Boutique Law Firms

Beyond BiglawThere are a lot of ways to measure success as an attorney. Many of the ways lawyers measure their own successes are backwards-looking. Whether focusing on past educational accomplishments or big deals or cases they have participated in, lawyers love to focus on what they have done.

There is nothing wrong with that, unless it prevents someone from focusing on what truly is important: the present. And for practicing lawyers, and those who intend to keep on practicing, there is only one question relating to the present that matters: “Who thinks of me as their lawyer?”

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Bruce Stachenfeld

This is a continuation of the past three articles I published in ATL over the past month or so. My first article argued that Profits Per Partner is a great servant for a law firm but a bad master. In my second article, I set forth our Profits Per Partner Emancipation Plan as an alternative. In my third article, I set forth what I believe is the highest level in law firm profitability analysis, which is to “embrace” the volatility inherent in the practice of law. In this final article, I will give some thoughts on how a law firm could indeed Embrace Volatility.

Before getting to that, I will mention as an aside that I wrote a few weeks ago in this column an article entitled “Are Lawyers Only Happy When They’re Miserable?” That article largely dealt with how an individual might in fact Embrace Volatility. This article is directed not at individuals but at law firms.

If you have been reading my past articles, you may be open to at least considering how Embracing Volatility might be a good thing for a law firm. But is this whole concept just a fantasy, like it would be nice to not be afraid of snakes but you can’t help it and just reciting “I am not afraid of snakes” isn’t going to work? I don’t think so. I think the following simple steps would do it quite nicely:

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In last week’s column, I discussed the importance of effective deposition defense, with a focus on the client-facing aspects of the process. Now it is time to focus on the true star of the show, the witness.

Yes, some witnesses will be important, perhaps even a senior executive at a client. Or a technical expert, on whose testimony your case rides. And other witnesses will be more tangential, like the IT guy you need to defend with respect to e-discovery issues.

Yes, I understand that every witness is critical, especially when it comes to e-discovery. Human nature, however, is to treat “important people,” like executives and experts, with an extra level of care. As a lawyer, the key is to treat every witness you are preparing for deposition with respecr — while remembering your role as an advocate, tasked with winning your client’s case. Effective defense of depositions goes a long way towards achieving favorable litigation results.

Here are some tips:

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Biglaw litigators may enjoy healthy pay, but they are also the target of some ribbing — particularly from the trial-lawyers bar. Anyone who has practiced litigation in Biglaw has heard that they are at best a “deposition lawyer,” better suited for churning out endless motions than for performing in front of a judge or jury. There is no doubt that for the majority of Biglaw litigators deposition experience is much easier to come by than trial experience. And while trials are definitely more intensive and fun, in my experience preparing for a critical deposition in a patent case is in a way more difficult. Unlike at trial, where nearly all of the direct and cross examinations are scripted, there is an element of the unknown at a deposition.

When it is an important witness, such as a technical or damages expert, everyone involved in the case knows that a deposition can be a make-or-break event. In fact, one of the things that makes preparing for trial testimony easier than preparing for a deposition is that when we prepare for trial, we rely heavily on prior testimony in the case. The best source for that prior testimony? Deposition transcripts. But going into a critical deposition, there is much more uncertainty. Everyone on the team worries if the witness will hold up. Does not matter how experienced the expert is, or how senior a business person. The wrong answer can doom a case.

While it may seem like deposition defense is a thankless job, it also provides a priceless opportunity to “hear” your opponent’s approach to important issues in the case. And that can be even more valuable than trying to extract information from a well-prepared witness at a deposition you end up taking at another point in the case.

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Bruce Stachenfeld

This is a continuation of the past two articles that I published in ATL over the past month. My first article gave my view that the profitability metric of Profits Per Partner is a good servant but a bad master and, as a master, it is a root cause of serious problems for Biglaw. In my second article, I put forth a Profits Per Partner Emancipation Plan as a different way of doing business that I hope will eventually be adopted. Now, here I am giving my theory on what I think is a higher level of law firm profitability analysis, which is to “Embrace Volatility.”

