Boutique Law Firms

The story of the tangled relationship between Casey Greenfield, a rising star in New York legal circles, and Jeffrey Toobin, arguably the nation’s leading legal journalist, has gone mainstream. Over the long weekend, the New York Times wrote an 1,800-word story on their affair.

Actually, to be fair, the story was mainly about Casey Greenfield and her law partner, Scott Labby, launching their boutique law firm, Greenfield Labby (which has a beautifully designed website, by the way). The firm specializes in what the Times describes as “high-stakes family law,” which includes not just divorce and custody litigation, but “[c]risis management, strategic planning and contract resolution.”

The story of Greenfield and Labby launching a new small law firm is both interesting and inspiring. But, at the same time, it’s one that we’ve seen — and written — before. You can read our earlier write-up of Greenfield Labby’s launch over here.

The most interesting parts of the NYT piece concern Casey Greenfield’s affair with the then-married (and still-married) Jeff Toobin, a long-running relationship that produced a baby boy. The writer, Times reporter Robin Finn, unearthed several juicy, previously unreported details….

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For attorneys who bill by the hour, one of the less enjoyable aspects of the job is recording time. For many associates, entering time is a necessary evil done only under coercion. The process also can be fraught with pressure. Associates know that all too often their worth might be measured by their billable hours.

Of course, for big and small firms alike, we tolerate the timesheets because they are our firms’ lifeblood. Recording our time enables our firms to generate their invoices. The inherent purpose of entering our time is to generate this request for payment.

But an invoice can and should do much more, especially for a small firm or solo practice….

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...to take a survey

Last Thursday, we opened our ATL Firm & School Insiders Survey and so far, so good. We’ve heard from students at nearly 100 law schools and lawyers at about 200 firms. As previously noted, this survey is one of the first data-gathering tools we’ll be using to create a new, expanded ATL Career Center. While we’re pleased with this initial response, of course we encourage all of you who haven’t yet to take 3-5 minutes and head over here to take our absolutely confidential survey. Thanks in advance.

To all non-law firm attorneys: thanks for your insight regarding your law school alma maters. Please know that we are looking forward to asking about your professional experiences soon, whether they be in government, non-profit, in-house, academia or elsewhere.

As our data accumulates, we look forward to slicing and dicing it in myriad ways, in order to find patterns of interest to our readership, but more importantly, for useful insights for anyone researching legal education and careers.

After the jump, we share a handful of early trends in the survey data:

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Tom Wallerstein

This post is dedicated to William A. Rutter, who passed away last week. If you’re not a lawyer in California, you might not recognize the name. But at least in my world, Rutter is the guy who produced the invaluable and ubiquitous Rutter practice guides, covering a wide range of practice areas and procedures.

If you’re not from California, you might be more familiar with other Rutter creations, like the BAR/BRI prep course he founded, or his Gilbert Law Summaries for law students.

My firm, like most firms in California, has a series of Rutter guides on our shelves. And even though we run a virtually paperless office with Lexis, Westlaw, and other electronic research options, I still love my printed Rutter guides. We even have a joke about Rutter. Whenever a colleague questions their ability to handle a particular matter or solve a particular issue, we joke, “I’m sure there’s a Rutter Guide for that.”

The joke has a serious point, namely, that the basics of most practice areas can always be learned. And if it’s easy enough to learn a practice area, why shouldn’t a lawyer forming a solo practice or small firm become a true generalist, handling everything from family law, wills and trusts, civil, criminal, and essentially whatever walks in the door?

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uncle sam

...to take a survey

Later this year, Above the Law will be launching a new, expanded Career Center. The new Career Center will be a resource for students and lawyers at all stages of their careers, and in all areas of legal practice (i.e., not just Biglaw). But we can be sure that news and insight into life at firms and schools will continue to be ATL’s bread and butter. With that in mind, today we open up the ATL School & Firm Insider Survey.

I assume a common reaction will be, “What with — among others — Vault, Chambers, U.S. News, and Am Law, why the hell do we need yet another employer/school survey?” Fair enough. And yes, all of the existing surveys have their merits. All of them produce useful content for students and potential laterals.

We do believe, however, that when it comes to information, the more the merrier. Moreover, the ATL survey is distinctive in some fundamental ways, and we’re going to justify its existence….

