One of the questions I have been asked since leaving Biglaw is how I decided to join forces with my current partners. It is a good question, because over the years I have had the opportunity to work with many lawyers, both at my firm and at others. I have technically even had hundreds of “partners” between my two prior Biglaw firms. But other than my current partners, I can think of only a handful whom I would have considered opening a firm with.
My professional ambition was never to open a boutique. I very much enjoyed my time in Biglaw, and always thought that I would stay in Biglaw for the remainder of my career. Did that mean that I expected to remain at the same firm for my entire career? Of course not, no matter how appealing that idea sounded. The fraying of the Biglaw social contract as a result of the 2008 recession sealed that deal. But it was a big leap from knowing that my career could involve some moves within Biglaw to leaving Biglaw altogether.
Finding the right compatriots was a critical element of that decision. How did it come about?
In many ways, we were operating as a team well before we ever even considered launching our own firm. In patent litigation, most Biglaw teams are hierarchical, with a very senior attorney usually leading the team, flanked by one or more lieutenants depending on the size of the case. Under that command structure are one, and frequently more, associates. A large age gap, even between the senior partner and his second-in-command, is common. It is a great way for a younger lawyer to get meaningful experience and mentoring, but a poor model for finding a partner to build a firm with. Quite frequently, better prospects for that project are colleagues at your firm or other firms who are near your experience level.
Thankfully, I had the opportunity to work with my current partners while we were at my old firm. Because I was in a bit of a unique position that the overwhelming majority of my work was self-originated, I had the option of working with fellow attorneys of my choosing. As a result, I was able to work directly on litigation matters with both my partners, and even when I was the putative lead counsel because of my client relationship, I appreciated the benefits a “flat” management structure brought to our matters. In short, we were able to work hyper-efficiently, without wasted time and effort. This ability is a critical differentiator for our firm today. Most importantly, though, the ability to observe how we each functioned independently and collectively was a critical factor in our decision to open our own firm.
There is nothing like working with someone as a way of taking their measure. Because Biglaw firms rarely “test-drive” laterals (and there are ways to do that, if there was a will), it is no surprise that many laterals never flourish, and in fact are never given the opportunity to show what they can do. The idea of even hiring someone without seeing them in action seems ridiculous to me right now, much less partnering with them. And seeing them in action not only includes legal ability. In our case, we also needed to demonstrate to each other that we each could independently and collectively generate business. Even though that can be hard to do in the context of a Biglaw firm, the fact that we were each able to generate opportunities, and see how each other approached business development, was a huge factor in our decision to start out on our own.
Just working with someone on a few matters is just part of the calculus in any decision to open a business with them. In our case, it was also very helpful that we were all close in age, with the same desire for a long-term career in our chosen field — but on our terms. It helped as well that we all have young families, and that the ability to control our own schedules, even as we are all working harder than ever, was a common benefit we saw to opening our own firm. As we have learned, it is important to share certain motivations and goals in common, even though we all come from different backgrounds.
Having things in common is important, but so is having differences. In our case, we each have different risk tolerances, work styles, and professional networks. Each of those things actually makes us a stronger unit, as we are able to complement each other’s strengths and help smooth over each other’s weaknesses. Even the fact that we worked at different firms before meeting each other at our former firm is a plus, as we have been exposed to different client bases, made different contacts, and have different groups of former colleagues who are now in-house or at other firms. If we were all branches of the same Biglaw firm tree, we may not have had that benefit.
Ultimately though, everything can be both a plus or a minus. You can make a list of the criteria you want in a partner, but sometimes the act of looking hard for that criteria makes finding the right partner an elusive pursuit. What you need in a partner, however, is a person of integrity, courage, and a willingness to sacrifice for the team. Whether or not your partnership will be successful may depend on factors outside your control. But if you find the right people, the experience would be worthwhile even if the result is not what you intended. And with the right partners, every shared success just serves as encouragement to achieve the next one. In my case, I did not set out to find partners, but I am glad I did.
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.