Boutique Law Firms

Sometimes, there is a baby in the room. A real one, usually in the arms of a nervous mother. Because it is Brooklyn, still as diverse a place as there is in the world, the baby might be black, brown, white or yellow. It does not matter. What matters is that there is a freaking baby in the room. I am blessed with four children, all ten and younger, and am the oldest of five, so I am not one of those people for whom children are curiosities best viewed at distance. Even so, there is something surreal about having a baby in the room while I am manning an office at the Brooklyn Family Court for a few hours once a month, trying to help a beleaguered parent make sense of the chaos inherent in their involvement in an adversarial proceeding involving their child. But I, like my fellow volunteers from in-house legal departments, Biglaw firms, and solo practices around New York City, soldier on. And come back, month after month, in the hopes of helping one more person deal with their (literally) intimate and emotional legal issues. In my case, I have been coming back since late 2006. I plan on continuing for as long as I have the strength and the program remains in place.

I am not looking for recognition. If this column motivates someone to dedicate themselves to a pro bono project that they can believe in, that would be great. To be honest, I did not even think about doing pro bono for many years, for all the typical reasons. I was still too junior, too busy, too unable to commit myself to a project that could potentially conflict with my billable matters. While I respected my fellow Biglaw associates who involved themselves in the usual Biglaw pro bono fare — e.g., asylum issues, wrongful convictions, and the like — I was never moved to action. But that changed in 2006, when Greenberg Traurig, in conjunction with some large corporations and other Biglaw firms, announced that it was partnering with the New York City Family Court to start a volunteer-attorney driven program to assist self-represented litigants trying to navigate the hectic, crowded, and extremely fast-paced Family Court system. A system that is challenging for even the most hardened attorneys, but where 95% of the litigants choose, mostly because of financial reasons, to go without a lawyer until one is provided for them. Put simply, help was (and continues to be) needed….

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Until last month, my entire legal career had been spent at large law firms. With a pretty specialized practice focusing on intellectual property, mainly patent litigation. And until last month, I never really needed to hire a lawyer, with one exception. Thankfully, it was for a good reason, to help me close on my house.

Which my lawyer handled with aplomb, so I am happy to recommend him if someone needs a good generalist solo based out of New York City. Even though my general tendency is to try and learn everything I can about something, when it came to buying a house, I really wanted nothing more than to have someone else deal with all the legal stuff. The fact that I was up for partner, and working pretty hard at my Biglaw firm that year, contributed to making me a “just get it done” type of client. Because I trusted my lawyer, and he demonstrated competence and responsiveness, I never needed to get out of that mode. We closed, I paid, and life went on.

I paid happily, and very quickly, because I had engaged someone to provide a service, and saw the results in a timely manner. Even though it was not a complicated transaction by any means, and I probably could have handled it myself, I valued my lawyer’s contribution and thus was happy to pay. I appreciated the small touches — like being handed a binder with copies of all the signed closing documents right after the closing. At the same time, I never really got engaged in the process enough to care to learn about it.

Comparing the experience I had then to my typical patent matter, the difference is stark….

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The past year or so has been an epic period for snarky responses to cease and desist letters. We’ve seen hilariously irreverent responses to C&D letters telling off the likes of Starbucks, the American Bankers Association, and the Township of West Orange.

And now Hollywood celebrities are throwing themselves into the mix. Which “seriously out of control” young actor just got saucy over Twitter in response to a lawyer’s letter?

Here’s a hint: Is this kid Lawless?

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of the ATL Interrogatories. This recurring feature will give notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.

Carol B. Ervin leads the Employment Law Practice Group at Young Clement Rivers, LLP. A highly experienced trial attorney, Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and an Associate Member of the American Board of Trial Advocates, she focuses her practice on the representation of businesses in employment law and litigation. Carol was recently elected the Chair of ALFA International, the Global Legal Network, and previously served as Chair of ALFA International’s Labor and Employment Practice Group.

1. What is the greatest challenge to the legal industry over the next 5 years?

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Ed. note: Please welcome our newest columnist, Gaston Kroub of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique here in New York. He’s writing about leaving a Biglaw partnership to start his own firm.

One of the criticisms leveled at Biglaw attorneys is that they do not have a lot of “real” experience — and as a result are somehow lesser lawyers. Biglaw litigators in particular are ripe targets for such remarks, even more so than their brethren in corporate, real estate, or tax. While it is often true that a Biglaw litigator will have much less trial experience or even “on their feet” courtroom experience than a criminal defense attorney, blunt attacks on a Biglaw litigator’s technical skills usually reflect more on the person making the criticism than the subject of that criticism.

