Valerie Katz

Posts by Valerie Katz

Last week I asked if small-firm associates are screwed. According to the two who wrote to me directly, the answer is no. They both enjoy their small firms and are learning a lot from their small-firm partners/mentors. Interestingly, neither of them mentioned their future at the small-firm (i.e. what their chances are of making partner?) but instead focused solely on the present.

Nevertheless, I did not hear from any small-firm associates who said they are screwed. In other words, last week’s column did not go far enough in crushing the hopes and dreams of small-firm attorneys. Thus, this week I ask a (hopefully) even more depressing question: are small firms a good place for women attorneys who want to have a family?

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I have spent many hours talking to others about the future of the legal profession. My Biglaw friends (at least the one who remains) proclaim that the future of legal practice is not that different from the past — by which she means that Biglaw is the future. The attorneys I meet from small law firms, in contrast, predict that Biglaw is out and small firms will prevail. My unemployed lawyer friends believe that they, along with a bunch of other unemployed lawyers, will toil away as hourly document review attorneys in the future. I believe that the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way. Oh, sorry, that is Whitney. RIP.

Corporate Counsel recently published an article, Bye Bye Big Firm, that predicts that while small law firms will not overtake Biglaw, they will be a major part of the future of legal practice. The article offers several reasons for predicting this future trend:

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There is usually little justification for the decisions I make in life. Consequently, I get really excited when I find studies that support my poor choices. For example, did you hear that chocolate makes you skinnier? A new study found that “people who eat chocolate frequently have lower body mass indexes than those who eat it less often.” There was something mentioned about “moderation,” but that minor detail seems trivial. The important takeaway is that I have license to eat as many Cadbury Eggs as I want, and I will lose weight.

Continuing in that vein, I found an article that confirms my long-held views on how to succeed as a small-firm lawyer: take frequent breaks, go on vacation, nap, and wear sweatpants. Don’t believe me? Check this out….

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Today is the first day of spring. The morning news shows were focused on all the many ways we should shed our winter selves and prepare for spring. The most common story was, of course, spring cleaning. And, as ForbesWoman reminded us, this applies equally to your résumé as it does your closet. As Krista Canfield, a senior manager of corporate communications at LinkedIn, explained, “[w]hether you’re on the job-hunt or not, Spring is an excellent time to evaluate your long- and short-term goals and make sure they’re reflected in your career profiles.”

The comparison between “spring cleaning” your home and your résumé is even more apt for one reason: both activities suck. Indeed, when I ask my unhappy lawyer friends why they do not look for new jobs, they all complain that updating their résumés is too painful and difficult a task. Yet, thanks to five easy tips I picked up from headhunters, career coaches, and law school career advisers (um, yeah, I have been on the job search before), the process need not be so unpleasant….

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Like many other Bachelor fans, I devoted approximately 14 hours last night to finding out who Bachelor Ben chose as his future wife. After much soul-searching and a pensive walk through Switzerland, Ben picked Courtney, the model who everyone hated. Indeed, if the boos and glares directed at Courtney during “After The Final Rose” are any indication, America (and maybe Ben) has decided Courtney is a bad fit. Not to mention, all the other Bachelor losers were very open about their hatred for Courtney.

Ben’s path to “true love” is a lesson not just for pathetic women (see, Lindzi, the orange contestant, who missed all the obvious hints that he was not interested and still blabbered on and on about how she found true love before he ditched her), but also for small-firm hiring partners. Here are the top five takeaways….

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Did you miss me? It has been a few weeks since I last laid down some knowledge on all my small-firm peeps. I was busy studying for, taking, and hopefully passing the California bar exam. During my time trapped in the Oakland Convention Center, I reached out to attorney hopefuls to see what issues they cared about for future articles. They all said the same thing: getting a job. Well, except for one person. A mousy girl who ate homemade ham sandwiches during the lunch break and sat alone near the garbage wanted to know how to land a man. Apparently, she did not think she had a decent chance of passing the bar (or was not actually taking the bar, but instead trying to pick up a lawyer — in which case, bravo, girlfriend).

