Valerie Katz

Posts by Valerie Katz

About a year and a half ago, I was just a small-firm girl with a dream: to find the truth about small-firm life. After writing this column, and speaking to a wide range of fellow small-firm attorneys, I learned that small firms are all different. Some are mini-sweatshops with small-firm attorneys who have Biglaw egos (and pedigrees), while some are small groups of like-minded, hard-working, intelligent attorneys.

While I never discovered the whole truth about small-firm life, I did pick up a few worthwhile lessons….

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Unless you have been living under a rock — or do not have female Facebook friends with mommy complexes — you have heard about Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. It is apparently the most read article in the Atlantic’s history of online publication. And people are talking about it.

Most of my friend’s who have posted about the article are the demographic discussed in the piece — “younger” women who can’t have it all. They consistently proclaim the article to be our generation’s manifesto on work-life balance for women. The timing is perfect because I have almost outgrown my current manifesto, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.

One of the reasons that woman can’t have it all, says Slaughter, is because we have not come close to closing the gender gap in leadership. “Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone,” she wrote.” So true.

The article explains other reasons why we can’t have it all, offers some ideas for ways that we can get closer, and then does some other stuff. Truthfully, the article was too long, and I had to get back to my real work of trying to have it all.

So, what does these mean for small-firm female attorneys? What would having it all even look like at a small firm?

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In my humble opinion, there is nothing worse than billing time. Just think of the feeling you get when you’ve spent a day doing a million random tasks in your sad beige office, and you have no ten-minute entries to account for that day (i.e., you get no credit for a day spent at work doing work things). Not only is billing a pain, the practice of accounting for your time is even worse. While I was no better at it when I was at my Biglaw firm than at the small firm, the former had some software that would send me mean emails if I did not get my hours in on time. Oh, and there were scarier partners that would come after if me if I had a delinquent time report.

At the small firm, on the other hand, I was instructed to fill out time entries by hand, give them to my assistant to type into a billing program, review the print-out of the hours inputted by my assistant, and then send them off to the partner to review and approve.

I was less efficient at billing at the small firm than at my Biglaw firm. Not only did I lose precious ten-minute increments working with my assistant to bill hours, but I also worked on a minimum of four matters, and switching between matters meant less efficiency. And I suppose there are other things people do at small firms that they cannot bill for — like go get business or something?

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Since I began writing this column, I have been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. After speaking with so many small-firm attorneys who talk excitedly about the challenges and rewards of owning their own businesses, I have toyed with the idea of doing the same. Because of my love-hate relationship with the practice of law, however, I have been trying to come up with other small business ideas. My latest brilliant business venture is a summer camp for unemployed people. Unfortunately, my dreams were dashed when a friend pointed out that my business was destined to fail because my target market had no money to spend on, well, anything. Boo.

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with two attorneys who have identified a way to take advantage of the bad economy in a way that, unlike my plan, made financial sense. The idea is simple: offer in-house counsel seeking to reduce their legal fees reduced legal fees for the same high quality work. Yet another idea I wished I had come up with (note: I firmly believe that I created Pinterest because I started clipping stuff out of magazines in 1992)….

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I never understood the appeal of those “reality shows” featuring families with a gaggle of kids. After hearing endless commentary about the Duggar family on my favorite morning shows, I decided to watch and see what all the fuss was about. The Duggars are the family featured on TLC’s 19 Kids & Counting. Each episode features some highly edited story wherein one of the Duggar kids has a problem and wackiness ensues. Watching the episode did nothing to help me understand America’s (or at least Good Morning America’s) love for the Duggar family. It did, however, help me understand why there are certain matters that only a Biglaw firm can handle.

Biglaw associates, like the Duggar kids, are many. And, in my opinion, Biglaw associates are often, like the Duggar kids, interchangeable. I don’t say this to be mean. I say this because when I was in litigation at a Biglaw firm, we were swapped in and out of cases as if we were interchangeable.

So what do small firms do to compete? They don’t have their own Duggar brood from which to throw bodies at problems that arise with large cases or deals. In my interviews with small-firm attorneys and solos, their solution is to join with other small firms. Indeed, if you combine attorneys from enough small firms, you can build a Duggar-like army. Finding the right firm with which to co-counsel, however, may be difficult and time-consuming.

