Ed. note: Please welcome our newest columnist, Gaston Kroub of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique here in New York. He’s writing about leaving a Biglaw partnership to start his own firm.
For some reason, while in Biglaw I always seemed to find myself working late in the office on Christmas Eve. Whether it was getting deposition notices out, or making sure that a brief would be ready for filing right after the turn of the year, there were always more billable hours to crank out (even in those years when I had already made it into the next bonus category as an associate, and was not one of those people volunteering for an end-of-year document review in order to make my hours). Particularly as an associate, the end-of-year was usually a peaceful time, as partners left for their year-end vacations, and normally compressed litigation schedules slackened a bit.
In many ways, Christmas Eve was always one of the most peaceful days of the year in Biglaw. For starters, many of the attorneys and a good percentage of the staff were usually out. And those who showed up for work started to trickle out immediately after lunchtime, with a mass exodus around the time of office closing, usually around 3 p.m. I always enjoyed the four or five hours afterwards immensely, where the normal hustle and bustle of the office got replaced by a more serene atmosphere. I was never one to stay in the office unnecessarily, so when I would finish whatever needed to get done, I too would leave. But there was usually at least one project that needed seeing through, and Christmas Eve afforded the luxury of focusing on getting one thing wrapped up without the usual workplace distractions….
Because I am Jewish (not unusual for Biglaw, especially in New York City) and observant (a little less usual, especially in patent litigation), I never had a problem working on the year-end holidays. If anything, it allowed me to give back a little in case someone had covered me on a short winter Friday afternoon or during the Jewish holidays in the fall and spring. Quite frankly, it was nice to see my colleagues take the time to visit their families or take some well-earned vacation. During the best of times, when hours are plentiful, Biglaw is a hard-charging and difficult environment. When times are slower, the atmosphere at many firms can become even more constricting. During the holidays, people would be forced to remind themselves of their human side, or at least their lives outside the office.
As quiet as the afternoon of Christmas Eve used to be, Christmas morning was a different story. Because my kids have school on Christmas, the yeshivah they go to has always designated Christmas as “Daddy Day,” knowing that nearly all the fathers are off from work. As a result, I usually have a full line-up of school related events to go to, whether it is watching my older sons (and running from classroom to classroom) during morning prayers, or working on a nursery project with my daughter. It is actually a chance to see some of my own friends, especially the ones who have their own kids in class with mine. So there is no sleeping in for me on Christmas morning. It’s a school day. A welcome benefit of the school’s policy is that it saves our family from needing to take a super-expensive vacation around the holidays. I can only imagine trundling around a crowded airport with four young kids, knowing that I have paid premium prices for the luxury of a packed plane and a crowded resort. Instead, my kids have their winter intersession at the end of January. Traveling then is a lot saner, and cheaper. No complaints from my end.
Year-end took on a different meaning for me as I got more senior in Biglaw. I was up for partner at Greenberg in 2008, and I remember the tension-filled months leading up to the notification that I had made it, despite the well-chronicled economic troubles gripping the world at the time. And as a partner, year-end meant focusing on collections, and trying to get as much money in the door from clients as possible. I’ll have more to say about that topic later, but there is no doubt that Biglaw firms live and die based on the collections in the door by year-end. The pressure to bring those dollars in falls squarely on the partners, particularly those who serve as billing partners and are therefore responsible for collecting from certain clients. To add to the excitement, during my years at Greenberg the firm would pay out bonuses (to associates and partners) on New Year’s Eve. So there was always the added tension of waiting for and then seeing that year-end check. At minimum, paying bonuses on the last day of the year is a good way of making sure you have your lawyers around that day.
Part of me misses the year-end period at Biglaw. It definitely had a different tenor than the rest of the year, and I shared a lot of good moments with colleagues on those holiday evenings and throughout the holiday season. But while I am thankful for those experiences, I must say that this first holiday season at our new firm has topped all others.
First off, I am glad we launched before the end of the year, as it has allowed us to set things in motion for a strong start to 2014. And as much as being a Biglaw partner meant to me, I walked around my kid’s school the other morning with my head a little higher, knowing that I made the leap into a venture that is even more exciting and full of potential. I hope everyone is enjoying their holidays, seizing on the little moments that illuminate our lives, and girding up for an even better year to come.
Please feel free to send comments or questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any topic suggestions or thoughts are most welcome.
Gaston Kroub lives in Brooklyn and is a founding partner of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique. The firm’s practice focuses on intellectual property litigation and related counseling, with a strong focus on patent matters. He can be reached at email@example.com.