and was being carjacked by Little Richard. Coincidence? Impossible.)

This column is largely driven by you (unless it turns out you are lame or boring or not committed to taking down Biglaw). Are any of you small law firm associates / partners who have an interest in a particular issue facing small firms? Are any of you Biglaw associates looking to go small? Does anyone enjoy practicing law at a small law firm? Why? Are there any happy lawyers? Oh, sorry, that is a question I have been meaning to ask my therapist, my mistake. You get the point.

To be honest, I do not think that small firms generally are a panacea for unhappy associates. There are as many bad small firms as there are good. But, unlike the Am Law100, small firms are relatively unknown commodities. So, this column is a way to get some more information about small law firms — the good, the bad and the ugly.

And I want to know what you think. While I consider myself an expert on small law firms, this expertise is based mostly on my inflated sense of self and the stories I have collected from other colleagues and friends at small firms. In other words, this is a safe place for you to share your ideas. I will obviously judge you, and the people who comment will say nasty things. We will be our very own dysfunctional family. In short, Momma’s home.

Please send me tips, comments, or story ideas:

Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small law firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at

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