Josh Dickinson

Posts by Josh Dickinson

Don’t say I never did anything for you — I’m creating jobs. Okay, I’m creating a job. Well, not a full-time job, just a freelance writing gig. (But at least it pays more than this legal job or this one.)

Yes, after some deliberation, I’ve decided to step away from writing the small law firm column I helped start back in September. What alternative endeavor, you ask, could possibly draw me away from the highly lucrative world of blogging?

Glad you asked. In lieu of my twice-a-week column here (and my day job), I’ve accepted an offer to join the Army’s JAG Corps as a full-time, active duty sold… lawy… soldier-lawyer. Yes, like Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men (except less attractive and not the Navy).

Yes, this is something I want. No, I’m not crazy — just want to do something awesome. The government is going to pay me to undergo weapons training, learn land navigation, stay in shape, and — oh yeah — be a lawyer. It’s a four-year commitment, and if anyone is interested, I’m going to try and chronicle with my journey over at my personal blog: (A)musing Dick. (I’m not sure how that will go because, as Lat knows, blogging and government work don’t always mesh very well.)

The important thing here is that there’s a writing opportunity available. Read on if you’re interested….

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A small law-firm bonus, or a small-law-firm bonus?

It was almost two weeks ago that I, still fat from Thanksgiving turkey, wondered publicly about the status of bonuses at small law firms. Well, it’s time to get the results of that status check.

I recall Elie using the term “anemic” to describe Cravath’s bonus numbers (which were looking like the standard for Biglaw bonuses this year — at least until Cahill came along). Given that, I can only think the term “uber-anemic” is in order here.

Results and charts, after the break.

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It’s pretty clear that traditional large-firm jobs in big cities are still hard to come by. Even those cushy government jobs sometimes offered as a Biglaw equivalent are, as of last week, slightly less appealing. Well, fear not; the small law firm renaissance is here!

A recent article in Lawyers Weekly suggests that small towns are losing their lawyers faster than they’re being replaced. The article discusses small-town Canada, but based on this report from the WSJ Law Blog (which I previously mentioned here), as well as what I’ve heard from my sources, this observation is also true in the States.

The author seems hopeful that we are on the verge of a “renaissance in small-town lawyering,” and in support he offers a revised look at six of the traditional reasons why graduates and young lawyers often avoid smaller communities. Let’s see if he’s right…

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Small law firms have many of the same management issues as Biglaw firms, but often deal with them differently — for example, setting billable hour requirements and adjusting pay scales to keep their lawyers happy (or at least just happy enough not to quit). One such issue that keeps coming to my attention is social media marketing.

Biglaw firms have formal departments to handle logos, social media, and the overall direction of their firms’ brands. Small firms have… well, they have the attorneys and maybe a do-it-all firm manager (like we had at my old firm). Thus is born a market for the web and SEO experts.

But wait, this is not what you think! This is not another self-help article about how to fix your website or use Twitter (like a pro!). There are more than enough of those.

Instead, I want to explore a less popular position…

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A small law-firm bonus, or a small-law-firm bonus?

While Biglaw types may or may not have had something to be thankful for over the holiday weekend, many small firm lawyers were feeling the Thanksgiving love via the SoloSez list serve.

There were numerous magnanimous emails coming through about what small firm lawyers are thankful for. I found myself wondering whether these warm-and-fuzzy feelings resulted from pure happiness — or whether they might reflect cold hard cash, in the form of small-firm bonuses.

So let’s gather some data about bonuses at small law firms….

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While bonuses are burning up the comments here at Above the Law, there’s another discussion raging over at the ABA’s SoloSez Listserv — where solo and small firm lawyers from around the country share resources, practice tips and the occasional anecdote.

It seems that a 3L at Arizona State’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law is seeking sponsors for the remainder of her law school and bar study days. (We noted the development in today’s Morning Docket.)

Claiming the debt load for the average ASU grad has increased by $40,000 since she applied, the 3L is “reaching out to the online community to help [her] pay for it.” Good choice, since everyone knows that bloggers are just rolling in cash.

Given its entrepreneurial nature, this seems right up the small firm alley. But the plan has been received quite poorly by a majority of practitioners.

