Boutique Law Firms

When a law student is described as a “rock star,” this usually means she has a high-ranking position on law review and is going to clerk for the D.C. Circuit. The closest most lawyers get to rock stardom is playing Rock Band (a favorite pastime of Elie and Kash; I can’t quite get the hang of it).

Well, what if we told you that a real international pop star is in law school now? And that she’s currently summering at a well-regarded boutique law firm in Chicago?

Meet the latest profile subject in our series on celebrity summer associates. We’ve previously written about a star athlete, a noted actor, and the child of a Supreme Court justice.

Now let’s meet a pop-star princess, shall we?

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I consider myself to be pretty fashionable. Indeed, I (like so many others) pray to the patron saint of fashion, the Duchess of Cambridge. I am well versed in the laws of fashion. For example:

1. Thou shalt not wear a romper after age 22.
2. Thou shalt wear white any season.
3. Khakis are sad.

And I have learned the hard way about the fashion of law (i.e., what to wear at a law firm). It probably involves a khaki sack-turned-skirt but certainly does not involve hoop earrings. (Sorry Jay, but I think dress codes are still alive and well in small firms, at least if you are a woman.)

Yet I did not know what fashion law was. So I got a crash course from an expert, Charles “Chuck” Colman of Charles Colman Law PLLC.

What did I learn from Chuck?

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It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it. Most lawyers would cringe at the thought of spending their entire careers trying to find loopholes that will release drunk drivers back onto the streets. After all, drunk drivers are one of the few life forms more despised than lawyers.

Southern drunks are in luck, however, because Cerbone DUI Defense are not most lawyers. In fact, the father and son Cerbone team has taken on the job with relish, building an entire DUI defense empire in Savannah, Georgia.

It’s not really surprising that Savannah would need some good DUI lawyers. This is the city that throws the second largest St. Patrick’s Day celebration in the world. I can also confirm from personal experience that it is one of the few remaining places in the country without an open container law. There is really no shortage of alcohol-related fun to be had in Savannah.

Enter the Cerbone team, stage right. They are waiting around day and night, right outside the police station, to take your case when things get out of hand. You’ll be so happy that they get your case thrown out that you won’t even mind when they use your full name and share the details of your drunken escapades to drum up more business…

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Before I sat down to write this column, I thought I knew what trolls were. Answer: they are the men who I dated in law school. Apparently, that is only partially true. Trolls are also a potential revenue source for small firms.

The term “patent trolls” is a controversial term with multiple meanings. According to Wikipedia, the definition includes a party that does one or more of the following:

• Purchases a patent, often from a bankrupt firm, and then sues another company by claiming that one of its products infringes on the purchased patent;
• Enforces patents against purported infringers without itself intending to manufacture the patented product or supply the patented service;
• Enforces patents but has no manufacturing or research base;
• Focuses its efforts solely on enforcing patent rights; or
• Asserts patent infringement claims against non-copiers or against a large industry that is composed of non-copiers.

The controversy can be seen by comparing the views of those considered the trolls (the non-practicing entities with patent rights) to those who are sued by the trolls (often big companies). For instance, compare this to this. The former considers the notion of a patent troll to be a myth, while the latter describes patent trolls as “reprehensible.” For those of you looking for a side gig, you may consider talking to the silk-screeners of the Team Aniston and Team Jolie t-shirts during the Brangolina saga.

Regardless of where you fall on the Team Trolls versus Team Troll-Haters debate, a recent article suggests that patent trolls can mean big money for small firms….

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It has been said that one has truly arrived as a small-firm superstar when he appears in this column. Who said that? Someone, I am sure. While I simply cannot confer that honor to all small-firm attorneys, there is a second place honor: a feature in the New York Times. Martin Singer — the “guard dog” to Hollywood royalty, and founder of the small firm Lavely & Singer — is one of these superstars.

Singer’s client list includes some major starpower: Charlie Sheen, Jeremy Piven (remember when Ari Gold had mercury poisoning?), Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator Harry Reid, Quentin Tarantino, and (gasp) Sylvester Stallone. Through these relationships, Singer has developed a niche that anyone would want to scratch: “shielding stars and their adjuncts from annoyance.”

While Singer’s firm specializes in all things entertainment, “[n]othing gets Mr. Singer going like a whiff of defamation.” And when he gets going, he does what has made him famous: “kill, or at least maim, unflattering stories that have yet to surface.” Some attorneys do not believe the hype about Singer’s ability to kill said stories (e.g., noted First Amendment lawyer Martin Garbus, who described Singer as a “blowhard”). But Hollywood publicists are convinced that Singer is the man to call when a story breaks about their clients’ love child or sex tape.