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* Extra frothy: Santorum’s trifecta of wins in Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri has made Mitt Romney angry. Because even a guy who wins nonbinding primaries can be dangerous to a man’s campaign. [New York Times]

* Richard Holwell, the judge who presided over Rajabba the Hut’s case, will be resigning and starting a boutique firm with two partners jumping ship from Kasowitz Benson. [Thomson Reuters News & Insight]

* Joe Amendola claims that evidence is being withheld in his client’s case — evidence like the alleged victims’ phone numbers. Why does Sandusky need those? So he can call and breathe heavily into the phone? [Philadelpha Inquirer]

* Foxy Knoxy’s lawyer is appealing her slander conviction in Italy, claiming that the police “manipulated” her during questioning. You were already cleared of a murder charge, stop pushing your luck. [USA Today]

* It’s really too bad that Lindsay Lohan doesn’t employ Biglaw firms for all of her drama, because given what she’s spent on legal fees in recent years, those prized spring bonuses would assured. [Huffington Post]

Tom Wallerstein

A general counsel recently asked me, “Why should my company risk hiring a lesser-known, small firm?”

I told him that it shouldn’t. I don’t think any company should unnecessarily “risk” its business without good reason. I’ll be the first to admit that there are some matters that simply demand big firm attention.

But I also told the GC that there were many matters that I thought my smaller firm could handle just as well as could a big firm, and with cost savings that would be relatively significant given the amount at stake.

I wouldn’t ask someone to hire me if I thought that doing so was risky for them. A client should not have to choose to lose or win; it needs to make sure the small-firm attorneys have the necessary skill and experience. But with that caveat, some matters are particularly well suited for boutique treatment.

Assuming a client can afford to hire a Biglaw firm for a particular matter, why might it consider a small firm or boutique — beyond the obvious lower cost?

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Tom Wallerstein

When Above the Law first covered my “adventure in shingle hanging,” I remember someone quipping that our only business came from attorney referrals and that we didn’t have our “own” clients. The comment wasn’t true, but I still found it interesting. Is a client who pays you money somehow not “your” client, or not a “real” client, just because the client was referred to you by another attorney? That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

But it is worth thinking about the different ways that solo and small law firms try to generate business. There is a valid distinction between approaching a prospective client and asking him to engage you, and approaching other lawyers and asking them to refer cases to you. I’m not sure one is necessarily superior to the other, but they are different approaches. I think of them as “direct” and “indirect” client solicitation.

I also distinguish “active” and “passive” methods. An active approach is where you identify your client and solicit them. A passive approach is where you do something that encourages clients to solicit you. Passive isn’t a pejorative; for example, a good website is an important part of passive business development.

So, I think business development efforts can fall into a matrix. Check it out, after the jump….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “From Biglaw to Boutique: A Marketing Matrix”

Tom Wallerstein

For some, the phrase “small law firm” implies certain stereotyped practice areas, clients, and attorneys. At its worst, the stereotype invokes unsophisticated clients and matters that are routine and uninteresting. I doubt the stereotype is wholly true anywhere. I know for sure it isn’t true in San Francisco or Silicon Valley.

I know many attorneys in small firms who have specialized, high-end practices. These specialized practices are often called boutiques, and they are perfectly suited to serve the entrepreneurial, high-tech client base that abounds in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Even in the down economy, a number of new ventures were launched in Silicon Valley. Geographically, the high-tech corridor also seems to be expanding, thanks to Twitter, Zynga, SalesForce.com, and the like setting up shop in San Francisco. You don’t even need a Visa or traditional office space to launch a startup anymore; now you can enjoy Peter Thiel’s “Visa-free entrepreneurship and technology incubator on an ocean vessel in international waters.”

It remains to be seen whether we’re experiencing a boom or just another bubble, but I guess it doesn’t matter anyway. I’m not an economist and I’m not making predictions. I am only remarking on some great practice opportunities for smaller law firms which exist here, maybe because we are fortunate to have so many imaginative, passionate, and savvy entrepreneurs working on exciting projects in so many different industries….

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I believe the defendant failed a saving throw against berserker, so when he killed those people he didn't know right from wrong.

* Dressing shrinks as wizards when they testify would be an AWESOME idea. I’m serious. Why can’t we have this? And titles, too. “Your Honor, I call Dr. Freud — Ph.D in weakness management and keeper of the sacred staffs of Ivory guard — to the stand.” [Overlawyered]

* iTextbooks! Could be awesome, could widen the gap between the rich and the iPoor. [Adjunct Law Prof Blog]

* Old lawyer accidentally smuggles a gun onto a plane, mainly because security — which noticed said gun — forgot to stop her. TSA doesn’t make us more safe, folks. It just makes us more molested. [Daily Mail]

* Apparently, LLMs go great with Brazilians. The people, not the grooming. Or maybe both — I don’t know, but I was only asked about people. [Live Mint]

* To be clear, putting slavery analogies into our math problems is bad… unless you are a college basketball or football star trying to work out how much you got paid in free tuition for last night’s game, versus how much the university made off of the performance of your team. Then the analogy is “apt.” [CBS Atlanta]

* White people problems, written by a former Cahill Gordon associate who quit to take a job in television. [Funny or Die]

* Additional impressive hires by an elite litigation boutique. How long before MoloLamken ends up on somebody’s hot list? [MoloLamken]

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