‘Tis the season to be frantic, especially if you’re an incoming associate at a small law firm. Last November, Elie posed this question to the Biglaw readership: “Bar results are out. Does everyone still have a job?”
I’m really curious to hear how smaller firms are handling this. Generally speaking, you’re closer to the action as a first-year associate at a small firm. Sometimes, you’re knee deep in the action. See, e.g., this email I received from a reader and first-year associate at a small firm:
I draft contracts and other documents largely on my own, they go from me to the principal, back to me for revision, and then to the client/court. I deal with clients all the time. I go to court, mediation, negotiations…
This describes my own experience as a new associate almost exactly. I was expected to be… well, to be an attorney — with most things I was called upon to do requiring a license….
I wrote last week about the perceived level of interest from attorneys at small law firms in finding a collective voice. As I’m currently camping somewhere in the remote, internet-less regions of our northern neighbor, I haven’t the chance to check in with your comments and emails, but promise to do so upon my return to the internet-using world.
Speaking of camping, we’ve previously discussed lawyers decamping from Biglaw in favor of something cozier. Over at Adam Smith, Esq., Bruce MacEwen calls this phenomenon a “natural evolution of an industry under economic stress.” I call it an opportunity. The “natural evolution,” as MacEwen so eloquently terms it, means that there should be a growing interest among Above the Law’s existing readership in the opportunities offered by small-firm practice.
But I figured I needed a more clearly defined angle in order to pique the interests of your esteemed editors. As I thought about the potential for this column and how to pitch it to Lat and Elie, I ended up compiling a short list of reader profiles that I figured would take interest in such an endeavor.
Who is interested in reading about small law firms? Here’s an eye-pleasing numbered-list format….
Some of you will recall that in my manifesto, I expressed the view that we need more clearinghouses for information on small law firms. Well, it turns out I’m not the only one hoping for a gathering of small law practitioners.
Over at MyShingle, Carolyn Elefant posted a great piece about the need for a stronger voice from solos and small law practitioners. While we are both trying to rally this group to a cause, I’ve been approaching the efforts of this column with an eye toward the need to get information out to law students and lawyers looking to transition into a smaller practice. Elefant, meanwhile, tackles the idea from a political clout perspective, issuing the following call to action:
[A]s someone who has been tracking the institution of solo practice for nearly eight years, I urge you to hear me out about why it’s more important than ever that we solos and small firms demand that the “powers that be” (in this case, the state bars, the ABA, the mainstream legal media and law schools) start regarding us as the main event.
Small law firms as the “main event”? I’m skeptical, but certainly interested. After all, the vast majority of lawyers in the U.S. are working for small firms or as solo shops. Why aren’t we the main event already?
After a bit of explanation last week, we’re back to live action. As you’ve likely concluded from the title, this is the second installment in a series. Last week we discussed hours spent in the office, with the lesson for future small law practitioners being this (based on your comments and emails): small law practice doesn’t necessarily mean fewer hours.
On the heels of that conversation, I thought we should delve into the reason young associates so often spend those long hours in the office becoming fatter, more pale versions of their pre-law selves. It’s likely the bane of your existence regardless of the size of your firm or the size of the city in which you find yourself…
Last week, I made the decision to jump right into the substantive portion of this column. Based on the queries and comments hitting my inbox, though, I thought I would take another shot at explaning my intentions behind this column, before returning to your regularly scheduled programming.
The following email came in earlier this week from a reader who practices at a small law firm:
Can you clarify what “small law” means? Do you mean law in a smaller city/town? Or smaller-sized firms in larger places? Or are we talking about law firms that deal with clients who have less wealth (i.e., I do divorces vs. I did Madonna’s divorce)?
Lawyers love definitional questions. So let’s get into it….
I graduated law school in 2006 at the same time as a close friend. We’ll call him Brian, since that’s his name. Brian went to a top five law school; I went to a… well, not a T-5. He took a Biglaw job in Manhattan; I moved home to Georgia, where I ended up in Small Law. Having used each other as sounding boards throughout law school, it only made sense that we’d continue to do so as we transitioned into our respective practices. We shared many of the same fears and growing pains. For example: Did I pass the bar exam? Am I handling this issue correctly? What work am I allowed to, or even supposed to, hand off to a paralegal/secretary?
Beyond those general issues, I was surprised at how different our worlds really were on both a macro and micro level. Most of you have heard or been a part of discussions on the general differences that Small Law is supposed to provide: better hours, less pay, more freedom, etc. I want to move past broad generalities and share some of my actual experiences as compared with Brian’s, as a means to jump start a discussion. There have been some very thoughtful comments attached to the first twoposts, and I hope that trend continues here.
This will be the first of several posts dedicated to a deeper dive into the world of Small Law and how it measures up to its Biglaw counterpart. Let’s start with…
Welcome back to Above the Law’s coverage of small law firm practice. I was pleased with the comments and emails I received in response to Tuesday’s opening volley. After debating on the subject matter for today’s post, I decided that since Small Law attorneys are quite comfortable, often by necessity, with diving right into the deep end of things, let’s get down to brass tacks: Are there actually jobs at small law firms and, if so, what should you consider before making the switch?
The WSJ Law Blog picked up a Tuesday post from Eric Cooperstein, over at The Lawyerist, discussing one lawyer’s thoughts on the State of the Small Law Union in his home state of Minnesota:
One was a complaint about how difficult it is to attract new lawyers to join law firms in rural areas. The other was the lawyer’s prediction that in the next ten years, half the lawyers in her quarter of the state were going to retire from the practice of law.
Cooperstein follows up with his guess that this problem — or wondrous happenstance, depending on what side of the fence you find yourself — probably isn’t unique to the Gopher State. He speaks the truth. I spent my Small Law years at a firm with 20 to 25 lawyers, most of whom will retire in the next five years. In speaking with my former partners and associates, I’m told the same is true for many of their contemporaries in surrounding counties.
So what do you do if you want to be one of their replacements?
This isn’t the first time Above the Law has delved into the world of small law firms, but now we’re going to attack it regularly and with passion. This column will appear on Mondays (appearing today due to the holiday) and Thursdays, as a catalyst for discussion of life in Small Law – the commonalities, the salaries, the benefits, the pitfalls, etc.
I believe that, like Biglaw, there is a certain shared culture in Small Law, one that’s part of a growing but still-fragmented dialogue in the blogosphere. It’s our hope that, in time, this column becomes a lighting rod for those who are working in Small Law — and those who want to work in Small Law. And, of course, Biglaw attorneys are welcome to stop by and express their obvious jealousy in the comments.
So who am I, and what are my qualifications? Let the judging begin…
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