Let me start by asking you: what is it that we all crave in our hearts? I mean, we all want money and power and fame and to be cool and good-looking and talented at sports or music or acting — but in addition to that — I think it is one of the basest human emotions to crave:

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Justice Antonin Scalia

* Justice Scalia spoke at CU-Boulder last night. For his sake, we certainly hope he didn’t speak about any issues that might someday appear before SCOTUS, lest he be asked to recuse. [Boulder Daily Camera via How Appealing]

* Another one bites the dust over at Main Justice: David O’Neil, the head of the criminal division, is stepping down in the wake of the BNP Paribas case, and will likely have many white-shoe law firm suitors. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Fox Rothschild picked up a 18-lawyer boutique firm in Texas, which will serve as the home of its first outpost in the Lone Star State. Energy law, surprisingly, wasn’t the driving factor. [Legal Intelligencer]

* “I have a heart and I have two kids.” That’s a pretty damn good reason for Biglaw attorneys to take a break from their corporate billable hours to represent undocumented children pro bono. [WSJ Law Blog]

* Scott Greenfield reviews Lat’s forthcoming novel, Supreme Ambitions (affiliate link). Of course, in SHG style, it contains a spoiler. Try to skip that clearly marked paragraph. [Simple Justice]

A time-sensitive matter comes in. An experienced hand is needed to help. Where to look for that help? In Biglaw, the answer is usually an easy one: call up Partner No. 37 in distinguished branch office No. 6, and keep the billable hours rolling — with a happy nod towards a successful “cross-sell,” and instant validation of the underlying “size is good” concept behind so many of today’s firms. But is Partner No. 37 really the best lawyer to help out? Hard to believe that the answer is “yes” more often than not. Because Biglaw firms are constructed the way they are, however, there is a premium on making sure that existing firm resources are utilized as much as possible.

At the same time, we know the legal industry is struggling to cope with demand fluctuations, or all too often a lack of demand for expensive legal services. In the current environment, it is not a surprise to see Biglaw firms contorting themselves to reach optimal size, whether through mergers, layoffs, or lateral growth. Despite their efforts, there are very few firms that are optimally size-calibrated in relation to the demand for their services. For those firms fortunate enough to experience the occasional demand spike, retaining the ability to be nimble on staffing can mean the difference between a satisfied client or one who looks elsewhere “next time there is a big need.” Firms want repeat business, and being able to incorporate experienced additional lawyers — within the budget for a particular matter — onto the legal team can make a real difference in whether or not that repeat business happens.

But where else can firms (of all sizes) go for experienced help on short notice?

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Amanda Bynes

* “[T]he ‘superstar’ model of Supreme Court advocacy marketing is prevailing”: recent Supreme Court litigation has been dominated by Biglaw and boutiques, and five of them handled about half of last term’s cases. [WSJ Law Blog]

* It’s not a “done deal” yet, but Albany Law School is in serious talks with the University at Albany to form an affiliation by the end of the year. There’s been no word on whether Albany Law would remain a stand-alone school under the yet-to-be inked arrangement. [Albany Business Review]

* The dismissal of lawsuits concerning allegedly deceptive employment statistics at several Chicago-area law schools was affirmed by an Illinois appeals court. ::insert sad trombone here:: [National Law Journal]

* If you’re still thinking about applying to law school for some reason, you might find these tips on what not to write in a personal statement to be useful. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News & World Report]

* Amanda Bynes, one of our favorite fading starlets who was already on probation, was arrested this weekend on a DUI charge after stopping her car in the middle of an intersection. [Los Angeles Times]

Over the last two weeks, I gave a lot of thought to the email that I sent to Stephanie. Even though I do not regret telling her that I am looking for full-time work, I thought that I may have told her too much about my personal situation, which might have made her feel awkward. I planned to call her and let her know that things are fine and I was just having one of those days. But before I got the chance, Stephanie called me. She wanted me to schedule a time when I can meet with her and one of her partners to discuss working full-time at her firm.

There are some things you should know about Stephanie and why I hold her in such high regard. She is the managing partner of a highly respected boutique specialty firm. She is charismatic and her knowledge of the law is encyclopedic. Some of the attorneys at her firm have moved on to Biglaw, judicial clerkships, and other prestigious positions. All of her firm’s partners and associates have solid academic and professional backgrounds.

And now she is giving me a chance to work for her.

Could this be the opportunity I have been waiting for? After the jump, I will talk about what I will be doing at Stephanie’s firm and whether this could be the end of the race. Also, read onwards for information about a special federal clerkship opportunity…

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On September 4, Bill Simmons wrote a column for Grantland regarding the National Football League, titled “The League That Never Sleeps.” Since then, the NFL has remained in the headlines on a daily basis, scarred by a near-constant stream of negative news concerning off-field incidents involving current players. Apart from the escalation of unseemly episodes we have seen recently, the NFL is also struggling with potentially existence-threatening legal issues relating to the harm suffered by players due to the inherent violence of the sport. At the same time, the NFL remains the biggest show (especially from a TV ratings standpoint) in town, and the league has never been more profitable.

Do I need to spell out the parallels with Biglaw? Record profitability, coupled with record instability. It is a wonder that we don’t see Biglaw behemoths sponsoring the halftime clash between two local Pee-Wee teams at NFL stadiums….

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