For you small-firm attorneys facing this problem, I have good news, and it does not involve overpopulation….

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So yeah, Dewey is history. Everyone and his mother has written about what the bankruptcy of the “storied” law firm means. According to Kent Zimmermann, a legal consultant at the Zeughauser Group, Dewey could represent one of the first dominos. “Dewey’s failure is rocking the industry in the sense that most firms are saying to themselves, if Dewey could go down, could we?”

And for most firms, the answer is yes. After all, Dewey cited the economic downturn and massive partner compensation arrangements as the root causes for the firm’s collapse. Those causes are common to many large firms. Surely we have all seen the images of those sweet pads in Lawyerly Lairs. Reading those tea leaves, it is clear that Armageddon is a comin’ (or a stayin’, if you consider the other Biglaw firms that have folded).

Dewey’s fate is sad. Well, at least for Dewey and for other large firms. It might be good news for others, however. And, no I do not mean the other Biglaw firms who got to score them some Dewey rainmakers….

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It is hardly shocking that a woman who chooses to operate under a pseudonym is an introvert. If left to my own devices, I would stay at home watching television and looking out my window. I am talking Boo Radley here.

Unfortunately, momma’s got to earn the money to pay the cable bill, so I must force myself out into the world. Oh, and momma needs a new job, so I have to do the single most painful thing a girl like me must do. No, not hook. I must… NETWORK.

In the past, when attending networking events, I would bring a friend, get drunk on cheap chardonnay, and leave without speaking to anyone new. That is apparently the wrong way to network. So, recently, I decided to really put myself out there: I have started attending networking events (well, at least one networking event) alone. I got there late, hung alone in the corner awkwardly playing with my phone, drank cheap chardonnay, and left without speaking to anyone new. Alas, it was time for me to ask for help…

Luckily for me, I did not have to search far for advice on networking. There are thousands of listicles about how to network. Most of them were useless (e.g., they suggested foregoing chardonnay), and most were geared towards people who did not consider “fear of public speaking” as a scarier thing than death. (Yes, I am one of those people.) Thanks to my LinkedIn news suggestions, I discovered a subset of networking articles geared towards introverts. The advice was earth-shattering….

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I am always intrigued by articles giving advice on appropriate office behavior. For whatever reason, these advice columns almost always discuss the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of crying in the office. I am not sure why this is such a newsworthy topic, as I have rarely witnessed such behavior — either as a Biglaw associate or when I went to a small firm. And I only cried once in my five years of practice, and that was not in the office — it was in the elevator. Unfortunately a partner happened to be in the elevator with me, but I could not help it.

Last week the Wall Street Journal featured an article on this topic. Don’t Cry (At The Office) suggests that you not cry at the office (yes, shocking). The article goes on to suggest that you go home or to your therapist’s office to cry because while having feelings at work is a no-no, it is important to have feelings when you are off the clock.

After learning that one should not cry at the office, I decided to investigate other inappropriate behaviors. I have put together a list of forbidden actions for small-firm attorneys based on input from my cadre of small-firm Emily Posts.

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It is rather fitting that the day America gets one step closer to finding out who will become The Voice, we get one step closer to understanding the male/female dynamic at small law firms. Well, at least we get to see the results of what over 200 small-firm attorneys have to say about what happens at their firms. Last week, I asked you to take a survey, now I’ve got some results.

Some of the results I would have predicted, but some results were surprising.

As most of you may have noticed from the tone of the survey, I assumed (based on personal experience that turns out to be the exception, not the rule) that there were very few small-firm female partners, the ones who were partners worked full-time and had delegated child-rearing to someone else. To my surprise, the survey suggests that the majority of small firms have female partners (63.6%). And, the women are adequately represented (22% of those surveyed work at firms where females make up 25% of the partners).

Let’s unpack some more numbers…

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Last week, I asked you all to take a survey about whether or not small-firm attorneys can work part-time (and if so, whether they are all mothers, which in turn implicates the unspoken question of whether or not there is any worth to having part-time working moms at small law firms). Yes, it was a loaded survey. Unfortunately, only 122 of you responded. I need more of you to take the survey. And the universe wants you to take the survey.

How do I know this? Since last week, we have learned some important lessons….

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