More about the sponsorship, what she’s willing to do for it, and the identity of the student, after the break…

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Brick and mortar is so last century. Nowadays, one can get an entire post-secondary education without ever leaving the comfort of home, including a law degree (no I’m not talking about Belmont) and an LLM. Then, with your degrees and fully developed agoraphobia in hand, you can move seamlessly into a fully virtual law practice and stay in your sweatpants all day — well, depending on what state you’re in.

From a reader:

Earlier this year, the NJ [Advisory Committee on Ethics] held that having a virtual office is not a bona-fide office within the meaning of the NJ Rules of Professional Conduct. This adds another significant cost to setting up your own shop since you have to rent a place all the time, not just for meetings. . . . I am not sure whether NJ is unique in this regard, but the decision seems wrong and anti-competitive to me and it is the smallest of firms which are the most likely to be effected by the rule.

New Jersey is not unique in this regard, but it is among a dying breed. Recently, its Delaware River neighbor issued an opinion that many small firm lawyers hope is yet another nail in the coffin of physical office constraints….

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Welcome to the second installment of Under the Shingle, an occasional round-up of news and musings from the world of small firms and solo practitioners. In other words, you get a break from me — mostly.

I’ve added a bit of play-by-play to explain and connect these links, which cover such topics as the intersection of solo firms and SCOTUS, solos going big, and the big bad ABA trying to put their laws on your solo body.

Solo to SCOTUS:
A 33-year-old solo on why he left his Biglaw office in favor of working out of a spare bedroom and having his mother as his paralegal: “I wanted to create my own reality.” Well, now his reality includes SCOTUS experience after being granted cert at the last second. Before any of you aspiring solos out there get too excited, know this: his reality also includes borrowing cash from his little brother and eating a lot of PB&Js.

More links, after the jump.

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America is often called the “Land of Opportunity.” To many, that means cashing in on one’s education, ideas and talent as soon as possible. The corollary is that we frequently assume that folks who aren’t rich are only so positioned because they failed at all their attempts to become rich. After all, actually turning down a guaranteed payday out of altruism (or at least perceived altruism) is a rare enough occurrence that it’s often deemed eminently newsworthy. See, e.g., Tim Tebow, Michael Bloomberg, and my personal favorite, Pat Tillman.

Here at Above the Law, life is frequently viewed through a similar lens. Discussions of small firms start with the presumption that non-Biglaw types are so situated because they didn’t have the chops to make it in Biglaw. See, e.g., almost every comment to any post I’ve written for this site. We assume that “going small” — especially right out of school — is the last resort of a destitute, loan-burdened graduate who B-minus-ed his or her way through three years of law school. Students “end up” in a solo practice; they don’t strive for it.

Thus, when a law student wrote to tell me that she and two of her friends are spurning Biglaw in favor of starting their own firm, I thought, “Now, there’s a story worth telling.” They’ve graciously agreed to let me tell their story here….

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In the good old days, an aspiring lawyer could just read the law under the tutelage of an existing member of the bar. Then, around the beginning of the twentieth century, the ABA and AALS teamed up to begin requiring that wannabe lawyers graduate from law school as a barrier to entry. This was, I presume, mostly a barrier to entry, which I also presume actually worked at some point.

Fast-forward about ninety years to 1992, when the ABA finally figured out that they’d created a mess, formed a task force, and issued a long-winded report, to which law schools responded by creating more “real world” credit options for students. Well, it’s almost 2011, and the process still isn’t working.

Newly minted lawyers are, for the most part, still woefully unprepared to actually practice law. Enter the recession, and now we have thousands of graduates a year, some of whom are attempting to simultaneously solve their unemployment issues and bridge the chasm between legal theory and legal practice by opening their own practices right out of law school.

As an aside, I was amused that one of the ABA articles I found mentioned Harvard’s efforts at reform as including the requirement that first-year students “take courses in legislation, international law, and problem solving in addition to more traditional classes.” Gee, thanks Harvard.

Well, say what you will about their ranking, but at least the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law is taking the problem seriously….

UPDATE: CUNY is also taking things seriously, i.e., incubating its graduates, and has been doing so since 2007 (thanks to one of my readers for the tip).
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