Do not be fooled by the glitz and glamour associated with representing celebrities. After the jump, see how Lavely & Singer is like many other successful small firms….

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Before this column launched, I spent several moments stewing over possible pseudonyms. After all, branding is everything. So, I wanted to come up with a name that said to my audience that I was a small-firm expert and a super-cool chick. Naturally, I picked the name that is synonymous with post-menopausal Jewish bubbies. Perhaps I still have a thing or two to learn about branding.

I am not the only small-firm lawyer with a problem selecting the right name. Indeed, after Jay Shepherd opened my eyes to the hyphen-crisis, I began noticing a comma-crisis. Specifically, I noticed that there are a lot of small firms with way too many last names strung together with commas.

Why is it that many small firms have such problems coming up with the perfect firm name? Let’s explore this age-old question….

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I recently had lunch with a guy who had worked at a law firm, gone in-house, and later returned to a law firm. (It’s actually more than that. This guy’s bio is: assistant U.S. attorney; associate at K&E; partner at Bartlit Beck; deputy general counsel at Bank One; and now at his own small firm. That’s called either “done it all” or “can’t hold a job.” Because this post will share with the world an idea that he proposed, I’ll credit him publicly: He’s Lenny Gail of Massey & Gail, a small shop based in Chicago and D.C.)

Lenny asked at lunch, as folks frequently do, what I’d learned about business development by having gone in-house. I answered honestly, as I occasionally do: When I was outside counsel, I always thought that business development was a game of chance. You tried a hundred different things, with no clue what might pay off, and then random chance struck and business arrived inexplicably, out of the blue.

As in-house counsel, my view hasn’t really changed: If you’re on our list of preferred counsel and we use you regularly, we’re likely to hire you again. If you’re a newcomer, there’s not much you can do or say to draw that first retention. Everything you say at our introductory meeting simply repeats what some other guy told us about his firm last week, and virtually nothing you’ve done is so breathtaking as to make you irresistible.

Lenny nodded, and we drifted back into our iced teas.

The real problem with getting retained is the first nibble. As outside counsel, once someone retained us for one case, it was a lock that they’d retain us for another. The client would come to know our people, our firm, the quality of our work, and the results we obtained. Parlaying one opportunity into many was easy; the hard part is getting the first chance. As in-house counsel, that continues to strike me as true for many (but not all) firms.

How do you get the first nibble?

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It has been a proud time for us Illinoisans. Yes, one of our congressmen is the hottest and fittest of them all. As I was “reading” the Men’s Health cover story (i.e., drooling over the shirtless photos of Aaron Schock), I realized that times are changing. Gone are the stodgy and round politicians. The future is lean, mean and pre-teen.

According to Law Firms: A Less Gilded Future — the Economist article discussed in nearly every law-related tweet last week, and mentioned twice (here and here) in these pages — Aaron Schock is the model for law firms as well….

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I recently met Ray Zolekhian at a wedding. He went to Harvard Law School, worked as an associate at Skadden in Los Angeles, and started his own law firm with a friend, Robin Hanasab.

As soon as I heard Zolekhian’s background, I immediately guessed that he started a personal injury firm. Isn’t that the most natural progression?

Apparently so. Founded in July 2009, Hanasab & Zolekhian, LLP began as a firm specializing in restructuring commercial real estate loans. The firm then transitioned to personal injury litigation, because the founding partners found the work interesting and lucrative. But Zolekhian had no background in personal injury; according to Zolekhian, the pair was “thrown into the fire.” They were not devoid of help, however, and benefited enormously from the resources and mentoring given by other attorneys in the close-knit plaintiffs’ bar.

What does Zolekhian like most about his practice?

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I think it’s important for lawyers on the other side of the political divide from Paul, who’s a very fine lawyer, to reaffirm what Paul wrote [in his resignation letter from King & Spalding]. Paul is entirely correct that our adversary system depends on vigorous advocates being willing to take on even very unpopular positions. Having undertaken to defend DOMA, he’s acting in the highest professional and ethical traditions in continuing to represent a client to whom he had committed in this very charged matter.

Seth Waxman, former U.S. Solicitor General (under President Clinton) and current WilmerHale partner, commenting to Washingtonian magazine on the decision of fellow former S.G. Paul Clement to resign from King & Spalding and join Bancroft PLLC. At Bancroft, the D.C. boutique law firm founded by former Assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh, Clement will continue to represent the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives in its defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

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