For what litigation in Biglaw lacks in terms of volume, it more than makes up for in terms of scope and scale. The crucible that a series of high-stakes litigation matters subjects a Biglaw attorney to is just as capable of forming a highly-skilled litigator as a high-volume personal injury practice. Yes, there are good Biglaw litigators and bad ones, but that is a function of the lawyers themselves, rather than Biglaw’s ability to produce capable litigators. One can even argue that the Biglaw experience makes a better litigator, on average, than someone who learns their craft on a different track.

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Welcome back. Did everyone have nice holidays? With Christmas and New Year’s Day behind us, it’s back to work for many folks (although we’re guessing that a fair number of people are still off today and tomorrow).

Going back to the office means going back to a favorite topic here at Above the Law: bonuses. As we mentioned when listing of our 10 most popular posts of 2013, our third most-popular category page on the site was Bonuses. If you have bonus news to share with us, please email us or text us (646-820-8477).

Let’s kick off 2014 with some happy news. Which firm just cut a second round of checks to its associates, and how much are we talking about?

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Ed. note: Please welcome our newest columnist, Gaston Kroub of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique here in New York. He’s writing about leaving a Biglaw partnership to start his own firm.

For some reason, while in Biglaw I always seemed to find myself working late in the office on Christmas Eve. Whether it was getting deposition notices out, or making sure that a brief would be ready for filing right after the turn of the year, there were always more billable hours to crank out (even in those years when I had already made it into the next bonus category as an associate, and was not one of those people volunteering for an end-of-year document review in order to make my hours). Particularly as an associate, the end-of-year was usually a peaceful time, as partners left for their year-end vacations, and normally compressed litigation schedules slackened a bit.

In many ways, Christmas Eve was always one of the most peaceful days of the year in Biglaw. For starters, many of the attorneys and a good percentage of the staff were usually out. And those who showed up for work started to trickle out immediately after lunchtime, with a mass exodus around the time of office closing, usually around 3 p.m. I always enjoyed the four or five hours afterwards immensely, where the normal hustle and bustle of the office got replaced by a more serene atmosphere. I was never one to stay in the office unnecessarily, so when I would finish whatever needed to get done, I too would leave. But there was usually at least one project that needed seeing through, and Christmas Eve afforded the luxury of focusing on getting one thing wrapped up without the usual workplace distractions….

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Ed. note: Please welcome our newest columnist, Gaston Kroub of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique here in New York. He’s writing about leaving a Biglaw partnership to start his own firm.

When you work in Biglaw, you are pretty much assured you will have a nice office to go to everyday. Of course, you are also expected to spend the vast majority of your waking hours in that office, particularly as an associate.

My personal Biglaw experience when it came to offices was probably the norm. When I started at Greenberg Traurig, the IP department was located just above some of Bernie Madoff’s offices in the Lipstick Building on Third Avenue in Manhattan. A few years in, we joined the rest of the firm within the MetLife (former Pan Am) Building right over Grand Central. In the summers, and after the partners I worked with relocated more frequently depending on our case load, I would spend time working out of Greenberg’s New Jersey office. While not Manhattan, that office had nice suburban views and was easily accessible off the highway. And when I lateraled to Locke Lord, I got to enjoy a very easy commute from Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan, and some beautiful views from my office of the Hudson River and New York Harbor.

Biglaw does office space right. In some respects, though, that is changing….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment of The ATL Interrogatories, brought to you by Lateral Link. This recurring feature will give notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.

Richard J. Morvillo, co-founder of Morvillo LLP, is a nationally-recognized expert in SEC enforcement matters. Over the past 35 years, he has been involved in over 200 SEC investigations, including some of the highest profile cases the SEC has handled. Rich was recently named by Best Lawyers in America as the “2013 Lawyer of the Year – Securities Litigation,” and Chambers USA has recognized Rich as “one of the deans of the securities enforcement bar.” He has served on the adjunct faculty of Georgetown University Law Center, teaching a course in “Professional Responsibility in Corporate and Securities Practice.” See his complete bio here.

1. What is the greatest challenge to the legal industry over the next 5 years?

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Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending the New York holiday party of Susman Godfrey, one of the nation’s most impressive — and most feared — litigation boutiques. The mood was celebratory (and not just because of the delicious food, provided by celebrated chef Daniel Boulud, and free-flowing drink).

The associates I spoke with — who all enjoy their own private offices, no small perk in the New York law firm world — exhibited a great esprit de corps. Unlike so many other associates I meet, they seemed genuinely glad to be at their firm and enthusiastic about their work.

The fact that bonuses were just around the corner surely helped. We’ve covered Susman Godfrey’s generous bonuses in the past, and they never disappoint.

I recently chatted with founding partner Stephen Susman about what he described as his firm’s “unique approach” to bonuses. Here’s what we discussed — including how big his firm’s bonuses are this year….

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