Ed. note: Gaston Kroub is on vacation this week. Today’s column is written by one of his partners, Zachary Silbersher.
When my partners and I sat down to form our new law firm, I savored the opportunity to string our names together and add the letters “LLP” at their end — for so long, “LLP” has been the quiet emblem of the professionalism and studied judgment embodied in law firms throughout the country (whether that is true or not). To my chagrin, albeit for tax reasons, we decided to forego forming a limited-liability partnership in lieu of a PLLC. In structure, we would be a corporation rather than a partnership. Yet, corporate structure aside, our experiences so far have embodied the ups and downs of working together as a real partnership.
True partnership is not something that many associates, counsel or even junior partners have likely experienced at Biglaw. Be it corporate or litigation, real estate or tax, matters are typically staffed hierarchically. Having practiced litigation for several years, I have undoubtedly felt extraordinary camaraderie with the attorneys on the cases on which I have been staffed. Yet, there are always clear lines. Lines between the attorneys to whom I was delegating work, and those from whom I was assigned work. Those lines demarcate disparities in income, responsibility, work, expectation. I am not saying that the system does not work. However, except for select senior partners, the idea of working in a partnership is not typically a sentiment shared among most Biglaw attorneys.
Being part of a partnership has already changed the way I think about my work….
Before we made the jump from our prior firm, we were jointly working on a patent-litigation defense matter that was individually originated by one of us. While still at our former firm, I was happy to offer my opinion about strategic courses of action, but I recognized that the ultimate responsibility for the case, and likely reward for its success, lay with the originating partner. After the jump, we continued working on the matter, but the consequences of our choices presented themselves to me differently. Our success or failure on this matter would no doubt inure to the reputation of our firm, the firm which I myself helped found. We continued to work rather seamlessly amongst ourselves, but my perspective had shifted. I was no longer an employee. I was an owner. I was a partner.
Being a partner clearly has its benefits. Many friends, fellow attorneys, remarked the same thing to me when I told them I was launching my own law firm along with two other colleagues: “Even if I wanted to do that, I don’t have the team.” The team may sound secondary. After all, solo practitioners abound. But the team is what makes things happen. Quite frankly, I doubt I would have had the resolve or strength of character to — on my very own — voluntarily quit a high-paying job at a law firm where I practiced for several years to start my own shop. That decision was unequivocally a product of making the jump along with others. The team also clears the fog. We have already had frustrating days when we individually and collectively questioned the prudence of going on our own. That is a cruel fact of starting any business. Yet, the team has helped sharpened our collective focus in ways where individual thoughts would most likely have strayed.
The team also helps filter out bad decisions. Standing at the helm of a case where you are singly responsible is undoubtedly different than just working on that case, no matter how instrumental you are to the matter. Recently, we wrestled with a particularly challenging decision with respect to a certain matter. We were able to identify the multiple risks and rewards on each side of the decision, both of which were large. Individually, we had different opinions about what to do, which were principally a function of our different appetites for risk. Collectively, however, after talking it through and weighing it together, we made a decision that we have all come to believe is the right one, meaning the right one for the firm and the firm’s longevity.
With a partnership also comes the burdens of running a business with co-owners. Being a partner means really making decisions collectively. To date, this has included agreeing on the firm’s logo (something that was truly an exercise in patience), agreeing on where to secure office space (something that was easier to agree upon), and agreeing on which types of clients we should prioritize for our marketing efforts (something we discuss on nearly a daily basis.)
A partnership necessarily requires compromise. I undoubtedly respect the skills and judgment of my partners, but we are nonetheless three very different people, with three sets of opinions, each with a firm conviction that his opinion matters. That can be difficult to corral. Partners will rely on each other to execute, which means wrestling with the nearly irreconcilable conundrum that not every action is going to be executed exactly as I see it should. Be it a phone conversation with the press, a pitch to a possible client, the wording of a marketing piece, or that peculiar comment that my partner made (or in some cases, I made) in that meeting . . . . (Mind you, I am saying this before tackling what may be one of the most difficult tasks — hiring employees.)
One of the most interesting facets of our partnership, in my view, is that the team is something we have chosen to sell. Some firms are launched by a senior partner with a lucrative book of business who brings along a junior partner and an associate. Our firm was launched by three attorneys of roughly the same age and at roughly the same stages of their careers. There are disparities in our experiences as well as disparities in our strengths. However, we have often been asked in pitches who is the leader of our firm, and we have consistently stated that we are a flat structure where any one of us will be both responsible and prepared to step in. From what I can tell, that type of a team really appeals to certain clients. Perhaps they like the idea of a team that works well together, and is willing to truly share the responsibility for the matter. Perhaps they think, if these three guys can work together well enough to launch their own law firm, then perhaps they can work together well enough to win my case.
Either way, without necessarily aiming to do so, I found myself working in a true partnership. Another of the rewards, and frustrations, of starting your own firm.
Zachary Silbersher 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. Zach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.