I cannot really offer any more advice about how to find a job other than networking, networking, and going on informational interviews. Oh, and occasionally allowing yourself a good cry. I can, however, offer some priceless advice for how to get married thanks to a recent New York Times article. Unfortunately for Bar Poser Lookin’ For Love, the advice will not help her find a lawyer husband. It will, however, help her find a husband if she goes on to be a lawyer.

Let’s get to it….

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Every time I get an email, I get really excited. The idea that some of my readers want to reach out and share ideas is overwhelming. Lately, the emails have taken a turn for the worse. The last email I received read like this (or a close approximation because I deleted it upon receipt for fear of catching something):

RE: Guest Post

Dear VALERIE KATZ,

I am writing because you have allowed guest bloggers to write posts on your column before. I am a regular columnist at SEXMEUP.com and think that I can write relevant material for your blog. Some column ideas I have include: My Lovely Lady Lumps and Humps, Lunchtime Quickies, How to Turn Your Office Into A Love Den or Top 10 Things You Can Do With a Stapler. All I ask in return is to be able to include a link to my blog. I think the possibility for crossover traffic is huge. Thanks, Sexy Mama.

I know what you are thinking: Katz, you better say yes to Sexy Mama since her stapler story sounds way better than your expose on office chairs at small firms. Sexy Mama did have a point about cross-over traffic: I am sure many of her readers would agree with me that Size Matters. I could not, however, agree to hand over the reigns to my column to Sexy Mama. After all, I am only interested in Lady Lumps if they relate to small firms.

I know enough not to respond to spam emails. Some other people — specifically, small firm attorneys — do not. So, I am offering them some advice….

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I am more depressed than usual. I blame Mystal and his expose on What You Can’t Do With a Law Degree. I know if given the chance, I could make the most divine half-caf-extra-whip-extra-hot-mocha. But, alas, I am destined to stay a lawyer.

That is little solace, of course, because it is hard to get a job, hard to keep a job, and in my experience, hard to stomach the job. And, according to that Wall Street Journal article that everyone posted as a Facebook status, law firms want to keep the number of associates low, work them like dogs, and pay them like, well, high-paid professionals. This means that recent graduates are still screwed, and I am having trouble taking off my sweatpants today.

Just when I thought all was lost, however, I found a positive story about law firms. And, of course, because that is how we roll, it involves a small firm….

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According to the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.), small law firms have adopted the mantra: merge or die. Indeed, the number of law firm mergers is staggering. “At least 60 mergers occurred in the U.S. and abroad last year, the highest level since 2008 and a 54% jump from 2010, according to legal-industry consulting firm Altman Weil Inc. Industry experts expect the figure to rise this year.”

Why the up-tick in mergers? The economic downturn has caused a shift when it comes to legal service providers: it is a “seller’s market for the first time in 20 years.” In other words, law firms are not able to raise rates in order to increase profits. So, small firms turn to mergers as a way to increase their revenue and allow them to compete with all-purpose, larger firms. Randall H. Miller, who as managing partner at Denver-based Holme Roberts & Owen LLP helped engineer its acquisition by Bryan Cave, explained that “[l]ittle by little, our ability to service our clients’ needs ha[d] been limited by our smaller size,” which was why he pushed for the merger.

Yet, small firm to large firm mergers are not the answer for all small firms. The article featured several potential problems….

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It seems as if everyone is breaking up these days. Indeed, I was shocked yesterday to learn that Heidi Klum and Seal have separated. I felt blindsided when I heard that Johnny Depp and girlfriend Venessa Paradis were calling it quits after 14 years together. And don’t get me started on Aretha.

In my practice, I have represented many small law firms going through the same fate as my girl Heidi. At some point, loving partners decide they hate each other. One splits off into his own firm and the group goes through a messy “custody” battle for clients, partners, associates, and staff. Are small-firms and Hollywood it-couples all destined for messy break-ups? Is there something that can be done during the formation of the partnership, or at some point during its healthy existence, to prevent such endings?

To find out, I asked two experts on relationships: (i) my grandma, who has been happily married for more than 60 years, and (ii) my divorce lawyer friend, who, through observing the most horrific divorces, has identified key preventative measures. Here are the top five tips for maintaing a healthy partnership — in law and in life — or at least ending one gracefully….

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